The ability to hire great people is one of those skills that differentiate hugely productive managers from the mediocre. When dealing with a specific project, it gets even tougher with the number of distractions, time sensitivities and need to fill head-count numbers on a project plan. It’s very easy to get sucked into short term thinking, and sometimes HR management practices get short-sighted as well. No, the probationary period of a new hire is not a generic safety net.

Here’s some fast thinking you can do in under 30 minutes to help you hire better:

Get away from hiring generalists

Rather than trying to hire people that are generally great at all things, focus on the areas of greatest value to the organization. Take a few minutes to jot down the services this person is going to offer the organization. Figure out where in the project cycle and which requirements definition and management processes will really impact your organization’s performance. Be brutal in your focus to get it down to one or two areas where this person needs to shine.

By getting ‘service focused’ (verb/noun pairs like ‘Facilitate Requirements Meetings’) you’re being blunt about the competency that is essential for success on the project.

List the Skills Needed

Most companies have defined templates used in their requirements definition and management approach. How many hiring managers look at that document and simply extract use cases, cross-functional swim lane diagram, etc from the template to get a list of techniques the analyst would need to know to be successful. How many people look at the services and say, what techniques would need to be known here to be successful? If you’re looking for requirements definition capability and “Facilitate Requirements Meetings” then you probably want someone who knows the techniques for facilitating a cross functional team.

Want a good technique for listing soft skills? Just list the things that annoy you as a manager.

Test Required Skills

I’m a huge believer in testing skills, before the interview and after the interview. It reduces your reliance on your first impression. It is way too easy to get caught up in thinking the first 30 seconds is the make/break part of hiring. I always end up reminding myself, I’m not hiring a politician. Put more weight on getting the person to do a pre-interview task, get them to do a post interview task and look at the judgment, work quality, and skills used in doing those tasks. Give a documentation focused person a requirements document and say, is it done? Have a facilitator run a simulated facilitation session. Nothing elaborate, just focused on the skills that are essential to success. You could even look to outside organizations that do skills testing (Inquestra, etc) if you’re not feeling particularly creative or need to hire dozens of people and don’t have time to administer the tests.

Get Away from Trying to Hire Industry Experts; Focus on Analyst Skill

Here’s a basic rule of thumb: your line of business managers are the subject experts that know the business. Analysts, need to know analysis. If the analysts are competent, they will function really well, regardless of the industry or position. Granted, if you want a systems analyst for SAP, you need to focus here a little more, but definitely not for business analysts. Let’s face it, the pool of candidates can get really small, really quickly. And chances are, if someone is emphasizing being an industry expert, I’ll bet they are not overly strong in pure analyst skills.

Be Happier

There is nothing worse than dealing with a bad hire. Well… I hate it! Not just the HR stuff, but also what it does to your good performers and the overall project. If your company doesn’t already have great role descriptions in place, try some of these techniques. Having a great team is just a happier place to be.

A Few Thoughts for Those of You Looking for a Job

Lots of folks are out looking for positions today. Here are a few thoughts on positioning yourself for something else:

  • Consider positioning yourself as a specialist. You do a few things really, really well.
  • Try putting more active tense “services” you provided to the organization in your resume. Hiring managers (and google) scan for keywords.
  • List proof of your skills as your accomplishments. (How about: ‘Lead analyst principally responsible for facilitating requirements meetings on over 50 projects’)
  • Make your expertise as an expert analyst come out

Trying these ideas means deliberately writing a resume that does not fit every opportunity for a contract BA. The idea is to position yourself for certain types of opportunities, and to be successful in landing a spot when one of those types appears. As an interesting side benefit, employers tend to pay more for someone they perceive to be a specialist than they would someone they see as a generalist.

I wish you all great success.


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