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How to Hire Great Managers: an Interview with CareerPlug Founder Clint Smith

Clint Smith, founder and CEO of CareerPlug

Every hire you make for your business is important. The right person can bring your team to new levels of success. And the wrong person… Well, you probably know what the wrong person can do to your business. 

The stakes are even more amplified when it comes to hiring managers. You may have heard the saying: People don’t leave companies; they leave managers. The right manager can innovate, motivate and help your team become more efficient and productive. The wrong manager can slow things down, leave your employees confused and frustrated, and at worst — even make some of your employees quit altogether! 

The founder and CEO of CareerPlug, Clint Smith, is no stranger to the importance of hiring the right people, so we sat down with him to discuss some of his biggest tips for hiring managers. His advice and insight can help make your next big hire a little less intimidating.  

Is it time to hire? 

First things first, is it time to hire a manager? Sometimes this step is obvious. You may know that you’ve needed a manager for a long time, and be more than ready to get the right person in a leadership position on your team. 

Other times, especially for new or small businesses, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to bring a manager on. Clint Smith experienced this while starting CareerPlug, but quickly learned that if you don’t give up control, you create a bottleneck in your business. 

Smith says, “It gets to a point where you need to hire people who are better at certain things than you are. I realized that every time I gave a part of my job away to someone else, that was a big step forward for the business in terms of growth.” 

Clint Smith quote hiring great managers

Are you slowing things down in your business? Would the right person (or people) help your business grow? If so, it might be time to hire a manager to take on some of your responsibilities and lead your team to success. Let’s talk about some things to consider when it’s time to make that hire. 

Identify your persona 

For any hire you make, it’s important to spend some time thinking about the kind of person you are looking for. At CareerPlug, we recommend creating an Ideal Candidate Profile to help you think this through. This practice can be especially beneficial for when you’re hiring managers. 

As Smith puts it, “There are many different types of management, and getting the right type of persona down and understanding who you need is very important. Do you need operational expertise? Do you need a people person that can help your employees grow?” 

Keep in mind that your needs will evolve as your business grows. Clint shares an experience where the needs of the business changed: “The first sales person I hired was great at getting big accounts. What he lacked was experience with operational sales and building processes. So the next time I made a hire, I knew that’s what I needed, someone that could build a proven sales process.” 

Think about what’s most important

While thinking about the type of management you need, try to narrow it down to what’s most important. As Smith puts it, “Don’t try to look for too many things. Someone might be in the top 5% in the world at doing a certain thing. But you can’t expect them to perform at that level for 2 or 3 other things. Know what’s most important for your business and hire for that.” 

When asked about some other skills that he thinks are most important for managers to have, Smith says, “A manager has to care about people first and foremost. Additionally, communication skills are key and managers need to be able to distill information in a way that makes sense and holds people accountable.” 

Promote from within

Sometimes the best managers are people that are already on your team in other roles. Smith recommends developing from within. “Keep in mind that everyone is a manager for the first time at some point, so it may be up to you to give an employee their first opportunity to manage.” 

If you are going to promote from within, what should you be looking for in your employees? Smith’s answer is: “Look for someone that gets a lot of energy from helping others succeed and for someone that stands out when it comes to living your company’s values.” 

It’s also important to make sure your employee wants that kind of role. As Smith explains, “Some people get pushed into it, feeling like it’s the next logical step.” And though you can definitely train your current employees to take on management roles, in some cases it may still be best to bring in outside talent. Smith says, “If it’s an area where I don’t have a lot of expertise, I like to look to hire from the outside.” 

Hire for culture fit 

Whether you’re promoting from within or looking for outside talent, one of the most important tips for hiring managers is to hire for culture fit. This means hiring someone that understands what your culture is and exhibits your values. 

Smith reminds us that, “Your managers distill your values down to other members of your team. They are amplifiers of your culture. You need them to magnify it and make it even better.” 

Clint Smith quote on hiring managers for culture fit

If you haven’t already, get clear on your core values and come up with a few questions you can ask in interviews to better understand whether your candidates’ own values align. Smith shares, “There have been times where I’ve brought in someone that has ‘been there done that’ but it wasn’t a good culture fit. Those managers ultimately didn’t work out.” 

This is another time when promoting from within can be helpful, as your current employees likely already fit your company’s culture. 

Evaluate their expertise

For some jobs, it’s easy to put a candidate’s skills to the test. If you’re hiring a graphic designer, you’ll look at previous examples of their work. If you’re hiring a writer, you can read some of their published articles. 

When looking for someone that can manage people and take on the big responsibilities in your business, it can be a little more difficult to evaluate their skills and experience. 

There are certain situational questions that can be helpful, but Smith also says it’s important to pay attention to what they’re asking you.  “When it comes to evaluating a manager in an interview, if you gotta probe too much, that’s concerning. You learn more from the questions they ask you. You’ll get an understanding whether they understand your business and your problems well enough to lead others.” 

You still want to evaluate them for subject matter expertise, but they should also exhibit their skills and values without you having to dig too deep for them. Talking to references is also a good idea and can help you get a better understanding of a candidate’s experience. 

Final thoughts

Hiring a manager can be a huge step for your business. Whether you already have open roles or are just now deciding to let go of some control in your business, it can be helpful to think about your ideal persona and what skills will be most important for your business. 

If you’re lucky, you may already have someone working for you that lives your values and would be a great choice to promote into a management position. If you do have to hire from the outside, make sure to consider each candidate’s culture fit and pay attention to what they say and what they don’t say in interviews. 

Hiring managers can be risky, but a little planning and an organized hiring process can make this big hire a little easier for your business. One last piece of advice from Smith is this:

“Think about how you would want to be managed, and let that guide your decision.” 

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