Save yourself some grief: My “ten-times-magnified” rule for hiring

Now Hiring grunge blue stampFor the last three-plus decades, I’ve been interviewing, hiring, training, and sometimes (regrettably) firing employees, first as an inexperienced corporate manager, next as an inexperienced business owner, and finally, as a more seasoned one.

Suffice to say I have made some excellent hires and more than a few mistakes. “By seeking and blundering we learn,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and so I’d like to share with you one piece of wisdom that has, I suspect, saved me from a number of additional potential blunders.

When interviewing a candidate, you should of course watch for the “little quirks” you see. Candidates may also inadvertently not show you their greatest strengths, which is sometimes forgivable in positions that are not related to sales.

Here’s my “10X” rule: Anything you see in an interview will manifest TEN TIMES MAGNIFIED later on.

The admittedly fake math is there to make a point. I believe the essence holds true.

To wit (names and details have been changed to protect both guilty and innocent):

Walter appeared extremely confident during his interview, and had a slightly oversized voice.

-Walter, when hired, turned out to be supremely overconfident, extremely loud and a braggart to boot. What’s more, parts of his excellent resume revealed themselves to be fabricated. While on the job, he continued his job hunt. His new resume (created on our office computers) claimed that he had been offered an ownership position with our company. He often skipped work entirely, and so was the first person we ever fired by phone.

Samantha expressed slight bitterness toward a previous employer during her interview. She also had a habit of slapping the table when she spoke, as if for emphasis.

-We did not offer Samantha a job. She then threatened to sue us for age discrimination. Age had not been a factor in our decision, but the specter of bottled-up anger had been.

Joe was almost singularly engaging. He had worked in positions of increasing authority, in several cases chalking up just one or two years at the previous company. He assured us that he had enjoyed and thrived at each job, and taken the next opportunity because it was so strong. His references all spoke of his strong abilities.

-Engaging, ha! I now believe Joe was a genuine sociopath. It took a year for company management to fully comprehend the extent of the infighting and unhappiness Joe had stirred up among the rest of the staff. Joe did not leave our offices willingly when terminated, requiring security guards to help him exit. We later learned that Joe’s “references” were people afraid to cross him. We refused to join the reference list, but watched as Joe cruised through several more companies, lasting – you guessed it – one or two years at each.

Melissa seemed shy, but spoke with enthusiasm about the writing assignments she had done in her brief previous career. She was cautious in her assessment of how quickly she could learn technical material but promised to put her all into the effort.

-Melissa turned out to be an outstanding writer and contributor. Sincerity and a realistic sense of the effort required to learn difficult material combined to make her an excellent staff member.

Think back over your hiring failures (we all have them) and consider whether there were telltale signs of trouble to come during the interview process. I hope remembering the Ten Times Magnified Rule will help you the next time you’re considering who will be a good fit for your small business.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC, a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, as well as its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. Michelle and the van Schouwen Associates team believe that virtually every business is undergoing the tug of change. Having a great team makes a critical difference every day. Contact Michelle at

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