Five keys to making the right hire

Hiring the right people: It’s the key to almost everything, whether you’re a for-profit or a nonprofit. So how do leaders do it right?

I can hardly take credit for this slate of suggestions, as I’m constantly gleaning insights from nonprofit peers, for-profit colleagues, columnists in The New York Times and lessons learned the hard way. But here are a few rules I follow:

1. Assure cultural fit.

Of course, candidates must have the right skill set. It’s non-negotiable, but it’s only the start.

At Flying Horse Farms, our next step is a culture-fit interview. Our director of talent management shares our core values with candidates, asks them to reflect on those and then talks with the candidates to measure how they align with our organizational soul. We want people who are all in — only candidates whose values align with ours advance.

2. Empower your team.

Once candidates are deemed a good cultural fit, the people who would be their direct teammates interview them. After all, those folks best understand what is required to find success in that position. The only candidates I consider are people elevated to me by our team.

3. Hire smart people who aren’t too proud to admit failure.

Always try to hire people who are smarter than you and willing tell you no. We need a strong team a team ready to confront hard, complicated issues directly and people who are willing to agree to disagree.

Equally important as that level of confidence, however, is to hire people who are willing to take a risk and fail — and people who own their failures. I always ask candidates to describe their biggest failure. I don’t care that they’ve failed at something; we all have. I want to know how they responded. The best answer? “I blew it. Here’s what I learned.”

4. Trust your Ginny.

Long ago, I clerked for an amazing judge. While awaiting interviews, potential clerks usually spent 30 or so minutes with his secretary, Ginny. Most didn’t know that their fate had been decided before ever meeting the judge. She had as much say in the hiring process as anyone.

How candidates treat staff not on their team is a critical question for me. I also like to take candidates out to eat and encourage our team to do the same with finalists. How people treat servers tells us a lot. Do you want to work daily with a person who never acknowledges the presence of a server, or the one who immediately engages in a conversation?

5. When it’s time to let go, let go — and start again.

No matter how great our hiring process, we will occasionally fail. When we do, we’ve learned to make it right sooner than later. Negativity wrecks havoc quickly. So we kindly tell that person it’s time for him or her to transition. In the end, it’s the most humane thing for that person as well as for the team we’re counting on every day. Then we start over.


Mimi Dane is the CEO of Flying Horse Farms, a camp for children with serious illnesses. Located in Mt. Gilead, the camp serves hundreds of children each year — free of charge. The camp is a member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network, the world’s largest family of camps for children with serious illnesses, which was founded in 1988 by Ohio native Paul Newman.