Buying a Car and Hiring a Candidate: Yes, There Are a Few Similarities

So, my wife and I are looking for a second car.

My last car was wrecked when a 16 year-old smashed into the side of it two and a half years ago. And those who know the lovely experience of shopping for a car, a used car at that, knows the joy that I am experiencing right now.

Perhaps the most disconcerting part isn’t the shopping or negotiation part (I actually love negotiating price), it’s the fact that it is all too similar to something else I used to do on a regular basis: interviewing and hiring.

While hiring people is certainly much more complicated than buying a car, there are some similarities that take me back.

Buying for fit

When we started talking about getting a second car, we knew we didn’t want to invest in a new car yet. It might just be me, but buying a new car is easier. I can do my research and look at the top 50 cars released that year in Consumer Reports, narrow it down by type and price, and then do some test drives and get to my price.

So we started looking at used cars which, of course, means dealing with all sorts of different people, including private parties, reputable car dealers and shady places that look like they were put up last week.

And we looked at all kinds of cars, too. Sedans, coupes, wagons and SUVs (no Porsche) and we figured we wanted to stick with a late model sedan or wagon. And in that category, we also had preferred brands and styles.

Much like we do during the initial phase of hiring, you could have hundreds of people applying for the same job. You have to cut it down based on what your organization needs. There are certainly some great cars that we had to exclude from our search, but fit is what mattered here.

A sense of history

Finding the cars we wanted to look at wasn’t the big problem. Finding out more about them, test driving, and figuring out what lingering issues could be in the wings was the bigger challenge.

Now, I’m pretty good mechanically speaking. I change oil and spark plugs.

But I’ve got to tell you, when that guy (and yes, it is always a guy) wants to pop the hood and have me take a look at the engine, I don’t know what exactly I’m supposed to be looking for. Unless something is smoking or exploding and a bird doesn’t sound like it’s dying inside, I give it a thumbs up.

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The real story is about what I can’t see so easily, much like that which is behind the resume of a candidate. So I ask for things like maintenance records and ask questions about how it was driven, where it was driven and take note of the mileage and climate that it was typically driven in. If I’m on the verge of buying, I want to take it to a mechanic to give it a once over.

The battery of questions and tests we give to candidates is also important. Certainly, I’ve disqualified candidates (and cars) for failing, but I also made sure that the questions were valid ones and that the tests weren’t written by clowns.

But it is hard to ask the right questions when you simply don’t know the whole history.

Guesswork or more?

Is there risk every time you go out and buy a car or put an offer down on a candidate? You bet.

I hate that part, and in the midst of my impatience with shopping, it seems like I should just bite the bullet and deal with any problems that come down the road.

That’s not the wisest move. Even though I think that some tests can be bogus, it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in trying to figure out as much as possible about a candidate. The rate of success is just that much better even if it isn’t (and should never be regarded as) perfect.

Do your validated interviews and tests. It’s better than nothing, but it will still allow a clunker in once in a while.


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