4 Hiring Lessons From Business Guru Michael Gerber

When I was afforded the opportunity to talk one-on-one with renowned business author Michael Gerber, I cleared my schedule. And of course I asked him about hiring.

Gerber is the author of the best-selling E-Myth series along with Awakening The Entrepreneur Within and The Most Successful Small Business In The World. In 2010, Gerber was named “the world’s No. 1 small business guru” by Inc. Magazine.

You can listen to the audio of our 21-minute interview here or take five minutes to read my summary below.

What sparked our conversation on hiring was my asking him about this passage from The E-Myth Revisited: “It is literally impossible to produce a consistent result in a business that depends on extraordinary people.”

I wasn’t sure if his statement was an appropriate balance or a paradox. Hire great people who are going to grow your organization … but at the same time construct a business that doesn’t need great people.

Lesson #1: Hire “passionate students.”

“Great people to me are people who are empty of convictions that they’ve gained from experience in our industry,” Gerber said. “Great people are people who are in fact free of those convictions. Great people are passionate students: ‘Teach me, teach me, teach me, and teach me.’ So, if I get a person who’s open, enthusiastic, smiles a lot, genuinely enthusiastic about life, about work, about opportunity, that to me is the greatest of all great people.”

Lesson #2: Hire people who can be inspired.

“I talk about the five essential functions of an entrepreneurial business. The first and critical function is called ‘inspiration.’ That creates an epiphany. So I need someone who is capable of being inspired, and we have to provide inspiration all the time. That’s one of the most difficult things to do in any organization is to provide inspiration all the time with people who have ceased to be inspired.”

Lesson #3: View your people as “apprentices,” not “employees.”

“My very first job with every apprentice I’m bringing into my company is to teach, inspire, train, coach, and mentor that individual to become a master of (our) system. Until that individual knows how to become a master of that system, he’s not ready to go to the next step. Great people are created inside of great companies.”

Lesson #4: Stop overvaluing experience.

“I want to bring in the least experienced person, not the most experienced person, as an apprentice, and what they’re going to learn as an apprentice is our way. Our way is not this dogmatic thing that is rigid. Our way is our system — how we do it here that enables us to be as successful as we are, whatever the role might be for the individual who we’re bringing in.

“If that person can’t learn our way, they can never get to the point where they can begin the process of innovation, quantification, and orchestration, which is the true and continuous process of developing a business.”

Talking with Gerber reminded me of two of my company’s most successful hires — Sarah and Tim.

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Sarah had very little professional experience. She had been working hard as a restaurant server and bartender while attending school full time to earn her MBA at a nearby Penn State branch campus. Unsure if Sarah would enjoy her first office job, we created an intern position in our editorial department as a way of giving her a tryout with our team.

After partnering her with our editorial director — who oversees and teaches our editorial system — Sarah developed into the chief editor of one of our product groups. She led the team into fertile markets, won over some big-name customers, and even changed the name of one of our magazines to reflect the needs of the market.

When we met Tim, he was wrapping up his marketing degree and was working evenings cleaning offices. When our company representative arrived at the campus where Tim’s college was hosting a job fair, she couldn’t find a local newspaper to purchase. Students and faculty members walked past her. But Tim saw she was lost, offered directions, and walked with her to find a paper. Our pre-employment process revealed that while Tim lacked experience, he possessed uncommonly high character, so we hired him as a sales trainee.

After learning our system, he improved it and developed into one of our best-ever account executives. His unassuming, inquisitive, low-pressure approach to prospects was endearing and allowed him to gather facts that helped him make the sale. Millions of dollars in sales.

These examples illustrate what Gerber told me: Don’t base your conclusions solely on a candidate’s thin résumé. Inexperienced hiring managers — and even some veterans — often eliminate candidates who lack experience in the jobs they are applying for. That might be fine if you’re hiring a doctor or a mechanic. But for many jobs, it’s not the right tactic.