How to Hire Like Richard Branson

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HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hiring someone who doesn't meet your expectations - whether in terms of their personality or performance - can be costly and frustrating for businesses.

Article 5 Minutes

*This article was updated on January 22nd, 2021.

Finding the right person for the job is one of the most difficult tasks for HR departments.

Recruitment can be a time-consuming and frustrating process, which could end up costing more than you expected. With this in mind, it’s nothing short of devastating when a new hire doesn't live up to the expectations they set out in their CV and during the interview process.

Not only does it mean a lot of money has gone down the drain and you need to start again, but managers can invest a great deal of time and effort into onboarding staff, which can mean they’re demoralized when new hires don't work out.

One person with great experience of hiring candidates that are the right fit for his company is Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson.

When it comes to business success it’s all about people, people, people.

The billionaire businessman prides himself on putting his employees at the heart of his company, offering some of the best benefits of any organization including free lunches, unlimited holiday and complimentary flights.

You can argue that, by implementing these benefits, Branson has an even bigger interest in hiring the right employees, as the cost of bringing someone into the company includes offering these elements.

So what advice does the Virgin mogul have for others looking to hire?

Personality is everything.

 

Branson has touted the importance of having employees that are the right fit for your company for a long time and here's why:

1. Skills can be learned

Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality.

 

He explains that most people can learn a job quickly if they are "thrown in the deep end" but personalities are much harder to mold. Identifying the candidates with transferable skills is also important, as things like being a team player and being able to take initiative are advantageous in all parts of a company, but intrinsically difficult to teach.

2. Judgment is key

You have to trust your instinct and put your trust in people.

 

Personality isn't something that always shines through in an interview, as many people can be shy in this scenario. Because of this, Branson says it's important to trust your gut. Candidates can often be more introverted or extroverted during the interview process than they are normally so look for the ones who seem passionate about the company. He also highlights the importance of finding people who are fun, friendly and want to help others.

3. Qualifications aren't everything

Great grades count for nothing if they aren’t partnered with broad-ranging experience and a winning personality.

 

Branson says managers can often get "caught up" on qualifications, but he only looks at them after going through everything else. He also has an unconventional opinion on specialists. Although these professionals are sometimes needed, versatility shouldn't be underestimated in terms of its importance in the workplace.

4. They can fill in your blanks

Find people who are better than you to do the things you’re not good at.

 

Being able to delegate is crucial. Branson, who is dyslexic, preaches the importance of finding people to “fill in his blanks”.

Instead of trying to take ownership of everything, delegating tasks to your team can produce better results and free you to focus on your strengths. Look for people with considerable experience and passion in areas you have difficulty with, so you can dedicate your time to what you do best.

5. Leaders can inspire others

We’re looking for people who are good at finding the best in others. They’re the leaders we want at Virgin. We try to make sure we keep them by rewarding and praising them.

 

Branson and Virgin look for natural leaders; people who can motivate, praise and find the best in others. Finding people with natural leadership qualities has a positive effect on the whole business. This comes hand-in-hand with personality and isn’t something that can be necessarily proved by qualifications.

6. They could already be working for you

The employee promoted from within will already know the business inside out and have the trust and respect of their team.

 

Virgin go the extra mile for their employees, and this is no different in their hiring strategy as he recommends promoting from within when hiring for new positions. Branson warns that a top-level hire from the outside “can destroy a business in no time at all”. While Virgin aren’t strangers to appointing outside hires into senior positions, there are obvious benefits in looking from within.

Internal hires can save HR a lot of money and effort. Plus, it’s likely they already know the candidate and the candidate knows the business and the company culture inside out. Promoting a member of staff will make them feel inspired and motivated by the trust placed in them.

7. Offering flexibility will help them thrive

Truly flexible roles have flexibility built in rather than added on and are designed to suit employers and employees alike.

 

Virgin were hiring remote workers long before the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Branson believes in flexible work but admits that there are no definitive rules and that it depends on what works for individual companies. Emphasizing flexibility in your job description will open you up to a larger range of candidates and provide security and confidence to applicants amid widespread lockdowns.

Flexibility is “a powerful tool for good, but only if it’s used properly”. While the last year has forced many businesses into making the difficult switch to remote working, those that have always emphasized adaptability continue to thrive. Look at the effect the WFH revolution has had on your performance and productivity; if the events of 2020 took you by surprise, consider making flexible working a part of your hiring and onboarding strategy to ensure you’re adequately prepared for uncertainty in the future.

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