Hiring Others: Lessons Learned

handsA while ago, I had a project I could not complete on my own. I knew my own limitations – I can do a lot of stuff, but sometimes we all need help – so I went looking for recommendations from friends and colleagues.

While there is no shortage of eager professionals ready to help us, we all want the one who will work smoothly with us or with others, who will give us a budget that includes all the normal stuff we expect, and who will work through any difficulties that may arise (because nothing ever seems to go 100% smoothly) without getting defensive.

I did what I thought was due diligence, but here are a few lessons I learned that I will remember for a long time.

1. Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations / referrals of professionals they have actually used. It’s one thing to “hear” that person’s really good; it’s another to experience his or her workmanship personally. If they haven’t used this person’s services, ask who has. Then talk with that person.

2. Find out specifically how that professional behaved with unexpected setbacks. Did you work things out in a friendly and professional manner? Would you hire that person again?

This came up with a friend who needed a printer for a really specialized job. She did her due diligence, she thought. She asked numerous questions of her friends and colleagues, and a couple of printers who were recommended. She read over the very short contract. But there was one question she never asked, and as luck would have it, the printer never mentioned that specific issue. Her job had to redone – with both parties feeling totally aggrieved. And while we can’t foresee everything, we can ask and ask and ask, and see how that other person responds to those questions. Some folks get defensive when queried; others just answer the question calmly and professionally. Who do you want to work with?

My friend wishes she had asked at least this one question:

Have you worked on a project like mine before?

It might have sparked a useful conversation.

3. Go over any contract line by line, word for word. Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, the professional may say it’s a standard contract that everyone signs. Yes, it may include everything we expect … but what if it doesn’t? The time to find out is before we sign, not afterwards. Ordinary words and industry terms can mean totally different things to the professional and the customer; the time to make sure we fully understand everything is, again – before we sign.

While the above three points are basic, we often get carried away with wanting to believe that our project — whatever it is — will be done as we expect because the professional says it will. We’re in a better position before any job starts – before any contract is signed – to find out what we need to know that will help everything go smoothly.

Are there points you would add to this short list? What has helped you when hiring a professional in an industry you know little about? What advice would you give?