Emily Donahue on team-building: how to make good hires

emily donahue | WomenAdvance.com

Emily Donahue, KUT executive producer of “Texas Standard,” shares her experience: how to make good hires.

Making a hire is arguably the toughest and most important thing you’ll ever do as a leader. No other decision does as much good — or harm — to your team, now and for a long time to come.

So how do you learn to do it well?

Hiring is much on the mind of Emily Donahue these days, as the KUT (Austin) news director expands her team for “Texas Standard,” the daily news program slated to debut this January. Donahue was the featured speaker at a recent leader luncheon hosted by Women Communicators of Austin.

Hiring, she says, “is so important to building your team. One ‘off’ hire can spoil everything.”

Donahue, a 30-year veteran journalist who founded KUT’s news department, admits to making some great hires (like Kai Ryssdal of “Marketplace”) as well as some less-than-stellar hires before she discovered Behavioral Interviewing.

Put in the hiring legwork ahead of time, because a dysfunctional team is hard to fix.

“I took classes in how to choose the right fit. The word I consider: ‘team.’ Even in this era, the team is more important than the individual. No one can do everything, and, if you think so, you bring stress into the workplace. A team can have a star, but the star has to fit into the team.”

Every hire is an opportunity to increase the skill level of the team. “I fill at the level the job was left, not from scratch. I fill at the higher level,” she explains. And she always aims first to fill the gap in-house.

The news director begins the hiring process by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the departing team member. “I ask, ‘What worked well, and what didn’t? What skills does the team need moving forward?'”

And it’s important, Donahue emphasizes, to discern a potential hire’s core motivation before inviting her onto the team. “It might be ego, or pride, or competition. It’s too late to make that discovery after the team is in place.”

emily donahue | WomenAdvance.com

“Texas Standard” executive producer Emily Donahue, at left.

A typical warm-up question: “What do you enjoy doing the most?” (In other words: “What makes you tick?”) Or: “What makes you feel important?” Another favorite: “How responsible are you, on a scale of one to ten?”

The Behavioral Interview method suggests asking questions about situation behavior. “I’m hiring not for skills but for how someone acts.”

Her final advice? “Put in the hiring legwork ahead of time, because a dysfunctional team is hard to fix.”

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