Brilliant resources are available for impressive CV and cover letter formats, and copywriting tips - so how can hiring managers see past the 'fluff' and spot genuine talent?
This insight piece is based on our experience in interviewing hundreds of candidates over the years, as well as hiring over 80+ people across a multitude of different types of roles.
The first thing to note is that there is no reliable way to hire good people quickly, and you'll need to spend a surprising amount of time and effort to fill up your hiring pipeline with promising candidates.
In fact, hiring quickly is probably the biggest mistake that hiring companies make. The issue is that most people believe that they have great judgment, and so they think that by reading a cover letter and a CV, plus meeting a candidate for one or two interviews, they will have enough data to make an informed decision if that is the right person for the job.
The core issue with this approach is that it misses one hugely important factor - how does this person actually work? It's often very difficult to understand this based on prior work samples or portfolios, because you never quite know how much of that work is due to their personal contributions vs working with others in a team - and most non-trivial and valuable work experience is team-based, not individual work!
The other huge problem, is that if you let too many B-Team players into your organization, you'll soon end up with C-Team players as well, and you'll have a dysfunctional organization that can only achieve a fraction of its potential. By keeping the hiring standards high, and even increasing them each year, you'll ensure that you are constantly hiring the best and brightest.
With that said, let's get into the details on how to hire great people in a consistent manner.
Create a Desirable Place to Work.
Good candidates normally have a significant number of options with regards to their career, and so as a hiring manager or founder, you need to ask yourself...why should someone work in our organization?
And when we say that you need to create a desirable place to work, we don't mean that you need to have free drinks, ping pong tables, and relaxed rules. We mean that your organization actually has to stand for something that people can relate to, and that it needs to treat adults like adults, not like children with the typical boarding-school rules of coming in at set times, or working from a particular place.
Based on our research, the most desirable benefits you can give candidates is a place of work where there are ample opportunities for growth, where there is flexitime, and where they know that they will be working with other good people.
That last point, working with other good people, is perhaps one of the largest benefits that you can give to a potential candidate, and something that the very best candidates will take note of without fail.
Invest in Your Branding.
Often, companies make the mistake of making their brand all about the customer. While customer obsession is important - they do pay the bills and keep the lights on after all - it's equally important to ensure that your brand also works well for another key audience: future employees.
Ideally, you want your team to be proud of where they work, almost to the point where they are actually quite happy when friends or acquaintances ask where they work.
The best way to refocus your brand for future employees is to provide as much "inside" information as possible in a public manner about the way you work. Expose SOPs, have an up-to-date careers page on your website, show clear job descriptions for open positions, and give them as much information as possible to "sell themselves" long before they ever decide to actually reach out to you to apply to your company.
Crafting Job Adverts.
Whilst open applications are a great route to attracting top talent, the industry norm is simply to hire a specific skill when a specific set of tasks is required. For example, should a company need someone to create and manage a website, they'll simply advertise for a web designer with strong copywriting and graphic design skills.
However, there may be hundreds, or thousands, of capable applicants to apply, which would be extremely time consuming to filter through. This is where intelligently crafted adverts can come into play.
Use automatic filters with your application process, to ensure those not eligible for the role don't waste their time (and yours). If the particular task is dependant upon prior knowledge/education/experience, then you can make it a requirement for the person to click a check-box confirming that they possess the necessary skills.
In extreme cases, you can vet applicants with a simple pre-interview assessment, ensuring they can demonstrate their technical prowess. Numeracy and problem solving tests are common examples of such vetting processes.
As a rule of thumb, you'll be interviewing at least five candidates for each open position, and sometimes as many as ten or twenty. This means that you need to have a very large hiring pipeline of candidates that are applying to your company to ensure that the numbers work in your favour.
Just like in marketing and sales, don't obsess over one particular channel for your hiring pipeline. Use recruitment partners, run job adverts both on professional and social medias, post on job boards, and ask your team for referrals.
In our experience, the referrals that your existing team provide will normally give you some of highest quality candidates with the least number of false positives, so this is one channel that you should always be using. After all, if you already have A team players in your organization, they will refer to you additional A team players that you can recruit.
Don't (just) Hire Based on Experience.
While previous experience is obviously a huge benefit when trying to fill a role, don't overlook candidates that do not have the direct experience that you're looking for, because the best people are often the most malleable - they can easily learn new skills and adjust to new types of work without too many problems, and they also end up being significantly more open minded to not doing business in the usual ways...because they haven't yet had the chance to pick up any bad habits!
One of the key things is to look at what we call "M shaped" people, who know a lot about several fields, but additional also have a wider but less deep understanding of various related fields as well. These types of individuals can become great cross-functional team players that can give you tremendous returns.
Give Them Real Work.
As part of your recruitment process, you absolutely must give candidates some meaningful work to complete as a test.
Let us repeat...you must give candidates work to complete that you will evaluate.
This is absolutely the most important part of the recruitment process because it shows what they are capable of, instead of how good they are at writing cover letters or shaping CVs based on their previous work history, chatting in an interview, or generally being a likable individual.
There is the temptation to create standard briefs for various roles, but we believe that better results are achieved by creating ad-hoc test briefs for each candidate that applies. Now, because this is intensive work both for the candidate and also for the organization, it then works as a forcing function during the initial interview process.
The question must be asked: Does this candidate have enough potential for us to use our time to create a test brief, for them to complete it, and then for an entire group of us to sit down to evaluate it?
This nicely takes us to our next point...
Evaluate as a Team.
The benefits of evaluating each candidate as a team cannot be understated. It provides a significant amount of clarity as well as objectivity, and it's important that when the candidate comes to present the work they did in the test brief, that several members of the team that are evaluating the work have not met the candidate before.
They will be the most objective as they will be seeing that person and their work with a fresh pair of eyes, and will have little vested interest in being overly generous in their praise or harsh in their criticisms...in other words, they will be fair and impartial.
One point to note, is that you should apply believability-weighed decision making on your teams scoring of the candidate, especially if some of the team members are not in the same functional area as the candidate. This is quite obvious, but it's often surprising how many organizations tend to equalize everyone's opinions, even when there are clear experts in the room.
For instance, if you have a candidate for your marketing department presenting, your Head of Marketing should have more of a say that an engineer who was also invited to the test brief presentation as an additional pair of eyes. If the candidate was for the engineering department, then perhaps the Head of Marketing's opinion would not be weighed as much.
So that's our insight on years of effort, successes, and mistakes on building a recruitment process that actually provides an organization with high-quality people that will create a work environment that is fun, goal-oriented, and that helps everyone grow.
As a final point, it's always important to have a strong feedback circle, and there will be times when perhaps you hire the wrong person, and they do not make it past the probationary period. If that is the case, you then need to go back on your notes and understand what went wrong. What failed in the evaluation process? How do you improve next time?
This type of thinking, this idea of constant improvement, can reap a significant amount of rewards of applied consistently over long periods of time.
Now go out there and hire some great people!
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