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With the U.S. unemployment rate at the lowest point in nearly a half century, finding, recruiting and retaining talent is a real pain point for most companies. So, if you want to have better success bringing on good people, you need to look in the right places, ask the right questions and promote your company’s unique offerings. Here’s advice from more than a dozen successful founders and executives on how to do it.
1. When in doubt, do not hire.
“As humans, we have a tendency to avoid rejecting others. As a result, I’ve seen a bias to give candidates a chance that they ‘could’ do the job, as well as managers that will theoretically commit to coaching and ramping a new employee. However, universally I have found our spidey sense of risks during interviews becomes true, and managers are too busy to actually provide the level of coaching less qualified candidates need. The cost of having a mediocre candidate in a role is much higher than leaving it unfilled… If I observe an interview panel on the fence, I ask them to assume their doubts are true and consider whether those risks are acceptable.”
–Sandi Lin, cofounder and CEO of Skilljar, a customer training and enablement platform used by Cisco, Verizon, and Tableau to accelerate product adoption and increase customer retention; prior to Skilljar, she was a senior manager at Amazon.com, and is a graduate of MIT and the Stanford Graduate School of Business
2. Find out what their side projects are.
“[W]e need colleagues who truly live and breathe tech. I like to always ask candidates if they are working on anything at home or in their free time. Most candidates are used to answering what they are working on currently at work, but only a truly passionate tech person always has a pet project on the side.”
–Sushil Prabhu, CEO of OpenCrowd, Inc., a FinTech-Blockchain solutions firm helping investment banks and startups build custom Blockchain solutions, which has experienced 30 percent growth every quarter since 2017
3. Reconsider hiring altogether.
“In today’s tight labor market, successful employers dispense with old notions about how to get work done. To fill skill gaps and accomplish strategic business goals, they scan the talent landscape to access the right people wherever they are–oftentimes the best talent for the job may be free agents. For instance, a CMO can introduce fresh ideas in the rapidly changing marketing automation specialty by engaging skilled suppliers and contractors; a human resources director may encourage a peer to buy time from a highly-skilled independent contractor to address cyber security or risk management requirements rather than creating another head count; and a research and development director can access a wealth of talent by tapping on-demand, online marketplaces to source freelancers to work on their product design. These are just some ways savvy managers are rethinking the design of their workforce, blending it with external workers who don’t want to be on your payroll.”
–Arun Srinivasan, SVP of strategy and customer operations at SAP Fieldglass, a provider of external workforce management and services procurement which has deployed its cloud-based, open platform in more than 180 countries
4. Think about diversity and inclusion from the start.
“I was Lever’s only female employee for two years, something I’d become accustomed to throughout my career in tech. Once other people from underrepresented groups joined the company, I began to see many of the challenges I had faced as a woman and minority. We formed our first diversity and inclusion task force when we had just 10 employees, and set out to build a company culture that would attract talent of all different backgrounds and allow them to be successful. We then went outbound to build relationships with diverse talent pools, and built a diverse hiring team to engage and assess them. Fast forward to today and our team’s gender balance is 50:50: 54 percent of our managers and 43 percent of our board identify as female, and 46 percent of our employees are non-white.”
–Sarah Nahm, cofounder and CEO of Lever, an applicant tracking system and recruiting platform serving over 1,700 customers in 40 countries; prior to Lever, she worked at Google leading the growth of the Chrome browser from launch to over 150 million active users and was a speech writer for Marissa Mayer
5. Find and hire a diamond in the rough.
“Almost all hiring processes start with the same first step. Someone looks at a resume and contacts only the candidates with recognizable schools and companies listed. There are certainly talented candidates in the pile of resumes that get discarded and it’s a competitive advantage if you can identify them. Instead of just putting together a job description for a role, think about the specific skills and knowledge you’re looking for in candidates. Then put together a set of questions that test if someone has them. Make them multiple choice so they’re easy to review and offer this to candidates as the first step. Review the results and give a chance to candidates with unimpressive resumes who do well. You may be able to hit your hiring goals faster than you thought.”
–Harj Taggar, cofounder and CEO of Triplebyte, a technical hiring marketplace used by companies like Apple and Dropbox to hire top software engineers which recently raised a $10 million Series A with investors including Paul Graham and Marissa Mayer
6. Find out how they handle disagreements with higher-ups.
“I ask applicants, ‘Who has your favorite manager been, and why?’ Their answer will tell you how they like to be managed, and perhaps more importantly, how they will manage. A great follow-up is, `How did you handle a situation where you disagreed with your boss?’ I want to hear that they found positive ways to have a constructive conversation with their manager. That question will also tell you how open they are to listen to people with differing opinions.”
–Evan Hackel, CEO of both Ingage Consulting and training development company Tortal Training, who has clients which include hundreds of franchises and other businesses in the retail, technology, automotive, food service and other sectors
7. Realize that a someone who’s good at interviewing may not be the best person for the job.
“When hiring, most people look for who appears to be what they have decided they need. Whether that’s the best resume or the best interviewer, however, most of the time those people are also the best at ‘getting the job’ not ‘being what you the job requires.’ Instead, I suggest looking for who matches the energy of what you’re trying to create. To find that, try asking these questions like: ‘What inspires you to create?’ ‘What are some of the things you see that are great about you?’ and ‘What’s the one thing I should have asked you, that I haven’t?’ When you ask questions like these, you’ll get beyond the perfect interview responses and expose who the person really is, and what they’ll actually bring to your business.”
–Brendon Watt, global speaker and CFO of Access Consciousness Australia-Asia, a motivational organization which has been operating for over 30 years in more than 176 countries worldwide
8. Find out what comes easy to the candidate.
“Hiring for now and the future requires adding people that are willing to leverage their past experiences as information and awareness, not those who focus on the past to create the future. Not all potential candidates have the key words an organization may be looking for on a resume, but it’s important to seek out their level of curiosity and creativity. What comes easily to them? (And it may not be what they consider holds value). That would be an area that they will likely excel in with no effort. It’s also important to ask: is this candidate willing to be authentic or are they desiring to create the same thing already done with a new name? Problem solvers create problems to solve. Does this candidate focus on the problems or the possibilities that each situation provides? Who can you add to your business that is willing to stay in the question, leverage everyone’s strength and awareness, and provide a competitive edge by creating something that has never existed?
–Laleh Alemzadeh-Hancock, president and CEO of Belapemo and Global Wellness for All, services organizations which have empowered more than 4,500 individuals in 12 countries achieve optimal growth in 2018 with clients including Fortune 500 executives, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, athletes, youth and veterans
9. Hold a structured interview instead of a conversational interview.
“We find structured interviews to be the best method of accurately determining the best fit for a role. In a structured interview, each candidate applying for a specific role is asked the same questions and interviewed by the same people. This is different than unstructured interviews, or conversational interview, in which questions are not planned and different candidates are measured on different traits that haven’t previously been established by the hiring and recruiting team. We find this also helps internally define the goals of the role. The amount of time one has been working isn’t always telling of their skills or qualifications. Before writing a series of questions or assessments, it’s helpful to evaluate which factors you are looking to assess for a particular role. Does their past experience need to align perfectly? Are you looking for someone who is metrics-driven and goal-oriented, or is this something you’re willing to teach later?”
–David Reid, founder and CEO of EaseCentral, a benefits enrollment platform used by more than 50,000 businesses
10. Show candidates your innovative space.
“In order to hire top-level talent, you need to create an environment in which they can flourish. We recently custom built a brand-new smart office in Ghent with the goal of creating an exciting place to work for our team of software engineers and data scientists. Our Ghent office is modern and glass-filled, with flexible, ergonomic desk space built with the latest technology. To help manage its functionality and efficiency, the innovative smart office was embedded with sensor technology, interactive dashboards and virtual assistants to schedule meetings and book conference rooms. Pre-opening we even held an internal hackathon to help optimize this office technology.”
–Sean Fitzpatrick, CEO of OTA Insight, a cloud-based data intelligence platform for the hospitality industry supporting more than 30,000 clients in 140 countries
11. Promote remote working.
“We have a remote company (of 100, 65 work from home or in a remote ‘non office’ location). We also promote this and look for the right people who work well in this type of culture. Not everyone does. To stay close, we have a monthly all-hands [meeting], we have employees highlight their talents (last week one of our product managers sung an opera song to our whole company) and we have employees vote for who espouses our values the most in the past month. [Also], we pay employees a referral fee for someone they bring to us that gets hired.”
–Jason T. Andrew, cofounder and CEO of Limelight Health, who has led Limelight Health through three rounds of funding and helped the company close contracts with some of the largest and most well-known U.S. companies
12. Hire strategic and operational candidates.
“When I hire people who possess these traits, I know I can trust them to get things done and in turn, grow the company. You need the strategy part–employees who can chart the course in their individual departments or areas of specialization, think long-term, come up with goals, and determine the best route to get achieve them. But then, that plan needs to come to life and become transformed into smaller, actionable steps that can be measured, hence the need for the operational trait.”
–Dan Latendre, founder and CEO of Igloo Software, a digital workplace solutions provider with a global footprint in more than 80 countries, exceeding more than 1 billion digital workplace interactions monthly
13. Ask weird interview questions.
“When using chatbots to interview applicants, one needs to become creative in asking questions, sometimes in a weird way. The best weird question that has become popular during an interview is ‘If you were to get rejected today, why would it be?’ forcing applicants to self-reveal any weaknesses.”
–Sahil Sahni, cofounder of AllyO, a Silicon Valley-based AI human resources technology company used by Fortune 500 enterprises which have experienced a two to six-fold increase in applicant capture and conversion rate, seen a 91 percent application completion rate, and experienced over 50 percent reduction in cost and time to hire
14. Use an unconventional hiring panel.
“Interviewees usually expect to meet a group head, direct hiring manager and maybe a few people from the direct team they are interviewing for. In some instances hiring managers have brought in office managers, admins and even individuals from completely different business lines to help evaluate cultural fit. Instead of technical questions being asked, there is more of a casual conversation held to see who they are as a person and how they interact with people outside of their direct remit. As team and company culture continues to prove to be one of the more important factors in determining if a hire is made, more and more companies are expanding their horizons as to who sits in on the panel to ensure a well-rounded interview process.”
–Kareem Bakr, director at Selby Jennings, a multi-award-winning global recruitment organization and financial flagship brand of Phaidon International
15. Hire more video gamers.
“When I interview people I like to ask about the hobbies that they enjoy in their free time, and oftentimes, these hobbies can offer something of value or translate well into the workplace. Surprisingly, I actually find a lot of success in hiring people who enjoy hobbies such as gaming, blogging or streaming YouTube videos. People who enjoy hobbies like these are used to sitting in front of screens, whether it is a computer, TV or mobile screen, and typically are in tune with the ins and outs of technology. Therefore, they are quicker to adapt to and pick up on new computer tasks. I find people with these hobbies are often more skilled at analyzing, reporting, composing documents and combing the internet for relevant research.”
–Lior Rachmany, founder and CEO of Dumbo Moving + Storage, a New York City moving company which has made the Inc. 5000 list four times