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One Simple Strategy To Hire Proven Winners

Keep it Simple Stupid. It is a beautiful approach − so long as you don’t complicate things. Let’s go back to the fundamentals of business: the team is the single most important part of your business and there’s two parts to having a world-class team:

  1. Hire great talent

  2. Create an amazing environment for the team to grow and thrive

Establishing and maintaining the right environment for your team is an ongoing process, but you only hire someone once. Let’s get it right. You can drastically increase your odds of success by doing one simple thing in the interview process, yet very few take the initiative to get this right. Invest the time and reap the rewards.

Ready to transform your hiring process and maximize your odds of success? Here’s the one thing you must do as part of the interview process:

Have the candidate complete an activity that mirrors what they will do on the job.

Look at their resume – read what they have done.

Ask them questions – listen to what they have done.

Stalk them online – see (perhaps quite colorfully) what they have done.

No matter what you do or what type of questions you choose to ask or not ask – have the courage to ask the candidate to do something during the interview.

There’s no substitute for getting shit done and if you aren’t having candidates do something in the interview, you’re setting the wrong precedent. You’re telling candidates, “we don’t do….we talk”.

You have a golden opportunity to learn how someone will actually work – don’t blow it like you did in college when you failed to ask the girl in your physics class out on a date. I can’t go back to college, but I can assure you that I won’t make another hire without giving an activity as part of the interview process.

Here’s how I’ve had success in the past with activities that give me incredible insight into how someone would work at my company:

Spend 30 minutes developing an activity that simulates what someone would actually do if they were to work for your company. I share one paragraph of background information, a couple sentences describing the situation, and a list of key questions the candidate needs to answer. Don’t hesitate to use this as a way to brainstorm something new you’re working on. Create a win-win, where you get fresh ideas from an outside perspective and the candidate gets to work on something interesting.

For marketing hires, I ask candidates to support a client pitch that requires five slides, a one-page written document, and a 10-minute presentation (5 minutes presentation & 5 minutes Q&A). It’s fun to be the client and learn about your company from someone else’s eyes. You’ll learn a lot about how clients view your company and how they are likely to judge your company.

Hiring an intern to do social media? Ask them to compose 20 tweets and 10 Facebook ads.

Looking for an operations person? Try a challenge where they have 30 minutes to setup a room, answer multiple customer emails, and deal with changes to the rules late in the game.

What about a sales person? All sales guys love to talk about what they are going to do – but only the good ones deliver. Consider asking them to map out their sales process for a specific client in detail & prepare a 10 minute pitch for the “key meeting” that’s part of the process. Choose products either not on the market or new to the market to test their ability to think critically rather than parrot back words on a company website.

Here are a few other tricks I’ve learned along the way:

  • Time box activities -- Ask the candidates to carve off two hours of time to work on the activity before the interview. Send the materials when their dedicated time starts and ask to receive the materials back at the end of two hours. You’ll learn a lot through this.

  • Remember the circumstances -- I once asked someone flying into town on a red-eye to prepare for a presentation the day of their flight. It was poor planning on my behalf, but I was really impressed with the candidate’s attitude and ability to deliver in a non-ideal situation.

  • Give everyone the same activity -- The cream will definitely rise to the top and you’ll eliminate any advantages from interview to interview.

  • Trust the Process -- If you’re worried about a “great” candidate not being excited about doing the activity, just think about how you’ll feel when they aren’t behind the bold new marketing campaign in nine months. If someone isn’t all in during the interview process, they sure as hell won’t be all in when they are on your team.

  • Learn and Observe -- Pay close attention to what types of clients and products candidates gravitate towards during the activity. You’re see casual and laid back candidates generally gravitate towards fun-loving companies (think: Moosejaw), while formal and serious people gravitate towards traditional companies (think: IBM).

Remember, keep it simple. You don’t need to create something sophisticated to learn how someone works, but you do need to see it for yourself.

Be courageous. Set the right tone. Embrace the activity.


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