Hiring & Recruitment Best Practices

By Cole Jackson

Whether you’re a founder who wants to build a leadership team to scale your company quickly, or you need to backfill a position on the executive team, recruiting “A” players is crucial to a company’s success. 

The following recruiting best practices are key to running a successful search and hiring the best candidates. While this process is typically used for executive-level roles, you can adapt many of these steps to help fill entry-level roles at your company. 

Getting started

You’ve identified the need to create a new leadership position. Now what? Keep in mind that A players are often happily employed and may not necessarily be looking to make a move. We often begin by engaging a sector-focused recruiter with a base of personal relationships in a specific industry. In this network, we are more likely to find those candidates who would be a great fit but aren’t actively searching for a new role. Interview two to three recruiters before deciding which one is the best fit to lead your search. 

Meanwhile, don’t discount your own network or that of your other employees. High performers generally know other high performers; this can be a great way to access quality candidates without solely relying on an online job platform or recruiter. 

photo by Eric Proust via Unsplash

Create an external position profile and internal scorecard 

Rather than a quick list of duties and basic requirements, create a more thoughtful position profile and share it with both recruiters and candidates. A complete position profile should capture key facts about your company, objectives for the role, education, experience or competencies needed for success, as well as key personality characteristics for a successful candidate. Additionally, it should give both recruiters and candidates a sense of your company’s culture so candidates can begin to self-select as to whether your culture could be a good fit. 

In addition to the external position profile, create an internal scorecard to help you evaluate candidates. This document should define success for a candidate, and it can be used throughout the interview process to objectively score candidates. To develop this scorecard, define both the mission of the position and the outcomes expected from the hired candidate. Make the mission specific; it shouldn’t sound like it could apply to any position within your company. Similarly, the list of key outcomes isn’t meant to capture everything in this employee’s responsibility, but rather a shorter list of outcomes critical to success in the role. These should be measurable and preferably timebound. 

Build a robust candidate pool

To increase the likelihood of reaching the best candidates and to position yourself to be highly selective later in the process, build a large candidate pool. Even if you’ve hired a recruiter, you can take additional steps to create this list. Ask for referrals from employees, others in your personal or professional network, or recruiters who may work on a non-exclusive, success fee basis. Consider platforms such as LinkedIn, Indeed or Handshake, including any industry-specific sites or pages within these sites. 

Also keep in mind the timeline for the search. Some positions or industries have well-defined recruitment cycles, so recruiting outside of these times can limit the first candidate pool and may result in fewer top-quality candidates.

The interviews

For most executive roles, take your time to understand candidates and assess fit — that means the interview process might be long. Start with a four-step process: (1) screening interview, (2) longer second-round interview, (3) case study or technical interview, and (4) interviews with team members who can address cultural fit. 

Keep the first screening interviews brief; around 30 minutes is a good target. To allow for easier comparability across candidates, use a consistent, structured interview format and set of questions. Even in the screening interview, create a two-way dialogue so you begin to learn about the goals of each candidate and what drew them to the role (rather than you just presenting what you’re looking for and having candidates try to explain how they fit). Allow time for candidates to ask questions during this interview so those who don’t see a good two-way fit can self-select out. Following the initial interview, be selective with who you invite to the second round. From this point on, both you and the candidate will be investing significant time in the process, so you want to avoid wasting anyone’s time. 

2nd round

Second-round interviews should be longer to allow you to understand a candidate’s prior experiences, career goals, patterns of behavior and achievement. These interviews can run from 60 to 90 minutes. The “Who” method of interviewing, which involves an in-depth chronological walkthrough of the candidate’s academic and career journey, is ideal at this stage. 

The purpose of the Who interview is to develop a well-reasoned view of patterns of behavior. Has this candidate found a way to be successful at every step in their academic and career journey? Have they had relationship problems with their former colleagues? Do they tend to assign blame to others in instances when goals haven’t been met? 

If more than one person from your company is interviewing candidates at this stage, compare questions before any meeting. A second interviewer should not be asking the same set of questions as the first; their focus should be on developing further questions that identify the patterns discussed above. Use the scorecard you developed at the start of the process. 

Technical interview

Depending on the nature of the position and your industry, a technical interview or case study might help the process. This should be relevant to the role and designed to assess technical skills or understand how the candidate’s vision for the role or outcomes align with your definition of success. Be very selective about who you move to this step from the Who interview; only ask candidates whom you and other interviewers have determined are likely to be successful in the role, using this step to validate that decision (rather than a way to make that determination). 

To make your decision on a candidate, combine data gleaned through the interview process with other objective data points, such as performance on the technical interview or case study. Others can include the pace or frequency of prior promotions, if they’ve been recruited by former colleagues to new companies or positions, any quantitative scores from prior performance evaluations, or college or graduate school GPAs. 

After you’ve selected the candidate you want to hire, engage your broader team to confirm cultural fit. Focus on employees who will be working directly with the new hire and have them meet with the candidate in one-on-one or two-on-one informal interviews, maybe over coffee or lunch. Your team members should use this time to assess cultural and personal fit. Is everyone excited to work with this candidate? Do they seem interested and excited to work with the rest of the team? Are there any personality “red flags” that arise in the less formal setting? 

Reference calls

After you’ve extended an offer and the candidate has accepted, take one more step to validate your decision: reference calls. This shouldn’t be a surprise to the candidate; you should let them know in earlier interviews that this is part of your process and ask them to confirm they’re able and willing to provide references. Don’t skip this step just because you’re eager for the candidate to start. References can corroborate the patterns of behavior you’ve come to learn about your new hire during interviews. Ask questions like those you asked the candidate in interviews to see how closely their answers align with their references’ answers. 

While this process can feel lengthy and requires significant effort, it’s easier than replacing people when new hires turn out not to be a good fit. Your goal through any recruitment process should not be to complete the interviews as quickly as possible, or to extend an offer to the “best interviewer.” Remember, your goal is to ensure to the greatest extent possible that your chosen candidate is successful and is a win-win opportunity for you both. A thoughtful and in-depth process allows you to confirm this fit, rather than relying on intuition. 

Cole Jackson is senior vice president, portfolio acceleration at Montage Partners. He collaborates with the firm’s portfolio company management teams to establish and execute each company’s growth strategy. Previously, Jackson was a senior manager at Accenture Strategy, where he worked with clients across industries to improve operations and develop and implement new operating models. Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University.

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