Hiring is the most time consuming and important activity any organization undergoes. Anyone running a business should consider themselves the ultimate ‘head of talent’ (despite the benefit of bringing in senior HR leadership as the company scales). However, best practices around the various stages of hiring in my experience are not universally well understood or followed. Since most of onefinestay NYC’s hiring needs are at entry level, that’s the topic of this post.
Setting the stage
Entry level hiring is challenging because there’s a limited amount of hard experience for someone only a few years out of school - and soft qualities typically matter more than hard. At onefinestay, we find future leaders are best groomed, not hired, and more times that not come from within, making entry level hiring critical to long term success. We see thousands of resumes a year, and educational pedigree or first job rarely tells a complete story. Some of the things we look for beyond the resume are early signs of leadership and work ethic - did you work throughout high school or college, did you have a hand in helping shape a local business in your hometown, etc. More on this below.
Currently at onefinestay NYC, we’ve decided not to centralize hiring to a ‘head of talent’ or recruiting manager and keep responsibility with team leads who act as hiring managers. This is because one of the key skills for managers is to know how to hire themselves - bringing in a high momentum new hire from spec to close is one of the key indicators for any hiring manager that they are ready to be managing a team.
Stage #1: Writing your spec
It’s always critical to write a job spec, even if the hire ends up coming from within the company (in many ways especially if the hire ends up coming from within the company). Writing a spec is the essential forcing mechanism for the manager to think through the specific skills and qualities they want to add to their team. I’ve seen many hiring processes start with a fuzzy spec, and then the role eventually molded to the specific skills of a specific candidate, rather than the needs of the organization. Putting it all down on paper in a structured format is also the cardinal exercise in expectation setting between the hiring manager and the candidate, and provides hard criteria to test against in an interview setting.
Here are a few other tips for spec writing:
- Set a few ‘non negotiable’ hard qualities or skills that are identifiable from a resume to help narrow the hiring pool and focus on what’s essential for success in the role. Otherwise, the time spent screening and bringing in qualified - but not home run - candidates with have amplified effects downstream, mostly on the hiring manager’s (already scarce) time.
- Write a spec using easily understood, externally-facing language. Every organization has a way they present themselves to the customer-facing world and their own internal way of speaking. However a spec isn’t the right venue for a brand overdose. I believe the role of a job spec is to attract the best people by attracting interest from as wide a pool as possible - period. Cultural and organizational fit can assessed throughout the hiring process.
- Have a few different titles in mind. It always amazes me how a job title
influences candidate propensity to apply. Some people prefer whimsy e.g. ‘Jack of all trades’, others ‘hard’ titles e.g. operations coordinator. The title and perhaps even the first paragraph should be split tested in the sourcing process - candidate acquisition in the digital world isn’t entirely different than customer acquisition.
Stage #2a: Sourcing
Unless you are Google or Facebook with enormous inbound flow from the best and the brightest, chances are the way you advertise your spec is going to be the most critical success determinant in the process. Alongside the right kind of spec, our goal when sourcing is to address the largest possible candidate pool, and it’s our job to be clever about how to whittle it down and find what we’re looking for. It’s not particularly difficult to ensure your spec has the widest possible distribution, it’s just an often overlooked or neglected part of the overall process. It’s tempting to put a spec on the /jobs page and watch the applications roll in - the reality is in my experience most of the best talent needs to be proactively hauled in.
For entry level hires into the NYC business, we’ve found that college job boards, Craigslist, and startup specialists like HireArt & Lynxsy yield the best results. It’s amazing to me how many great people are still looking for jobs on Craigslist - and it’s an instant response channel. Average quality is low, which places even more emphasis on screening, but in our experience some of our best people found us through this channel. It’s also a channel that requires regular maintenance; just like Google ads or eBay listings, placement matters a lot and as soon as you’re on the second page of listings conversion drops off dramatically. Posting on college job boards is time consuming, so we typically choose a handful of schools that we’ve had success with in the past - often ones where there’s alumni active in the organization. Focusing on a few schools also allows us to build relationships with the career services offices, who can often be helpful agents and direct the right type of people our way.
We were an early client of HireArt, who has a great approach which subscribes to the ‘wide pool / whittle down’ framework. They distribute job ads through all of the main recruitment sites as well as university job boards, and funnel applicants through a fairly intensive video screening process. We’ve found that this saves precious screening time and gives us highly qualified candidates. The question we’ve had about this approach is whether or not we are creating too much of a hurdle to apply when the candidate hasn’t yet been properly introduced to us.
Lastly we’ve created a profile on The Muse, which gives us a venue to showcase our office and culture and has generated lots of inbound interest.
Stage #2b: Screening
After you’ve ensured your spec is being seen by a wide audience, time to focus on screening. A hiring manager’s time is always scarce, and spending tons of time screening can be a huge time sink. So besides figuring out which qualities are non-negotiable, I typically have candidates write a few simple paragraphs answering some basic questions - why onefinestay, why this role in particular. I don’t generally read cover letters as I find them to be too ‘form’ and unspecific.
Specific written communication not only begins to probe motivations and depth of thought, but is a great way to see the quality of written communication and attention to detail - e.g. any typos or obvious grammar errors in an email sent on your own time doesn’t bode well for composure in the heat of the moment. We’re a business that prides itself on clear customer communication, so this is a great indicator.
To capture this information without revealing specific email addresses - which can lead to a lot of unnecessary email traffic for unqualified candidates, I typically include link to a Wufoo survey at the bottom of the spec that allows the candidate to attach their resume and answer basic questions.
Stage #3: Managing the ‘CX’
Does your organization care about customer experience? Then you should also really care about ‘candidate experience’ - well-run hiring processes lead to the right employees which lead to a natural focus on great customer experience - it’s all a continuum.
A few important call outs:
- Choose your interview panel carefully. Ideally it should be a mix of decision makers (peers, sign-off superiors, etc.) and culture 'promoters’. Be clear about everyone’s role in the process, and ideally have the individual team members probe specific areas that they have a unique talent in. Your panel is also an excellent opportunity to transparently showcase the caliber of talent already in the organization.
- It’s the hiring manager’s job to chaperone the candidate through the in-person interview process, both on the day and after - not the office manager or anyone else. This is a unique opportunity to build rapport with someone you are potentially entering a long-term relationship with. Make them feel welcome, be hospitable and sensitive, check in with them throughout the day, and ‘tail’ the day with a coffee / beer / walk around the block as the situation permits. Also dead time sitting and waiting between interviews is a real momentum killer - if this is unavoidable, have the courtesy to provide the candidate with some company information to read, invite them to take a walk, introduce them to a team member not on the panel so they can learn more about the company, etc.
- If you have an open plan, buzzy office: take advantage of it. Don’t usher the candidate too quickly into the 'interview chamber’. Grab a coffee with them, allow them to get a sense of the office culture and vibe. Ideally the candidate leaves with an idea of what it’s going to feel like to work here.
- Startups need creative problem solving. If your candidate asks for an office address when it’s publicly available on the website, or doesn’t know anything about you when you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, this doesn’t bode well for resourcefulness in the future.
How I like to interview
I subscribe to the David Rosenblatt interview school - I want to understand as much as I can about the motivation of the candidate and what’s led to the decisions they’ve made - which university they chose, what they thought they wanted to do in college vs what they’ve actually done, how they decided on the career path they’ve pursued to-date, and why onefinestay is the next logical step on their journey. I want to understand what specifically they want to get out of the experience, and whether we as an organization can help achieve those goals for a mutually successful, long-term partnership if expectations are met on both sides.
An extra bonus for me - can the candidate add something new and distinctive to the organization so we are constantly expanding and extending our capabilities and knowledge? This could be directly relevant to onefinestay e.g. intense thoughtfulness around customer experiences, skill based e.g. speaking a language that no one in the office speaks (which has come in handy in all sorts of strange ways), or a specific area of knowledge or talent that it’s going to enrich the office environment. It’s a good proxy for the individual being able to expand their circle of influence and emerge as a true future leader.
Any questions remaining after the interview process can be addressed in referencing - which is a sub-topic in its own right that I plan to address in a future post. In my experience, referencing is a rare opportunity to complete the picture of a candidate prior to joining, and provides a roadmap for candidate development and a mutually successful reporting relationship. Referencing should be run by the hiring manager, and treated as a critical part of the process, not an afterthought.
Stage #4: Closing
Like the rest of the process, closing is no one’s job besides the hiring manager - although this is often a great time to get the founder(s) / CEO involved. Any great candidate is going to have alternatives, so ensuring that you are best positioned for success requires care and attention.
Here are a few pointers for maximizing probability of success at the closing stage.
- Directness & honesty - part of any closing process should make the candidate feel good - after all, they’ve made it this far. However it’s also another opportunity to expectation-set and provide valuable feedback that should be addressed should the candidate join - without overdoing it. Realistically, in most companies it’s going to be many months before there’s a formal review cycle, so regardless of the outcome it’s a great opportunity for the candidate to hear feedback from their process. It’s the first step in a transparent relationship for both sides.
- Offer fairly - getting someone ‘on the cheap’ is a false economy. If the candidate works out, they’ll quickly ingrain themselves in the organization - at which point they’ll talk to their colleagues and find out anyway. Have fair, non-candidate specific pay bands and justification for comp packages at every level.
- Give your time generously - committing to a job is a high opportunity cost decision for both sides. Make yourself available for further questions, sell discussions, & whatever else it takes to ensure there’s full information on both sides.
- But, time is not your friend - I don’t believe in short-fuse exploding offers, but nor do I believe hanging an offer out there for weeks. If you’ve run a proper process and given an ample amount of exposure to the organization and yourself, the candidate should really know (assuming fair market offer) whether they ‘want it’ or not. A few days or a weekend should be enough time.
- End on a high & don’t overextend - when negotiation ends, make sure there’s a good taste left in everyone’s mouth and that you haven’t agreed to things you realistically can’t deliver.