How to hire: A crash course

Hiring is a critical skill for you as a business owner to have because your team can make or break your small business. But, hiring is something in which most business owners have little experience or training. If you are one of them, here’s my crash course on how to hire the right person for the job.

Step 1: Know before you go

The most important thing to do before you go shopping is to make a list. The most important thing to do before you start hiring is to know what you are hiring for — and the characteristics of a person who is likely to do that job well.

Write a job description

Write a thorough job description so that you know what job needs to be done and what success looks like for that job. Then think carefully about the traits of other people that you’ve seen be successful in this type of role. If it’s a new role in your company, ask other people who have managed similar roles; other business owners can be helpful here. What do people need to be like to be successful in this type of job? What kind of personality traits would they have? What kind of experience do they need?

Write a compelling ad

The job description is a good document for you to manage the successful candidate with, but a lousy document to attract good candidates. Write a compelling job posting highlighting the challenges and opportunities that a successful candidate would face. Position the job as hard work, but rewarding — then sell the opportunity with your company. Positioning the job this way attracts more engaged candidates who want to make a difference, exactly the kind of people who make great employees.

Step 2: Get the word out

The more candidates you attract, the more likely it is that you will find a good one. So you want to create a large pool of qualified candidates. This means using all the tools at your disposal to get the word out about your job including:

  • Advertising
    Pick a big job board and buy an ad. Is there a niche job board in your industry? Buy one there too.
  • Word-of-mouth
    Tell everyone you know. Put it on your LinkedIn profile, send it out in an email (not just to business contacts; let friends know too). Your best leads will come through loose connections.
  • Where do these candidates congregate? Go there.
    Is there someplace (in person or online) where people in this type of job congregate? A trade association, online community, meet up or other place? Get the word out there.
  • Who do you know?
    Don’t be afraid to send the job positing directly to folks who might be good candidates. Maybe you met them at a trade show or networking. Even if they aren’t interested they’ll be flattered — and they might know someone…

Step 3: Screen ’em

Getting candidates to apply is half the job, now you have to screen the good ones from the bad ones. If you’ve done a good job of attracting candidates, you should have 100 or more applicants. One of those is the right one — but how to find that one?

  • Use a candidate management tool
    Sorting through a pile of resumes in your email inbox can quickly get overwhelming; thankfully, there are tools that will help you sort and search through those resumes more painlessly (and in less time). Use one!
  • Use Google/LinkedIn/Other
    As you are sorting through the pile of applicants take a few minutes to use the power of the Internet to learn more about the more attractive candidates. Do a quick Google search on their name, search them in LinkedIn or in other social networks. If they are good at what they do it should show.
  • Tasks in their responses
    If you ask them to include something special in their cover letter, ask them to tell you why they are applying to your company or what drew them to this career. By doing this, you can easily separate out those who are just sending you canned responses or those who can’t follow simple directions.

Phone screen

Start narrowing down your list to the best 10 − 20. Then, begin your phone screen.

  • Time saver
    The purpose of the phone screen is to eliminate the those applicants that you would know from the first 5 minutes of the interview aren’t the right candidates. Phone screens should be short, 30 minutes or so, and focused, just covering the basics like, can they do the job?
  • Written guide
    Don’t just pick up the phone and call; you want to keep this short and focused so write down 5 − 10 questions before you call. Use the same questions for each candidate to make it easier to compare them. This is a phone screen, not an interview. If you are going to do 10 − 20 of these, you need to keep them brief. This will help you eliminate the candidates that are “off” or whose experience isn’t right on. Don’t forget to ask about compensation; if they are out of your range anyway, there’s no point in investing in the interviews.

Face-to-face interviews

Don’t lose heart! You are getting close to the finish line! Now is the time to press in and really find the best candidate. This is your chance to really get to know the candidates and find the best one, so don’t skimp on the interviews. There’s no law that says they have to be an hour. I usually take 2 − 2 1/2 hours for each interview. I know that seems like a lot, but this decision is critical to your business success. Take your time!

  • Prepare a written guide
    Once again, don’t wing it! Interviews without a written guide have about a 50% chance of predicting success in the job. Improve your odds by writing down some questions that will better help you assess his or her success in this role.
  • Understand their work history
    Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Ask them to take you through their past jobs: What did they do in each one (them specifically)? What did they like/dislike? What were their bosses like…
  • Ask behavioral questions too
    Hypothetical questions often give bad data. Instead, use behavioral questions (in the form of, “Tell me about at time when…”) to understand how they have acted in situations similar to those you might put them in.


Once you are narrowed down to your final couple of candidates, it’s fine to use some objective measures. Skills testing and personality testing are often helpful to separate out the “good” candidates from the “best” candidates. Use these tests between the first interview and the second interview — then talk about the results in the second interview.

Test drive

For some jobs, it’s appropriate to have candidates come in for a one day “test-drive”. Have them come in and work with your team for a day, pay them for their time (on the spot is best), and see how they fit.

The second interview

“Hire for fit, train for skills” is a popular saying about hiring success. In the second interview, turn your focus from “Can they do the job?” (we’ve already eliminated those who can’t) to “How well will they do the job here?” Invite the team to join in and maybe take the candidates out for a meal. Get to know them. In the end, ask yourself the question, “Would I ride next to them on an airplane trip to Australia?” If the answer is “no” you don’t want to work with them…

Step 4: The Offer Letter

You’re almost home — now’s the time to “stick the landing”. A written offer letter is both a way to show a candidate that you are taking their hiring seriously and a way to make clear what you are offering in terms of title, responsibility, compensation and benefits. A good offer letter reflects the terms you have already discussed, this is not a time for negotiation! It’s a time to start your relationship off with your new employee on the right foot!

Step 5: Onboarding

Once you’ve made the offer, take some time to make sure that your new employee is able to hit the ground running. Does she have all the tools she needs to do a great job (computer, business cards, phone, software, etc.)? Is her email set up and her VM programmed? Get all these details out of the way before her first day so she knows you care about her success before she even arrives.

So that’s it! There’s a lot to do, but if you walk through this process step-by-step, your hiring process will be smoother and more successful!


  1. PLUS: Trust your gut.

    • Wow, Jeannie. That’s such hard advice for me to give. I guess I’d say “Trust it when your gut says no.” But I’ve seen some bad hires made on “gut”.

      If “gut is a substitute for “fit” then I totally agree. If you can’t imagine sitting next to the person on an airplane trip to Australia then, no, don’t hire them.

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