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How to Hire Amazing People

Peter Messana's headshoot
By Peter Messana - CEO

A recent reader of my blog articles said, “I was surprised by the non-retail business topics”. For those just joining, Marketing isn’t allowed to influence what I write about so I cover a whole host of topics, from retail to life and leadership. Really, this blog should be read by all prospective employees to learn about me and the company and the philosophy of both. For some of the prior posts, you can check them out here

Hiring is often like speed dating. You get a limited amount of time with someone and you are making a decision to establish a relationship with very little information. When you are hiring, you are often doing so to fill a gap in the organization, it’s not necessarily to expand. You might have let someone go, and now you have a gap. If you are doing it right, you’re firing fast and hiring slow. Typically, this scenario is flipped where you end up delaying letting someone go and then having to rush to hire. This is a terrible position to be in.

The process of interviewing candidates is tricky. Candidates are putting on their best performance and you are hearing about all of the great things that they did in their previous roles. Aligning it back to dating, it is like those first few dates where everything was amazing, you didn’t see the bad side of things, and the other person put on their best possible performance. To combat this, you have to be able to tease out the bad in an interview process. To be clear, there isn’t a single person with a perfect past. The goal is that they learned from their mistakes.

At Searchspring, we follow a strict process adopted from The Who method to try to ensure we have a very accurate picture of the person’s past. We break it down into the following interviews:

Phone Screen – this is either conducted by the hiring manager or a recruiter. These are short. I personally do 15 minutes only and ask just five questions, with the last one being about compensation. I hate getting to the final round and finding out that we are not aligned on compensation. No one likes to talk about it so I get it out of the way upfront.

Cultural Interview – this interview is conducted by people throughout the organization as a group interview. The questions revolve around how the person interacts with others and what they are like to work with, including socially. It isn’t that we expect or want everyone to be best friends, but teams get along best when they have a healthy working relationship, and oftentimes that includes common activities.

Topgrading Interview – this is the toughest round and some candidates are completely caught off-guard. This interview can seem like an interrogation to some. It is a walk through of your background in reverse order. We are looking for red flags along the way and noting things that we should check up on during a reference check. Candidates will sometimes make outlandish statements like: “I built X”, which is always a red flag. The statement should be: “I helped to build X”. Additionally, you can get a sense of how someone works in a team by how they answer these questions.

Technical Interview – this is reserved for technical jobs like engineering or even marketing, where someone can display their skills in real time. For example, there is a code test for engineering roles as well as a thorough walk-through of technical items.

Executive Interview – this is a quick interview, I do them in 15-20 minutes. I have three questions that I ask people and then I turn it over to them to ask me questions. I rarely find red flags based on this interview but it has happened.

Once the interviews are completed, we have an internal recap meeting where we all vote on two things, the candidate’s skills and their cultural fit. We vote using a scale of one to four, and we do this simultaneously so as to not be biased by each other’s vote. If a score of one is given, it is cause for a no-hire. The only way around it is if someone is willing to change their mind based on the follow-up discussion. If it is discussed and the score still stands, it is a no-hire. Anyone can prevent a hire, it is like an assembly line and anyone can stop the line.

If someone is considered to be hired, we then run a reference check. Here, we try to check the references established off the topgrading interview. This is to confirm all the greens and double check any yellows. In the event that there is a red flag, we probably wouldn’t get to this stage but if so, we want to understand why this existed and see if we should reconsider the red flag and let the candidate through.

I know that this sounds time-consuming, it absolutely is and that is the point. We are trying to find the best candidates and reduce new hire churn. The time spent upfront on hiring is paid back in spades by the reduction in bad hire turnover. This is why “fire fast, hire slow” is an established approach. We are not in any hurry to find the right candidate. The irony of this is that the best candidates tend to really appreciate the effort in our hiring process. They understand and appreciate the depths that we go to, to ensure it is a successful hire. I cannot tell you how many times candidates have said, “your interview process reinforced that I wanted to work for your company, it showed me how much you cared”. The only ones who tend to not like it are those who find the topgrading interview painful and take it defensively.