Recruitment & Hiring

How to hire so you won’t have to fire: Three approaches to finding great talent when you’re pressed for time

Emma Koehn /

Richard Branson says he hires based solely on the personality traits he uncovers in interviews. Mark Zuckerberg says he only takes on staff he could imagine working for one day, while PepsiCo chief executive Indra Nooyi said last year that hiring a more diverse worforce is a “business imperative”.

Bringing new people into your business can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life, not to mention future growth. It’s personal; it’s make or break. And many of the chief executives and founders we speak to at SmartCompany and Startupsmart have very tight timelines when it comes to hiring fresh blood for the first time.

So if you don’t come from a HR background, or you simply don’t have the resources to handball the task to a crack team of recruitment specialists, how do you find reliable people that will end up shining, rather than causing problems?

Here are three approaches that draw on trends from the world’s biggest companies, as well as expertise from the professionals.

Market your workplace, instead of individual roles  

Multinational companies are starting to view the process of finding good talent as about much more than the salaries that are on offer: To get the best candidates, they are promoting their companies as dream job destinations.

Welcome to the world of employer marketing, where communications teams pour just as much strategic thought into promoting companies as good employers, as they do showing off the value of their products.

The idea behind employer marketing is that by starting to communicate with applicants before a direct job opportunity comes up, businesses can build a pool of connections and potential candidates that understand the company’s culture and are aware of the benefits of working there.

Chief executive of Australian events staffing platform Airevents Global, Victoria Garlick, agrees that clients see the best results when they build up a pool of potential staff over a period of time and keep in contact with them.

“They all say that they collect applications all year round and have a pool of candidates if they need to hire quickly and [they] keep in communication with the candidates,” Garlick tells SmartCompany.

In a recent episode of the American HR Happy Hour podcast, global employer brand leader for GE, Shaunda Zilich, explained the importance of employer branding for the $100 billion company. She came on board to amp up GE’s engagement with potential new staff members, and says while she was given very limited resources to get started, the company has seen great results by taking a few simple steps.

For example, GE started training staff on how to brand themselves and share their professional experience and stories online through platforms like LinkedIn. The aim was to make sure candidates could see first hand accounts of the kind of employment experiences on offer.

Encouraging people to share their professional histories can empower the staff you have, while also making your workplace more attractive to others.

“Telling that story, and making it a win/win, that’s how you get a lot of buy in,” Zilich said.

Gamify it — or at least forget the standard interview 

Earlier this year, Inc enthusiastically declared job interviews would soon be dead. There are too many opportunities in traditional job interview formats for candidates to lie, wrote Marcel Swantes, founder of organisational leadership firm Leadership from the Core, and multinational companies are instead starting to favour a “gamified” hiring experience.

The “gamification” of hiring refers to a trend towards vetting candidates through online problem solving, games and hackathons, rather than relying on callouts for resumes and shortlisting candidates. Project-based hiring processes are increasingly becoming standard in the tech sector, where companies either run their own incubators and hackathons to find talent, or sponsor or attend these events with the hopes of finding new staff. This is a practice PayPal has been employing for years, according to CNBC.

But if you don’t have a recruitment team available to set up a competition, or head along to a trade conference, is this approach useful?

One potential option is to ask potential workers to engage with a task that you need to get completed anyway, or ask candidates in for a short-term paid trial, instead of an interview, to see how they get work done and evaluate whether they might fit in longer term.

“We like the concept of hiring temporary staff as a solution for trying a person out; additionally it provides a buffer for the ups and downs of the business cycle,” Garlick explains.

“This gives an option of temporary-to-full-time programs, which allow us and the prospective employee the opportunity to evaluate each other.”

Anna O’Dea, founder of digital recruitment firm Agency Iceberg, says there’s another reason to give candidates a task to focus on during the selection process: it shows how they will deal with stress on the job.

At interview stage, we ask the job seeker to do a short task relevant to the job at hand to see how their skills might transfer,” O’Dea says. 

The biggest contributor to toxic environments are often as a result of stress, so before hiring an individual be sure to consider ways to test for their resilience and emotional intelligence, too.” 

Talk about more than the job description

When company founders have previously discussed their hiring process with SmartCompany and StartupSmart, the number one concern is ofter whether the candidate’s overall values and character line up with where the business is going.

Last week WINK Models founder Taryn Williams summed this up by explaining she’s learned to be honest with candidates not just about the job, but what she sees as the reality of the job in the future.

“We just learned to be brutally honest about where we see a role going, and what role someone could play as a part of that, then asking, “Do you want to be a part of that?” she told SmartCompany.

While traditional hiring practices have tended to focus solely on whether an individual can complete an expected role, recent research suggests that also making small talk or discussing employees’ lives outside of work can also give a good indication of whether they’re a good fit.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review last year, academics from the Georgia University of Technology and the Texas Christian University explained their research into interview processes shows building a rapport through small talk before an interview starts can help reveal information about whether the candidate is suited to a role.

“Rapport-building questions, even when purposefully crafted to be as innocuous and unrelated to the job as possible (as was the case in our test), do seem to provide interviewers with abbreviated, albeit meaningful, insights into a candidate’s job prospects,” researchers Brian Swider, Brad Harris and Murray Barrick wrote.

O’Dea suggests businesses consider recruiting in a number of stages.

SMEs should firstly have an interview with the job seeker, then a separate coffee with their direct report to see how they gel,” she says. 

It’s also important to see a staff member as more than the role you’re interviewing for, because too often businesses miss out on quality employees because their prior credentials don’t line up exactly with the job description.

The biggest mistake any SME owner can make is dismissing a potential employee because they don’t have the relevant experience,” O’Dea says. 

When employees are stretching their skill set, learning new skills, working in flow and having exposure to new opportunities, they are more engaged and [will] be more likely to positively contribute to the company culture — and bottom line.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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