A Practical Guide To Recruiting

July 30, 2021

I am going to go out on a limb here and say something that many folks in the business world may not agree:

“For a company to grow and endure the test of time there is nothing more important than hiring.”

Sure, some can say that sales, financing, and connections are more important. Yet, those things are One: driven by the very people that do these functions, and Two: Changing over time requiring new innovations and people to do them.

Toaddress the importance of this area, I decided to create my own personal guide & summary to conduct effective recruiting. People are to companies what raw materials are to products. Depending on how successful you chose, shape, direct, and bring together those individuals you will either build something great or something unremarkable.

Some helpful context before I start: I have gathered these ideas by interviewing 100+ candidates at the company I work for, performing 10s of mock interviews for recent graduates at Boston Consulting Group (competitive consulting firm), developing several performance evaluations processes, reading several business books that delve on this topic, and speaking to mentors who operate recruiting businesses.

Step 0: Know what you are looking for

An obvious but often forgotten step in recruiting is the job description/role creation. You shouldn't be looking for new candidates without a clear idea of what you would like for them to do. Roles can change over time and a candidate’s flexibility may be a trait that you are looking for but there must be a clear intention behind the role.

Before starting a search, you should write a clear job description with all the responsibilities and functions of the role. Share this description with all recruiters, interviewers, and potential managers for input. This should be a working document where everyone involved in the hiring has a say. This job description will help you screen resumes and allow candidates to filter themselves out of the application. If someone is not a good match they can choose not to apply. 

Step 1: Build the pipeline

Finding good people is tough. Finding the best people is even harder because they tend to not be looking for jobs and need more convincing efforts. Before you put in the effort of creating a structured recruiting program think about how you will source the best talent. In my experience (and especially for younger folks without an established network) personal network coffee chats and LinkedIn DMs seem to be the place to go. This is followed by headhunters, in-house recruiters, and referrals from top performers in your company. Finally, you can try mass job postings. They tend to bring in the most volume, but you need to have the time to sift through the resumes and find the diamond in the rough.

In competitive environments aim for 30 resumes:1 position. This is usually where you can start to identify high performers from low performers. For environments where the quality may not be as high and there is high unemployment, the ratio is more like 100 resumes:1 position. You should not be hiring ANYONE if you don't have enough options. Get ready to spend some time!

Selecting the right resumes to advance in the process is difficult. People tend to exaggerate, use hard-to-read formats, and are used to different types of employers (corporate vs startup, foreigner vs local, etc.). To screen resumes, focus on clarity, descriptions of projects they have worked on, metrics, role progression, and recognition from third-party sources. 

Step 2: Prepare for the interview

Using the job description and the candidate's resume, write down a shortlist of things you want to find out about the candidate. This list serves as the "map" that you will use to explore the candidate’s traits, abilities, and previous accomplishments. This list should not be the list of questions you will ask. Some things I recommend that you include are the following:

  • Does the person think like an owner?
  • Are they solution-oriented?
  • Are they a risk-taker?
  • Do they create or protect value?
  • Do they view talent the same way the company views talent?
  • Do they have high standards?
  • How does X candidate express disagreement?
  • Do they understand the important strategic levers in the company?
  • Can I trust them to make other hires at my company?
  • Are they willing to tackle new problems?
  • How much direction do they need?
  • Can they perform X task?

If the candidate included a portfolio, website, blog, or other pieces of work do take the time to review it before the interview. It is rare to get some insight into candidates this way and you should take advantage of it when possible.


Step 3: The interview & what to look for:

Think of the interview as a timed running course where the winner is the person who covers the most distance in a set amount of time. Interview minutes are solid gold.

Usually, the best interviews are 2-way conversations and not a reread of the resume. Focus on asking questions that will get you the answer to the list of things you wrote above without asking for their opinion. You should be looking for behaviors and actions someone with that trait would perform.

For example, if you need an organized candidate you should try something like: "Tell me about a time where you had to handle a project with lots of moving parts?". The right candidate will be able to talk about specific processes they created to control the process and avoid mistakes. They will also remember details about the process that could only be recalled if they were very organized. Someone that is the wrong fit will focus on the overall complexity of the situation and won't be able to provide clarity on difficult bits of the process.

The types of questions you should ask are known as "Behavioral Questions" and are widely used by companies like Amazon and Facebook in their hiring practices. As their name states, they are focused on behavior and not self-assessment. Other examples of questions that may get to specific traits are:

  • Can you tell me about a time where a project you owned did not go well and how you got it back on track? — look for traits like resiliency, stress management, and creativity
  • What have you improved in the way you do things lately in X process? — look for an owner's mindset and deserve to go the extra mile
  • As a customer why would you choose our company vs. a competitor? — look for strategic thinking
  • Describe some of your most significant work relationships.
  • Can you provide 3 examples of times when you didn't think something was being done correctly and you asked for extra effort? Can you provide 3 more? — look for high standards. Candidates that are constantly optimizing will have 10s of examples.

Make sure that there is a record of all interviews (notes or video) and ensure each interviewer (min. of 3) evaluates the candidate independently before hearing any other interviewer’s feedback. Each interviewer should also record a hire/no hire opinion. Once a company is big enough, it should have an interview evaluation form that benchmarks candidates against things the company is looking for.

Leave time for the candidate to ask questions about the company and the role. This time is important to 1. Sell the company 2. Assess whether they are a good cultural fit. Good candidates will have questions. Someone who will be working 40+ hours a week on something should have questions. High-quality questions are indicators of well-prepared candidates.

Step 4: Work with the candidate & get references:

After the interview(s) there are two remaining steps that are important. 1. Have firsthand experience of working with that person. 2. Get some references to confirm the information you have gathered is accurate.

  1. Getting a first-hand experience. The easiest way to do this is to have someone do a 3–4-hour assignment. The best assignments test for skills the candidate should be proficient in but also others where he/she has had limited exposure. You want to make sure you cover your bases but if it’s too basic you won’t be able to assess resiliency, resourcefulness, and creativity.
  2. Obtaining references. References should act as confirmation of the entire process and should not be the basis for a decision. They should be the wrapper around an already formed opinion. Make sure the candidate knows you will be reaching out to their references and make the calls short (at most 30 minutes). Below are some questions helpful questions:
  • How would you describe X to someone new?
  • What kind of person is the right complement for X?
  • How does X rank vs others in a similar tenure and role?
  • What has X solved for the company that you hadn't solved before?
  • If 6 months from now we must let X go what do you think would be the cause?

Step 5: Deciding on a candidate

Review all the written feedback with all the interviewers. It is only fair that if you spend 8-10 hrs. getting to know someone that you take the time to analyze all the information. A quote I find helpful for making hiring decisions is "Don't lower the bar for the urgency of the hire."


Finally, make sure you run this process knowing that, in the end, it’s the candidate that decides to join your company. Because of this, make sure that you are respectful of the candidate’s time, keep them in the loop throughout process, and that you aim for a win-win situation. The potential upside is building a relationship that adds value for decades.