While there are many moving parts when it comes to executing a high-growth marketing operation, the people on your team should be high on your list of priorities. No matter what brilliant strategies and technology you deploy, it is still the people that will most determine success or failure.
Once you figure out the structure of your team and the roles that you need to fill, then it comes down to creating an efficient process for finding and closing the right candidates.
I have seen a lot of processes fail and a lot succeed. There is no magic playbook that will fit every company, but below are five steps to hiring and three golden rules that I’ve found to work well in my experience of building high-performing teams.
The best employees come from the best employees. In other words, you will have the highest rate of success by sourcing candidates through referrals from your existing staff.
A great way to encourage referrals is by setting up an incentive program. I’ve found the key here is to reward both participation and success. At two of my previous companies, we paid employees a bonus for any referral that was ultimately hired, but we also put everyone who submitted a referral (whether their candidate was hired or not) into a monthly drawing for great prizes.
Another tactic to consider is making it super easy — even automated, if possible — for employees to share job postings through their social networks, particularly LinkedIn. Several commercially available recruiting tools offer this capability, and some can even identify the referring employee who posted the link, making it easy to track online submissions and tie them back to the right employee.
If you need the extra help that comes from a professional recruiter, I strongly suggest bringing them in-house as well. It’s amazing how much more effective a recruiter can be when they get a direct feel for your culture, office dynamics, and people. If you can only afford to work with a part-time contractor, then bring them into your office whenever possible and offer them a spot to work.
Not all of my peers will agree with this next step, but I have not read a cover letter in over 15 years and I don’t plan on doing so anytime soon. (In fact, I’d like to officially start a “kill the cover letter” movement.) There will be plenty of time to assess a candidate’s passion, writing skills, and experience later. At this stage, you should just be trying to narrow down the stack to candidates worth talking to.
Much like visiting a company’s home page, I just want to make a quick assessment a candidate’s skills and what they bring to the table — which is exactly the purpose a resume serves. In fact, I’ll take it a step farther: I can get all I need from a candidate’s LinkedIn profile. In my business, I would look at it as a huge red flag if someone did not have a solid profile up on LinkedIn. So why essentially duplicate this step and have candidates create a separate resume? Let’s kill that, too! Take a look at their LinkedIn profile, ensure the necessary boxes are checked, and assess how well they’re marketing themselves to the world.
When you’re ready to start talking to a candidate, set up a 30-minute conversation with him or her either over the phone or on a video call. Your primary goals for this call should be to assess communication skills, validate current/recent job skills, and understand why they are open to a new job — your job, in particular. Then, dedicate half the call to answering their questions. You’ll find you learn a lot about a person by the questions they ask you.
Nothing helps determine how qualified someone is for your job than having them do the job. You’ll come to understand more about their thought process and their ability to learn quickly, organize information, and communicate it effectively.
Come up with a short assignment that’s relevant to the position they’re applying for — something like writing a blog post or coming up with the first draft of a campaign or launch plan. Make it something that will requires some critical thinking but doesn’t take a whole lot of time. Give the candidate 24-48 hours (or a weekend) to complete it.
If your candidate passes the phone screen and performed well on their homework assignment, then it’s time to bring them in to meet the team. Include people who would be the hire’s direct teammates, but you can also choose people from other departments such as Sales or Product. I generally want the group that meets the candidate to be around four people. If you have more like seven or eight, then have the team “double up” and do a group interview session.
Ideally, each interview should be 45 minutes. Much less than that will prevent you from getting into any real detail. Have the interviewers review the candidate’s homework so they can discuss it in the interview — it could lead to some interesting discussions and insights. Finally, make sure each interviewer focuses on different topic areas. Here are examples of great interview questions to get you started.
The main reason to require references is to simply make sure candidates have them. Are they able to come up with relevant people who are willing to speak on their behalf? I generally ask for three, but you I generally only reach out to two. It’s good to mix up the reference types as well: Ask for a previous manager or superior, a former peer, and a former employee if applicable.
References will be positive most of the time. (After all, the candidate selected them.) Still, it’s good to try to dig beneath the surface a bit by asking them about weaknesses or areas of improvement. Why would they hire or work with that person again? Can they give you specific examples from the candidate’s work experience? When possible, also try to get some of the infamous “back-door references:” Find out if you or any of your employees are connected to people that have worked with the candidate, and reach out to these folks to get a feel for how the candidate was perceived in the workplace. You can even get a different viewpoint on an issue or accomplishment that was discussed in the interview.
If you are strongly considering giving a candidate an offer, then bring them in for a final round of interviews. (This makes three interviews total, including the phone screen.) In this round, your goal is to address any final concerns or questions that the candidate might have. You shouldn’t need to convince or beg them to join you at this point, but you should be ready to do some selling. Try to schedule some time with the CEO or another executive. Highlight office perks and give them a tour. Take them out for coffee or lunch. Finally, end the meeting with an offer discussion and try to seal the deal.
The hiring process I just went through should give you a pretty good framework for how to run your own. But, no matter what you add or tweak to it, keep in mind the following rules of thumb when hiring new employees.
There is a great quote from Reid Hastings, the CEO of Netflix: “Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is too high.”
I couldn’t agree more. While it sounds obvious to not hire a jerk, believe me, it’s actually very easy to look past personality flaws and be overly wowed by experience, raw intellect, or connections. However, the impact on the rest of your team could be disastrous. If there is even the hint of personality conflicts and jerky behavior, you should bail.
An extension of the above policy is the 50/50 rule: 50% of the hiring decision should be about skills and 50% about personality and team fit.
Assess how this person will fit in with and positively add to the company culture. Will they be able to collaborate with and get along with their teammates? Are they fun to be around? Don’t underestimate that last point; we all spend a lot of time with our coworkers and you will be much more productive if you actually enjoy that time.
We occasionally hear when professional sports teams draft the best available athlete, as opposed to trying to fill a specific hole on the team. The same choice often exists in marketing, and as a general rule, I believe in valuing all-around skills, brainpower, and passion over specific experience or narrow skill mastery.
There are exceptions to this rule though. For example, if you are going to invest a large portion of your budget in search advertising, deep experience in this field may be necessary. Generally speaking though, for high-growth marketing teams, chances are your staff is going to need to adapt to changing needs, landscapes, and technology — meaning you’ll need people with the flexibility to thrive in that environment. Much like the five-tool player in baseball, you may need a marketer that can transition across blogging, social media, PR, SEO, and website marketing.
No matter what type of business you have or which stage of growth you’re at, you’ll experience many challenges in hiring and building a championship-level marketing team. Hopefully these tips can help be your guide, or at least allow you to question and improve your current process.