Five New Rules My Company Set After A Hiring Disaster

After overhauling his company’s hiring process three years ago, this CEO says turnover has plummeted.

Five New Rules My Company Set After A Hiring Disaster
[Photo: aracelymitsu via Pixabay]

Early in 2014, my year-old company faced a critical launch deadline. Feeling pressured and anxious, I started hiring in a hurry. To make a long story short, it didn’t go well.


I soon realized we’d wound up with some real misfits. A couple of them turned out to be openly contemptuous of the company’s norms and culture, as well as of my own directives as a leader. Others simply hadn’t yet developed the skills they needed to do their jobs well. I should’ve fired the troublemakers early on, but I was afraid of a nasty confrontation and embarrassed to admit my errors. Instead, I spent the next few months hoping things would get better. They didn’t.

But there was a silver lining to that painful experience: It made me realize I needed to step back and figure out a hiring strategy that was right for me as a leader, for my young company, and for our applicants. And it turns out the right strategy was a much slower one.


Five New Rules To Live By

My aim in opting for a “go-slow” approach to hiring was simple: improve my company’s chances of hiring only terrific people. I consulted with an outstanding executive coach, and together we thought hard about what we needed to do to make that happen. It was an intense—and, as it turns out, invaluable—period of introspection. Here’s what our hiring principles and processes look like now:

1. Make the job description painfully honest. We do everything we can to offer a crystal-clear description of what a job really entails, as well as what success is in that role. We even share which performance metrics we’ll be measuring. This takes time and a lot of forethought, especially for newly created roles. But it’s worth all the effort. We want our candidates to know exactly what they’re getting into.

2. Stop trying to “sell” the company to potential hires. “Employer branding” starts with the belief that you need to lure talent by talking about how great it is to work for you, but that can sometimes lead to misrepresenting what the company is really like. We’ve stopped doing that. Instead, we use a multistage interview process to try and listen more closely to what our candidates say their needs and interests are. Are they excited about the job, and about our industry? Are their skills and experiences appropriate to the position for which they’ve applied? Will they mesh with our company culture? To find out, we ask short, simple questions, and try hard not to lead interviewees (intentionally or not) to tell us what they think we want to hear.


Related: The Deceptively Simple Interview Question Every Interviewer Needs To Know

3. Focus on track records. We now look more closely than we used to at what applicants have actually achieved in the past, not their future trajectory or hopes for the next stage of their careers. It’s not that those other things don’t matter, it’s just that they’re less revealing than what they’ve already done. We also scrupulously check references, seeking confirmation of a candidate’s experience and skills and any other information on their strengths and weaknesses.

4. Ask candidates to take a personality assessment. This way we can understand how they work best and what motivates them, and also so we—and they—can honestly assess if the job is a good fit. This may sound like it’s a little over the top, but talent experts believe there’s a real need for more rigorous, psychologically grounded interviewing techniques. In our case, at least, this step has already proved to be an extremely valuable exercise on both sides of the table.

5. Remind candidates that they’re also interviewing you. Yes, this is something of a cliché by now, but it’s something candidates tend to forget in the thick of an interview. So remind them point-blank! Are they really interested in working in our industry? Are they comfortable working at a startup? Do their potential teammates seem like the kind of people they’d enjoy working with? At any rate, interviewing with us is a two-way street.

Risks And Rewards

It’s true that speed is often the name of the game in the startup world, but I’ve found that hiring slowly is actually the best way to get things moving fast. In the three years since we implemented this new approach, we’ve had zero turnover among our engineers and very little in the company as a whole—which means we’re significantly nimbler and more efficient. People are happier and more productive. Bad hires not only fail do to their own work but they tend to absorb other people’s time, too.

I realize that our slow-and-steady approach may mean that we miss out on some top talent. On the other hand, we’re also far more likely to bypass the headaches and setbacks that come with making bad hires. As I’ve learned the hard way, hasty hiring can put the brakes on the growth of your business. Taking the time to build a strong, positive, cohesive team is  the only way I’ve found to accelerate.


Baron Schwartz is the founder and CEO of VividCortex. He is one of the world’s leading experts on MySQL and has helped build and scale some of the largest web, social, gaming, and mobile properties. Follow him on Twitter at @xaprb.