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January 16, 2016 // 8:30 AM

10 Recruiting Strategies to Avoid Making Hiring Mistakes

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Editor's note: This post originally appeared on HubSpot's Marketing Blog. For more content like this, subscribe to Marketing.

As they say, there’s no “I” in “team" ... but there are a few in “hiring mistake.” And you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself if you make one.

Hire well and you’ll have a high performing and happy team. Hire just one wrong person, fondly known as a “hiring mistake,” and you’ll spend a lot of time and emotional energy trying to fix your team.

To hire well, you need to have an effective process full of checks and balances in place. Notice I used the word “process," as hiring consists of many more components than just the classic face-to-face interview.

So to help set you up for success, we've detailed our process below. With tips designed to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that lead to costly hiring mistakes, the following information is perfect for anyone looking to build out their team. 

10 Recruiting Steps That Avoid Hiring Mistakes

Step 1: Write a job description that depicts your ideal candidate.

I’ve heard too many hiring managers say “I’ll know the right person when I meet him or her” when asked to describe the ideal candidate for an open position. Maybe that’s true, but that mindset can lead to terrible inefficiencies. Interviews are time consuming; you’ll waste a lot of time talking to the wrong people if you don’t take a first step of putting a thorough and accurate job description down on paper.

The job description serves a couple of important purposes. First, it tells the candidate what the job will be like and who you are looking for. Second, it forces you to be thoughtful about the attributes someone must have to be successful in this role.

The exercise of writing a solid “JD” (job description) will help you envision what this person will be doing day-to-day and what skills and experiences are required to do the job well. Be sure to include two sections:

  1. A list of the job responsibilities with descriptions of each.
  2. The set of skills, experiences and personal characteristics that the ideal candidate will possess.

Step 2: Start your own sourcing online.

Even if you have a recruiter supporting your hiring efforts (lucky you!) or a steady stream of inbound resumes, you should be doing some of your own sourcing. Here’s why: Looking at marketers’ profiles will help you better articulate to yourself and others what the ideal candidate looks like. Plus, you may find the perfect person who wasn’t in the job market and therefore never would have found your job description.

Our advice? Start online. Community sites like LinkedIn and inbound.org have helpful filters and search functions to help you comb through profiles more effectively. Send a very personalized message to anyone who looks qualified. Keep in mind that candidates tend to be more receptive to hiring managers than recruiters -- and even if they don’t bite, their response will help give you a pulse on the market. If you come across a few strong candidates, be sure to send them to anyone else involved in the hiring process to set expectations. 

Once you're done combing through online profiles, get your networked involved. Employee referrals are ideal for a few reasons. For one, they often have a longer length of employment: 46% of employee referrals stay for three years or more while only 14% of those hired from job boards stayed, according to Jobvite. Not to mention, employees hired through referrals are hired 55% faster than those from a career site. 

To facilitate more referrals, post the JD on all of your social networks and talk the position up with your peers. There’s nothing more comforting than hiring someone who has experience working with a trusted friend or colleague. Remember, this process is designed to minimize risk and avoid hiring mistakes. 

Step 3: Review resumes with Google by your side.

The old fashioned written resume still has its place, as it provides a candidate with an opportunity to market him or herself for the job. I always say, “How can I expect someone to market my product well if they can’t market themselves well?”

In terms of what to look for, an effective resume should tell a story where your open position is the natural next chapter. It should be concise, well-written, include metrics, and demonstrate a record of goal achievement.

When you find one the piques your interest, open your browser to get more of the story. Check out the candidate’s social media presence, website, and any publically available content such as blog articles. Be realistic about how much of an online presence this person should have based on their level of experience, and view anything you find with a critical eye. Do they understand fundamentals of digital marketing? Do they write in a voice that would match with your organization’s style? Do they use good judgment in what they chose to post about themselves?

Step 4: Plan out the 30-minute screening meeting.

You will probably have to talk to dozens of candidates, so be strict about keeping a first phone screen or coffee meeting to just 30 minutes. The goal is to use those 30 minutes really wisely. If you’re not prepared, you might end up hanging up the phone not knowing whether or not you should move forward with the candidate. 

To avoid this, create an outline of questions you plan to ask the candidate. I like to include a mix of questions that explore behavior, skills, and critical thinking. Have a set of questions that you’ll ask everyone so that you have some good points for comparison, as well as a set of customized questions for each candidate. The personalized questions should probe into areas you were uncertain about after the resume and online review you completed.

Once you're on the call, don’t fire off the questions like an interrogation. Instead, use your outline to help guide a natural conversation. If you need to get to a new topic, or find a candidate rambling, try interjecting with a transition such as “You’ve given me a great understanding of (topic x), so now I’d like to shift gears and talk about (topic y).”

At the end of the conversation, go with your gut. Are you excited by the idea of talking to this person again? If no, prepare a thoughtful note explaining why they are not the right fit for the job. If yes, move them forward in the process. Even if you have a few uncertainties about their skills or experiences, the next step is going to be a really subjective checkpoint that won’t take much of your time.

Step 5: Give candidates written exercises to complete.

Every marketer needs to be a strong writer. All marketing jobs involve content creation, so the candidate should be able to create high quality content with ease. This stage of the hiring process is the perfect time to test someone’s writing skills by assigning a written exercise. This step won't suck up much of your time, and it can be really helpful in determining the candidate's interest in the roll.

When designing a written exercise, think about real life scenarios --  your own work, or that of team members with similar roles, can be a great source for ideas. Here are a few examples I’ve used before:

  • Blog post. Ask the candidate to write a blog post for a specific topic, or have them come up with their own topic based on certain buyer persona for your business.
  • Mock case study. Provide notes from a customer interview and ask the candidate to write up a mock case study.
  • Landing page optimization. Create a worksheet with that includes organic traffic numbers and submission rates for a number of landing pages. Ask the candidate which they would optimize if they only had the time to do two, and why. You could also provide sample landing pages and ask for suggested edits.
  • Competitive battlecard. Ask the candidate to create a one-page summary comparing one of your products or services to a competitor’s.

Step 6: Assemble a strong interview team.

If the candidate passes the written test, it’s time to bring them into the office for a round of interviews. You’ll want to start by having the candidate interview with one of your team members, your superior, and you. But don't stop there. 

Always include the main stakeholders this person must work with well to be successful. It’s important to include them on the interviewing team to get their buy-in and get off on a positive foot. Also, they will likely add a different perspective than people on your direct team.

You may also want to consider including additional interviewers who can add a unique point of view or who simply have a reputation as being great interviewers. For example, you might include someone to test for culture, product aptitude, or analytical skills.

Step 7: Prep the interview team.

It’s incredibly important to set up an interviewing strategy to use everyone’s collective time to the fullest. Doing so will create a better experience for both the candidates and the interviewers.

The first step is to reflect upon what you know about the candidate so far. Then, consider how you can use each interviewer’s strengths and experiences to poke holes in the candidate and remove any uncertainty you have about them.

Once you have decided on a strategy, send an email to the interviewing team including the following information:


The Candidate


  • Background. Include a few bullet points on what you think is most relevant, with a link to his or her LinkedIn profile and resume.
  • Strengths. Make note of what you have observed and why he or she has made it this far.
  • Weaknesses. Explain why you are willing to live with any weaknesses that you may have already identified.
  • Uncertainties. Highlight the main areas the team overall will be testing for to finish the evaluation of this candidate.

Competencies to Test

Give each interviewer two or three areas to focus on. This helps them use their own time more effectively and allows you to test more competencies, more deeply. It also provides a better experience for the candidate: there’s nothing more annoying than being asked the same question four times in one day.

Step 8: Conduct a thoughtful interview.

As with the phone screen, preparation is key for the in-person interview. You’ve already done some of the work for the others on the team by giving them specific areas to probe into. However, if anyone on the team is not a very experienced interviewer, you may also want to provide them with example questions to ask.

Interview questions will vary based on the role and the candidate’s experience, but I generally like to use the following structure:

  • Resume review. When reviewing the resume, I’m looking to see how well they can market themselves for this specific role. I ask them to keep it to just two or three minutes since I’ve already read their background.
  • Job interest. Always ask why the candidate wants to work at your company and in this specific role. It’s a good way to see how much homework they have done, if they truly understand what it takes, and how well they can sell themselves.
  • Behavioral questions. I usually have three or four questions in mind that have either been sparked by something I saw on the resume or by something I think will be challenging in their role.
  • Case questions. I like to use more open ended marketing case questions to test a candidate’s critical thinking, marketing acumen, and how they deal with ambiguity. Here are some marketing case examples from HubSpot's CMO.

Always allow at least five minutes for the candidate to ask you questions at the end, and at least ten if you’re the hiring manager. Their level of preparation and thoughtfulness behind their questions will give you a lot of insight into how they approach problems. It will also give you an idea of how comfortable and effective they are being in the drivers seat now that you’ve handed them the wheel.

Step 9: Gather feedback from the interview team.

As the hiring manager, the ultimate decision about whether to hire a candidate is yours. But remember that you assembled a whole interview team for a reason: to ensure you'd get a wide variety of perspectives. That said, be very thoughtful when considering the feedback of others. 

Hopefully, you'll all be on the same page. But if someone has raised any uncertainty, don't hesitate to go back to conduct additional interviews, present additional exercises, or check with references. This process is all about reducing risk, so the whole team should feel very confident about a hiring decision before you make an offer.  

Step 10: Share both good and bad news with the candidates.

It's important to follow up with every candidate, whether you're delivering good news or bad news. And the faster you do it the better. Nobody likes to wait around wondering if they should be getting ready for celebration or consolation.

Making a job offer can be incredibly fun and rewarding. If the candidate has other offers, it's also an important time to do some selling. Go into the conversation prepared to discuss specific terms of the offer, such as salary. Or, if someone else will be having that discussion, let the candidate know up front when they can expect those details and who will be sharing them.

On the flip side, it's tough to reject someone for a job. Be thoughtful about whether it's more appropriate to deliver the news on the phone or via email. That will depend on the candidate's personality and the relationship you've developed with them. You should provide the reason(s) why they didn't get the job, but you don't need to be detailed. If they do ask for more feedback as follow-up, be constructive. You saw potential in this person when they applied, so why not invest just a little more time to help them develop? 

What are your favorite hiring tips? Share them with us in the comments section below.

HubSpot CRM

Topics: Sales Hiring

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