10 steps for setting up a best-in-class hiring process
People are the engine of any organization. Having the right combination of people in place can make all the difference when it comes to the success of your business and even the direction of your product and level of innovation.
This fact puts a lot of pressure on your hiring process. So as you start recruiting for your development team, operations team, QA team or really anything else, what do you need to know? Here’s a look at how we approach the hiring process as Spaceship based on our own years of experience building high performing technical teams.
1) Identify the players
Hiring can not happen in a vacuum: There are many people beyond the person doing the hiring and the candidate who need to be involved in the process. And it’s important that you identify these people upfront, that way you can move as quickly as you need to through the process and set clear expectations for everyone’s participation upfront.
The key players in the hiring process include:
- Hiring Manager: This is the person who leads the entire process, including ensuring timely communications with the candidate and everyone else involved and documenting feedback along the way. It’s important that the hiring manager is also the person who will ultimately manage the candidate once they join the company, as this creates a sense of continuity and gives candidates a clear view of what to expect should they join.
- Recruiter: This is the person who often conducts initial screenings and collaborates with the hiring manager to source high quality candidates and ensure every candidate has a smooth experience at each touchpoint. Recruiters can be internal or external to the company.
- Evaluators: These are potential teammates at the company who participate in the hiring process to evaluate candidates. The hiring manager should provide the necessary context and training so that evaluators know exactly what they should be evaluating and how to behave with candidates.
2) Develop a performance profile
At Spaceship, we use performance profiles instead of job descriptions. Studies have revealed a gender bias in how people apply for roles. Men are likely to apply for a job if they meet some subset of criteria in the typical job description compared to women who often feel they need to meet all of the criteria. Oftentimes companies will treat job descriptions like a wishlist of everything their ideal candidate would have, but this can screen out over half of the talent available for a given position.
Performance profiles are a key way to reduce bias in who applies to open roles. This approach describes what work the candidate will be doing and how they will be evaluated in the first 90 days. As a result, performance profiles allow the candidate to review the actual work for the role and determine if it’s something they think they can do.
A performance profile should typically adhere to the following structure:
- Company overview
- Core values
- Description of the work the candidate will do
- Description of how the candidate’s peers might describe them
- How the candidate will be evaluated once they start the role (in the first 90 days…)
- Links to additional resources (e.g. benefits)
Importantly, the hiring manager should write the profile for each role they are hiring. This is an important exercise that forces the hiring manager to evaluate expectations for the role ahead of hiring for the role. Once completed, the performance profile should live on a public web page with a static URL so that people can easily share it with others in their network.
3) Lead a basic resume screen
Once you start getting candidates into the pipeline, whether through inbound applications, recruiter outreach or referrals, it’s time to start screening resumes. Once again, this step should be led by the hiring manager. At Spaceship, we try not to eliminate too many people during this step; rather, we use it to:
- Weed out anyone who seems to be a complete mismatch for the role
- Help recruiters identify relevant skills and context for sourcing candidates (e.g. if a candidate has experience with Python and Django, there would be little onboarding to adopt Ruby and Rails as a skillset)
- Understand candidate backgrounds and start developing discussion points for a phone screen
4) Conduct phone screens
The phone screen is a good introductory step for candidates and hiring managers alike. On the candidate side, it offers an opportunity to get to know more about the company and to meet the hiring manager, who would ultimately be their manager if they join the company. Overall, this screen sets the tone for the rest of the process and gives the candidate a clear point of contact.
On the hiring manager side, the phone screen is a great way to introduce yourself, your role within the company, and background on the company, specifics about the role, and the structure of your hiring process. Getting used to rattle all of this introductory material at the top of the call is a good way to put the candidate at ease before they have speak. It’s also time to collect basic candidate information, especially:
- The candidates target compensation. Nothing is worse than getting to the eleventh hour and finding out salary expectations were never aligned.
- Where candidates are in their job search, which is important so that you know how quickly you might need to move
- The top criteria on which the candidate will base their decision about their next role. This allows the hiring manager to sell the role when the opportunity and candidate are a mutual fit and to clarify with the candidate when their desires may not match the opportunity.
5) Provide an offline exercise
Next at Spaceship we provide candidates with an offline exercise to begin screening for the skills they’ll need to be effective in the role. For engineering roles this might be something like a take-home coding exercise for technical evaluation.
The following steps are important for setting up this exercise effectively:
- Establish a grading rubric with what you want to evaluate beforehand. Likert scales can be very helpful here.
- Have the hiring manager explain any criteria for completing the exercise. Not imposing any due dates or time limits is generally better for being inclusive. At Spaceship, we like to provide guidance that candidates shouldn’t spend more than a certain number of hours on the project (typically two or less).
- Identify multiple evaluators to submit feedback independently to avoid any bias permeating the group. After all the feedback is received the hiring manager should facilitate a discussion around any areas where the evaluators reviews differ from one another. This is a good way to ensure your evaluators are grading to a shared set of expectations – take notes on resolving the conflicting feedback.
As you review each candidate’s work, flag things they do well, things they might not do as well, and areas you want to investigate further in future conversations. For instance, if you’re evaluating a technical candidate and the exercise was light on tests you’ll want to flag to follow up on their testing skillset later if you proceed.
6) Lead a synchronous skills assessment
Anyone who seems to have the requisite skills based on their offline exercise should move forward to a synchronous skills assessment. During this phase, you should try to build on the original offline exercise wherever possible since the candidate has some level of comfort having already worked through that problem and won’t have to worry about synthesizing new people and a new problem at the same time. It’s important to keep candidates at ease throughout the entire process, but especially during this step, because if they get nervous it can become difficult to get a true sense of their skills. As a result, anything you can do to make this part of the process less stressful is better. Evaluators should be trained to introduce themselves, their role at the company, and setup what they’ll be working on together.
The synchronous skills assessment should include time with multiple evaluators to help everyone on your team get a better sense of intangibles such as what it’s to collaborate with the candidate. While the offline exercise evaluates functional skills, this phase should consider soft skills and core values as well as digging into follow up areas from evaluating the offline exercise. Following these conversations, you should have each evaluator submit feedback independently to avoid any bias permeating the group. You should also use this feedback to start thinking long term about what you might need to include in an onboarding plan to get the candidate up to full speed quickly should they join your team.
Along the way, it’s important to remember that the hiring process is as much about the candidate interviewing you as it is about you interviewing them. This means you should prepare everyone to promote aspects of your company and role that the candidate might find appealing based on what they told you they’re looking for in their next role during the phone screen.
7) Conduct a top grade interview
If you get this far into the hiring process and both the candidate and your team are keen, it’s time to do a top grade interview. The purpose of this interview is to go through the candidate’s career history to understand how they solve problems, how they make career decisions and what they value in the companies and teams they work alongside. It’s typically easiest to do this chronologically from the first part of their resume (either school or their first job) through every role they’ve held since. What we are looking to do is both source specific information to validate in reference checks and dig into anything in the candidates work history that is ambiguous.
As we go through the candidate’s career history during top grade interviews for Spaceship, we ask questions like how they found each role, what they were hired to do, what they ended up doing, who was on the team, what was the team structure, why they decided to leave, and how they found their next role. Any time they start getting vague about something, there is usually good context to uncover. For instance, the candidate may have had a bad boss and their first instinct is to gloss over that experience as quickly as possible. As a hiring manager, if you feel the details are getting ambiguous you can dig in about what hindered that working relationship. This can provide you a better sense of how the candidates makes decisions and what the candidate values in their job and workplace.
This is also a good time to start listing questions for reference checks so you can verify specific information what the candidate told you (e.g. their impact on a certain project) or dig in deeper in any areas.
8) Host a team interview
The last piece of the interview process with the candidate should be a team interview with the people the candidate would work alongside most often. This is the last chance to gather intangibles you need to evaluate, like how the candidate works with the existing team and how they prefer to communicate. As the hiring manager, you should scope those discussions with the team in advance so that they have a good idea of what intangibles are important for someone to be successful in the role with that team. Beyond gathering those intangibles, this team interview is valuable for letting the candidate meet the people they would work with each day and vice versa.
9) Check references
Once your ready to extend an offer, it’s important to do a thorough reference check. You should avoid asking the candidate’s references generic questions like “how did you like working with this person?”, since candidate-provided references should not be expected to say anything obviously bad.
Instead, at Spaceship we ask specific questions that help fact check what the candidate told us during the hiring process. For instance, if they said they had a huge impact on a project in a previous role, we might ask the reference’s opinion about what the candidate’s role and impact was on that project. The more specific your questions, the better, as that specificity will help you uncover additional information and verify what the candidate told you. Any major conflicts between what the candidate has told you and information you learn in the reference checks should be consider serious. Honesty from the candidate is fundamental to being able to evaluate mutual fit in your hiring process. You simply should not hire someone you don’t trust so you must resolve any conflicts before proceeding.
If you happen talk with old managers this is also a good time to collect additional details about the candidates skillset, working behavior, and preferences for feedback that can help you form a strong onboarding plan and better understand how they prefer to be managed.
10) Extend an offer letter and finalize an onboarding plan
Assuming all goes well with the reference checks, it’s time to extend an offer and collaborate with your new hire on their onboarding plan and start time.
When you extend the offer, it’s a good practice to both call the candidate and share the offer in writing. During your conversation with the candidate, you can discuss the onboarding plan your team has been working on and explain any resources and time that will be allocated to the onboarding process. You should also work together to determine a start date. At Spaceship, we encourage candidates to take some time off between roles because we recognize that every new job comes with a lot of learning and meeting new people, which can be exhausting. As a result, it’s better for candidates to enter a new role relaxed versus rushing them in.
Assembling a high performing team is a process
These ten steps might sound very involved, and that’s because they are. Assembling the right high performing team to grow your business isn’t easy, but when done correctly it’s well worth the investment. Anyone offering to automate or eliminate steps in your hiring process is often doing you a disservice. Training your team on the skills to evaluate and hire high-quality teammates will do more for your company than most on-the-job training.
As you embark on this process, remember that it’s every bit as much about selling the candidate on your company as it is about evaluating if they’ll be a good fit in the role. Additionally, the best hiring processes are very forward-looking and take key steps to set up candidates for success should they join the team. This means understanding any gaps in top candidates' knowledge and identifying areas where you might need to offer training to get them operating at full speed in the role. Overall, it’s okay to hire people without every single skill that you want as long as you know what it is you need to develop and can commit to providing the necessary time and resources to help them develop those skills.