The Eucalypt Media Blog

How We Found a Great Employee By Ignoring Conventional Hiring Wisdom

By Kathryn Hawkins. Business Tips
Screenshot from Craigslist.com
Screenshot from Craigslist.com Image Credit: Craigslist.com

When recruiting employees for a growing business, there’s a lot of advice out there—but much of it didn’t feel right to us. Here’s how we found a great hire by ignoring the rules.

Our new content marketing manager, Jesse Baines, has been on board for just over a month now, and we’re delighted to have her on our team. This was our first full-time hire, and we were nervous—we knew that choosing the wrong employee could be a devastating hit to our business. Before extending an offer, we read a lot of research and talked to consultants about how to make a good hire—and ultimately went the other way on a lot of decisions.

Here are some of the hiring myths that we didn’t listen to, and are all the better for:

Keep the job listing vague in order to increase the number of applicants.

That’s the advice we got from an HR consultant. She thought that we’d included too much detail about the job responsibilities, and told us it was a bad idea to include a salary range in the listing itself. She thought we’d get far more applications by being less detailed about specifically what we wanted.

Chances are, she was right—but why would we want to waste applicants’ time, and ours, by encouraging them to apply for a job that isn’t the right fit?

We wanted to be as clear, precise, and transparent as we possibly could, to make sure anyone applying for the job had a solid understanding of what the role would entail and how much it would pay. We weren’t interested in playing the negotiation game; we told applicants from the get-go that we were a small business, so the salary was based on what we knew we could afford, instead of using an inflated number that would mean we’d have to lay someone off after a single bad month. If applicants weren’t willing to work for that amount, or to do the (sometimes unglamorous) work that needed to be done, we didn’t want them to waste their time.

Don’t write anything in your listing that might turn people off.

Our HR consultant also flagged our use of the work “kick-ass” in the job description, suggesting that “energetic” might be a better synonym, because she worried that  the phase might offend some applicants.

We left it in: While we’re a very small team, Jeff and I still want to build a company culture, and a culture in which people are offended by the term “kick-ass” is not the one we’re looking for. Better to alienate someone in the initial job listing than have to walk on eggshells after we hire her.

Use a recruiter or pay for premium targeted job sites.

If the role we’d been looking to fill was a highly specialized technical role, we probably would have considered investing in a targeted job site listing. But for our content marketing manager role, we knew there was a good chance we could find just the person we needed through free channels before spending any money to promote the ad—after all, being social media-savvy was one of the requirements, so we figured s/he could probably find us through the social media promotion that we'd done. We listed it on our website and shared it on our social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and Linked), Indeed, and (horror of horrors) Craigslist. We knew that most job-seekers are going to be on top of identifying every possible source of local job leads, so there was no reason for us to go overboard in paying to spread the word: As it is, we received more than 40 applications during a month-long listing period. And to Jesse’s surprise (and ours), she actually did find us through Craigslist. Sometimes, it pays to be cheap.

Don’t focus too heavily on the interview.

While a lot of recent research has found that how an employee performs in a job bears little resemblance to how well he or she did in an interview, we considered the interview stage one of the most important when hiring a candidate. Why? It helped us see how they would relate to both us and to our clients, and enabled us to see how well they could think on their feet.

While we could see past some interview-related nervousness, we could tell from the interview what each candidate’s overall attitude was like. We ruled out some candidates here because, even if they’d looked good on paper, they seemed too brash and arrogant, or too submissive and deferential in person—we needed someone who could come in as a peer and level up quickly to a high-level role within our company. We didn’t just want an admin assistant, we wanted someone who could step in on any task and be proactive in getting things done. Jesse had the kind of down-to-earth confidence that we were looking for—we knew she’d be easily able to step in and work directly with our clients and our freelance team, and she’s done an amazing job at it so far.

Obviously, there are a lot of rules we followed because they just make good sense: Check references, verify work history, make a written offer, etc. But by trusting our gut where it counted, we were able to find a great employee who can help take our business to the next level.

What hiring advice did you listen to or ignore? Share in the comments.

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Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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