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You have an open position for a new employee at your office.

You need to fill that position with an employee. No matter what, there’s always a mountain of applicants clamoring for the job, and one of them has to be a perfect fit, right?

Not so fast, partner.

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It seems like a straightforward process; sift through cover letters and resumes, find a dozen or so ideal fits, and put them through a few interviews to get to know them better. Narrow it down to a few finalists, and make a decision. You know the drill.

But let’s face it. Hiring the right employee can be as difficult as beating The Oregon Trail with all of your family members intact. (Rest in peace, Andy, we’ll raise a peperony and chease in your honor.)

First of all, it’s expensive. Entrepeneur magazine suggests that recruiting, hiring, and training can cost an average of $4000, which is especially a punch to the wallet if you’re driving a small business. Then, there’s the typical screening process. You’ve got to go through the basics, like educational background, previous job titles, experience, and references.

Even then, sometimes employees can be a bad fit, even if they look great on paper. You won’t know if you made the right decision until they start tackling tasks and objectives. Just because someone went to Harvard doesn’t mean they’re the best worker.

Yes, you want a passionate person who loves what they do. Yes, you want someone with a good track record. And yes, you want someone who’ll be a good cultural fit. That’s a given.

But the process of hiring the right employee is a marathon, not a sprint. Some of us have been on dates where someone’s online profile was perfect, and in person, they’re just, well, not who they said they were. And a new employee is a lot more commitment than a bungled date.

Despite all these pitfalls, we’ll show you a cost-effective way to screen for people who aren’t just competent at what they do — but excel at it.

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What are you really looking for?

Now, ask yourself a simple key question: What is the primary task that person will do on a daily basis in this position?

Obviously, all jobs involve a lot of moving parts, such as cross team coordination, scheduling meetings, negotiating deals with external vendors, so on and so forth.

But what is really at the core of their job? What’s the one thing that drives what they do every day? Start by boiling down your expectations to that one particular task.

Let’s flip through some examples.

Social media coordinator:

  • A social media coordinator faces one large task, which is to write a large volume of snappy, condensed social media posts that garner positive attention to your brand.
  • This person has to nail tone, brevity, and consistency, sometimes under 140 characters. A charismatic telephone interview with the candidate along with a marketing degree won’t necessarily do the trick.

Marketing manager:

  • The marketing manager you need might have worked at some great places, but what if their main role is to play mentor for the rest of the team and do a lot of people management within your company under that job title?
  • There are plenty of terrific workers out there who can provide a strategy for a brand, but what if they’re feisty and not always a people person?

Screen candidates with this one simple question

Take a typical everyday challenge this person would face in their job and pose it to them with an open-ended question that may have no single right answer, right away in their initial written application.

The idea isn’t necessarily to get a clinical study from them on the scenario; you’re looking for a window into the way they handle their personal work challenges.

Let’s go back to the example of social media coordinator and come up with a concrete scenario.

Social media coordinator:

It’s a Tuesday, and we just don’t have any important announcements or promotions in the pipeline. What would you post on Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn to inspire conversation around mobile app testing?

Marketing manager:

Brian’s social media promotions have been markedly losing steam over the past weeks. He’s not trying new approaches, and it seems like he’s slowing down. How might you motivate him to take on an active, creative attitude towards his work?

Both of these scenarios don’t necessarily have a concrete solution. What you do get, however, is insight into their operating procedures even before your first phone call to them.

As a bonus, you’ll get a few side objectives completed by weeding out candidates that didn’t read the application carefully, can’t follow directions well (you’d be surprised), or are mainly sending out a mass amount of applications even before you initiate a regular phone screening.

Now that you’ve screened your candidates, some will stand out more than others. But you still don’t have an employee signed yet. How do you narrow down the best hires through the rest of the interview process?

Next steps

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Embracing failure

Failure is a component of every job, but whether or not someone bounces back from it is something you won’t be able to see until it happens.

Ask your candidate what they’d consider a major screw-up they made and what they did to rectify the solution. Mistakes are human, but self-accountability and self-awareness shows a healthy attitude to challenges.

Some companies even give interview candidates a blank whiteboard, dry erase marker, and an impossible brainteaser, watching as they go along. This is another way to look into the candidate’s course of thinking when it comes to failure, though it is admittedly a little intense for some people.

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Flies on the wall

Google, notably, has other employees review candidate resumes, even if the new hire won’t necessarily work directly with them.

Extra pairs of eyes can catch interesting facts and quirks about potential hires, and perspective from different angles can help fill in a bigger picture. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, have a few other staff members pop their head in to say hello during the interview.

The culture litmus test

Interviews are high-pressure situations. People get flustered when they’re being grilled for a new job. Even the best, most collected person can stumble. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad fit — they’re stressed. Wouldn’t you be?

A low-pressure and easy way to see if someone is a good cultural fit is to see what happens when you give them a tour of the office and introduce them to a few employees.

What happens if you leave the candidate alone in the breakroom for a casual chat with a few of your staff, having a casual non-work related staff? Poll your staff briefly and see what they say.

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Planning new procedures for hiring purposes is time consuming, and just like anything else in life, takes time and patience. Even if you’ve got a solid candidate who didn’t quite make the cut, keep in touch! People want to stay connected, plus you never know who they might refer to you.

Remember what I said about this being a marathon and not a sprint? With the right hire, both sides win.

If you’ve got any interesting hiring approaches, let us know in the comments. Really. Don’t be shy. We want to hear from you.