Friday, November 04, 2011

SOP Friday: Hiring Process

There's an old adage about employees: Hire slow and fire fast. There are two powerful lessons there. The first lesson is about making good hiring decisions. We'll look at hiring this week. Next week we'll address the second lesson.

"Hiring Slow" really means hiring carefully. You need a process for hiring. I know it seems silly to say so, but hiring the wrong employee can be very costly. You will invest time and money into your employees. You will probably invest in their training. And, in a small business, you will probably invest in their friendship.

All of that makes it very difficult and expensive to make the wrong decision.

Every time we've made a bad hire, it was because I (the boss) went outside the process and just picked somebody. Or I short-circuited the process by taking a personal reference and didn't check out the prospect myself. We have a process that works. When we use it, we get great employees. When we ignore it, we get headaches.

Some people have argued that small businesses should not have a formal "big business" hiring process. But that's absurd. What's the alternative? You could hire your friends and cousins. You could just offer a job to someone who meets the basic requirements on a resume and hope you get lucky. But those don't lead to good decisions.

You have two goals here: 1) Make good hire, and 2) Avoid a bad hire. Hiring the wrong employee can damage your business. Any process that helps you avoid a bad hire is worth doing. Erick Simpson has a great discussion of the hiring process in his book The Best I.T. Service Delivery BOOK EVER!.

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In the related posts, listed below, I talk about job postings, strategies of filtering, and some related topics. I won't repeat that advice here.

Here are the elements of organizing your hiring process.

First, Define the Role.

You should ideally create standard job descriptions for each position in your business. Realistically, you will probably write these at the time you consider posting a position. That's fine. But be sure to save them in a folder so that you have them all in one place. If you need a place to start, look at other job postings on various job boards on the Internet.

Your role descriptions don't have to be big or verbose. Just start with the basics. You can refine for the rest of your business life.

Second, Post an Ad and Gather Resumes.

We have settled on (Craigslist as an excellent place to find technicians. I've heard of some problems with Craigslist in other professions and other cities, but it works great for us in Sacramento.

See the articles below for juicy details, but we post some specific requirements in addition to just describing the job. Note: In the current economic environment, many job seekers are NOT reading the job posting. They read the job title and the salary and send a resume. Be prepared to be inundated.

Third, Do a Quick Sort of Resumes.

We have tried to make the job posting work for us. That means that some filtering takes place in the process of responding to the ad. We require that people send us a note and link to their Microsoft Certification transcript. Then we ask for a resume.

As we quick sort, the sort starts with eliminating those who are not qualified. That means no certifications, or clearly does not meet other requirements. This removes most resumes from consideration. Next, we eliminate people who are just blatantly stupid or not trying. If their email address is related to drugs or sex habits at, we eliminate them. (If you think I'm kidding, welcome to the world of "Human Resources." This is a very small group.

The remaining resumes are divided into "High" and "Maybe" categories. Basically, the highly qualified group is truly first-tier people. MCSEs with lots of experience who have held related jobs for a long time. The maybe group is people who are clearly qualified but just don't look like superstars at first glance.

If we can hire from the High group, we will obviously do that. But sometimes this group is very small and we don't make an offer in time. The Maybe group consists of qualified people, and is often filled with technicians who are "diamonds in the rough." We have hired a handful of these people in the last ten years and we have been extremely pleased with the results.

Fourth, Make One Minute Phones Calls.

From the Highly qualified candidates, do a 60 second phone call. This is a super quick smell test. Ask whether they're still looking. Make sure they understand the wage range and verify that they can produce a clean DMV record.

The real task here is find out whether they can hold a conversation and operate outside the world of Active Directory and IP protocols.

For all candidates who pass the smell test, schedule Interview One. Simply conclude the 60 second phone call by asking whether you can schedule a time. For those who don't pass the smell test, just say "Okay. We'll let you know if we want to schedule and interview. Thank you for your time."

Fifth, Interview One is Conducted by a Manager.

We actually try to schedule all of our interviews in one big visit, but this doesn't always work. Ideally, we want to interview the candidate in three different environments. So the first interview is a one-on-one between the candidate and manager.

The manager fills out an evaluation form based on the qualifications you established for the position. This includes technical knowledge, fit with the team, ability to think on their feet, etc. The manager must complete the evaluation form.

We try to schedule this interview at 10:30 AM. Then the second interview is in a different location (office, conference room, coffee shop) at 11:15 AM.

Sixth, Interview Two is Conducted by 2-3 Technicians.

We like to have two or three techs interview the candidate in order to see how they interact with the team as well as evaluating technical knowledge. There are some questions that only the manager asks and others that the techs ask. This way, we get lots of information and feedback about how everyone feels about the candidate.

The techs each fill out the same evaluation form that the manager used. This makes Step #9 possible. :-)

Seventh, Go to Lunch With The Candidate.

Ideally, this will be the manager and at least one tech. The more the merrier, to be honest. You want to see the candidate in a very relaxed atmosphere. At this point, if you do everything on the same day, the candidate will be with your team from 10:30 am to about 1:00 pm.

This kind of exposure should really give you a sense of whether you can work together and whether you think about technology the same way. Plus, it's a great opportunity for the candidate to open up about his world class porn collection or the largest library of illegal software on earth. You'll be amazed what people some up with!

Eighth, Give the Candidate a Homework Assignment
We have used a few questions for years. Many years ago, my friend John Endter from E Squared C in Mindon, NV sent me a question that we have used ever since. I think we have had three people answer this question correctly in six years. Two of them were named Palachuk.

Getting this question wrong does not disqualify a candidate. But it does reveal how they think and a surprising amount about what they know. The question:

"A company with two sites purchased two identical firewalls and used the default configuration on both firewalls. Both sites can connect to the Internet with no problem. They are now trying to configure a VPN between the two sites. The VPN is configured correctly on both firewalls but they are unable to pass traffic between the sites. What is wrong with the configuration?"

The point of the exercise is to see how the technician thinks, writes, and presents an idea. After all, the candidate will have to fill out a LOT of documentation and ticket notes over the next few years.

Ninth, Compare Evaluation Scores.

Once the candidate is gone, the manager and all techs who scored the candidate sit down for a quick review. If everyone agrees on a score, discussion is irrelevant. So focus on differences, and on big differences in particular. If one person says 1 for networking knowledge and someone else says 5, then you need to discuss why those scores were given.

This is a great overall opportunity for your team to give feedback on both "hard numbers" and all that squishy human stuff that will make the team work well.

It's pretty amazing, with three or four candidates, that one person will usually emerge as the clear front runner. If you're lucky, you'll have two that are hard to choose between. In a perfect world, everyone you interviewed will be a good fit, so you can make an offer and know that you have more candidates if the first choice is no longer available.

If you really can't make a decision, bring candidates in for a second round of interviews.

Tenth, Make an Offer.

The way we work, the price is right out in front, so the only real offer is "Do you want a job?"

Once you've chosen your first place candidate, call and make the offer. One of the questions in the interview is always "If we made you an offer, would you accept it?" Another question is, "Is there any reason you cannot work on this job Monday through Friday 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM?" Those two questions eliminate people that have other obligations or want to open negotiations for some other kind of position once you make an offer.

In a perfect world, you have a perfect new employee.

We'll talk about the employee onboarding process in a future post.

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I know there will be people who say this is too complicated, too sophisticated, and that the best people in the business won't ever apply, etc.

All I can say is "WhatEVER!" We have used this process for many years. When we go around it, we have trouble. When we short-circuit it, we get losers. When we are convinced to hire the best technician in the history of the world by someone we really respect, we get a bozo.

When we use this system, we get a winner every time.

Here's a great (GREAT) RS Animate video about motivations by Daniel Pink:

The gist of that video is that money is not the primary motivator of people in professions like ours. After a certain monetary threshold is met, people want to have an environment that is supportive, challenging, interesting, and in which they can feel like they're contributing to the bigger picture.

I was recently criticized (by a friend) for helping my employees with rent, side businesses, and personal relationships. But I'm adamant on this matter: I WANT TO work with nice people. I want a fun, intellectually stimulating, supportive work environment. I want a team that will show up eager to be at work. I want people to LOVE their job every single day.

That means we have to work really hard to build a successful team.

And that hard work means that we get the amazing team we deserve, because we've built it. Amazing teams don't happen by accident.

You certainly don't need to follow this SOP exactly, but you should do something intentionally. That means with intention rather than simply letting it happen.

Having the wrong employees can be devastating to a business. Having the right employees is like a super power that lets you do amazing things that you never imaged. Whatever your style, create a system for finding employees that maximize your success.

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Related Posts

Hacking Craigslist for Job Postings

How Much is Your Resume Worth?

Get Your Resume Seen Today

Hiring the Best Employee

Hiring Your First Employee

Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: The Firing Process


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  1. Firewalls - both ends can't have the same "default" configuration. They need different subnets for a VPN to work!

  2. Correct. Too bad we're not hiring today. But you can always send your resume to Mike at America's Tech Support. :-)


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