Real-Life Recruiting Lessons: What I Learned From Growing a Company

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Finding and retaining the best workers is always a challenge — but companies must do more than just post an open vacancy online and wait for applications to pour in.

Recruiting the best talent and then managing those new hires successfully requires a mix of imagination and perseverance — something I’ve learned firsthand over the years as I’ve grown my company.

Here are some of the lessons that have stuck with me:

1. Assess Your Assessments

It’s common to use tests and assessments to evaluate candidates’ skills during the recruiting process. While this can be an effective way of measuring a candidate’s capabilities, you shouldn’t assume that every recruiting assessment will give you an accurate picture of a candidate’s performance in the real world.

In our company, we use a questionnaire to screen candidates — and I’ve had my fair share of candidates who aced the test but had a hard time coping at work. In other words, the assessment didn’t tell me about the candidate’s real-world skills; it told me about the candidate’s ability to take a test.

How do you avoid this situation? I suggest you pre-test all your recruitment assessments. Before using them on candidates, ask your existing employees to take them. For example, if you’re looking to hire a website developer, ask one of the web developers on your staff to take the test. You know that your developer can perform in the role. If they tell you the test was too easy, you can trust them. Or maybe the test is too difficult, and no web designer can actually pass it.

Whatever the case, use feedback from your existing employees to tweak your assessments so that they accurately evaluate a candidate’s real-world skills.

2. Watch Out for Stereotypes

Different candidate groups often have different reputations in the media. Millennials, in particular, are not always portrayed as the best people to work with. I’ve read and heard tons of anecdotes over the years about these “lazy” young people who “don’t have a good work ethic.” The common wisdom seems to say that when you have two people vying for the same job with the same skills and experience level, choose the older one over the millennial.

Here’s the thing, though. Based on my experience, those claims about the younger generation aren’t true. The millennials on my staff are hard-working, detail-oriented, and self-motivated. They contribute as much as the older employees. Sure, I have hired millennials who didn’t work out, but it wasn’t because they were millennials. It was because of other things.

My point then is this: Don’t let the stereotypes influence your opinion of a candidate. Don’t let the media sway your decision-making process. To get the best talent out there, you need to make hires based solely on merit. If that means choosing the millennial over the baby boomer, then so be it.

3. Hire the Jack of All Trades

Sure, you’re looking to hire someone to fill a particular opening, but that doesn’t mean you should focus solely on the candidate’s experience in that field. When interviewing candidates, it’s always a good idea to ask about their skills and talents outside their role. For example, if you’re looking for a programmer, it wouldn’t hurt to ask about the candidate’s writing skills. If you’re interviewing for a graphic designer, ask if they know how to edit videos as well.

A jack of all trades can especially come in handy for a small company. In our company, for example, our senior developer is also our project manager. My head of operations is our account manager, too. As for me, I’m the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and head of business development.

So, based on my experience, if you have two equally skilled candidates for the job, choose the jack of all trades. You can never go wrong.

4. Be Flexible

Let’s assume you’ve already hired someone for a specific job. If they are performing well in the workplace, great! If they aren’t, don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. Just be flexible. You’re bound to find a role that person can excel in.

Years ago, I hired someone as a project manager. Project management, it turned out, wasn’t his strongest suit. When inbound marketing became a thing, he became our copywriter. Guess what? He did great — and he went on to work for Vitamin Shoppe.

You can be the most meticulous person in the world. You can plan your recruitment process, pre-test, and cover all your bases. But things won’t always turn out the way you want them to. The key is to have the flexibility to adapt to the situation. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you know the people you’re working with — their strengths and their weaknesses — you can always find a way for them to contribute, and you can always maximize the potential of all your team members.

The success of a company depends, in many ways, on its ability to hire and manage the best people for the team. But recruiting isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds on paper. In the real world, a lot can happen.

I hope these tips — drawn from my own experiences scaling a company — can help you recruit and retain the best talent for your team, no matter what.

Ian Loew is the owner and head of business development of Lform Design.

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By Ian Loew