Every (Great) Company Needs a Hiring Process

In 2013, NFFS catapulted from $13MM to $28.6MM. This was on the heels of going from $7MM to $13MM in 2012 when we won the fastest growing company in Jacksonville.  The growth was not calculated or planned – not by our lack of planning but because supply and demand was out of whack. It was all out mayhem. Total insanity! It was like walking in every day, wrapping your lips around a fire hydrant and looking up for the knob to be turned on full blast as you heard the words, “Don’t…miss…a…drop.


As you might imagine, this type of growth created some real operational nightmares. Let’s start with: we needed people and we needed people fast. I don’t even want to tell you about the Microsoft commercial we could have been a part of…we ran a near $30MM out of Microsoft Outlook Tasks. Anyway…I digress.

Instead of being intentional about our hiring approach, we were simply looking for people with a heartbeat to help us. The pain was greater than the logic. I interviewed, negotiated and hired 6 people in the span of 48 hours just as it really heated up in June. To provide an insight of what it felt like: the building was raging on fire, we were inside, there was no water and we needed anyone with a pulse and a bucket from the outside who was willing to help put it out. Heck, in those dark moments, if we thought you could spit on the raging fire, we probably would have hired you. I hired 6; I should have hired 12. [Boy, did I make a lot of mistakes!]

It became clear that our hiring process was out of step with our aspirations. If the goal is to create a great company, then you need to attract and hire great people. And, in order to attract great people, you need to create a compelling place to work. And, you need to have a hiring process. Ours sucked; we didn’t have one. There were times when Marti and I would hear about a candidate, bring the candidate in, talk to him or her for about ten or fifteen minutes, look at each other and say, “I’m good. Are you good?” And like that, we would ask them to start…today.

A great company doesn’t happen by accident.

As the CEO, I always viewed a central part of my role as setting the Culture for the company. When I stopped and thought about our hiring process,  I thought about my wife. She’s my ultimate hire. 🙂 I dated my wife for almost four years before getting married. I spend more time with my employees than I do with my wife. And, yet, I was asking people to execute on our future without knowing hardly anything about them. Weird. Chaos will do that to you. Pain will allow you to focus on the urgent instead of the important – and feel good about it. In a high-growth environment, it’s like an intoxicating addiction.

Creating the Compelling

A great hiring process starts with a creating a compelling place to work. It’s as if offering a place to work and a paycheck is enough. And, it is…if you want a Soulless company. I think employees – more than ever – are considering the company they are going to join. Employees, like Customers, aren’t just buying something today, they are buying into something.

Even I went through this process. When I exited TotallySoccer.com, I bantered about what I would be doing “next.” As I struggled with ‘doing my own thing’ again or joining a team, I developed a set of questions to evaluate a job opportunity:

  • Are they good, nice people? [I’ve worked with assholes and I don’t have to do that anymore.]
  • Are they interesting enough to want to go to dinner with at the end of a long day? [I’m spending more time with these people than my wife – and I love her. They better be interesting.]
  • Does the business have the potential to be great? [I’ll only live once, so let’s Dare to be Remarkable!]

Ultimately, NFFS checked out as three “Yeses,” so I joined the mayhem. And, over time and with an eye to create a compelling place, we put together a compelling benefits package that we continued to increase as the company succeeded. And, our Culture was compelling. After all, our first company value was: “Love our Employees, Customers, Vendors and Suppliers and care about them as Whole People.” It’s a massive understatement for a construction company to have “love” as their first value. But, let’s face it: Love is the ultimate Superpower.

As you think about your company, are you giving employees a compelling place to buy into?

 The 5-3-2-1 Hiring Process

After firing another well-intended employee who couldn’t keep up, I learned quickly that having a pulse didn’t translate into creating a great company. Duh! I had enough. I went home and developed our 5-3-2-1 hiring process. We were looking for a process that uncovered a candidate that was likable, relatable and competent. [Fun fact: We literally hired almost every person in our company from Craig’s List. This includes our Vendors.]

This process developed because we wanted to put “checkpoints” in the process to slow it down – not barriers to progress. We wanted to stop hiring people simply because you had a pulse and we had pain. It wasn’t good for anyone.

  •  Let’s just start with your job description. There are lots of different approaches to job descriptions, but I’m a huge fan of clarity. If you can’t put in the effort, why should a candidate? How many non-compelling job descriptions have you read? Ugh.
    • How/Who do you write your job description?
    • Does it reflect your “Values and Vibes” in the building?
    • Does it provide potential candidates a real picture of the company, their role and responsibilities and how they will contribute and succeed?
  • Collect resumes and read the resumes for errors. Deranged? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely. Try parsing hundreds of resumes down to five. Immediately kill any resume that has spelling, grammar or presentation errors. If they can’t get it right while putting their best foot forward with unlimited time, they will not get it right in the hot seat of execution. Select 5 people you are interested in conducting a phone interview. [Important: Watch this Ted talk about hiring gritty people before you read resumes.]
  • From the 5 phone interviews, you invite 3 people in for face-to-face interviews. You’re checking for pulse, culture fit and likability.
  • At the initial face-to-face, you’re checking for fit, if they’re relatable and competence. We invited a few people to sit on their initial interview, but it was driven by the Manager of the Department. I loved asking, “Make your 2D resume come to life. Tell me the stories of your experience.” Take note about how prepared a candidate was about your company and the people interviewing. It is telling about their future performance. After we provided clarity about the position, we then used a personality profile tool called, Berke Assessment. I loved this tool. And, today, I would layer in other tests: Myers-Briggs, Emotional Intelligence, Strengths Finder, Skills assessments (for certain positions). Get to know the person and their skills you are entrusting your business to execute.
  • From the 3 people, we brought back 2 people. The 2nd interview absolutely included the employees the person would work with directly. The person interviewed with the entire department. This is where we really got comfortable with competence. The Manager, direct employee and department all weighed on likable, relatable and competent.
  • Although it happened due to travel schedules, no one was supposed to get hired without meeting me or Marti. As the gatekeeper to culture, I believed it was critical for this last step to happen before an offer was made. Generally, when we missed process, the candidate was a miserable cultural fit. The Manager allowed pain to overcome logic and execution.

If there wasn’t a candidate that made the cut for likable, relatable or competence, then we started again. Painful? Yes. Right move? Absolutely. We learned to endure the pain in the short-term to find a better solution over the longer term.

By implementing this process, we improved the cultural fit and quality of competent people in the building and reduced turnover of staff. I don’t care what your specific hiring process is, but the lesson is that you need one that fits your business.

What do you think? What is your hiring process?

Random Quote

“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

— Goethe

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