labor | 17 mins read

14 Secrets to Hiring the Right Employee

14 secrets to hiring the right employee
Victoria Brunette

By Victoria Brunette

Finding the Right Candidate

Hiring the right employee for the job and for the company is essential to the success, growth, and prosperity of an organization. According to HR firm Zane Benefits, turnover could cost as much as 20% of a mid-range employee's salary; that's a big chunk of your bottom line.
Managers aren't the only ones who worry about finding and keeping the right talent, either. According to research conducted by Deloitte, 79% of HR managers believe their company has an employee retention and turnover problem, which reflects poorly on the company as a whole.
Since hiring the right candidate can increase your company's productivity, boost employee retention, and save you thousands, it's crucial to put an efficient and accurate hiring process in place from the get-go.
Whether you're an established business or a startup, here are 15 secrets to hiring the right employee and how you can implement them in time for your next search.

Here's a simple secret that most companies overlook - employers who share strong stories about their company culture online attract employees who want to work in that culture.
You already know how important it is to have a strong online and social media presence, especially on networking sites such as LinkedIn. Up your recruitment game with video storytelling on your career pages, which can increase applications and improve your SEO, making you easier to find online.
According to Entrepreneur, best-in-class companies are 75 percent more likely to use video tools for employee branding, enabling them to attract top talent. This is because they put some muscle into describing what kind of company their talent would be working for.
Good copywriting makes a big difference, too. Dynamic profiles of current staff should highlight how they fit in at the company, while your About Us or Career pages should reflect exactly what it's like to work for your company. Potential candidates who don't identify with this culture will opt out, saving you time and money.

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Put an Employee Referral Program in Place

Since your best employees are already succeeding, employee referral programs help identify talent who will succeed in your corporate culture and stick around around longer, too.
[An employee referral program] allows you to turn your entire workforce into recruiters, Kara Yarnot, the president of Meritage Talent Solutions, explained on LinkedIn. When you only have so many recruiters and so many resources to reach out to candidates, it helps to have a great referral program to empower all of your employees to help in sourcing.
With an employee referral program in place, you can use other networking tricks to find additional talent. Look at employees in similar positions at competitors' firms to see if there's a new skillset you're interested in. While you may not want to risk poaching, you could unearth a great candidate who's looking for a change.
Finally, ask your own professional networks whether they know of a good candidate, and don't be afraid to check in regularly, says Susan M. Heathfield, an HR expert.
In a client company, the sales manager referred a childhood friend, who was moving back to our state, for a position, Heathfield told The Balance Careers. Out of touch for several years, the now new employee had contacted all of his friends when he needed to relocate from Chicago to the Detroit area. My client benefitted from the sales manager's network and hired an outstanding employee.

Use Recruiters Wisely

When you're looking for a recruiter to work with, make it clear that you value someone who's great at relationship-building. Not just because it makes your life better, it's better for your talent pool, too.
A good recruiter remembers small, positive details from their interactions with their rejected applicants and uses them to add a personal touch to their messages, explains Christina Pavlou, a HR expert, at Workable. They highlight candidates' strengths and may even suggest other jobs they would be suitable for. And they stay in touch for future openings.
Recruiters who understand your specific needs and constraints, from skills to base salary, will also have an easier time finding the talent who will help your team shine.
Does your company use a team-based workflow? Ask recruiters to search for candidates with specific soft skills that meet your team's needs for collaboration.
Have a company-wide issue you need solved? Ask recruiters to emphasize problem-solving and analytical skills.
The 20 to 30% commission fee professional recruiters earn can be worth it, but only if you've communicated effectively from the start.

Narrow Your Talent Pool...

The more you can do to narrow your talent pool before you get to the interview process, the easier it will be to focus on vetting top talent.
Your company brand and job description should work together to screen out applicants who aren't a good fit, but you'd be surprised by how few companies expend the necessary energy here.
A killer job description will explain how the role reflects company values, allowing the quality of candidates to be reflected in your applicant pool. Similarly, laying out the benefits your company offers a future employee can increase applications and speed up your hiring timetable.
While some job descriptions at my former employer referred to the amazing benefits,' they never got into specifics, recalls web content strategist, Erin Engstrom, at Recruiterbox . What a huge mistake! As a result, the time-to-fill for my old role was more than 60 days over twice the national average. If you're still not quite getting the talent you hoped for, take a page out of Engstrom's book and revamp your company's benefits page.
You should also revisit favorite past candidates to see if they're happy in their current roles and if they'd be willing to come work for you now, as Jake Newfield from Hubspot suggests.

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But Don't Narrow it Too Much

If you're only looking for candidates with Ivy League backgrounds or who held a similar position at a competitor's firm, then you'll be missing out on potentially great hires.
I tell companies you're a lot better off getting someone who has a burning desire to come work at your company, for whatever reason, especially if they're local, Mike Sweeney, the head of recruitment for MAS Recruiting, told Inc. They might not have all the bells and whistles that you want, but if they live local, and they have a real desire to work at your company, some months down the road, you'll have struck gold.
Similarly, when Kristen Hamilton, CEO of the business-training start-up Koru, tested an unlikely candidate for grit, he scored off the charts.
My favorite example is a guy who went to Bates College and studied rhetoric, Hamilton told Fast Company . He had no business context he thought sales' was a dirty word but he scored very high on the grit algorithm. He had lived in the woods on his own wits but he wouldn't have known that he could translate that into something that would be exciting for a software company.
Resulting from the his high score with Koru, this candidate was able to train and place with a competitive sales team. He's doing great, even though he didn't fit the client's typical candidate profile at the outset.

A Manager's Guide to Nailing the Interview Process


Show your candidates around the workplace. It's important to move candidates around, introduce them to staff, and give them an opportunity to interact with potential colleagues.
I can get a really good sense of whether I want to be working with somebody when I walk them through the place, Patty Stonesifer, the chief executive for Martha's Table, told the New York Times.
So what should you look for?
A candidate's soft social skills listening, engaging in conversation, asking questions will stick out here. Are they curious about the other people in the room and what they do?
Hiring someone who's responsive, sociable, and sincere makes life for your office, and your clients, that much better.

Ask Candidates to Problem-Solve on the Fly

Looking for candidates who can demonstrate analytical and problem-solving skills? Then you'll need to get some insight into how they would tackle their day-to-day tasks.
When I was a fellowship program manager, we'd routinely ask candidates how they would handle being assigned too much (or too little) work, writes Sarah McCord at The Muse. In an entry-level role, we wanted to see how an applicant imagined he or she would troubleshoot the situation.
What should you ask?
a. If you had to jump on our task force for [YOUR COMPANY'S PRODUCT] right now, how would you get started?
b. If you had 3 hours to complete two tasks that each required 2 hours of work, what would you do?
c. What would you do with $50,000 start-up money, if you had to create your own business?
d. Tell us about a time you used data to help you make an important decision at work.
What should you look for?
a. Self-awareness and an ability to work in teams. Get a sense of how your candidate works with others by using a hypothetical question that requires them to draw on past experiences.
b. Understanding of how to juggle deadlines and priorities. The old perfect and late, or good and on time? conundrum is a great way to get a sense of how candidates handle their workloads.
c. Passion, curiosity, and planning abilities. When you learn about a candidate's passion projects, you have an easy window into how they'd handle the nitty gritty details.
d. Big-picture thinking and analysis. Learn more about the way a candidate handles important decision-making. Does it line up with your company's culture?

Don't Be Afraid to Get Emotional

Self-aware candidates will open up honestly about past work or neutral personal issues, giving you insight into how they think about themselves in relation to others.
While you shouldn't pry, you should get a sense of what your candidate values and whether those values match up with your company.
I like odd-ball questions that don't have right' answers, Mitch Rothschild, the CEO of Vitals, writes at Entrepreneur. Not only do they elicit genuine responses, they also reveal personality traits and provide insight into how a candidate thinks.
What to ask?
a. Which quality of your parents do you like the best?
b. Tell us about a time you messed up at work.
c. What's a common misperception other people have about you?
What to look for?
a. Candidates who understand their own values. Questions that highlight a candidate's values are a favorite of Adam Bryant, the hiring manager at The New York Times. Bryant uses them to suss out which personal values a candidate is most likely to draw on during their time at work.
b. Candidates who take ownership of their problems. This one is pretty straightforward. If your candidate can't own up to making a mistake, and tell you how they learned from it, they may not be a good hire.
c. Candidates who have self-awareness. No one likes feeling misunderstood, but only reflective candidates will have a good sense of how they come across to other people and how they might be misperceived amongst their peers or managers.
Unusual questions can help you determine how well a candidate will roll with the punches, especially in fields that require employees to be quick on their feet.
A candidate's answer to an extraordinary question can reveal a lot about their personality, their values, and how they might handle pressure, explains Matthew Kosinski at While this information may not be related to performance, it can help employers make decisions about cultural fit and team dynamics two very important aspects of any good hire.
What to ask?
a. What kind of animal would you be? Why?
b. Teach me about a subject that takes up most of your personal time.
c. What was your major in college?
d. What's the last book you read?
What to look for?
a. Self-awareness of personality and personal strengths. All these types of questions what kind of animal, baked good or TV show you would be help you understand a candidate's sense of humor and how well they know themselves. As Bryant puts it, you don't want to hire a cat for your sales team when you really need a lion.
b. Passion and articulation. If someone is passionate about a subject, they'll feel comfortable talking to you about it. You'll also get a sense of how well they explain complex subjects to other people, gauge their level of interest, and provide meaningful examples or context clues for someone who might not be in the know. These are all great soft social skills, especially for someone who'll work in customer service or on a team.
c. Depth and outside interests. Hopefully, you'll get a bigger picture of how your candidate ended up sitting in front of you. Can they connect the dots and tell a story about what makes them a valuable hire?
d. Curiosity. You want a candidate who has at least some sense of how they fit into the world. If it's not a book, maybe they read periodicals or online articles about their passion project. Curiosity outside of work can help drive better performance when a candidate is at the office.

Ask for a Work Sample

According to Google's former HR director Laszlo Block, an employee work sample is one of the absolute best predictors of how they will perform in the job.
All our technical hires, whether in engineering or product management, go through a work sample test of sorts, where they are asked to solve engineering problems during the interview, Block writes at Wired.
Couple the work sample with the interview, and you'll have a good sense of how well your new candidate fits in with the culture at your company.
What should you look for?
a. Competency in skills they will need to use on the job. Did they complete the assignment? Did they offer unique insights above and beyond what the work sample asked for?
b. An ability to talk through and explain their process. Can they give a polished, professional answer that gives you insight into how they arrived at their finished product? Are they curious about any questions you have?
c. A sense of how long it takes them to complete a project. Did they labor over this assignment? Make sure your candidate has a good sense of priorities and deadlines and won't get tripped up by perfectionism that could slow your team down.

Highlight Opportunity

According to the Harvard Business Review, more than half of Millennials and almost half of Gen Xers actively seek out employers who give them opportunities to develop new skills and grow within a company.
Since 93% of Millennials also cited that they left their company the last time they changed roles, it would seem that many young employees aren't seeing the value of sticking with an employer even if that employer may offer opportunities for growth.
More than ever, employers need to know and act on the factors that make their company appealing to these candidates, writes Brandon Rigoni and Amy Adkins at HBR. They have to make it easy for prospects to choose them over their competition.
What should you highlight?
a. Opportunities for growth and promotion. What does a typical employee's path through the company look like?
b. Educational partnerships. Do you work with colleges or universities to offer free or partial tuition?
c. Training programs. What kinds of professional development or certificate programs do employees regularly take advantage of at your company?
What should you look for?
a. Interest and engagement in the field. Does your candidate want to stay on a particular career trajectory? Is that something you can offer them?
b.Questions about paths to promotion and further training. Are they aware of the training and education they'll need to improve in their role or grow in the company?

Expect Questions

Engaged candidates will want to know more details about their potential teammates, the company culture, and paths to success within the company.
According to Rosemary Haefner, the vice president of HR at, hiring managers should expect these types of questions, since interviewing is a two-way street.
Asking questions can give [the candidate] a better sense of the company's growth opportunities and culture, the manager's leadership style, and whether that organization is the right fit, Haefner told Forbes.
A red flag? Candidates who only ask questions about money or benefits. They're in it for the wrong reasons.

Standardize Your Interview Process

Work with managers and team leaders to develop an agreed-upon list of interview questions that target both your job description and desired personality.
Without a standardized process, you risk being unable to accurately compare candidates, especially if you plan on using a panel interview format and aggregating feedback from many team members.
Consistent behavioral and situational interview questions also lead to higher employee success rates, especially when they're combined with other forms of assessment, says Laszlo Bock.
Research shows that combinations of assessment techniques are better than any single technique, writes Bock at Wired. For example, a test of general cognitive ability when combined with an assessment of conscientiousness is better able to predict who will be successful in a job.
By standardizing how you test and assess candidates across multiple areas, you'll get closer to finding the right hire.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

The hiring process can be stressful for everyone involved, not just the candidate.
Take some of the pressure off subjective judgment calls by developing a rubric. Everyone on your hiring team should be able to consistently score candidates on easily identifiable company traits.
According to Koru's Kristen Hamilton, We have a very consistent rubric here's what a 1 is and a 2.
We have debates, really healthy debates with our team, about whether that person was a 4 or a 3 on a given trait, Hamilton told Fast Company.
By developing a shared company language for candidate success and viability, your team will have an easier time discussing the traits of your potential hires and picking the right one.

Talk It Out

Most managers demonstrate some kind of unconscious hiring bias, no matter how qualified or experienced they might be.
Asking your team for input can help mitigate these effects and make sure you're all on the same page. Does your understanding of the candidate match up with the insights from other members on your team?
Inviting input from multiple sources, including shared networks or past employers, can also be valuable. Bryant suggests going beyond the references provided during the interview process.
Always do extra reference checks not just the ones a candidate provides, writes Bryant. Press those people for an unvarnished opinion about the person's strengths and weaknesses, how the candidate performs under stress, how he or she treats their colleagues, and anything else that matters to your company.
If your candidate is spoken well of across the board, you're looking at a gem.
Whether you're hoping to improve employee retention or set up your own HR best practices as a business owner, having a system in place to find and hire top talent is crucial to your bottom line.
Use these recommendations as they apply to your company to unearth better talent, recruit top-tier candidates, and find the best fit for your company. If you're thoughtful, consistent, and honest with potential employees from the get-go, you'll build a strong, successful team that can help you increase productivity and tackle upcoming challenges with ease.

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