Build a Recruiting Machine: A Conversation with Clint Smith and Forrest Higdon

Sometimes hiring managers get stuck in the cycle of hiring for necessity in order to fill a position quickly, rather than hiring the highest quality applicant. This hiring trap can cause your business more harm than good.

CareerPlug wants to make hiring easier, so we hosted a webinar to explore the strategies for hiring and retaining top-notch candidates. In this webinar, you’ll learn how to turn your hiring process into a well-oiled machine for success.

Clint Smith, Founder and CEO of CareerPlug, sat down with Forrest Higdon, owner of Gumby’s Pizza in San Marcos to discuss their hiring experiences and what they’ve learned over the years. Smith’s book, How to Hire, was released last month and inspired this conversation.

Full webinar video:

Recruit like you sell

“Recruit like you sell,” is one of How to Hire’s best pieces of advice that can help you build a recruiting machine.

Smith explains his advice, “You have to get away from this idea of, ‘Hey, I’m the one with the job, candidates should be bowing down to me and begging me to work here.’ The reality for most of our clients and for us is – you have to sell them on it. You’ve got to be able to present yourself in a really professional and attractive way. It’s really just about a mindset shift, and there are some specific tactics you can take on to act more like you’re selling.”

Clint Smith quote on recruiting like you sell

Higdon shares how this notion resonates with Gumby’s: “When people leave Gumby’s it’s usually for a bigger and brighter future. One of the things that we try to install with our team is support with that, because we want what you learn here to propel you forward into your career. We’re selling people on the idea that there’s more training happening here, and leadership opportunities. I think when you start to look at your job as more than just an hourly type position for your employees, that’s when you can start to bring value.

At the end of the day, a mindset shift can go a long way in recruiting top candidates. Job seekers have more choices of work now than ever – selling candidates on why they should be at your business can make them feel more valued and motivated to join your team.

Building a company culture

Building a strong company culture is one of the most effective things you can do in order to empower your employees and attract top candidates. 

Higdon shares how Gumby’s has grown their company culture:  “Around 7 years ago we spent a lot of time working on our core values and identifying exactly what those were. When you have a restaurant that’s been around for a little bit, it starts to create an identity involving our staff. So our core values are what really happens in the store on a day to day basis.” 

Higdon shares what can happen when you don’t take the time to build your culture and let it lead your hiring process, “A bad hire can do more damage than good. I would rather not make that hire and empower my team to try and find a way around that, rather than hiring someone with red flags just because you really need a person hired. It makes so much more sense to wait a little bit longer and find the right person. That can be really painful in the interim, but the damage that you do to your sales, retention, and loss of other employees is just massive.”

Attracting quality applicants

Both Smith and Higdon agreed that well-written job descriptions are one of the most impactful ways to attract candidates. Higdon noted that by making your job postings unique to your business, applicants will be more intrigued and motivated to apply.  

As Smith emphasizes, “You attract who you deserve. If you put out a generic job posting that pays on the low end of the scale, you shouldn’t be surprised if the caliber of candidates you get are on the lower end. Building good job descriptions and careers pages really go a long way in applicant quality and engagement.” 

Higdon similarly shares, “I think a lot of employers spend very little time actually looking at their job descriptions and what those descriptions say about them. Your job description should make them go. ‘Oh, these guys are different. Let me look into this more.’” 

Job descriptions are the first impression you make on job seekers. Making them authentic to who you are as a company can attract the like-minded and quality applicants you need.

Interview conversion

Many companies think they have an applicant problem. But what if they really had an interview conversion problem? If qualified applicants aren’t getting converted into interviews, you might not be moving fast enough.  

High caliber candidates are in high demand. To help, CareerPlug recommends the “24-48-5” rule. Contact applicants within 24 hours. Schedule an interview within 48 hours, and hire within 5 days. You can put your business at a significant advantage if you contact applicants fast, before competition scoops them up.

Smith explains, “The number one culprit for that is timeliness. Maybe you didn’t get back to someone, or you didn’t get back to them soon enough – if you get back to them a week later, and you’re talking about a job that’s more of like a frontline job, they’re already going to have a job somewhere else. It’s really about having a system. The system might even be as simple as, ‘I’m gonna block out half an hour each day when I’m in hiring mode to review my applicants and follow up with them.’” 

improve time to hire with the "24-48-5 rule"

Empowering others on your team to hire  

Higdon and Smith agreed that usually a CEO or owner of a business is going to be the best salesperson you have in terms of hiring new employees. However, at a certain point these leaders need to focus on other tasks and hire someone to do the recruiting instead. 

Higdon explains the process of how he stepped back: “I haven’t done an interview in probably 2 years. But what we do is empower our frontline shift leaders and managers to do all the interviews. We make sure everything is systematized into a process – here’s the interview questions you ask. Here’s the form we use. Here’s how we put it back into our slack channel for hiring. Here’s how you message that. So it’s just building a system to get yourself out of it.”

As business owners, another part of stepping back from the hiring process is trusting your team. Higdon notes, “If you trust your managers to open the store, close the store, make the bank deposit, and do all these other things… why wouldn’t you trust them to make the hiring decisions and hire the staff that they’re working with?” 

Forrest Higdon quote on trusting your team to help hire

Personal growth is another opportunity that arises from empowering employees on your team to do the hiring. Smith shares, “The tasks that are the least important on your plate that you want to delegate to someone else could become one of the most important things they do for personal growth opportunities.”

Listen more than you speak in interviews

Smith and Higdon were asked if they have any specific questions they ask during the interview process. One of the main ideas that arose was the act of listening over talking. 

Higdon notes, “One of the biggest things we’ve had to coach on is to listen twice as much as you are talking.” 

Smith similarly shares how this helps him look for core value alignment in candidates: “I actually prefer to just listen. If the core value fit doesn’t just come through, in how they’re talking about people – I can usually tell just based on the stories they talk about from previous experience and how they’ve approached things whether or not they have that core value or culture fit.”

Sometimes letting candidates speak for themselves is the best approach. Especially when it comes to hiring for growth opportunities, giving candidates the space to prove their potential for a company can go a long way.

Final thoughts

To build a recruiting machine and hire the best talent, try to focus on being an employer of choice, rather than an employer of necessity. Often, employers settle for candidates in order to fill a position quickly. This can lead to losing sight of investing and retaining quality employees and hurt your business in the long run.

Smith sums it all up, “I think most small business owners are familiar with this idea of working in the business versus working on the business. It’s a combination of optimizing hiring yourself and letting other people run it so that you can create the space to be able to do that. And I think that’s ultimately what’s going to get you to a stronger position.”

Download Clint Smith’s new book, How to Hire.

How to Hire is a valuable resource that can help you master the recruiting process. Whether you are just gathering the pieces for your hiring machine or looking to fine-tune it, this book can help you succeed.


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Originally from small town in central Texas, Ashley Johnson graduated from Texas State University in 2013 with a degree in Business Administration. She was hired by CareerPlug as a Talent Specialist in 2014, and moved up to ultimately lead the Recruitment Services team. From there, she pivoted to Implementation, and is now the Implementation Manager.

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The taste of entrepreneurship and desire to coach others led Chris deeper into franchising, working with a few franchise brands helping them grow their businesses. He lived in the Chicagoland area his entire life until recently moving his family to Austin, TX.

In his free time Chris coaches youth sports, especially youth football, and spends as much time as he can with his wife and 2 children.

Jenny Leman


Native to Texas, Jenny graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and joined CareerPlug in 2017. She retired her first career path as a Registered Dietitian after 10 years, and has found her true belonging in business operations.

As CareerPlug’s President, Jenny leads all teams to an aligned effort toward achieving our vision. She works to build healthy and scalable internal systems to equip and empower the CareerPlug teams to bring their best for our clients. She loves contributing new ideas and rethinking the status quo. Jenny really connects with the company’s core values, but especially with our intent to “Keep Growing.”

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Clint Smith

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Clint founded CareerPlug in 2007 with the simple idea that there was a better way to help employers connect with quality applicants. Today Clint works every day to fulfill CareerPlug’s mission: Make Hiring Easier. Leading by example, Clint loves spending his time developing new ideas and teaching others.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Clint worked in investment banking and strategic marketing; both experiences influenced the development of CareerPlug. He also spent a year away from the business world teaching 5th grade in Boulder.

Clint is passionate about helping others succeed and is involved in numerous mentoring programs. He and his wife, Sarah, are also foster parents. Clint enjoys family time, beach volleyball, and outdoor adventures.