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Ask a Hiring Expert: How to Build a Hiring Process

Editor’s Note: We have produced a brand new video to accompany this content. 

Just because you’re not an HR hiring pro doesn’t mean you can’t have a pro HR hiring process. Our very own Director of HR, Natalie Morgan, shares her insights about how to build a hiring process that results in the right hires. This three-minute clip will introduce you to CareerPlug’s own tried-and-true hiring process steps. 

Here’s the magic scenario: you have an open position, a perfect candidate walks through the door and charms you with their obvious talent and culture fit. They start the next day and go on to become a high-performing, loyal employee. And let’s say they also make amazing chocolate chip cookies and share with the team. Magic.

We should all be so lucky, but the gap between needing to make a hire and making the hire can feel like standing at the edge of a chasm with no way to cross.

A hiring process is like a bridge that leads you board by board, step by step, to the right hire.

Without a hiring process, it’s easy to 1) get paralyzed at the chasm or 2) fall into hiring traps such as:

  • “I’ve got a good feeling about them” . . . decisions based on gut feelings 
  • “I just need a body in a seat” . . . short-term thinking 
  • “They remind me of myself” . . . hiring people exactly like you

If you make up your hiring process as you go, give different candidates a different experience for the same role, or are not evaluating candidates against clear criteria . . . that’s not a hiring process either, it’s the wild west. You may make a hire, but you’ll be starting from scratch every time you jump into hiring again.

So let’s talk about how we can build that bridge and take the heavy lifting out of your hiring. As head of HR at CareerPlug, I’ve seen how an effective hiring process can soothe hiring headaches and help our hiring managers confidently hire awesome people.

The stand-out benefits of having a standard hiring process include:

  • Hiring managers have a playbook to learn best practices and make better hires
  • Potential bias and subjectivity are minimized when you follow a standard process 
  • Candidates have a consistent, positive experience with your employment brand 
  • It’s easy to stay compliant with no missed steps 

Where do I start? 

Before we walk through the building blocks of the hiring process, there are some key questions you should consider. 

  1. What is my Ideal Candidate Profile? I’ve written in the past about building an Ideal Candidate Profile: an exercise in identifying the ideal skills, talents, and behaviors someone needs to succeed in your open position. Knowing who you want to hire will inform the hiring process you build.
  2. What do I need to know first about an applicant? What information do you need to prioritize? What will immediately eliminate or accelerate someone through the process? You will never be able to learn everything you need to from a resume or phone screen, so it’s important to understand the most important criteria and at what points in the process you’ll dig deeper.
  3. How will I know the candidate has the skills, talents, and behaviors to succeed? If you’ve identified in your Ideal Candidate Profile that someone needs to have a certain skill, how will you know they have it? What does demonstrating they have a behavior mean to you?
  4. Who are the stakeholders for this hire? Determine who else in your organization may need to be involved in the hiring process. Who will this new hire work closely with? Who should have a say in the hiring decision?

Hiring process steps

There is no one “right” way to build a hiring process, but here is a basic, effective workflow that we also use at CareerPlug:

I’m going to walk you through the six hiring process steps, detailing their high-level purpose and content. My hope is that you can apply this basic framework into the context of your organization and improve your interviewing process.

Hiring process steps

Step 1: Review

The review is the first stage when you receive applicants and need to decide whether or not to move them through your hiring process. Here you are reviewing resumes along with a few key questions designed to surface the most important qualifying information. For example, you might ask how many years of experience an applicant has in your field or if they hold a particular certification.

Keep the number of these qualifying questions (we call them prescreen questions) to 3-5 and rely on the resume to tell a broader story. At CareerPlug, I always add at least one open-ended question to our job applications: What makes you unique? Answers run the gamut from a fun fact, a mini-cover letter, or an incoherent sentence.

Remember, at this stage (and every stage) you need to decide to move an applicant forward or remove them from the process. Resist decision paralysis where you leave candidates lingering in limbo without any communication. If they’re not a good fit, send them a polite rejection so you can both move on. 

Step 2: Phone screen

The next stage in the hiring process is the phone screen. This is a short tele-interview between the hiring manager and candidate, usually lasting 15-20 minutes. In this stage, you’ll vet candidates based on basic qualifications for the role and validate your assumptions from reading their resume.

Ask questions about the day-to-day of their current job, what they like and what they don’t like, and why they are looking for a new opportunity.

The phone screen is also a good opportunity to ask questions about job preferences. Ask about their ideal work environment and company culture, what their ideal manager is like, and check to make sure the compensation you’re offering for the role is in line with their expectations. 

Give candidates time to ask questions at this stage — they are vetting the role too.

Step 3: Assess

The next stage is to assess. This part of the process is adaptable and dependent on the position but typically gauges cognitive ability or specific job skills.

You might use a general assessment or one designed especially for the role. For example, when we hire software engineers at CareerPlug, candidates complete a coding challenge at this stage.

In terms of general assessments, we have Math/Verbal and Personality assessments within our Applicant Tracking System that we use for many positions.

The assess stage is perhaps the most flexible of the hiring process steps. Think about 1) how imperative the results are to have early in the process and 2) the financial and time investment.

In CareerPlug’s hiring process, we send out assessments after the phone screen and review results with candidates during our first in-person interview. This mutual commitment — an investment of their time taking an assessment after we have determined we’ll have an in-person meeting — works for us and contributes to a positive candidate experience. 

Step 4: Interviews

In-person interviews are the time for the deep dive. They are the core of the hiring process that will help you evaluate a candidate’s experience, potential, and cultural fit so you can ultimately make a decision.

For many positions, you may find that one in-person interview is sufficient.

For senior-level positions, you might need two or three interviews depending on the number of internal stakeholders who need to be involved. Any more interviews than that is most likely too many interviews.

Again, resist decision paralysis by dragging out the hiring process.

Interviews — from designing questions to building the skills you need to be an excellent interviewer — are a monster of a topic that we’ll cover in future posts. To get you started, though, revisit this question: How will I know the candidate has the skills, talents, and behaviors to succeed? Your answer to this will guide the interview questions you ask.

Step 5: Verify

After your interviews, the last of the hiring process steps are to verify what you’ve learned about the qualified candidate by conducting reference checks and making an offer.

The verification step may be the most neglected stage in the hiring process. When people look back at hires that didn’t work out, they usually regret not completing these steps. Reference checks and background checks take a little extra time and money to conduct, but they are worth it. You won’t know how much they are truly worth until they help you avoid a bad — potentially devastating — hire. 

Reference checks should validate what you’ve learned, giving you the confidence that you’re making the right decision. They can also give you insight on how to effectively manage this person.

It’s also important to remember that you’re not conducting reference checks in an attempt to discredit the candidate. At CareerPlug, we like to assume the best in people – so our stance when it comes to this step is “trust, but verify.”

Step 6: Offer

You’ve made it this far; now, it’s time to make the best candidate a compelling offer to join your team.

At CareerPlug, we believe that the delivery of your offer is just as important as the offer itself. Don’t mess it up by getting sloppy at the end! In terms of the actual offer itself, we like to make a big deal about this. We create a formal offer letter and put together a benefits folder for them to review. Then we walk them through each section and cover all of the key areas: compensation, benefits, work-life balance, and professional development.

It’s at the offer stage that candidates may express some hesitation. Ask them about the pros and cons they are weighing in their heads. You could also inquire as to whether they’re considering other offers. Not everyone is forthcoming with these details, but you would be surprised by how many are.

You won’t win them all, but you should be able to learn something from each one. Not everyone is going to be a match for your company and what you have to offer, but you can use this feedback to adjust your approach to be more competitive. 

A little more guidance for building your hiring process:

  • A hiring process will help you get to this final decision point. You don’t need to decide to hire someone at each stage; you only need to decide if you don’t want to hire them. Ask yourself: Do I want to learn more? 
  • Compare apples to apples (or ‘cookies to cookies’ if you prefer, I know I do) by asking the same questions, using the same assessments, and evaluating against the same criteria for all candidates. Consider investing in hiring management software to facilitate this level of consistency.
  • The process may not always run like a well-oiled machine as intended. Life is messy: the process gets thrown off, a step gets skipped by mistake, or you add another step. Flexibility is possible and necessary, but committing to honor a consistent hiring process will help you consistently make better hires. 

An important note on following your gut:

This is for everyone who balked when I said to ignore your gut feelings. There is something to be said for instinct. We’re talking about human beings, not products, and we should pay attention to our internal cues.

However, our instincts are usually a sign that we need to learn more. A hiring process gives us a structured way to validate our instincts and ensure they’re not biases in disguise. 

I hope you do get that magic scenario, and magic or not, you’ll find that some hires just click into place. When you build a hiring process you trust, hiring does get easier, great hires get more predictable, and you can get back to what you do best: running your business.

Take Action: 

  • Take Inventory of Your Current Hiring Process. Ask yourself what is and isn’t working for you. It’s important to understand where you are today before deciding where to make changes. 
  • Document Your Ideal Hiring Process. Research how other people hire for similar positions. Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes, then build a process around the ideal experience. 
  • Implement a System That Helps You Stick to the Process. Whether it’s an Applicant Tracking System or a color-coordinated spreadsheet, find an easy way to follow each step in your hiring process and move candidates through the funnel.

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