It's no secret that recruiting is among business owners' top concerns. For many CEOs, how to find--and keep--the best talent is a pressing issue that's key to growing a business.

At Inc.'s second annual Women's Summit, a panel of CEOs and founders sat down to discuss hiring lessons learned the hard way-- through years of recruiting in a variety of industries. The panel included Selena Cuffe, CEO of Heritage Link Brands; Sharon Virts-Mozer, CEO and founder of FCi Federal; and Katie Morgan, Senior Human Resources Executive of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Tackling those piles and piles of resumes

A major challenge when it comes to hiring: those mountains of resumes that need to be weeded through. 

Morgan said she uses key word searches to take the resume count from thousands to hundreds. Optimistic of talent pool in the job market, Morgan said you need "the ability to be very specific about what you're looking for." 

Referrals = Red flag

When asked what were the biggest hiring mistakes they've made, Virts-Mozer said the biggest is to trust referrals--or at least, take them at face value. 

Why? First, she said, there's the fact that referrals are more than likely going to say great things about a candidate, even if that person is a bad worker.

Another reason is context. She said when a referrence says, for example, 'I worked with them 10 years ago and they did great work," that's a red flag.

"You realize you didn't vet them, you didn't look at what they've done since those ten years when that person knew them. And you didn't vet them with your own team," Virts-Mozer said. 

She advised leaders to leave a position open if you cannot find the ideal candidate. "It's better to leave it vacant than to have a bad leader."

Sure, you want experience...

The conversation then turned to Cuffe, who said she learned early on that affordability matters when it comes to hiring. Her company, the largest importer of wine produced by indigenous Africans in North America, launched in 2005. The company's mission is to give more ownership over the trade to natives--an attractive incentive for candidates looking to work for a company with a cause. She got plenty of interest from highly experienced candidates, one of which she hired, but Cuffe couldn't actually afford the person. 

"The biggest regret was hiring a sales manager we weren't ready for," Cuffee said.  She advises entrepreneurs to offer equity or other forms of compensation to early hires so they have skin in the game. 

Best questions to ask

And when it comes to the interview part of hiring, here were the panel's suggestions for questions they've used in the past with success:

Virts Mozer: Who's the worst boss you've ever had? 

Morgan: Tell me about a time you've failed, what you learned from it and what you did about it.

Cuffe: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?