You sift through resumes, even though resumes rarely tell anything close to the whole story about a candidate. You conduct brief phone interviews, even though the phone interview process is fairly easy for candidates to hack.
You interview your short list of candidates, using a blend of the most common interview questions, a few revealing behavioral interview questions, and a few of your favorite unusual interview questions tossed in for good measure.
One candidate stands out.
So, just to make sure you haven't missed anything, you do a quick reference check.
Sounds great -- except, according to Daniel Sillman, the CEO of Relevent Sports Group, you have one key step in the process backwards. (Daniel is also a partner, along with Maverick Carter, Carmelo Anthony, and Nate Forbes, in Del Toro Shoes, a high-end footwear and apparel brand. He's a co-owner of Blink Fitness franchises with Forbes and Draymond Green. He's a founding investor in Mark Wahlberg's supplement line, Performance Inspired Nutrition, and is a venture partner at 3L Capital.)
What does Daniel do? He sifts through resumes, creates a short list of candidates, and then checks references -- before he does any interviews.
"I use reference checking as a first filter -- before I get to the initial interview process -- to get as much perspective as I can on a candidate," Daniel says. "That helps me better understand who the person is, their background, their experiences not just as a professional but also as a human: What drives them, what motivates them... and whether they share the core values that fit our company's culture."
Checking references first also helps inform the interview process. The more you know about the candidate before the interview, the better prepared you'll be to ask questions that get to the heart of the candidate's skills, experience, and qualifications.
But what if a candidate has limited work experience and a resulting limited set of references? (Or doesn't want you to contact his or her current employer? According to Daniel, that's rarely a problem.
"If a person can't come back with enough references, especially with a younger candidate who doesn't have work experience," Daniel says, "they can give references from mentors, professors, coaches.... there are always ways to find people to vouch for you as a person. If you can't, there's probably something wrong."
Of course that results in a bias towards the positive; I'm unlikely to provide you as a reference unless I feel sure you'll say good things about me. But that's also not a problem.
"At the executive level, most people won't offer to be a reference unless they feel strongly about a candidate," Daniel says. "It's their reputation on the line.
"Beyond that, it's easy to get past that initial layer and go deeper. Ask for examples of how they work with colleagues, with direct reports, with superiors. Ask what motivates them. Ask about things they've done to develop their skills. Ask about times they've stepped up. Don't just focus on their specific role; ask about who they are as individuals.
"Remember," Daniel says, "you wouldn't be interested in the candidate if they weren't good on paper. The goal is to find people who will be curious, who will evolve their position, who can grow into different parts of the organization... which means you need to know the candidate as a person, not just a set of qualifications. Ask the right questions, and references will give you great insights."
The "person" aspect is key. Skills can be trained; attitude cannot. It's a little like the NBA draft: Do you take the best player for a position... or do you take a chance on choosing the best player available?
"Instead of hiring a person who may fit the bill from a resume standpoint," Daniel says, " rather hire an athlete and train them to perform a specific role," Daniel says, "I prefer to hire a person with a true sense of urgency, a drive to be solution-oriented... a get (stuff) done type of person who has the core values we embrace as an organization. That person we can train to perform a specific role."
That approach definitely pays off. One example is brand partner marketing. Originally, Daniel assumed partnership marketing and activation should be run by two different people.
"Our head of partnership marketing is now also in charge of activation," Daniel says. "Her curiosity and work ethic helped us evolve that role. With one person overseeing both, communication is better, service is better... and our partners are happier.
"That's another reason checking references before you conduct interviews is so important. Better understanding a candidate helps you find leverage points where past experiences might be helpful in evolving a role. Not only can you ask better questions during the interview, you might even discover things that person can do that you never envisioned."
Try it. The next time you have an opening, create a short list of candidates and then talk to their references before you conduct interviews. In all likelihood, you'll uncover at least one candidate who doesn't belong on your short list.
More importantly, you'll be much more prepared to interview the candides who remain.
Which means those interviews will be much more likely to reveal the best candidate for the job -- and for your company.
Which, where the hiring process is concerned, is the only thing that matters.