Bad hiring has a nasty ripple effect. It can cost a company time and money, and kill morale and productivity. That’s why many CEOs go to great, often extreme, lengths to make sure they’re getting the right people on board. Zappos’s Tony Hsieh, for instance, is so obsessed with preserving his quirky culture that he offers new hires $2,000 to leave a month later if they’re not happy. And such radical approaches aren’t as rare as you might think. Here’s how four other entrepreneurs are hacking hiring:
1. Vote Early; Vote Often. “Firing fast never works,” says Dane Atkinson, CEO and co-founder of SumAll, a New York City-based business analytics firm. That’s why Atkinson puts every employee through a 45-day trial period. Each applicant is assigned an on-staff sponsor and gets regular assessments from a dedicated selection committee.
At the end of the trial, if the selection committee approves a candidate, SumAll’s entire 35-person team puts the matter to a vote. One veto, and the candidate goes home. About 30 percent of applicants don’t pass. Atkinson admits this Survivor-style approach intimidates plenty of applicants and requires an intense time commitment from employees, “but the meta effect is better,” he says: In two years, only one employee has left the company. “It sets employees up for success,” he says, “because there’s such close attention paid to them in those early days.”
2. Trial by Rejection. Salespeople need to be able to handle rejection on a daily basis. So when Rob Rawson hires salespeople for his remote staffing company, Staff.com, he starts by turning them down. After initial interviews, Rawson calls the candidates he wants to hire and tells them he doesn’t think they have what it takes. About 75 percent of applicants accept the rejection outright or become overly defensive--and thereby fail the test. On the other hand, the 25 percent who fight to make their case tend to be golden. “You get to see whether a salesperson is able to overcome rejection and sell themselves with a real-life example, rather than a theoretical question,” he says.
3. Make It Like a Reality Show. Potential hires are used to selling themselves, but it’s what they’re willing to say about other applicants that John DeHart finds truly revealing. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Nurse Next Door, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based franchiser of home care services. The company conducts group interviews to make the hiring process faster and assess candidates for cultural fit.
After asking the usual questions about strengths, weaknesses, and the like, DeHart and his staff conclude each interview by asking the applicants which of their rivals they would hire. Many choose the weakest candidates, which suggests to DeHart that they are threatened, rather than inspired, by top performers. “ ‘Admire people’ is one of our core values,” he says, “so we’re looking for someone who will point to the top person in the room and honestly say why they would hire him.”
4. A Bounty on Their Heads. The Nerdery, a Web design firm in Bloomington, Minnesota, hires about 25 percent of its employees from internal referrals. But last year, the company was growing so quickly that hiring became a bottleneck. Co-founder Mike Derheim needed a bigger applicant pool, and fast. So the company took out ads offering to pay the public to refer good developers. The Nerdery rewarded people with $100 if their candidates landed an interview and $400 if they got hired.
More than 700 referrals came rolling in, along with another 900 applicants who heard about the campaign and applied on their own. The company did 600 interviews and spent around $30,600 on rewards. Of those 600, 33 developers were hired, which Derheim says is just slightly lower than the company’s typical acceptance rate. “It was more risk than a lot of companies are willing to take on,” he says, “but when hiring is our No. 1 constraint, it’s definitely worth the investment.”