the winner of the hiring advice contest is…

In response to this week’s call to share what you wish you knew before you started hiring people (or what you wish hiring managers knew), you all created a huge compendium of fantastic, real-world hiring advice. It’s a seriously amazing resource that anyone who wants to be better at hiring should read through.

I had a heck of a time choosing one winner out of so many excellent contributions, but the $150 Amazon gift card provided by IT recruiting and staffing firm Modis goes to … Elysian. Here’s the winning entry:

I think that the difficulty for hiring managers come in two parts: (1) knowing what you want or need from a candidate and (2) knowing how to test for those qualities. Some people in charge of hiring might be good at one or the other, but not at both. I think it takes both to make a really good hire.

Some places just don’t know the kind of person that they need, and it’s no surprise that they can’t find that person. Maybe Jane leaves, and they want someone to fill Jane’s job, but don’t fully understand how Jane did what she did. Or they have a generic position title – “Social Media Specialist” – and a vague job description, but don’t really know what it takes to succeed in that role. On the other hand, maybe they know they need someone to be a good assistant and they know what the person needs to do, but get caught up in academic credentials (which don’t really demonstrate any skills).

I had a similar problem when I was a teacher – I might know what I wanted my students to learn, but had trouble isolating that skill in an exam (for example, math word problems test both reading and math skills, so its hard to know which one the student struggles with if they don’t succeed at the word problem). Or, I might be set with the evaluation (like a standardized test), but don’t really know what skills the students are supposed to learn (thus, I could be stuck ‘teaching to the test’).

Before people hire, I wish they would give serious thought to each of these two things. What should the great candidate be able to do? How can I target the interview for those skills? I think it would save everyone a lot of grief.

I love how this highlights the need to really think rigorously not just about what you need in a new hire, but how you’re going to know if you’ve found it or not.

(And I actually want to share a cool example of how to structure your thinking around this. This is a sample hiring plan that provides a great template for outlining your must-have and nice-to-have skills and how you’ll test for each one, as well as what a hiring process might look like from start to finish. It’ll download in Word.)

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. Bryan*

    While I’m sad I didn’t win I know it’s because this was better than my suggestion haha. I love the teacher analogy.

    That template is outstanding, thanks so much for sharing it. We are hiring for a newly created position and this will be helpful.

  2. OriginalYup*

    Congrats, Elysian! Really good advice. I think a lot of places hit a wall with this problem and decide to address it by requiring a ton of credentials in lieu of figuring out how to test for what they need. And then you end with bizarro job ads like demanding that receptionists bring a masters degree in linguistics instead of the actual skill required (handling sensitive information with discretion).

    1. Bryan*

      I had applied for a box office manager position with a small orchestra (about 15-20 concerts a year) and they wanted a writing sample. The executive director didn’t really have any experience running a corporation so I think she asked for it just because it seemed like places do that.

  3. Bea W*

    So true! I struggle most with part 2. Thankfully, my manager is good at both things and does not rely on any one person’s iffy skills in either area. The template is really helpful. Thank you, and congratulations to Elysian. It’s really helpful advice.

  4. Confuzzled*

    Congrats to the winner! Excellent advice that I find helpful for when I’m at that stage of my career.

  5. Darth Admin*

    Congrats to Elysian! Great answer.

    And I love that sample hiring plan- downloaded and saved for future reference.

  6. Modis*

    Congratulations, Elysian! Well deserved, indeed! And thank you to everyone else who commented and shared your own advice…we will be selecting a few of your comments to feature on an upcoming blog post, which you can read at!

  7. Jake*

    I hired for the first time in January and you are dead on. It was for a position that I didn’t understand exactly what was needed. I got lucky and our new admin is good, but I know that this time I got lucky. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to determine what I actually need.

  8. Worker Bee*

    Congrats. And thank you Alison. This is perfect timing as I have to fill two fulltime positions, one trainee and one internship position at once. (We are an office of 13 people normally, so having 1/3 of it be vacant all at once, will be very interesting) Thanks again!!

  9. HR “Gumption”*

    A great answer and so true. Thanks Elysian for sharing and thanks AAM for selecting and highlighting.

  10. Elysian*

    Wow, thanks AAM and everyone! I didn’t even see this until this morning because I was home sick yesterday and not doing my regular AAM coffee breaks. I’m honored that anyone thought my advice was good, especially with all the other good advice that was posted. Thank you all, especially Alison and Modis!

  11. anon librarian*

    The template is great and adaptable. I had one very similar to that for my last hire. I placed the components of the job description down the across the top as well as attributes and the candidates on the first column down.

    I did hire a terrific well- qualified candidate who didn’t have “everything.”

    Another plus- at one point HR had questioned my final three as an inside candidate did not pass from the phone interview to the next level, I just showed her my spreadsheet and that was that.

    Three months later another manager was struggling with hiring for a project manager position, no one was “just right” I was surprised that the last “inside candidate” was hired as I knew after my phone interview that she was not the best qualified for that position either. (I had passed a few of my also-rans to that manager)

    We had lunch and I was raving about my new hire. She said how come you got to pick whoever you wanted? I was told to hire “inside candidate” After listening to her process, it was clear that she had received no guidance from her director or hr. The important take-away was that she didn’t even ask for help.

    For my hire- I had two meetings with hr- first after I created the job description and 2nd after I had gotten the applicants down to 14. I had one meeting with my director when we were down to 6. I spoke to my director for about 10 minutes after the phone interviews describing why I was bringing in the final 3. The final 3 came on-site and met with the hiring committee (hand picked by me) and me.
    We were unanimous in our selection and I made a job offer 3 days later.

  12. A New Manager*

    Hello, I’m going through the archives today for the topic of “Hiring” and came across this article. I’m really interested in finding the “sample hiring plan” that this article previously linked to, but the link is no longer working. It goes to a page that says “Page not found.” Any help on finding this elsewhere?

    I’ve recently been promoted to a supervisor position and I’m in the process of filling several open positions in my unit. I’ll be interviewing for one position this coming up Wednesday and may have the option of filling another position from this pool of candidates in the near future, but my pool of candidates are really not impressive so far. It was posted as an internal position only (not available to applicants outside the agency), was only a 5 day posting, and was not advertised to employees in any way (no one knew about it unless they were trolling the job postings for anything new), so I only got 4 applicants and only one that really stands out. But most of all, there is one other candidate that really stands out as someone I absolutely DO NOT want to hire, based on my experience working with this person for the past several years and knowing their very poor and lazy work ethic.

    I’m looking for a tool to use to justify my hiring decisions so that I do not get railroaded into selecting anyone I don’t want, and the one listed here sounds really helpful if I could find it.

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