Hiring Superstars

Hiring people to reduce your workload is essential to you working on your business rather than in it unfortunately hiring can seem chaotic and mis-hires can cost you on both lost pay and lost opportunity.

Hiring Superstars

Hiring people to reduce your workload is essential to you working on your business rather than in it unfortunately hiring can seem chaotic and mis-hires can cost you on both lost pay and lost opportunity.

For fast-growth early stage companies it is vital that a founder/CEO fulfilling multiple roles hires the correct people to take the company to the next stage of growth. Research into fast-growing Series A+ companies suggests that high-growth companies hire 4-5 employees on average a quarter.

For founders at any stage of development hiring can seem quite serendipitous and more art than science. Put a job description onto LinkedIn or a paid jobs board and you will be inundated with offers from recruiters claiming to have the 'perfect' candidate for you. In work done by Dr. Bradford Smart, author of Topgrading, the estimated cost of a bad hire ranged from 5 to 27 times the amount of the employee's actual salary and, according to Gallup mishires cost the US economy over 1 trillion dollars per year.

As a surgeon I am obsessed with data and reducing risk. When I built the founding team at Virti it was mainly from my network, we didn't have a data-driven hiring process and other than an interview system we didn't capture a huge amount of data on candidates. We have scaled up fast (employing over 10 people within the last few months alone) and I want to share with you some of my top tips to make hiring a science and hire superstars.

Defining Ideal Employee Characteristics

The first step in creating your data-driven hiring process is to define the characteristics for the role. These characteristics will form part of your hiring score card. Initially we will make educated assumptions on the criteria that predict the best candidates. For example who is your top performing sales person? What characteristics do they possess that make them a high performer? The highest (and lowest) performers after a hiring cycle can then be rescored and compared using the score card to iterate the criteria by applying weightings using regression analysis. I'm an advocate for starting from the end and working backwards as defining the characteristics for the role will help to define the job description. If you are a very early company hiring outside of your immediate network for the first time you can look at the characteristics of high performers in other companies; as you would for an ideal customer profile create your own ideal employee profile (IEP) for the job you are hiring for.

The steps below breakdown an example initial approach to establish a theory of the ideal hire characteristics for a role:

  • Identify top performers internally or from outside organisations and build an ideal employee profile in terms of their CV, experience, characteristics and anything else you deem important
  • Write down a clear definition for each characteristic from the IEP outlining what they mean to you.
  • Set a scoring criteria on a scale of 1 to 10 for each characteristic. Remember that others will use this scorecard and so defining ranges for each characteristic is helpful to interviewers e.g. "1-3: Candidiate provides no evidence to backup claims"; "4-6 Candidate provides work-based example but does not reflect on the situation".
  • Order the characteristics by importance to the role and add a weighting based on importance. For example the most important characteristic will have a score out of 10 and then a weighting of 10 so gives a score of 100 to the overall total. A less important characteristic will have a score out of 10 and then a weighting of 4 to give a score out of 40 to the overall interview total.
  • For each candidate summarize the results on an Evaluation Scorecard (this can be in excel or similar) using tabs for different interviewers and automating calculations and consider at which part of the evaluation process each characteristic is best assessed.

The score card can then be broken down by which stage of the process you will assess candidate characteristics at.

Access The Virti Scorecard

Characteristics of Top Performers

There are many ways to assess candidates. Google "How to Hire" and you'll be presented with a variety of complex personality testing, trademarked eponymous scoring systems and interview tasks to provide you with insights. But are these actually useful to you and your company? An age old adage in hiring is to "hire for culture" since in early stage companies people who are a culture fit will likely align to your company mission and work in an agile, fast-paced start-up environment. While this is partly sound advice it is vital that you go beyond a simple, accessible culture statement and vision and define core characteristics that can form part of the scoring for every employee you hire.

As a starting point at Virti where our culture is "Be Bold, Be Fast, Be Amazing" we found that across all jobs from engineering to sales the top-performers possessed the following common characteristics ordered from 1-5 in order of importance:

  • Coachability
  • Desire to Learn
  • Curiosity
  • Competitiveness
  • Communication Skills / EQ

These top 5 were part of a larger list of 20 characteristics including traits like work ethic, experience/prior success, passion and more.

The great thing about the evaluation scorecard is that you can reflect back at the 6 or 12-month mark after hiring someone and reevaluate your weighting and scoring as needed. Were you initial assumptions correct? Were certain characteristics actually more important and should have their weight increased? You can even continue to use the scorecard from the interviews for ongoing employee coaching and development post-hire.

Defining Your Own Evaluation Strategy

Given that candidates interact with you at various touch points; from replying to emails, to completing tasks to interviews it is important to ensure you are scoring characteristics at the appropriate stage.

Screening and Response Time

At medical school and during my surgical training I ran an interview preparation business. One of the key pieces of advice we gave to every candidate was that the interview starts as soon as you leave your house (or switch on your computer if a zoom interview). This is because you never know who might be on a train with you, chatting with you in a lobby area or observing you at the interview venue. When scaling up fast it is easy to disregard scoring at screening, especially if you are outsourcing elements of this, but it is vital to capture the opinions of the screener and also incidental behaviour like speed of email response, questions asked and punctuality to interviews as these are likely indicative of how a person will behave once hired. It also give you data across a longer time period rather than a single episodic interview.

Tasks

Tasks are vital to any interview process and should be representative of what candidates will be expected to do in the actual role. Tasks should be simple, accessible and quick to complete (1-2 hours max) and most importantly should offer value to candidates and allow them to show off their skills and approach. At Virti the most important part of the task is the reflection following it. Depending on the role we either ask candidates to complete a quick 3-5 minute video talking through their approach to the task or we do a quick reflective coaching session on the task at the start of the interview to assess for coachability. Tasks can ascertain for organisation, creativity and where video or written reflection is used, for communication and presentation skills.

The Interview

When building out your interview questions it is important to split these into sections that align to characteristics. Interview questions should challenge candidates, probe behaviours and pull out strong examples of the characteristics you will be scoring against.

To help you get started here are some thoughts to consider when defining your evaluation strategy:

  1. What behavioral questions should we ask? Will we use role plays?
  2. This will be different for each type of hire (e.g. sales role plays are essential, whereas tech should have a coding challenge centred around a company problem)
  3. Pre-interview screening, followed by task and then a formal interview by team leads should generate an interview pack that is then passed on to the final independent decision maker (e.g. CEO/CTO/COO)
  4. Each should comprise pre-interview tasks (e.g. personality scoring, Virti information to learn about (intelligence tests)

At Virti we keep things simple and begin each interview by assessing coachability using either reflection on the pre-interview task or using role-play at the interview. We then jump into questions that align to our company culture and probe candidate motivations and then dive into behaviour examples from the past work experience and finish with role-specific questions.

Set Hiring Timeline Goals

Recruiters will often talk about a compromise between time, price and talent. For example if you want a high performer at a reasonable salary it will take time to find them. While this is true for certain roles you should run a focused process which provides you with insights to help you improve the process in the future. Once you have defined your evaluation strategy you should then estimate times and set timelines to hold you and your team accountable. This will depend on the size of your company and you can experiment as you wish but a rough guide is to break this into:

  1. Talent need identified from talent roadmap
  2. JD, characteristics, scorecard and tasks set by team lead/hiring manager
  3. Job description pushed live / sourcer activated
  4. 15-Min Screening Call
  5. Task Sent
  6. Task Return Deadline
  7. Final Interviews
  8. Job Offered
  9. Contract Signed

Some applicant tracking systems (ATS) track times and data automatically or you can simply use a project management tool like Asana or an excel doc. You should then assign preliminary dates in a calendar for each stage, this holds you and your team accountable and allows for set periods of time for passive and active sourcing at stage 3. For senior roles you may wish to add in an "Excitement" call after screening and before tasks are sent to sell the company to the candidates and allow them to ask questions early. The idea here is to reduce churn of the best candidates later on as it is safe to assume that the highest performers will likely be interviewing with at least 5 other companies in addition to your own.

Analysis and Iteration of The Hiring Process

Your hiring funnel, much like a sales or marketing funnel, should push 3-4 solid candidates to final stage interviews. At the end of the evaluation process characteristics can consolidated across all tasks, touch points and interviewers and can be pulled together in a radar chart for each candidate to quickly compare.

After each hiring round you can analyse time taken for each stage, number of applicants, drop-off and sources from where the candidates came from. It is helpful to build in a formal post hiring sprint workshop to review this data and have hiring managers identify bottlenecks and results of experiments run to see whether you wish to tweak the process. Run a formal regression analysis once there are sufficient data points, correlating the hiring characteristics with post-hire sales success to eliminate subjectivity from the sales hiring formula

Analysis and Iteration of The Hiring Process

Your hiring funnel, much like a sales or marketing funnel, should push 3-4 solid candidates to final stage interviews. At the end of the evaluation process characteristics can consolidated across all tasks, touch points and interviewers and can be pulled together in a radar chart for each candidate to quickly compare.

After each hiring round you can analyse time taken for each stage, number of applicants, drop-off and sources from where the candidates came from. It is helpful to build in a formal post hiring sprint workshop to review this data and have hiring managers identify bottlenecks and results of experiments run to see whether you wish to tweak the process. Run a formal regression analysis once there are sufficient data points, correlating the hiring characteristics with post-hire sales success to eliminate subjectivity from the sales hiring formula

As your company scales and your hiring need intensifies your hiring process should match demand. As a founder/CEO you will likely want to be involved in all hiring decisions often active at final stage interviews. For companies with 50+ employees or companies scaling very quickly the founder/CEO should aim to empower team leads and hiring managers to follow the above process and then receive an interview pack of the final candidate team leads wish to employ, this is a process employed at Google to good effect. This should be backed up by data and you might wish to have a final CEO call which is more of a meet and greet to ensure alignment to what is presented in the hiring pack.


Once you have the hiring process created the next step is to optimise your onboarding and coaching processes to ensure success post hire.

Access The Virti Scorecard