In the beginning, my company Anansi Content was just me.
If you’ve been there, you already know what it’s like – I was the dream team.
The rush was intoxicating. If I had a great idea, I did it. If I needed more sales, I hustled harder. And best of all, I never had to go through the rigamarole of hiring, training, and managing that goes into building an amazing team.
Now don’t get me wrong. Being a solopreneur can be great. But for most people, eventually, that exhilaration starts to battle near-constant exhaustion, and it starts to lose its appeal.
Thankfully, things got better. Over the years, our fully-remote team has come to include incredibly talented people in operations, admin, account management, and content strategy. They are located from all over Canada to all the way in India, and down in Mexico.
Of course, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies and smiling people holding hands across the world. Our dream team had its ups and downs while we looked for people who vibed with our culture, values, and processes.
I’ll admit, we’ve had some team members who we realized were not the perfect fit. I went through four assistants in my first year, because it always seemed like I could “just do it myself” faster and better.
But after the second or third time rehiring the same role within a year, I came to a stunning realization…
Whether or not someone works out doesn’t have to be luck.
Over the years, we’ve found a few “outside the box” approaches that have led to us having a team of people who are not just good, but absolutely killing it every single freaking day.
Here are five lesser-known strategies to help you find exactly who you’re looking for.
1. Focus on Assessments Instead of Resumes
Resumes are great for listing past work experiences and education, but they fall flat when showcasing how a potential employee can make a difference in your organization. They’re mind-numbing to read through and mostly only prove how good at making a resume someone is—which, sadly, doesn’t always sync with how good at their job they’ll be.
A resume doesn’t tell you how well a candidate thinks on her feet, or how quickly she can learn a new process. A resume doesn’t tell you how a candidate can apply the skills he has learned over his career to a specific task he will be required to do in his new job.
To learn all of that, we turn to assessments.
Assessments give us the opportunity to ask for the relevant experience we actually care about and read between the lines to understand exactly what a candidate brings to the table.
We generally use two for each role: one skill-testing assessment and one culture assessment. Each is 5-10 questions long. The former uses real-world situations to check whether the candidate gets it, while the latter checks whether they’ll mesh well with our team and the role’s logistical needs.
Sometimes they’re long-answer questions, sometimes multiple-choice, and sometimes we ask them to record a video.
What we’re looking for here isn’t always picture-perfect answers. We’re trying to read between the lines and find out, “What skills and values are they actually showing us? Are they demonstrating our values?”
Those results are far more useful than any resume.
2. Put Your Heart and Soul Into Your Job Description
The last job description for a position we were filling was close to 2,500 words long.
Yes, you heard that right.
But why? It’s not like anybody’s going to read all that information, right?
The thing is, the right people do read the long job descriptions. The kind of people we’re looking for read through every paragraph, linger over what’s appealing to them and then read through it again.
Our job descriptions are so detailed and lengthy because we’re very specific. We tell candidates:
- Exactly who we are, so there is no question about what they are going to find when they start on their first day.
- Exactly what kind of person we’re looking for.
- The kind of strengths they need to have, and how they should work on their weaknesses.
- We tell them when not to apply for the job, and when they should definitely send in their application.
This makes sure we weed out the kind of candidates we’re not looking for, so we don’t waste time and energy going through their applications. It helps those who are very interested self-identify with the posting and get really, really excited about the thought of working with us.
3. Use Your Values to Guide Your Decisions
As a business owner, it’s so important for me to create a place of work where my employees feel engaged, comfortable, and challenged. At Anansi Content, our core values are a part of our recruiting and hiring process — because we only want people on the team that match those core values.
When I first heard about hiring for your values, I thought it made sense… in an abstract way. Of course, you want to make sure everyone on your team cares about the same things!
But it goes way deeper than I expected.
Every single time we’ve had to let someone go, we traced our issues with their performance back to our core values.
See, core values tell you what’s okay and what's not okay behavior. They set expectations for how the team interacts with each other, their workload, and most importantly how they make decisions.
It doesn’t matter how good a candidate is if they don’t respect the values we share at work. But how do you figure it out ahead of time? It’s not enough to just post our values in our application and ask candidates if they agree. (Well, maybe we do that too.)
In order to really understand whether a candidate shares our values, we design questions that allow people to demonstrate values we admire through story and approach. These open-ended questions don’t always have a “right” or a “wrong” answer, but they open up a discussion about how that person makes decisions, and what they intrinsically care about.
4. Always Start With a Test Project
Have you ever been in a situation where you think you’ve found the right candidate, only to be disappointed when you realize they can’t actually do any of the things they said they could?
Imagine having to spend all that time, effort, and money on hiring, onboarding, and training, and realizing your star candidate is really a dud.
That’s why we use a test project to get a better understanding of our candidates’ abilities. Similar to an assessment, a test project mimics a specific task that the candidate would do in their day-to-day job if they were hired.
For example, our content strategists have to create a test content strategy from a set of notes and write a couple of pages of web copy. It’s a paid test project that leading candidates are asked to complete.
This way, we can evaluate the actual skills they need in their position if they’re hired. If they bomb the test project, it’s unlikely they’ll succeed at work. And don’t worry — we’re not looking for absolute divine perfection in the test project — we’re just looking for potential.
5. Actually Follow up With References—and Ask Great Questions
This might sound obvious, but it’s so easily overlooked.
Take this as your reminder to always call the references your candidates provide. If you don’t get them on the phone, leave a message and try again. Keep trying till you can talk to them in person.
The trick to references is that you’re not just calling to confirm. A great reference call gives you the unique opportunity to find out more about how they work, and how to nurture their best potential.
Ask the reference if they had the opportunity to hire the candidate again, would they? Why or why not?
Find out if they have any tips they can share on how to best manage the candidate. Learn about how the candidate got along with their previous team. Ask them about whether there is anyone else you should speak to that can provide a different insight. Heck, ask who the perfect employer for this person would be, in their words.
By just asking for references but not actually calling them, you do yourself a disservice. You could be missing out on a major red flag, or you could find out something that tells you why you need to hire this person right away and maybe even offer them way more money because of how valuable they are.
Your Dream Team Is Out There
If you’ve had a couple of mis-hires in the past, you may be feeling disheartened.
But I promise you, your dream employees are out there and waiting. You just have to put out the right feelers to capture their attention.
If you don’t make it really, really clear who you’re looking for, how will your dream team know where to find you?