Hiring is the most important process in a company. Everything else stems from the ability to hire and retain the right people. In fact, we think that 80% of good management is in making the right hires upfront, and only 20% is in the actual management of those people.
However, if you look across a typical company you'll notice a strange thing: hiring is completely unstandardized. And this is the case not just between teams, but also between candidates! Different candidates interviewing for the same role get evaluated in different ways, and then compared in a most unscientific manner.
This lack of rigor around hiring not only results in bad hires being made, but also in good people being passed over for unsubstantiated reasons. We call this voodoo hiring, a term from the book Who: The A Method for Hiring.
In an age in which every other management process has been studied and codified, we find it amazing that people still view hiring, the process where building an organization begins, as something that resists an orderly approach. Yet managers cling to their favorite methods even when evidence suggests they don’t work.
— Geoff Smart, Who: The A Method for Hiring
Imagine trying to submit a scientific paper to a journal describing a trial where you randomized the criteria for every evaluation—you'd be laughed out of the building! You can't measure variables unless you standardize and track them over time.
So why hasn't hiring been standardized? For two reasons:
- Like the hovering art director, everyone has their own opinions around hiring. And, more often than not, these opinions are a mixture of subjective principles that are not based in logic.
- People and departments don't like stepping on each other's toes by pointing out inadequacies in the other's hiring processes.
If you don't give people direction, what do they use to evaluate candidates? Themselves, of course. Ask the average person to describe the ideal hiring process and, more often than not, you'll get a process that spits out a 10/10 score for that person. Everyone likes to hire themselves.
As soon as you start standardizing your hiring process, you will find that critics, fearful of encroachment into their territory, will point out specific inadequacies and use that as evidence that the whole system is a dud.
By all means, listen to them and make any improvements needed. But then point out that an imperfect standardized system is better than no system at all, because the results will be consistent, and therefore can be evaluated against one another. It's important to be quantitative when hiring; it makes the system fairer and helps reduce bias.
So what does a standardized hiring system look like? Well, it involves the following things:
- Role proposal focused on outcomes
- Score card used for standardized evaluations
- Standardized screenings
- Standardized interviews: We’re going to ask the same questions at the same times in the same order to as many candidates as possible because question consistency enables us to get better insights to more accurately evaluate, compare, and contrast candidates.
- Standardized closing process so that we can iterate on and improve our close rate
It turns out there's an excellent book on this titled Who: The A Method for Hiring, that pioneered the concepts of voodoo hiring and standardized evaluation. It is required reading for any hiring manager at Clearbit (see Recommended Reading).
Hiring also has a huge knock-on effect. You may have heard the Steve Jobs quote:
A players hire A players, but B players hire C players and C players hire D players. It doesn’t take long to get to Z players. The trickle-down effect causes bozo explosions in companies.
So how exactly do we define an “A player”? Here's the definition we use from Who:
We define an A player this way: a candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.
Note: Hiring for A players doesn't mean hiring for the kitchen sink—they can be A players without being talented in every dimension. Talent teams call this looking for “purple squirrels,” or perfect candidates who don't actually exist. You need to have a deep understanding of what you need today, and which things can wait until the future.
- individually so productive that they raise the average productivity of your team?
- acting as a multiplier to everyone else on the team?
If the answer is no to both questions, don’t add them to your team. In either case, make sure your overall productivity increase covers the cost of bringing them on.
This prevents leaders from arbitrarily hiring into their team for the sake of building up a fiefdom. Want to add someone? Sure, go ahead, but remember that it raises the bar on expected total per person output.
Throughout this chapter, we reference our golden example: a position we opened for a Head of Revenue Ops. We recommend using the documents we created for that role as a template for your own roles.
The rest of this chapter will detail how to write a good role proposal; how to source, interview and close incredible candidates; and lastly, how to onboard and align that hire with jobs to be done.
This is a long, multi-year muscle to build, but an incredible superpower once mastered. It's no coincidence that the founders of Benchmark, one of the most successful venture capital firms in all history, were a bunch of recruiters.