How to Hire Rock Stars

Imagine that you run a start-up: no website; limited funds; no brand recognition, no HR experience. How are you going to attract and hire the best?

Have you ever struggled to fill a job opening on your team or in your organization? It’s probably safe to say that all companies have run into this problem at one time or another. For larger companies, the HR department can help resolve the issue by implementing some best practices and taking ownership of the whole hiring process.

But for start-ups, most of whom lack an HR person, let alone a department, the struggle to hire top-notch people can be more than a significant challenge – it can make or break the company.

Yesterday, Communitech hosted an afternoon session How to Hire Rock Stars: a recruitment boot-camp for start-ups. This four-hour session was actually the first of a series on the same topic: this one covered the broad topic at a shallow level, and the subsequent monthly sessions will go deeply into a single topic.

Even though I’m not at a start-up, I attended for a few reasons:

  • Maybe some day I will be at a start-up
  • I hire people for my team, and I want to hire the best people
  • It’s valuable bubble-breaking out-of-the-office time

While the past few weeks have been incredibly busy, and I’ve had some very long days to accommodate this session, I’m nevertheless glad I attended, as I learned quite a few new things and got a top-to-bottom refresher on the things I already knew.

[As an added bonus, while walking around the Communitech hub I bumped into some friends who’ve started their own company]

First, for anyone who hasn’t been involved in hiring…it can be really tough to find great people. There’s far more to it than just looking in your network or posting a job description. The workshop objectives shed a bit of light on the subject:

  1. Appreciate what it takes to attract top talent to an organization
  2. Understand what Employer Branding is and how it benefits an organization in attracting top talent
  3. Understand why developing a strategic resource plan helps an organization determine the right talent required to help the business be successful
  4. Appreciate the cost of making a bad hiring decision and recognize the cost benefits of using effective hiring practices
  5. Develop detailed role requirements which clearly reflect the purpose of the role, the key responsibilities and accountability, necessary qualifications and competencies
  6. Develop and follow a proven Selection Process
  7. Conduct legal interviews in accordance with Canadian Human Rights Laws and to avoid any possible discriminatory questioning
  8. Appreciate the benefits of various sourcing techniques and how to work with a Recruiter or Search Firm
  9. Screen potential candidates effectively using resumes and telephone interview techniques
  10. Create behaviour-based questions that will assess technical and soft skills required by each position
  11. Conduct interviews that use effective probing questions to make good hiring decisions
  12. Check references efficiently using behaviour-based questions in order to select the right candidate
  13. Make a competitive job offer which includes both extrinsic (pay and benefits) and intrinsic (motivation, compelling work assignments, training opportunities, etc.) elements
  14. Plan a successful transition within the team and the organization for the new employee

Did you get all that? Any surprises? It’s probably a longer list than you expected. Now imagine that you’re a start-up: maybe you don’t have a website; you have a tiny amount of funds; you’ve been interviewed, but have never done the interviewing; you have no brand recognition, no HR department…in fact, you’ve never hired anyone for anything, ever. How are you suddenly going to hire the best?

Knowing how to hire great people, from day 1, really could be the difference-maker for your company.

Over the four hours of the workshop, the instructors touched on all of those areas, but there was still plenty of opportunity for participants to share their own experiences and to ask questions.

We participants made up a diverse group, and that was reflected in some of the opinions. For instance, when this video was played to illustrate clarity in employer branding, the reactions varied:

  • “But what if you’re not 12?”
  • “Wow, that looks like a fun place to work!”
  • “Whether it appeals to you or not, you know what the company and workplace will be like.”

I shared a few of my own experiences, in the hopes that the start-ups attending would realize how things can play out in the real world. For instance, the instructors made a point that whoever presents the details of the job offer should be able to answer questions about it. Seems obvious, right? Or maybe you’re wondering what the big deal is? Well, the first time I ever presented a job offer I was asked to do it alone. The candidate read through it and came back with a long list of questions and demands that went way outside of the actual job description itself (e.g., into things like wanting additional vacation time, alternative holidays, etc.), and I didn’t have a damn clue how to respond. So I felt like an idiot, and the candidate had to wait to get answers/responses. Since then, I’ve always made offers only with an HR rep present.

For me, the biggest things I took away were a much more detailed understanding of the Canadian Human Rights Act as it pertains to hiring practices (it’s almost assured that if you don’t know this material, then you will break the law during the interview process), awareness of some legal nuances (did you know that you’re not supposed to write notes on the actual resume itself?), and some great processes and templates for use throughout the process.

So, while this introductory one was mostly review for me, it was still very much worthwhile, and I’m definitely I’m looking forward to the next session (“The Art of the Interview”).

Thanks as always to Communitech for making these sessions available!


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Careers, Management

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