Smarter Hiring: 5 Secrets We Learned The Hard Way

I never bought the so-called rule that 1 in 3 hires will wash out – so we rig the stats in our favor, with some tough up-front testing, conversations and profiling. We do this at every level, and for every hire.  We started this some 15 years ago, after the unhappy discovery that someone ‘senior enough’ to know how to write actually didn’t write very well at all.

Here’s what I’ve learned is most important about good tests – writing and more – prompted by this interview on writing tests, which just appeared in PR News.

1) Basic works. Our tests are just a simple pitch, and the first few paragraphs of a news release. For both, we provide the core background information. We don’t expect – or seek – detailed technical knowledge – but we do look for a nose for news, creativity, brevity and accuracy; in other words, the same things that make a good story. The whole test takes about two hours, though we’ve seen people struggle for four. (They didn’t get hired.) And once, we discovered that an applicant had opened up a previous candidate’s draft, and copied it – so now we make sure the system is wiped clean before anyone uses it.

2) Get visual. We’re focusing much more on driving leads – which means visual design: Can you create an infographic? We recently asked two finalists for a digital specialist position to work up an infographic, for a client. We paid the second-place finisher a nominal fee; we hired the other person.

3) Everything is part of the test: every email, and with the 5 or 6 interviews they do – how do they show up? What kinds of questions do they ask? Is there eye contact? Informality? Honesty? Is it all about them? Is there a reasonable balance between being ‘of service’ and sharing opinions and insight that is what really makes our world turn?

4) How you communicate is as important as what you say. That’s why we profile candidates’ native, latent styles: Are they aggressive? Deadline-driven? Ready to bend the rules? (Hint: all of these are good, though often important to pair with someone who can balance them out.)

We use a 15-minute two-page survey that is uncannily accurate in revealing whether someone is likely to succeed in our demanding, think-on-your-feet environment. There are no ‘right answers’ – especially since what works best varies with each client. But a profile can be a tie-breaker, and often is.

5) What really counts. Honestly, our written ‘test’ is really just an outline – I could care less if you make up the content, as long as it’s interesting, creative and makes me want to take action. Because driving a compelling call to action is what buyers care about. And coloring outside the lines can create a terrific picture.