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A Foolproof Guide to Hiring the Best Candidate
Hiring staff can be time-consuming, but if you cut corners, there's a good chance you won't get the right employee. Use this guide to hire the perfect talent every time.
how to hire the right people as a small business owner

Co-Founder, Firepole Marketing

This post originally appeared on OPEN Forum, an online community providing small business owners with information and advice to help them do more business.”

At one point or another, most businesses grow beyond what one person can handle by himself or herself. There are only so many hours in a day, and one person—even a talented entrepreneur—can only do so much. Expanding the team is a necessary next step. At Firepole Marketing, we’ve developed a pretty rock-solid hiring process that has so far resulted in three stunning employees. Here’s how we do it:

Defining and Advertising the Position

As simple as it sounds, having a clear idea of exactly what you need your new hire to be doing is critical to getting someone who can do it. At the beginning of the hiring process, you’re starting at ground zero. To make a good decision, it’s important that both you and your potential employee have enough information about what that entails. You need to be clear about both what you want in an employee, and what they can expect from you.

Before doing anything else, sit down and make three lists:

- Tasks you need someone to do

- Qualities you want in an employee

- Skills you want them to possess

Once you’ve done that, put together the following four lists:

Information about you and your business

- What your expectations are from a working relationship

- What the hiring process is going to look like

- What you want them to submit to you

Then, it’s just a matter of organizing the information, writing the ad and making it visible available to job-seekers.

An Initial Investment

Odds are that you’re going to get tons of responses to your ad, and most of them are going to be pretty awful. Immediately discard any who failed to follow your instructions. When you come across a potential candidate, take a quick glance at the resume and cover letter the respondent sent you. If they are well-written and not totally unqualified or overqualified, send the respondent an email reiterating some of the most important parts of the position: specify the hours, pay and tasks. Many people reply to any and every ad, and this is a great way to weed out a lot of inappropriate candidates.

For those who reply to your confirmation email, ask them to do a short task related to the position you’re hiring for: writing a few paragraphs, doing a little research or solving a problem (something they can do in under an hour). Have them submit their work to you, and tell you how long they spent on it. This will weed out even more applicants who won’t bother doing the extra work.

For those who do submit work, check it for quality. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you should be able to see if they understood and followed your instructions. Request changes or edits if necessary. This will let you know how your applicant takes and uses criticism.

Interviews and Assessments

By this point, you’ll have significantly narrowed down the pool, but you’re still going to want to interview a good number of people—and that’s a lot of work. Schedule at least an hour for a thorough interview. You want a chance to get to know someone, and for them to get a feeling for you as well.

It’s important to remember that you’re not looking for someone you like. You’re looking for a valuable team member. There shouldn’t be a huge personality clash, but you don’t necessarily need someone you’d want to go out for drinks with, either. Skills and abilities are more important than liking. When interviewing, we pair open-ended questions that allow for a lot of explanation on the part of the applicant with different problem solving challenges and general skills and learning assessments.

Some good questions might be:

- Describe a situation in which you really helped teach someone something.

- Tell me about a skill or ability you used to struggle with, but are now comfortable with. How did you improve?

- Describe a situation in which you disagreed with a colleague or employer. How did you handle the situation?

Having a broad range of resources to help you make your decision is invaluable. You want to be looking for skills that complement yours, and someone who will respond well to being trained as a member of your team.


After the interviews and assessments, you should still have a handful of contenders, and at this point, they’re all going to look good. You’ve learned pretty much all you can from the candidates themselves at this point, so you need to contact people they know and have worked with in the past. Get three references for each person who passes the interview process, and plan to spend about 20 to 30 minutes per reference.

References can give you a lot of information if you know how to ask for it. Many people won’t want to give you any negative information about someone they like, so to get the details you need, you have to frame your questions correctly.

Although there are lots of questions you can ask a reference, we use the following three:

- What is the candidate like when they are outside of their comfort zone? How do they handle it?

- How does the candidate deal with disagreements?

- What else should I ask you? What don’t I know that I don’t know?

These questions, along with all the standards, allow you to get a pretty full idea of what your candidate is like in the workplace, and will alert you to any potential problems you may run into with them.

Talking to three references is important, because you’ll want to know which comments are repeated again and again. Use the different conversations you have to identify patterns and get the truest sense of the person you’re looking at.

Keep in mind that many “problems” are merely issues to take into consideration about how to manage the potential employee. At this point you’re not really looking for a reason to not hire someone, so much as looking for the candidate who is best to hire.


Congratulations—by now, you’ll have found the perfect hire! But this is the beginning of the hard work—not the end.

It’s very important to remember that for the first little while, you’re going to be spending more time training your employee than they will spend making your life easier. It takes time for someone to start taking on real responsibilities, and you must be willing to devote that time.

Start with smaller tasks, and always have your new hire's work go through you before it goes out into the world.

Danny Iny (@DannyIny), also known as the "Freddy Krueger of Blogging," teaches marketing that works at Firepole Marketing. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book, Engagement from Scratch, on building engaged audiences from scratch (available on Amazon, or as a free download).

Photo: Thinkstock


The opinions expressed in this article are those of its individual writer, and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of American Express Canada or Amex Bank of Canada. Third party web sites may have privacy and security policies different from Amex Bank of Canada. Links to other web sites does not imply the endorsement or approval of such web sites.

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