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How Do You Screen Talent for Job Interviews in Your Hiring Process

The first time I ever posted a job description on Craigslist, I was inundated with applications. When I say inundated, I mean I received over two hundred applications for a web designer position.

I had never before hired anyone in my life.

So I did what I thought I should do: I looked at portfolios, picked a few I liked and asked my top three picks to come in for an interview.

What were my interview questions?

“What is your greatest strength?”

“What is your greatest weakness?”

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”


Interestingly enough, I ended up really liking one of the guys that came in. I thought, “yeah, I could hang out with this guy.” And he was the only one that came in wearing a suit.

I asked him to come in for a second interview and offered him the job. He turned out to not only be a fantastic designer but incredibly self-motivated.

I got lucky.

Capturing Lightning In a Bottle

Over the subsequent years, I hired another couple dozen full-time designers, developers, interns, marketers, and project coordinators. Each time with varied results. One time I hired a designer who I thought was fantastic and ended up firing her within the week.

But over the years I took the same process that I started with and added, subtracted, and improved it until I’ve gotten to where I am today: confident that I can find great talent about 50% of the time.

So what does that process look like now?

  1. Develop job description
  2. Promote/market posting
  3. Collect applications
  4. Application review
  5. Interview #1: qualify
  6. Interview #2: behavioral
  7. Interview #3: technical
  8. Offer or restart

Tips to Screen

Maybe in a future post, I will dig into each of the above steps and provide a blueprint for those interested in learning from my process. But what I would like to do today is include a few tips and lessons I’ve learned from executing the above.

Surveys are powerful

When I collect applications, I do it through a web form. Early on, I found that just collecting resumes wasn’t enough. It was way too time-consuming to dig into each resume to pull out the information I wanted. Instead, I started sending people to a web form to collect the desired information: name, number, portfolio URL, etc. But I also add a few qualifier questions. Things like:

  • How do you organize your day?
  • How do you keep others informed of what is going on with your work?
  • If you noticed a process or task that could be done better, what actions would you take?

This request forces people to stop and take some time to apply for your job. More than anything, it separates those that are machine-gunning their resume from those that really want to work for you. How people answer these questions often tells me more about them as a person than what they say. I’ve got one-word answers like “calendar” for the first question, which tells me that this person isn’t interested in telling me something I don’t already know.

Many people don’t follow the instructions and just email a resume anyways. These applicants are never considered. Attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions is a must for me.

Use multiple interactions

Just like in my sales process, I never hire in a single interaction. A lot of low-quality people can BS their way into a single “good” presentation, show up on time, and act normal for sixty minutes. Once you string out your hiring process to three and four or more interactions, it becomes more difficult to keep up an act.

I look for signs at each stage in how they interact. Each of my hiring stages gets progressively more intense. Usually, we will hold a technical review with our entire team to review a project that someone is presenting at the technical stage. This puts a candidate in the hot seat, and I’ve found that we’ll usually get close to their “true” self during this stage in the process.

Keep a “good, better, best” spreadsheet

Part of screening talent for a job is being able to easily X off candidates so you can whittle your way down to a few top candidates. It is rare that I ever move backward and open back up to non-preferred candidates, but it could happen. I grade each stage with the three ratings: good, better, best. Things like portfolio and resume get that rating. Then each interview gets that rating.

People that I don’t think are good obviously get the cut right away. I am usually able to carve 70% of an application stack right off the top by just doing a gut review of portfolio and resume. From there, I chop out candidates at each stage until I find I have a half dozen that I want to talk to.

Hopefully, by the end of my process, I’ve found someone that has scored “best” all the way through. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way, but why not settle for only the “best”? There is a lot of talent out there.

Know When To Cut Your Losses

Early on in my career, I tried to hire the perfect candidate every time. And when it turned out that I hired a bad fit, I would blame myself for not leading, training, or coaching enough. I would keep a bad fit on my team for far too long. This meant that I forked over a salary month in, month out.

What I’ve learned now is that sometimes you hire a bad fit. Like I said earlier, I aim to bat 50% with hires. If I find perfect fits half the time I know I’m doing a great job. Talk to most hiring managers and they will tell you the same.

Instead of holding on and “trying to make it work,” I make the decision to let go fast and rarely do I wait around for the right moment. When the decision gets made, I make the cut.

But that’s not what screening is about. Screening talent and getting good at job interviews is about finding talent. The team members I’ve hired that have been great fits for my company have helped define the future of my business. They’ve played an integral part in my company, products, and vision. That’s why it’s important to put in the work to develop a great process, but also to know when you’ve failed.

If you have any other tips or methods that you can share with our community, please leave a note in the comments below or send me an email ([email protected]). I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure others would too.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

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