Hiring employees is a difficult task, but a vital one. For small businesses and startups especially, a new hire has the potential to make or break a company.

The best way to tackle the problem of recruitment is to create a hiring process that is followed for every new hire.

A repeatable, standardized procedure for hiring is an invaluable tool. It accomplishes a number of key goals of the hiring process. A standard hiring process will:

  • Provide a consistent measuring stick to compare all candidates to. If multiple people are acting as hiring managers or recruiters, it reduces the variation in their methods… and results.
  • Create a baseline that can eventually be improved upon. Knowing the minimum requirements for a potential hire means those goalposts can be intentionally moved after careful consideration – and the hiring process can be adjusted to match.
  • Protect the employer from accidentally conducting an illegal interview or using illegal interview questions. A recruitment rulebook will be defense against litigation and also ensure a fair interview for applicants.

By creating and implementing a formal hiring process like the one described in this article, you’ll save time and energy during recruitment. A streamlined process will improve the quality of hires and create a benchmark to base future applicants off of!

Hiring Process Steps

1. Identify your hiring need and confirm it

A common mistake for owners and founders is to hire a new employee simply because they need help. Lessening an overwhelming workload is certainly a valid reason to hire but it’s important to have a clear goal for the new hire.

It’s not reasonable to expect someone to come in and “lighten the load” or fill in the gaps. A prospective applicant wants to know their responsibilities so they can judge whether or not they’re being offered fair compensation.

Even more important is that you identify the underlying reason for a new hire. Does the business need a competent graphic designer and none of the current employees are up to snuff? Is too much valuable time spent on administrative tasks?

Ask the appropriate people if a new hire is necessary and what they will contribute. A CTO knows better the needs of IT than the owner or the recruiter. They can tell you the value a new person will add to the company and the qualifications necessary.

Never underestimate the hidden costs of a new employee – it’s not just their salary. When you consider recruitment costs, benefits, training, onboarding, and miscellaneous tasks like relocation – hiring a new employee costs $4,000 or more, and the yearly costs are something like 1.4 times the salary.

2. Create the job description and position

If the company is prepared to absorb the costs then it’s time to prepare the position.

If the goal is simply to fill a vacant position – great. All of this should already be done. If not, there’s some prep work ahead.

First, write a job description. There’s no magic formula to catch people’s eye, but more information is better. Borrow a template from an Indeed job posting if necessary, or simply be sure to include the following:

  • Job Title
  • Job Summary (2-3 sentences with a broad overview of the position)
  • Key Responsibilities for the position
  • Position Requirements (and optionally preferred qualifications)
  • Company Overview
  • Instructions for Applying

Be sure to have another person look over the job description and make edits if necessary. Nothing looks less professional than glaring typos and confusing prose. If industry-specific jargon is being used, have someone knowledgeable double check it (what’s the difference between Javascript, Java, and JS anyway?).

Finally, prep any internal management systems for a new entry. Payrolls, timesheets, and other administrative programs usually have the ability to create a placeholder. The onboarding process is harrowing enough without having to navigate esoteric software – do it in advance to set the stage for a seamless integration.

3. Post and promote the position

There are two primary methods of recruitment.

  1. Passive recruitment is the posting of job openings on job boards or other media, then waiting for potential candidates to apply to the position.
  2. Active recruitment is the opposite – the recruiter searches for well-qualified individuals and invites them to apply.

Both are important tools for hiring. Passive recruitment is a low-cost option that casts a wide net. Active recruitment requires an investment of time or money but generally yields higher-quality candidates.

Passive recruiting is the most pervasive method. Write one job description and post it in as many places as possible. Popular (and effective) job boards include:

Most job boards will charge a fee to post a job description. Consider using only a few of them, as earnest job seekers will be checking multiple sites anyway.

A free method of passive recruitment is to utilize personal and professional networks through social media and emails. A newsletter to the company email list, the job description on a Facebook or LinkedIn post, or simply word of mouth can all have substantial reach. It’s doubly useful since much of the audience will be in the industry and have relevant experience.

Active recruiting can be as simple as sending an email or direct message to a promising candidate. With credentials and even resumes openly available on platforms like LinkedIn, it’s easy to search for and identify a person that might make a great addition to the team.

Alternately, many (larger) companies choose to employ external recruiting agencies to conduct the search for them. While comparatively expensive, most guarantee finding the perfect candidate.

4. Applicant screening

While it’s far from glamorous, the applicant screening step is one of the most important. Using the position requirements and preferred qualifications that were established beforehand, applicants can be quickly sorted into “rejections” and “maybe’s”.

Emphasis on those two groups – you are not choosing a new hire here, no matter how impressive the resume is. This is also not a stage to play around with uncertainties. Any applicant with which the response is anything less than “this person has the necessary skills for the position” should be discarded immediately.

The applicant screen stage is the last stage that can be completed efficiently and in a timely manner. Every future step will revolve around interactions with others, which is inherently messy and time-consuming. Take advantage of the nature of applicant screening to keep it simple and swift.

One way to accomplish it quickly is by creating a checklist or grading system, running each application through it, then immediately disqualifying subpar candidates.

Criteria to include:

  • Minimum level of education
  • Years experience in the role
  • Presence of required skills
  • Professionalism in resume and application
  • Accomplishments or awards in the field

Anyone who fails one of those categories, or is in the bottom 50%, should be cut. Remember that everyone that makes it through this round is being given a phone interview – and possibly an in-person interview as well. Don’t make the mistake of retaining too many applicants.

Lastly, prepare a form letter for each possible outcome. A form letter is a template that politely and professionally communicates the result. For this stage, you’ll need a rejection letter and one that invites the recipient to set up a phone interview.

5. Phone interview

Despite what it may feel like on the receiving end, a phone interview is not a hugely significant part of the hiring process.

In a phone interview, the goal is the following:

  • Confirm the applicant’s interest
  • Review application and resume
  • Filter out obviously poor choices

Rarely should a phone interview go longer than 30 minutes. In fact, with a little practice, 10 or 15 minutes should be sufficient to gather all the necessary information.

Depending on the urgency and volume of hiring, the amount of time between a person passing applicant screening and the phone interview can vary widely. If it takes more than a few days, it’s entirely possible that the applicant may have received an offer from another company.

Therefore, the first question in a phone interview should always be to confirm that the candidate is still interested in the position. Give them the option to back out immediately so time and effort isn’t wasted on a spiel that falls on deaf ears.

Afterwards, ask questions that verify the content of their application or resume. Ask for more detail on their role in a big project or about the work that won them some recognition.

This serves two purposes:

  1. Ascertain that the qualifications are genuine. Hesitation or an inability to explain an item might indicate that a resume item was exaggerated or less than the truth.
  2. It’s an opportunity to clarify unclear messages and let them elaborate on important topics that couldn’t be conveyed concisely on the application.

Most important is that, throughout all of the above, the interviewer is getting a general sense of the candidate. Is the person reticent and withdrawn, or does conversation come easy? Are they able to be professional? Are there obvious red flags like inappropriate language or unsettling answers?

This is where you get your first impressions. If there was nothing blatantly wrong, they can be moved to the next step.

6. In-person interviews

The big kahuna of the hiring process: the in-person interview. It’s dreaded by interviewer and interviewee alike, albeit for slightly different reasons.

Still, it’s the single most important part of the hiring process. This is the stage where you can finally get a full picture of the applicant.

Here are the most important things to note during an in-person interview:

  1. How are the interpersonal skills of the candidate? In other words, are they personable? Will this person be able to interact with other employees and customers? Will they contribute in social situations? This is especially important for people in a customer-facing position since they will represent the company.
  2. Do they fit the company culture? Company culture can be intentionally cultivated, but it’s also the natural byproduct of the employees’ personalities. Any new employee has the potential to shift it, especially in a small company. Consider that adding a candidate who is an obviously bad fit is harmful to the current employees, the company morale, and even the candidate themselves.
  3. What are their motivations for taking the position? This helps to predict what their performance will be like and how long they will stay with the company. Answers such as “I’m in it for the money” and “I’m passionate about the industry” are equally acceptable – honesty is more valuable than a facade of devotion.

The personal interview isn’t the time to review qualifications. Their skills have already been confirmed through the phone interview and resume check. Instead, ask questions that are more nuanced and force introspection on their behaviors, motivations, and accomplishments.

To prompt that sort of critical thinking, here are some great example questions:

  • Mistakes are inevitable. Describe a time you made a significant mistake and how you would have handled it differently in hindsight.
  • Think about a time when you made a client especially pleased. What did you do out of the ordinary? Did you repeat that?
  • This can be a very high pressure environment. Have you experienced that before? What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  • Sometimes tasks pile up faster than you can tackle them. Can you recall a time that your responsibilities became overwhelming. How did you prioritize them?
  • Tell me about your proudest accomplishment, professional or personal.

When asking these questions, it’s not so much the direct response that matters. The interviewer needs to analyze the candidate’s thought process and decision-making process more than the results of situations. Take (brief) notes so that you’ll be able to reference it later during the decision process.

Lastly, depending on the size of the company and the importance of the position, the candidate may need to attend more than one interview. Further interviews should be conducted with a different interviewer or a group of interviewers.

7. Deciding on an applicant

At long last, it’s time to tie up the recruitment process by choosing the ideal candidate and extending a job offer.

In most cases, the decision shouldn’t be a unilateral process. If there is more than one person on the team, it’s likely that the others should have some input. Once all of the interviews have been held, call a team meeting to discuss the candidates.

In an ideal scenario, meticulous notes will have been kept from every interaction with a candidate. The grading system from the applicant screening step can serve as a foundation with notes from the phone and in-person interviews added.

  • Examine and consider each candidate during the team meeting. Give special attention to the opinions of the department head under which the new employee will work – after all, it’s their domain.
  • You need to select more than one person. Choose the top three, in fact. Job seekers apply to more than one job and, more often than not, they end up at the first company that sends a job offer. The longer the recruitment process takes, the less likely you are to get your first choice.
  • Send the offer letter to the best candidate, rejection letters to the unequivocally rejected candidates, and hold off on mailing the second and third picks. Depending on the urgency or importance of the position, an offer phone call may be more appropriate.
  • If an immediate decision isn’t made, always offer the candidate a specified number of days to accept or reject the offer. Three days to decide is standard.

Optional Steps

Depending on the industry, some of the following steps may be recommended or even necessary. Since these incur a time or money cost to the employer, they are not completed until a candidate has been identified as the ideal choice. The job offer is contingent on the results of these steps.

  • References: While references are almost always required as part of an application, they’re rarely checked unless the position is a particularly important one. Additionally, states have different laws about what the past employer and prospective employer may discuss regarding the candidate. Check your state’s employee rights laws to prevent litigation.
  • Background Check: An employer can request a criminal background check of an applicant to determine whether they’ve ever been convicted of a criminal offense. These checks take place at a county, state, and federal level with increasing costs. There are a number of other background checks possible: driving record, credit history, sex offender registry, etc. Given the cost and time associated with these checks, they’re only recommended for positions that require a great deal of trust (treasurer, in-home services).
  • Drug Test: Since a drug test has to be administered by a certified third party (such as Quest Diagnostics), the candidate has to go to the tester on their own time, and processing the results can take a couple weeks, drug tests present a significant cost. If the employee will be in a high-risk job, such as operating heavy machinery, this is a worthy investment to protect the company and the employee. Additionally, federal employees and contractors to the government frequently have mandatory drug test requirements.
  • Trial Assessment: For creative positions such as writers or designers, a trial assessment is a natural step in order to ensure their skills are up to snuff and inline with expectations. However, few creatives are willing to do any amount of work without compensation – even for a trial or sample. It’s a reasonable policy since that work is a significant time investment and notoriously easy to steal. If you’re not willing to pay for a trial assessment, ask to see their portfolio.

The Recruitment Timeline

By the time the task of hiring a new employee is addressed, the need for said employee is probably already dire. Furthermore, time spent hiring is time not spent on increasing revenue, so it’s in your best interest to do it as quickly as possible.

It can vary greatly depending on industry, position, and number of positions you’re hiring for, but here is an optimal timeline for completing the above steps and gaining a new employee.

  1. Identify Hiring Need and Confirm It – 1 week
  2. Create the Job Description and Position – 1 week
  3. Post and Promote the Position – 2 weeks
  4. Applicant Screening – 1 week
  5. Phone Interview – 2 weeks
  6. In-Person Interviews – 2 weeks
  7. Deciding on an Applicant – 1 week

Total Time to Hire – 10 weeks

This represents an optimal timeline, and also illustrates an important note: hiring takes a really long time. Begin the hiring process as soon as you identify a need, not when it becomes a bottleneck.

Tools to Assist in the Recruitment Process

  • Paycor – A broadly encompassing HR software, Paycor has systems in place to manage employees at every step of their employment. It integrates almost all of the aforementioned hiring process steps into one convenient system. It also handles onboarding, training, attendance, and payroll.
  • Viventium – Aimed at small to medium sized businesses, Viventium makes talent acquisition a breeze. The software emphasizes intuitive features and simple design that is accessible to anyone. It allows you to cross post a new position opening to all major job boards simultaneously and retains information about the candidates through every step of the hiring process.
  • Onboard by HR Cloud – While it has applicant tracking services included, Onboard really shines during the onboarding phase (duh) right after selecting an applicant. Onboarding has the potential to be time-consuming, hasslesome, and frustrating but this software distills it into self-served modules that the applicant goes through on their own. Design your own course one time and onboard all future hires with ease.
  • Newton Applicant Tracking System – Designed by recruiters, this software makes hiring (almost) fun. From creating job descriptions to posting them around the web, screening applicants and scheduling interviews, and writing form letters and sending them, Newton makes hiring as easy as possible. It works on any scale, from one man bands to 1000+ employee companies, so it’s a powerful tool for anyone that wants to streamline the recruitment process.