A Better Way to Hire People

Preface (2021)

Over the last few years I've come to realize that like most other things in life hiring or recruiting excellence is more readily achieved if you play the long game. Meaning, you should try to be strategic- aka proactive rather than reactive. Don't look to make a hire when you need someone, look before you need someone. Don't interview someone for 3 hours to decide if they are a good fit, get to know them progressively over years, and know with confidence that they are the best person for the role. Don't try to build good interview questions, try to build an amazing network. (and so on...)

Though I allude to the concept of the "long game" at different points in the original article, it has become glaringly obvious to me that you should only use a "normal" hiring practice as a last resort. My suggested improvements still work within the existing framework- a framework that is deeply flawed and does not provide either reproducable results or excellence. My naiveté was thinking that my article could help companies or managers make an incremental improvement to their hiring processes. I now believe we should just burn the whole thing down. My suggested improvements are nothing more than lipstick on a pig.

With all that said, I have decided to leave the article up, both for posterity and because sometimes you are in a situation where you can't play the long game. Maybe there is someone out there who it will benefit.

A Better Way to Hire People (2019)

Are you the sort of person that likes getting married after 3 dates?

Perfect! Then standard corporate hiring practices are for you.

However, if you are not the type of person that likes making huge life-altering decisions on a whim (with very little knowledge about that decision)... might I propose a different solution?

I think the way we hire people is backwards.

... well sort of at least. There are two ways that people get hired: 1) they hire people that they know, or 2) They do this wonkey interview process where different people in a company try to guess if you are as good as you say you are at what you do.

It's the second one that doesn't make any sense to me.

When you hire people you don't know it usually looks like this:

  • Phone Screen with HR
  • Talk to someone that will/ could work with the candidate
  • [For technical positions] Some sort of a example/puzzle/game type thing related to technical skills (Chefs cook omelets, Sales people make cold calls, Coders do little coding problems)
  • A conversation with someone (A "Big Boss") that signs checks

... it probably feels eerily familiar. But you're probably wondering why this is backwards? Here are some observations:

  • At no point in this process do you actually see what the person is like to work with. They never do any work!
  • When you do 2 to 4 interviews for 1 hour each you are only spending 2 to 4 hours with the person, and a similar observation... the person only has to be able to fool you for 2 to 4 hours!
  • This process favors people that are good at interviewing over people that are good at working. In some professions that might be similar to what they will be doing for work... but in other professions it couldn't be a more different skill set.
  • It discourages "taking a chance" on individuals that have the potential to be really amazing. You are forced to filter out candidates that could have tremendous upside due to "red flags".

How to hire better (in the real world):

Step 1: Build a "Score Card" for your ideal candidate. Know what you want before you begin the process and make sure any questions you ask will help predict future success. Make sure any questions you ask are the same for all candidates. You are looking for ways to predict success, and changes by the interviewer candidate to candidate will make it more difficult to predict. (Note: Always filter out jerks as soon as possible)

Step 2: Use resumes, references, and phone screens to filter down to candidates that you could actually want to hire if everything is as good as advertised. Feel free to do this in 2 steps (yes... more like traditional interviews) but if you are doing it in two steps create overlap on questions that are being asked to see if the candidate is consistent and to make sure your interviewer is consistent.


  • Before the phone screen/ interview send an email that provides an agenda and let them know what they can expect from any discussion.
  • When giving the screen/ interview use this phrase to elicit a more forthright response: "When I call your supervisor from {previous position} what will they tell me about what it was like to work with you."
  • Ask for as many references as a person is willing to provide. Call all of them. Look for indirect references that you might be able to call to learn more as well... this comes in 2 forms: People they might have intentionally left off (a supervisor etc) or people you might know that know the candidate that could inform you honestly about the individual.
  • Remember the impression you give them is incredibly important. Always treat candidates with respect. People talk and you do not want your company's reputation hurt by conducting a bad interview.

Step 3: Actually do work with the person. Hire the individual(s) for a 1 or 2 month long contract. Structure the contract as follows:

  • Write down your expectations beforehand and what you hope to get accomplished. This will be the candidate's grade/ hiring criteria. Be open with the candidate about this.
  • Pay them well. Really Well. Even if you don't hire them, they should feel as though it were a good experience.
  • Set up the contract so that they are working in longer chunks of time (5+ hours) on real work with you. Unfortunately for you, this will probably occur on their off day. Don't make it every Saturday or Sunday throughout the time period (they are giving you precious time) or else you're both going to be unhappy.
  • (Note: don't be afraid to cut the contract early if they aren't meeting your expectations. I also recommend starting on work that is non-critical for your company, but moving towards real production assignments)

Step 3: At the end of the contract evaluate what you have learned about the candidate against the scorecard and make a decision on whether or not you want to hire them. You now know what you are both in for and that makes decisions a lot easier.

Step 4: Make sure you are playing the long game. By the end of this process you have invested a ton of money and time into a candidate. Do not just discard candidates if they don't fit right now, and try to make your job of hiring easier down the line by building resources you can use later.


  • If they need more experience or don't have the hard skills right now buy them books or recommend online classes. $50-$100 now and waiting 3-4 months could save you $30K on trying to recruit someone in the future. It will also create a positive reputation for your company.
  • Ask them and add your candidates that don't fit right now to a pre-screened pool of applicants for future jobs that might fit them better. Start with this list when you are looking at a new position. If they are currently happy ask them for referrals.

Other Notes

  • If you have the ability build a corporate alumni for your company. Host events, send out a quarterly newsletter letting everyone know whats going on with other alumni, and provide a directory to help everyone network. Use this network for recruiting... it will save you SOOOOOO much money.

How this works?

This technique is designed to build trust and a relationship slowly between both parties. It's designed to know what you are getting as opposed to guessing.

  • Multiple hours > a few hours
  • Actually Doing work with someone > Looking at proxies about how they work
  • Waiting to hire > hiring quickly

Best of all? You can both make mistakes, while still seeing if the person is a good fit.

Of course your process won't be exactly like this... but by virtue of removing the bad things from your hiring process you will have improved the quality of your results. Is this process perfect? Nope... we're just looking at better.


  • 2021-06-15: Updated long game/ short game
  • 2020-10-20: Improved phone screen process, documentation utilization. Added corporate alumni concept.

If you liked the article you should check out my monthly newsletter "Cocktail Napkin Math":