How do you attract the right talent?

You scan a resume. Have a few discussions. Then you take the plunge. Time and money go into that decision.

And then… (and this is not the “…” in Mama Mia)

The new team member is not able to deliver what you need, in the way you need it.

I recently went through hiring and got asked regularly how I did it. So the timing is perfect for 4 steps to hire team members that will increase your chance of success. Whether it is your first hire or 50th, the techniques remain the same.

Remember you are hiring a person with hopes and dreams of their own.

A great hire happens when your companies goals, values, and purpose (as lived out in your company) fit with your teams’ individual goals, values, and purpose.

So how do you do that? It starts before the job description.

Know Your Purpose, Values, Differentiators, and Goals

It’s hard to hire for things we aren’t clear about ourselves. The best chance at alignment comes when you have the following on paper, AND you live it out in your day-to-day decisions.

The worst-case scenario is to have one thing on paper and then live something different because employees will join you because of what you say and leave because of how you acted.

Your Purpose

Sometimes called your mission statement, it summarizes the impact you want to make in the world. It guides your decision-making and priorities and gives your company a greater reason for being than money. A compelling purpose motivates and attracts better clients, partners, and investors who align with your purpose. It should be short and sweet. The fewer words, the better because it is more memorable.

At ACThoughtful, we call our purpose our burning platform because it is that important to us.

We want to change the odds that people go in business, stay in business, and create a sustainable impact on themselves and the world.

ACThoughtful Consulting Burning Platform

Your Values

This is how you deliver on your purpose. It describes the way your company operates and you reinforce (or detract from it) with each hire. It’s easy to train skills, but it’s hard to recalibrate someone’s values — they are usually deep beliefs and ways of operating, so it’s important to hire and manage with your values top of mind. Read more to get a primer on values.

Your Differentiators

Differentiators often mirror your values, but they are more tactile, concrete, and externally visible. Whatever sets your company apart from the competition (think competitive advantages) you need to screen for.

If you aren’t sure what yours is, here are a few ways you can find out what they are:

  • You can use our version of a go-to-market canvas to explore it.
  • You can ask customers what they love most about working with you (or) why they chose to work with you.
  • You can read online reviews (or) thank you emails from customers and look for the common thread.
  • You can read Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz and find your QBR. (Hint: The QBR = the Queen Bee Role, the one thing you MUST do to deliver on your promise to customers)

For instance, at ACThoughtful, our QBR is that we provide just the right advice to our clients when they need it. If we are not giving you practical advice to get results, we aren’t doing our job.

How does that translate to hiring? Consultants we hire need to know how to listen, synthesize, and advise clients practically. And that means we don’t try to solve every problem — we try to solve the most important ones they need to focus on right now, so the ability to prioritize, problem-solve and sequence work is the top skill someone needs to have coming in the door.

I can teach someone how to give better advice and provide them with resources to make that easier. But they need to come in the door with the ability to listen and synthesize what they learn into a small set of actions that have the best shot at making a difference.


Let’s say you hire someone to grow the company rapidly. They are eager and excited for the upside and growth opportunities.

Then you decide you want to be more conservative and step back as an owner.

Will that employee want to stay?

Know where you want to go. And say it upfront. You are much more likely to hire someone interested in helping you get there. When it changes — be straight about that. You are the owner and allowed to change your mind. If you’re direct and your employees will thank you.

So now that you have foundations laid what’s next?

The Job Description

The first section of the job description should always describe the culture and purpose the person is walking into. If someone is drawn to your company — then you can figure out the best combination of responsibilities that have them operating in their sweet spot. If you lead with the tasks or role, then change that role; how likely is it that employee will stay?

The second section of the description is where people usually make mistakes. An individual’s tasks will change regularly. Their ownership (what they are accountable for) is likely to be more constant. I always start by articulating how the position (whatever it is) will enable the company’s growth (if growth is the goal). It doesn’t matter if they are an office assistant or salesperson —- their goal is growth. Take a moment to jot down a few bullets on this person’s ownership in that growth path. You will attract people who want to own something. And you will give them a sense of ownership in where the company is going. That is engaging to most people.

The description should start with ownership and then include a sample of what a “day in the life” might look like and the skills they need to get there. Spend a lot less time on the details that will change; and a lot more time on the purpose and big picture accountabilities of their role.

The candidate should be able to read the job description and have a clear sense of whether or not they are fit for your company without ever having a conversation with you.

The Screening

If you have a job description that accurately portrays your company culture and the ownership and accountability required for the role, you will naturally attract people who align to it more closely and repel people that it doesn’t work for — and that’s the goal. Repelling candidates that aren’t a good fit for your company saves you both heartache.

The next step is to make sure unconscious bias isn’t getting in the way. I create a set of criteria that I can write down and feel pretty confident is directly related to the candidate’s ability to do the job. If I have too many unqualified candidates coming through that I catch during resume screening but don’t meet those criteria, I identify the common criteria I can add to the list and make it more robust. Then I put the remaining people into two groups — “fit” and “maybe” based on the strength of skills and experience. If you have a small candidate pool, I recommend talking to both groups. If you have a larger candidate pool, then start with the fits. The larger your pool is, the more you’ll have to move from fit to maybe based on who has the most skill

I do the initial phone screen within 1-2 days of getting the application. Responsiveness is important for putting the right foot forward. However, there is a danger is relying too much on the screening call for our decisions. First impressions are (unfortunately) very impactful to our brains so that bias can carry into other conversations.

My goal in the initial screening is for candidates to self-select out if they aren’t a fit. In 15 minutes I tell them everything they need to know about the company, the role, and me (their leader), that might not be on the page. Anything that I think could become a sticking point later. Then I check in if they are still interested. Through that process, I also gather the most basic information around coordination, communication, and follow-through on appointments.

This phase aims to screen for the most basic things that are easy to get off the table and will save you heartache later. For instance, while this goes against popular theory, I’m a huge believer in compensation transparency. The worst for a business owner is to go through 3 rounds of interviews to find out your salary doesn’t mean the candidate’s minimum requirements…

The Interviews

Somewhere along the way in business jobs, we lost the art of the technical interview. In all my interviews and jobs I’ve held — I only had 1 technical interview. That is a problem. That means I was hired on what I said I did, vs. showing what I could actually do.

The first interview is the standard one — get to know the candidate. Dig deep into the specifics of how they solve problems, let them tell stories. You’ll learn far more about a candidate’s problem-solving abilities if they are given the room to dive in and tell you how they solved the problems, the tools they used, who they worked with, and the role they played. Be wary of generalized statements. Always have a few prompting questions you ask everyone that are open-ended and give the candidate room to answer. In this first interview, you evaluate fit for the company (first) and fit for the role (second).

Remember the groundwork you laid in the first section? That’s what you’re evaluating for.

The magic happens in the second interview. At ACThoughtful, we are big believers in a technical interview. The candidate is prepped for a mini-assignment they’ll be tasked with. If they are a salesperson? Ask them to sell you your solution (or) their last employer’s solution. If they are an artist or writer, have them do a portfolio walkthrough. A consultant candidate at ACThoughtful has to do a reverse interview that is a consulting session with me (the business owner) to find out my strategy and propose an action plan. Since it’s the top job they do every day, they are likely to do it with our clients if they can do it with me.

Be reasonable here; you aren’t asking for them to work for free. But you do need to see if they can deliver on your company’s differentiators — not just talk about it.

Why is this last interview so important? It increases inclusion in the process. And a diverse workforce = greater innovation.

Humans tend to be drawn to people like us. It’s called a similarity bias. By adding in a more concrete capability assessment — our decisions are more grounded in who is truly the best candidate for the company and the job vs. who we liked the most.

A final word on diversity — When in doubt, add more diverse perspectives into your interview process. If you’re a solopreneur, this could be an HR consultant or trusted advisor. You make the final call, but the inputs from different voices can be priceless in your decision-making process if you’re unsure which way to go.

Three takeaways to hire the best person for the job

If all this seems like too much — I can boil it down to three things:

  • Be honest with yourself and the candidate: Know where you’re going and what your constraints are, and hire to fit that.
  • Hire for ownership and values: Don’t focus on the tasks that will change; focus on what they’ll own and how they need to show up — let them color in the details on how they will make that happen.
  • Avoid bias: Incorporate technical interviews, diverse perspectives, and screen for concrete requirements you can write on paper.

You’ve got this! Hiring team members can be scary, and it’s one of the more risky moves we make as business owners, but it is also rewarding and fulfilling when you watch your company grow beyond your reach.

But that’s another article…

Want help deciding what you should hire for?

Schedule a virtual coffee, and we can talk through your specific situation and how ACThoughtful can help.

Jenny Erickson and her team grow micro-businesses by getting them from where they are to where they want to be through advice, coaching, and fractional-COO support. Which business are you?

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