How to Make Good Hiring Decisions

In 2016 we have hired more people than we have in than any of the previous years. This means we have met a lot of cool people, done countless job interviews, composed test assignments and of course made some hard decisions concerning the most important topic for any company - the team.

So while this is still going on in our office meeting rooms I thought I would put together and share some of the greatest advice on hiring we have ever received. Advice we still keep in mind while building the team.

Picture of a colorful office

1) Hire for culture, train for skill

This is especially true in case you have a distributed team. Ours is divided between four physical locations in three countries. We need to make sure that whoever joins our team adapts well to the way we work and is great at communicating ideas.

For me, Buffer is one of the best examples of a company actively managing team culture. Or maybe they have just done the best job explaining it. Either way, keep an eye on what they are doing and how.

2) Resumes are overrated

Ok, this is one is a bit controversial and I first started thinking about it after reading a post from Seth Godin - I think it was "Why Bother Having a Resume”. This post is several years old by now but it's still very relevant.

My point is that a typical resume as a description of one’s (professional) life does not exactly speak a lot about you. It says very little about what's important. In fact, it often even distorts the image a bit.

We sometimes make a quick test when hiring for an open position. We rank all resumes we get and later see what was the initial ranking of the person who ends up joining our team. From the 30-40 resumes we usually get, we very rarely end up hiring someone in the top 5.

This is why we always ask people to write to us in addition to sending their resume. And while considering a candidate we always read the cover letter very carefully while we just browse through their CV.

3) No fake tasks

We often have a small test of professional skills included in our hiring process. When we hire software engineers they get to write a bit of code. When we hire for salespeople they get to prospect or draft a layout for a first approach etc.

The rule we have is that we never offer made-up tasks. Tasks which might at best resemble work in Messente. Instead, all of those tasks are the exact things Messente needs done. Software developers try to improve existing product code and marketing people draft campaigns they would be carrying out when joining us.

Even though the difference between working on a very real task and an identical made-up one seems to be small, it helps anyone joining us get a better feel of what’s it really like to work in Messente.

4) If you want great people, be ready to sell

Hiring is usually seen as a process where the company and the people doing the hiring are in the power position. In my experience, this is often not the case for people we have ended up hiring. You almost always have to sell yourself to great people and sometimes even sell hard.
This what Ben Horowitz talks about “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”. He says that the usual hiring mantra of “always hire A-players” is almost as useless as telling someone to “always make the right decisions”. The key to having the best people is having your best salespeople working in HR.

5) Check for the "skill-will alignment”

For me, this term was coined by easily the best book I have ever read on how to hire: "Who: The A Method for Hiring” (by Geoff Smart and Randy Street). One of the things I picked up from there is that while we check candidates for their skill and evaluate if they are a culture fit or not, we might overlook their expectations.

We assume that if people applied for a job they must really want to join our team. But people have very different motivations for applying. Some people see this as a career move, some are fed up with their old boss. Some people simply like working in IT, some people like the work your company is doing and want to be a part of it.

Each reason means a different type of motivation for joining you. It really pays to take this into account in order to make the best decision.


I wanted to share these pieces of advice hoping they will help you make the best decisions in hiring as much as they have helped Messente.

We have been meeting a lot of great people during the job interviews this year. Choosing the best from among many awesome people can be tough - unless you have a good compass :)

Lauri Kinkar
2016-04-12 00:00:00 UTC