The old saying is “hire slow, fire fast.” When first starting out, I didn’t really know what this meant. Then, I acted in haste, made some REALLY bad hires and paid the ultimate price. Detangling a bad hire from a tight-knit culture like TJA’s is like trying to cure the entire team of the plague. Not to mention the impact that hiring talent has on external brand perception with our trusted partners, vendors and clients.
So, at TJA, we take a different approach to hiring quality people that will fit into our work family. I am confident that we have some of the top talent in the industry in this building, but sadly, this is not enough to be a quality agency. We thoroughly vet potential new team members and do our best to include as many appropriate opinions into the process as needed. Speaking of process, it’s a long one. This goes back to that “hire slow” mantra.
The mistake we made in the past was that we hired solely for “school” and not for “cool.” While hiring for the right technical talents is crucial, there also must be a genuine personality with integrity, drive and respect for their peers and the trade. We’ve carefully crafted a hiring process that allows us to vet “cool” and “school” simultaneously, which inevitably results in top-notch hires.
When bringing in an applicant for the first time, the department head or director whom that person will report to day-to-day performs a more classic interview, discussing experience, work examples, work tendencies and expectations.
Should that candidate make it past step one, the “skill interview,” I am brought in for a tail-end discussion for about 30 minutes to learn more about the candidate and their character. I’m not asking the questions about how they do their work; instead, I ask questions about what inspires them, transformational travel experiences, more about their family and hobbies/interests. This is really where the rubber meets the road. If I can’t have a fluid conversation with this person or feel like I can go have a beer with them after work, they aren’t the right fit for the company.
Ok, so they’ve made it past the Boss Lady gauntlet. Depending on the position level, we might ask the applicant to perform a test project to evaluate their work ethic. The projects usually entails a deadline and instructions of some sort. When giving this test project to an applicant, we are looking not only for the quality of work, but also what questions they ask, how they collaborate, what their process is and if they turn it in before the deadline. We love when that happens.
Work experience – Check.
Character – Check.
Technical skills – Check.
Let’s get to business. This is the unique part of our process compared to most agencies. We invite the candidate out to lunch with some key TJAers who that person would work with regularly. The kicker – I don’t attend. WHY? We don’t want to inhibit the conversation with Boss Lady’s presence. The lunch should be focused on chemistry and how that person will work within our ecosystem. Sure, some important questions are asked, such as work experience, what they hated and loved about their past job, etc. Really, though, we just want to know if you are COOL.
You would be surprised. We’ve had candidates make it all the way to the lunch, but not ultimately get hired. It’s a crucial part of our process and it works. One time, we were in a hurry and we skipped the lunch. This ended up being a disasterous hire. Great technical abilities, bad cultural fit.
Every industry is different and this approach may not work for all businesses, especially since it takes time from your hiring manager and team members. For us, however, this process positively impacts our workplace culture and is one reason we ranked #2 on Phoenix Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” list.