18 Experts Share Their Secrets to Hiring The Best People

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Let’s make no mistake about it, the best way to successfully grow a business is to hire the right people.

Over and over again we’ve seen how the most important indicator for a business’s success is not its executives, its products or even its intellectual property, but its employees.

It doesn’t matter what your business does or the industry you’re in — at the end of the day, your employees are the driving force behind everything in your business.

“The single biggest constraint on the success of any organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.”

– Jim Collins, author of Good to Great

According to Google, a quality hire has the potential to increase productivity and business impact by 300%. Another study by McKinsey found that the productivity gap between high-performers and average performers could be as high as 800% depending on the complexity of the job.

In short, hiring top talent means that you’ll grow faster, sell more, and achieve better results.

But how do you ensure that you’re only hiring quality talent?

To help you answer that question, I reached out to 18 founders, executives and investors behind some of the fastest-growing companies in the world and asked them to reveal what their hiring process looks like.

I asked them to answer the following questions:

  • What do you look for when hiring someone?
  • How do you develop potential into top-tier talent?

If you want to know how to hire, train and retain top talent, then you’ll definitely want to keep reading…

Free Bonus Download: Want to know the exact questions our 18 experts ask during a job interview? Download all 35 interview questions here — they’re guaranteed to help you make better hiring decisions!

Ryan Deiss, Founder and CEO of Digital Marketer and Founder of Praxio

At the most basic level, unless we’re hiring for a truly entry-level role that we plan to train someone to do, we want to see that they have successfully done the job before at a similarly-sized company with comparable resources and support.

We’re a fairly small company, so if someone requires a massive team and hundreds of thousands of dollars in software contracts to do their job, we know it probably isn’t a fit.

But aside from their previous history, there are four other intangibles we try to look for during the hiring and recruiting process, and these four intangibles cut across all departments and all levels, from interns all the way to VPs.

First, do they smile? I get that people are nervous at job interviews, but if someone can’t even fake a smile during the first 10 minutes of an interview, that’s a huge red flag.

Second, are they humble? We ask a lot of scenario-based questions during interviews, many of which require the interviewee to recall times when things didn’t go so well either at work or in their personal lives. During these questions, we want to hear what they learned, and what they would do differently next time. Blaming others and taking zero responsibility (or worse, talking crap about a former boss or co-worker) are huge red flags.

Third, are they learners? At its most basic form, we want to know that they took the time to understand the job we’re hiring for and the work we do as a company. The best candidates are naturally inquisitive and ask sincere questions, as opposed to questions designed to “turn the tables” in an interview.

Fourth, do they have a passion? It doesn’t have to be a passion for this particular role, we just want to see that they’re sincere and that they care about something…anything! Cynical, close-minded people, have a way of infecting everyone around them, so we try to keep these people from ever entering our building.

Developing top talent requires a combination of training, documentation, accountability, and mentorship.

Training and onboarding teach basic skills and best practices, but it doesn’t become real unless it is also paired with documentation and SOPs that tell new hires how they’re supposed to put their new-found skills into practice.

Similarly, management and accountability are essential for all employees, but if you want someone to grow, they need to also be paired with a mentor who has “been there and done that.”

The only catch is, the mentor can’t also be their manager, or it will put both the employee and the manager in an awkward position. So, if you truly want to develop people, you first need to focus on developing a network of mentors who can support your up-and-comers.

PRO TIP: Find other CEOs and managers who share your passion in people development, and “trade” mentorship across your organizations.

Melody McCloskey, CEO of StyleSeat

The most important factor to me in hiring a new team member is: are they entrepreneurially minded?

I most value people who consider themselves the CEO of whatever their role is. It doesn’t matter if they’re an engineer, in operations, or in customer success, the most valuable team members are people who want to be as successful as possible for their customers and their company first and foremost.

They solve problems, they do work that’s not necessarily in their job description, and they do whatever needs to be done to make the customer happy and help the company succeed. Those are my people.

I think the most important thing to keeping high-level talent is to align the business’s needs with that person’s personal goals, and ideally, both should feed off of each other. Which means that by performing well in the business, they’re also getting the experience they want and the resources they need to further their own career and who they are.

I want people to feel like they’re doing the best work of their lives at StyleSeat.

Phin Barnes, Sneakerhead VC and Managing Partner at First Round Capital

At a high-level, I care about specific attributes of a job candidate and believe it’s important to avoid unconscious bias and a strict focus on credentials.

When I am hiring someone or investing in entrepreneurs, I look for people with enough self-awareness to know they are great (they’re confident enough to have ownership in their role) but recognize that their work is a continuous battle for self-improvement.

With any role at First Round, we always interview for our values, which encompass attributes such as curiosity, initiative, and excellence. Our current team brings diversity while embodying our values, and we work hard to maintain our culture by making sure each new team member lives these values. With founders, I appreciate resilient talent with a clear vision, I want to think, “if anyone is going to do this, it’s this person”.

I develop potential into top-tier talent through the practice of coaching.

I’m not a “been there done that” type of coach who wants you to follow my playbook. I’m the advisor who helps you navigate when there is no playbook. I engage by asking questions with care and concern to quickly understand challenges and deliver relevant feedback.

I don’t believe I have the answer – I believe I am best at helping mentees find their best answer. I believe the best solution to any challenge lies within the person who owns the decision, but often they don’t know it.

My job is to help them access this part of themselves – to push them into a position that maximizes their impact. Consequently, to develop potential, I focus on my ability to rearticulate challenges and illuminate the path forward so they can find their own way.

Mitchell Harper, Founder of Insane Growth

I look for specialists with deep domain expertise around ONE particular skill set. They must be in the top 1% of all available candidates for the role I’m hiring for, and they must be able to demonstrate that skill at an unbelievable level.

I also look for people whose values align with mine and the kind of culture I’m trying to build. Specifically, they have to have high integrity, must be honest and should be really passionate about our mission.

Finally, I want to hire people who play the long game. If you want a job for a few months, my company isn’t right for you. If you want to build a career and make an impact over the next 3, 5 or 10 years, then you’re the kind of person I’d like to work with.

In general, I always mentor the people who work with me. I start by finding out what their career goals are and what particular skills or knowledge they need to acquire to achieve those goals. I then work with them personally to make sure they get to where they want to go.

Sometimes that means mentoring them one-on-one every week, other times it means introducing them to someone I know that can help them better or faster than I can.

Either way, I believe that if you develop potential in the people who work with you, they will stay loyal, will improve your culture and most importantly, will help your business provide so much more value.

Free Bonus Download: Want to know the exact questions our 18 experts ask during a job interview? Download all 35 interview questions here — they’re guaranteed to help you make better hiring decisions!

Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team

I see interviews as an integral part of the hiring process because they’re a way to uncover what intrinsically motivates a person. While most things can be taught, intrinsic motivation can’t – so I always feel it’s crucial to understand.

The best way to zoom in on what a person’s intrinsic motivations are is to ask them about the underlying reasons and assumptions behind previous decisions they’ve made and the decisions that they hope to make.

Your job as a manager is not to manage – it’s to create an environment for people to do their best work. As a result, in order to develop your team’s potential, you have to understand what kind of environment would be best for each person on your team – and then you have to deliver on it.

Developing potential is less about following any 1-2-3 set of steps or playbook, and more about being keenly in-tune to the individual needs, opportunities for growth, and areas of strength that each particular person has, and serving each uniquely.

Hugh Stephens, Founder of SkedSocial

We look for people who primarily display two key attributes: they’re incredibly smart (that’s a subjective measure!), and they’re hungry to have an impact on the business.

Smart people can work out any problem you throw at them (although most roles will have a particular area that they are ‘deeply knowledgeable about), and hungry people want to jump in, get dirty and see how their work creates change.

The people I like working with most always want to learn.

I find that the best way to develop people is regularly put them outside their comfort zone – that might be asking them to take on responsibilities they haven’t handled before in a role, or potentially step into a totally different one for a period to discover something new.

Jane Lu, Founder & CEO Showpo

At Showpo, we’re looking for people who live and breathe our values: “Think Big, Get Shit Done, and Have Fun!”

We’re looking for people who have innovative minds and have found new ways of doing things. Instead of looking at time spent in a job, we’re looking at what they’ve actually achieved and if they’re the kind of person to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. And of course, we look for people who can have fun – not just in a social sense but also whether or not they’ll put in the effort to make work enjoyable for everyone around them.

Our hiring process has been structured to include phone and in-person interviews as well as real-life workshops where our pool of candidates can interact with their would-be peers so we can make sure we’re making the right choice. We look at whether the person is passionate about their job, their field and if they can add to the culture we’ve worked so hard to build!

We’ve got big plans to grow and we need the right people to get there!

We know that people work in different ways so we give them the freedom to approach their work in their own way.

We set individual goals and KPIs that align with what we are doing in the wider business and to also help the person develop in their role. Everyone in the business has a people leader they report to or turn to for support, and we make sure we equip our people leaders with the right tools and guidance to lead their team members.

While I manage a number of the senior leaders in the business, my (non-existent) door is always open for anyone at any level!

We work in a very fast-paced industry and it’s so important to think outside the box. I really believe that giving people exposure to areas outside their role is a huge asset to teams. We hold regular ‘Lunch & Learns’ where the whole company can learn new skills or get introduced to a different area of the business to keep work interesting or challenge their thinking.

Our company is growing so fast and because we have a flat structure our teams can get stuck into some really exciting projects that they wouldn’t necessarily get exposure to in larger companies. This gives our team members a challenge to help them grow in their role and get a better understanding of the business as a whole.

Mathew Myers, CEO of Vision6

People can learn new skills, so while having a resume full of high-end job titles and past experiences can look good on paper, we’ve found its the softer skills and personality traits that tend to make the best team members. Therefore, we primarily look for passion, cultural fit, initiative and at least base level skills to fulfil the job description.

We look for consistency with the job position, their resume and cover letter and if we believe they are just providing us with what they think we want to hear or not. We also have every person complete a take-home challenge which is specific to the job they’re going to be doing on a daily basis.

Finally, a big factor in our hiring process is to make reference check calls to their last three bosses and ask:

  • ‘Would you hire that person again’ and
  • ‘What could they improve upon’

The second question normally teases out any interesting traits that may be red flags.

Once someone is on board, we have support systems and processes in place such as annual strategy sessions, quarterly goal setting, fortnightly coffee catch-ups, monthly goal progress meetings, monthly happiness ratings and annual reviews. We find this provides us with the freedom to then focus on individual needs and design an environment that helps that person achieve their own goals alongside company objectives.

This can take any form and can include providing extra weeks holidays to balance work with personal/family commitments, helping identify and pay for external training, recommended reading lists, through to connecting that person with the right mentor either internally or externally.

Rand Fishkin, Founder and CEO of SparkToro

Contract work is the best predictor I’ve found of someone’s fit. If we’ve worked together on projects already, I get a great sense for whether they’ll be a match. If this is impossible, doing a mini-project together during the interview can be a good way to go (but it’s never as predictive, because the interview environment just isn’t the same as real-life conditions).

Personal mentorship can work, though I’ve found that everyone’s different.

Some people do best with mentorship, others need outside coaches, others do better learning online or in classroom settings, and for some, it’s about finding the right motivation to upgrade their work. Conferences and events have also been particularly excellent for folks in my world.

For my own hiring process though, the more mature in my career I get, the less I believe interviews are the only right way to hire.

Free Bonus Download: Want to know the exact questions our 18 experts ask during a job interview? Download all 35 interview questions here — they’re guaranteed to help you make better hiring decisions!

Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer

I only hire PHDs – poor, hungry, driven.

Developing talent means lots of mentoring and hiring well. As hire other As, Bs hire Cs and once you have Cs you have cockroaches, and it requires a lot of work to fumigate.

Top-tier talent develops quickly if they’re surrounded by A-players every time they come into work. We’ve also found that staff are motivated when they have work that they’re intellectually interested in and a company mission they can personally believe in.

Michael Lane, Managing Director of Success Resources

Of course, a large part of my hiring process involves looking for a proven track record of success. But beyond that, what’s important to me is someone who can display that they are customer service oriented, passionate about overdelivering value, and excited about building long term value for the client. The best candidates are able to exhibit all that and more.

Self-leadership is also a quality that I’m seeking, does the person I’m hiring need external motivation or are they internally inspired to go above and beyond the norm to get the outcome?

At my level when I’m hiring (C suite) they have to be top talent – they have to have a proven history of being world-class.

Although, I’m constantly working with all levels of my teams to help grow not only their business knowledge but also personally. My team is a reflection of me, if they don’t continue to grow our clients can feel it.

For me, leadership is continuing to sharpen the saw – I want to know how this person is continuing to grow not only their product knowledge but themselves as well. If I interview someone and they don’t have a routine around growth – I’d be concerned.

Zoe Pointon, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of OpenAgent

At OpenAgent we have some really big goals, and we need the right people to help us get there. During the hiring process, there are some attributes that are really non-negotiable for us, and they are creativity, a curious nature and a desire to learn.

While accolades on a resume are always nice, what’s more important to us is that a person can demonstrate a good degree of business acumen, in the sense that they’re able to make good judgments and tie their activities back to overall company goals.

Start-up environments are exhilarating, and everyone’s always throwing around great ideas. But in order for us to collectively do some of the best, hardest, smartest and most rewarding work we might ever do, we need to find people who are able to prioritize effectively. When you work in a high-growth environment, you need to be able to understand what things matter the most and which actions have the most impact.

Every leader that we’ve hired, or who have come through the ranks, has a responsibility to mentor and develop everyone in their team. But mentoring at OpenAgent is a bit more than that – the idea of mentoring has evolved to a point where making everyone better at what they do is really everyone’s business. We have a no BS and A-team culture, and we all encourage each other to raise the bar and do our best work.

In a world where we all have so much to do, making sure everyone feels motivated and inspired is something we really hold dear. We know that having a purpose beyond just going to work and paying the bills can be one of life’s greatest motivators, so making sure we do work with purpose and personality truly is key.

So how do we achieve this? It’s about:

  1. Making it clear that we are serving and helping a group of people who really need our services, and
  2. Ensuring that everyone feels they are playing a part in our success.

It’s a goal at OpenAgent that everyone clearly understands how and why their work contributes to our overall company goals. We do this through things like quarterly product summits, fortnightly team demos of all the cool stuff we’ve been working on, and taking the time to celebrate wins as a team. It helps everyone to re-align on company strategy and helps us to acknowledge how far we’ve come and where we’re going.

Not to mention making sure that we hire very carefully – because when you work with people who inspire you, you’re more likely to feel motivated and enjoy what you do.

Besides looking for people who are obviously competent for the job, we always have these considerations in the back of our minds to see if they have the right attitude to work with us:

  • Can they say “I don’t know” if they don’t know?
  • Do they put customers first?
  • Are they non-judgmental and willing to bring their whole selves to work?
  • Are they humble and hungry?
  • Do they communicate clearly?
  • And lastly, everyone has great ideas, but are they the type of person who can execute, get their hands dirty, and actually get stuff done?

Alex Zaccaria, CEO & co-founder of Linktree

People that bring new ideas, and seem excited to grow the company with us, are the kind of people we want on our team.

It’s all about the candidate’s energy and curiosity levels. From that very first interaction, whether it’s over email or on a phone interview, you want to know if they’ve really understood the product, made an effort to think about what value they could bring to the team, and if they can ask smart questions.

When developing our new employees, we first look to understand what their strengths and passions are and how we can best nurture them. Areas or skills that need improvement we’ll help refine through thoughtful, honest feedback and mentoring. With new hires either being mentored by the company’s directors personally or working with senior management to learn new skills.

Something that’s always incredibly important to our company culture at Linktree is motivation and empowerment through team autonomy – we really want everyone in the team to have a sense of ownership. To do that make it a priority to clearly communicate our longer-term business goals and to be as transparent as possible.

Dan Corkill, CEO of Follow Up Boss

At the stage our company is at we’re looking for specialists who have been successful in a similar role, a really good sign is if they’ve been promoted in their past job.

For senior hires, I’m looking for people that can teach me something about their area of expertise. If I don’t learn anything in the interview process it’s unlikely that person is experienced enough to take over that part of the business.

Being mainly a remote team, we’ve found that our most successful team members are the ones who have the ability to motivate themselves. Over time, these are the kinds of people who will naturally take on, and be given, more and more responsibility.

Free Bonus Download: Want to know the exact questions our 18 experts ask during a job interview? Download all 35 interview questions here — they’re guaranteed to help you make better hiring decisions!

Robert “RA” Alvarez, CFO and COO of BigCommerce

Resumes say a lot, especially the ones that are able to accurately quantify the amount of impact someone made in their previous role. But, resumes are only one piece of the equation….we call this Bucket 1.

At this stage of the hiring process, I like to ask questions that give me a glimpse of their knowledge and expertise based on the kinds of situations or problems they’ve solved in the past. The sign of a qualified candidate is when you can present a problem you’re looking to solve, and they’ll tell you about a system, process or method they implemented in the past.

Based on how they respond, you can also pick up on whether they take full credit for success or if they give the team around them credit. Pay attention to the words “I” vs “we”, “us” vs “them”, especially when asking questions around bad situations they’ve been in and if they own it or blame others for it.

Bucket 2 is who they are as people, their values, their beliefs and what fuels them.

Bucket 2 is all the things my wife and I are trying to teach our kids. Are they selfless? Are they team-oriented? Do they play a “we game” or a “me game”? Are they humble enough to give credit to others when things go right? Are they strong enough to take responsibility when things go wrong?

High Bucket 2 people make people around them better, they build loyalty and drive your company culture forward. It’s hard to teach people to be humble or selfless because their Bucket 2 is wired into them by the time you’re recruiting them. So make sure that you’re paying as much attention to who they are as a person, as much as you do the skills and accomplishments on their resume.

Ask yourself if this is the type of person you want to build your company around.

The best candidates are people who are motivated when they’re in an environment that keeps their learning curve steep, so they’re constantly growing and don’t feel complacent. At the end of the day though, motivation is tied to how you make people feel and it’s always “different strokes for different folks”, so find out what drives them, empower them, and do your best to remove roadblocks along the way.

Jeremy Chen, Director of Good Things

Firstly, and most importantly for us when hiring is the right attitude – mainly a can-do attitude and ability to ‘hustle’.

Secondly, we look for cultural fit, if they don’t fit into the companies ethos then they probably aren’t right for us. We like to ask – would we go for a beer with them after work?

To help develop our new team members we have weekly team training sessions and arrange one-on-one coaching/mentoring.

Shobhit Shukla, Co-Founder & Chief Revenue Officer of Near

As a high-growth company which just raised $100m USD. We believe in taking the time to hire right and hire smart.

As a philosophy, we try to focus on hiring for strengths. Very often, people look for weaknesses while recruiting. While it is a safe practice, in order to find the real diamonds, we aim to look for people’s strengths rather than eliminate for weaknesses.

Having colleagues who understand the industry we operate in and can adjust to our pace is great to have, but having a sense of ownership, a proactive approach and a culture fit are the three key parameters for us.

Along the way, we make sure that all our employees are moving in the right direction by giving them the right support and letting them find their own path to success. It’s also a great way for teams to bond and for newer folks to learn fast from the best. But, this level of freedom also comes with a corresponding level of responsibility and the expectation that they can take full ownership of their results, both good and bad.

Kelly Jamieson, Managing Director and Founder of EdibleBlooms

We 100% look at a job applicant’s attitude and whether or not they fit in with our company’s values. When someone responds to an advertised position and submits a video or a cover letter that shows that they’ve researched our company and understand our values – they go straight to the top of the list.

When it comes to developing talent, we have a policy of open communication and making sure that we share what we learnt from our past mistakes. We’ve found that by doing this and helping our team feel confident in themselves is the key to moving fast.

Free Bonus Download: Want to know the exact questions our 18 experts ask during a job interview? Download all 35 interview questions here — they’re guaranteed to help you make better hiring decisions!

Key Takeaways

In order to recruit and retain top talent, you’re going to need a hiring process that can rely on to sort out the best from the rest. If there’s anything we’ve learnt from all these impressive experts is that growing a business is just as much about knowing who and how to hire is perhaps the most important skill anyone can have.

Having a large team is not as nearly as impressive as having a high-performing one.

While everyone’s hiring process is unique to them, I’m sure that you’ve noticed some common themes amongst all world-class advice gathered here, such as:

  • The most important attributes when making a hiring decision is finding someone whose values align with the company’s own values and mission
  • Having the right skills is important, but not as important as being the right culture fit
  • Curiosity and a passion to learn and grow is consistently considered a key attribute of high-performing talent
  • Developing a system of mentorship and guidance for new hires is critical in helping them reach their potential and increase the level of impact they have on the business
  • Give employees the freedom and flexibility to own their work and they’ll repay you a thousand times over

What does your own hiring process look like? What does an A-player look like to you? How do you ensure that your new hires reach their potential? Let us know in the comments below!

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