Hiring the right candidate

One of the most crucial aspects of growing any business is hiring people that will add value. Get it right and your business will prosper. Get it wrong and you will be taking one step forward and the proverbial three steps back. Most companies forget that the true cost of replacing employees is an excessive one which many cannot afford. Compared to the cost of hiring and retaining top performing employees, the cost difference and time constraints are staggering.

There is a vast amount of information out there when it comes to recruitment, some of it inconsistent and some of it ambiguous, so our advice is concise. The hiring of people, and in particular creative professionals, is more often that not instinctive and emotional – but rationality plays its part.

In essence, there are two distinct things that you are looking for: firstly, someone who has the skills, knowledge, and expertise to fulfil the role; and secondly, someone who will fit into the culture of your business.

You will firstly need to define the role in detail. Do not underestimate the value of doing this, as it will help you evaluate each candidate’s skills and experience in a more effective manner.

You will also need to ask yourself quite a few questions, such as:

  • What core skills are absolutely vital to carry out this role effectively?
  • What short-term projects will I need this candidate to work on?
  • Where will they fit into the business in order to compliment the existing team?
  • Will they bring a value-added service to existing and potential new clients?
  • What do I really need from a new employee, and is there a skills gap that they can fill?

Using an Interview Wisely
The process you decide on to interview candidates is also very important and should not be neglected. It is inherently difficult to compare and contrast candidates, but if you allow for some consistency in the process then the decision will be made easier.

We would recommend asking the same set of questions to each candidate, as this will help you compare their skills and expertise. The questions must relate to the role, its responsibilities, and ways to assess a candidate’s previous work history – past behaviour is an excellent predictor of future behaviour.

Try not to interview candidates too far apart and, if necessary and/or possible, keep a day or two free in your diary and interview each one back to back. This is an exceptional method of comparing their personalities, skills, and potential fit for your business.

  • Avoid obvious questions – such as “what are your strengths/weaknesses?” or “where do you want to be in five years?” – as most candidates are well prepared for these questions
  • Spend time with your preferred candidate in order to better judge their fit with your culture and environment. A great idea is to ask the candidate to spend a half-day or a day in your office
  • Introduce the candidate to other team members, particularly the ones they’ll be working with – their input is important. Gauge their opinions and explore any discrepancies with your own

Questions need to unearth a candidate’s persona as well as their skills. Try asking:

  • Can you give an example of how determined you have been recently?
  • What would your previous boss and colleagues say about you?
  • How will you gain the credibility and confidence of others?
  • What culture and environment suits you?
  • How do you take direction, and how will we get the best out of you?
  • Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10
  • How long will you stay with the company?
  • Why are you here?

Essentially, you’re looking for candidates who respect your profession, and who are willing, honest, reliable, self-motivated and, most of all, manageable.

It can be prudent to be more relaxed and informal with candidates, to ensure that you see them in a true light. Some people don’t perform well in a structured and rigid interview process, but a more informal setting will let their true characteristics come through.

Furthermore, if a candidate’s experience is limited, key personality traits such as energy, drive, tenacity, motivation, and determination may win them over to you – and these traits could be better discovered in a freer setting.

Money is a taboo subject but it is vital to discuss salary and expectations at the first or second interview stage. Over the last three to four years we have seen numerous offers rejected due to mismatches between applicants’ salary expectations and what is offered after a final interview.

We strongly recommend that salary issues are discussed and explored in some depth at first and/or second interview stages, before initial shortlists are drawn up and particularly before an offer is made.

Be Honest
Be open and honest about the role and company. Discuss the positives and negatives; if you focus on the former, you will be setting yourself up for a surprise and sudden resignation.

An astute interviewer should provide job applicants with both favourable and unfavourable information before an offer is made. A realistic job interview balances the positive and negative aspects of the role.

Evidence indicates that applicants who have been given a realistic job interview hold more realistic expectations about the role, which results in fewer unexpected resignations. While presenting only the positive aspects of the role may entice an applicant in the early stages, the magic won’t last.

The Culture
A cultural fit is often equally as important as a candidate’s ability to do the job. It is important to assess potential employees in terms of how well they would fit into your company’s culture.

You want to hire people whose values are consistent with those of your organisation, or at least a good portion of those values. If you hire candidates who do not fit your culture, you will most likely end up with new hires that lack motivation and commitment.

The best applicants want to be part of a successful, innovative, and forward-thinking company. If you want people to work hard and care about your company, you should be loyal to them in return and reward them appropriately. A structured career path, promotion prospects, pay rises, and other perks all have an important part to play in not only enticing people to work for you, but enticing them to stay for the long haul.

Evaluate candidates’ online presence – which is probably a given in the present day, what with the accessibility of people’s social media profiles. Look for the positives, such as how a candidate is marketing themselves via LinkedIn, or by looking at who they follow and interact with on twitter.

Do not underestimate the value and importance of providing feedback, be it positive or negative. Although there is no actual obligation to do so, it is particularly appropriate, if not required, if a candidate has attended two or more lengthy interviews. It creates goodwill, and a candidate will appreciate an honest and constructive analysis of their performance.

Providing feedback will also create a positive impression of your company in the market, and can only help you with future recruitment.

The Offer
Once you have decided who you want to hire, move swiftly to provide a verbal and written offer. A delay will cause concern to your preferred candidate and may expose them to a counter offer.

The offer letter is normally provided once a verbal agreement has taken place. The more senior the role, however, the more time you may need to allow to negotiate additional benefits, notice periods, and start dates.

These fall into two categories – past work experience and personal. References from past employers can be valuable in the hiring process but they are becoming harder to acquire.

Personal references, on the other hand, are easy to acquire but, in truth, are essentially worthless. There is no valid reason to believe personal references will help you identify high performing employees, because friends are unlikely to write anything negative about a person.

Employers have also become more reluctant to offer insightful information, and tend to offer minimal information such as the start date, length of employment, and job title.

When considering valid information about an employee’s past performance, you should be aware of how that performance took place in an environment with a different culture from that of your own company. Different people perform better in different environments, and so an excellent performance in one environment may not necessarily transfer well to another.

Be aware that different people perform better in different environments and cultures.


Nothing should discourage you from doing a comprehensive background check, of course, but you will have to consider whether it really adds value to your decision.

We also advise that the employer takes up the references directly and not via an intermediary – hearing it from the horse’s mouth (so to speak) is better than second-hand information!

As a business and agency owner, we realise that you will have invested a huge amount of time in starting and growing your business. The success of your business will also depend on the people within it, and how they approach their job through the good times and the bad. Once an employee is on board, the key is to marry the company’s goals with their personal goals – like envisioning a journey that the two are taking together. The result is an employee with aspirations who will see that their current role should be performed to the best of their abilities. The credibility this establishes with the employee will do more to solidify their intention to stay more than any gift or pay increase.

Although the recruitment process is time consuming and takes effort and dedication, when you get it right it will have been an excellent investment of your time.