How to Make a Great Hire | What Successful Business Owners Look For in Their Candidates

Top-performing companies are made up of well-designed systems and fine-tuned technologies. But at the core is people – they are the engine that drives a business forward each day, and hiring the right people makes all the difference.

We asked successful business owners how to make a great hire, and what they look for in candidates as they recruit, screen, and bring new team members on board. Here’s what they told us.

Applicant Initiative

We learn so much by observing the behavior of an applicant in the first few interactions you have. Do they seem engaged and interested or distant and bored? These impressions matter.

“I always look to the candidate who is forward-thinking and isn’t idle throughout the hiring process,” said Harris Rabin, Co-Founder of R3SET. “I know early on who I want to consider as a top candidate based on the communications pre and post-interview. I check-in with HR before making the hiring decision asking if the candidate had a continued line of communication. A simple thank-you goes a long way for someone’s interview time, and staying regularly in touch about the position and their eagerness for the role in your company.”

You want motivated action-takers around you at work, so look for these traits early on.

Portfolio Potential

Nowadays, portfolios are arguably more important than a one-sheet CV containing credentials and descriptions of past jobs. Don’t just take their word for it – see what they can do.

“In industries with specific skills that are required, such as the creative industry, it’s important to businesses that you have a portfolio of your work that you’re passionate about,” said Cody Iverson, Co-Founder and CEO of VisCap Media. “Even if you’re a rookie, showing your process and projects are good to show potential employers your thought process and what skills you do have that can be built on. Great portfolios, no matter the experience, have thought and cohesiveness throughout the projects.” 

In creative spaces, don’t hesitate to ask for examples of work and discuss them openly with candidates. That’s how you can quickly level up your interviews.

Hiring Within

It’s common to have a “grass-is-greener” mindset when hiring, especially with the endless pool of candidates available on the web. However, the best person for the job is often right next door.

“I always want to give internal candidates the opportunity to grow within the company,” said Randi Shinder, CEO of SBLA. “It’s sometimes best to look inward at the resources you already have. It’s valuable to invest in your employees for their expertise in your company.”

You don’t always need to hire from within your ranks, but you shouldn’t write off the option, either.

Screen for Success

An effective interview isn’t all business, nor a casual conversation. Find that middle grown to screen candidates based on their skills and experience, and also make sure they’re a good fit culturally and ready to be a team player.

“I believe the secret to hiring someone who is perfect for your company is running an authentic interview and vetting process,” said Aidan Cole, Co-Founder of TatBrow. “Try and pre-screen candidates first, this way you weed out the candidates who are a bad fit or do not align with the position they are seeking. This should be the only formal part of the entire interview process. Once you are physically interviewing the candidate, make it casual and really try and get to know the person. This will never happen if you go off a stuffy script that makes the candidate feel uncomfortable. Once the candidate becomes uncomfortable, they will never let down their guard and it will be hard to get them to truly open up.” 

Interviewing is a skill that needs sharpening, so commit to improving with time and effort.

Systems Save Time

Business beginners may not realize how time-consuming and labor-intensive the hiring process can be. Put systems in place to speed things up and make things easier for everyone.

“Treat recruitment and hiring like any other part of your business and take it seriously, just like products, marketing, sales, etc.” said Darren Litt, Chairman and Co-Founder of MarketerHire. “Establish processes and be consistent with everything from job postings to interviews and onboarding. You’ll save yourself a ton of time and headache.”

A system of hiring doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective. In fact, simplicity is superior.

Passionate Candidates

Obvious alert: you want to hire people who care about your company and the mission that drives it forward. There are many variables at play, but this is always high priority.

“Passion, extreme focus and a love for our team and the people behind this brand go a long way,” said Rafael Martin del Campo, Co-Founder of De La Calle. “When you find passion in your product or service, it makes the difficult days worth it. We just launched in January, so we are still sorting out distribution methods and set up. We look for candidates who are eager to be part of a startup business with the goal to get our product in retail stores.”

Your business won’t get far without enthusiasm and employee engagement – keep this in mind when hiring for any position.

Focused on Growth

It’s one of those intuitive truths: if you want to grow your company, take on employees with a growth mindset. This doesn’t just apply to tech skills, but to all aspects of learning and improvement.

“Successful leaders should look for new hires who will function as entrepreneurs within your company,” said Jared Zabaldo, Founder of USAMM. “And thankfully, these applicants are quite easy to spot. You’ll quickly notice if a person seems to like the idea of learning how to do new tasks and growing right along with the company. Plus, they will possess a lot of skills that even reach outside of the role for which they are applying.”

Some companies prefer a more structured approach to everyday processes, while others thrive with looser guidelines – find what works for you and hire accordingly.

Specialized Skill Sets

To run a successful business in the internet era, specialization is vital. Not only must you find and master a specific niche, but bring on the right people with that knowledge base and unique set of skills.

“I look for a candidate that has experience in research because it’s a niche understanding of communicating science-based evidence,” said Shaun Price, Head of Customer Acquisition at MitoQ. “Prioritizing case studies and the research community is a part of our company’s values so that we are transparent with our clients and the success of our product.”

If you live and breathe your business and industry – so should your teammates.

Ask Away

A great interview is a two-way street, rather than a dead-end. Be ready to fire away with plenty of questions and follow-ups, but also prepare to field questions from applicants.

“If you want to make a really great hire, look for someone who asks a lot of questions,” said Rachel Jones, Head of PR at Hope Health. “If an applicant simply follows your lead and provides details of their past employment, then that isn’t showing a real interest in the job. If they have questions and seem to be mentally (or physically) taking notes, then you know they’re someone who is detail-oriented and hoping to make the best impression possible. Why? Because they really want to work for your company!”

Remember that you’re making an impression too, as an interviewer. Presence and professionalism are key.

Complete Assessment

We all know that there can be major gaps between on-paper impressions and real-life performance. When recruiting and hiring, remember to look beyond the resumé and see the entire person.

“Consider the broader impact across your organization when making a hire, because there are ripple effects that make a big difference in your day-to-day experience,” said Bing Howenstein, Founder of All33. “Ensure that new hires are not only competent in their roles, but also a good fit in terms of culture and team dynamics.”

The wrong cultural fit can set your team back and halt progress, so don’t make this common mistake.

Go-Getters and Self-Starters

Great employees don’t just take orders and execute. They actively seek out new problems and solve them without being asked. These are the people who take initiative and don’t slow down until the job is done.

“Business leaders should look for self-starters who have an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Benjamin Smith, Founder of Disco. “Entrepreneurial spirit empowers the workplace and your ability to scale up your business. Candidates that can take action and find solutions before being told to do so are tremendous assets to your business. Self-starters make progress exponentially faster than those who require outside intervention; they ask themselves permission to take on a project or make some type of innovation which can propel your business forward quickly. If you want to secure great hires for your business, you have to recruit individuals that have the same risk-taking, highly productive energy the executives of your company have.”

It can be tough to tell whether someone is a true self-starter, so ask them about stories when they took initiative in their own life or business.

Described in Full

Have you noticed that some job descriptions are cluttered and incoherent? If your business is putting out sub-par job postings, you can’t expect many qualified candidates to come knocking.

“Never underestimate the value of a clear, accurate, and compelling job description,” said Jordan Nathan, Founder and CEO of Caraway. “It’s the first point of contact you have with candidates, and you must lead with a strong impression. Use professional language and be crystal clear about your expectations for the role. It will make a big difference in the quality of people who apply.”

Not 100% happy with how your posts look and perform? Scrap them and start from square one.

Immovable Identity

Nameless, faceless companies get what they give as far as talent goes. To attract inspired, passionate people to your business, it needs to be the type of business that inspires that passion.

“I believe you can improve the hiring process by establishing a strong brand identity,” said John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner at Berry Law. “What you put out you will receive in return. The concept of the brand will be the biggest vantage point to lure prospective hires into an interview. From there, you need to find out what drives the prospect to do what they’re choosing to do. A sense of purpose will be a huge tell-tale and can be the difference between your retention and churn rate.”

Your business will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s not the point! Find the people who want to work with you and forget the rest.

Community Oriented

Creating communities is not just a smart internet marketing tactic, but it’s also a wise way to approach hiring and team building in the workplace. Strong community dynamics will extend beyond the walls of your business when done right.

“Supergreat is all about creating communities of people who are passionate about sharing their favorite beauty tips and products with each other – it’s a creative environment” said Tyler Faux, Co-Founder of Supergreat. “We love to meet with candidates who have a creative background. We’re always looking to innovate our platform and relationships with our community members and partnered brands.”

Every company is its own community in some way, so make it positive and productive.

Efficient Experts

Never overlook the importance of efficiency when hiring new staff members. They will save you money, time, and inspire others to perform better in the process – a triple win.

“I always chose a lazy person for the hardest jobs,” said Microsoft Founder Bill Gates. “Because a lazy person will make efficiency the priority and work fast.”

An efficient workforce will revolutionize your business from the inside out, and in the best way possible. Bring on people who work fast, work hard, and improve upon your foundations.

The Next Generation

Dealing with gaps in age and ability is always a struggle in creating a company culture. However, there is also value in hiring a diverse range of people to collaborate and find innovative solutions to problems.

“A lot of business leaders mistakenly overlook the younger crowd of candidates for hire because of the instability that usually surrounds job seekers that are fresh on the market,” said Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands. “Younger candidates typically have not cemented their passions or their purpose which can be daunting for business leaders looking for longevity; however, working with talent in their earlier, more formative years allows you to shape and mold their abilities and be a source for their professional development. This also gives a chance for the well-seasoned veterans of the company to grow their leadership potential by taking entry-level candidates under their wing which will lend to the overall flow of operations and team building.”

The lesson here is to eliminate assumptions and think about hiring in counter-intuitive ways. You’ll be rewarded for thinking outside the box.

Retain Talent

Recruitment and hiring are just two pieces of a much bigger puzzle that is employee engagement, human resources, and long-term talent retention. Zoom out and see the entire picture for what it is.

“Searching for new hires can be challenging, which is why most companies are taking a hard look at their employee retention rates,” said Travis Killian, Owner and CEO of Everlasting Comfort. “That’s why it’s important to look for qualities that will truly add to your company culture. Find applicants who really seem like team players, who are ready to learn, grow and even mentor down the road. This can prove invaluable as you work on team projects and tasks.”

Avoid hiring just to quickly fill gaps – think about the long haul and be deliberate in your choices.

Encourage Curiosity

Are you truly interested and excited to meet new candidates for your company, or are you just going through the motions? Re-spark your curiosity and find enjoyment in the hiring process.

“Hiring the right people takes time, smart questions, and a dose of curiosity,” said Virgin Group Founder and CEO Richard Branson. “What is the most important factor when building your team, do you think? For us, it’s a good personality fit.”

Don’t forget that the future of your company relies largely on hiring, so accept this responsibility and maneuver wisely.

Hire for Fit

What’s more important to you when seeking and screening applicants for your company – experience or cultural fit? Both are key, but you need to decide which takes priority.

“My company has been able to maintain high rates of employee retention because we hired our employees for fit rather than experience,” said Chris Vaughn, CEO of Emjay. “It may sound counter-intuitive, but we wanted workers that would be passionate about our business and give 110% every day because they believed in our mission. While all of our hires had wonderful resumes and were more than qualified to perform the work functions they were hired to do, we put a greater emphasis on passion and attitude than deliverables and past work experience when choosing between two candidates for one position. Hiring for attitude has served us well, and it has given us a positive and enthused work culture with a high employee retention rate.”

Every department and role requires a unique personality type and skillset, so be highly specific with your intentions and criteria for each hire.

Cultural Impact

Who is going to gel with your team and the culture you’ve worked so hard to build? Place more emphasis on quality of character and avoid personalities that create more problems than they solve.

“Remember that the right person can bring teams together and boost performance, while the wrong one can do the opposite, slowing things down and causing unnecessary drama,” said Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick. “Take your time and learn more about these people, going beyond the stats you see on paper.”

It’s often smarter to pick a candidate with a great attitude than a flawless resumé, especially if your business is still very small.

Clarity and Concision

When your business is thriving and enjoying the growth process, it’s far easier to find quality candidates who are happy to join the team. Focus on fundamentals and you’ll have plenty of interested applicants to choose from.

“Hiring shouldn’t have to be difficult if you have strong values and a clear mission for your company,” said Raul Porto, Owner and President of Porto’s Bakery. “You will naturally find the right people for the job and create a company culture that aligns with your goals. If you’re struggling to make quality hires, go back to basics.”

An effective hiring process demands the development of systems, excellent interpersonal skills, and the ability to make decisions on instinct and intuition – not an easy combo!

Thankfully, these tips from top entrepreneurs should point you in the right direction and make hiring significantly easier for you – and your team – moving forward.