Small Business Hiring Tips: 3 Ways to Identify the Best Candidates

Given my experience, having hired thousands of people, I’ve developed a set of guidelines to identify the candidates who – because of their integrity, loyalty, and attitude –...

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As the CEO of a global services company, I read a lot of resume cover letters. One of the best I’ve ever seen was from a candidate with an Ivy League education and an extremely high GPA who chose to write about her experience working as a waitress.

Why did I like that letter so much? It showed me that the candidate had what I was looking for in an entry level applicant: she started working at a young age, landed her first job despite a lack of experience and kept working through university.

With the national unemployment rate hovering above 9 percent, job applicants are plentiful. But managers still struggle to put the right people in the right positions. I think it’s because they’re often evaluating potential employees in the wrong way.

Given my experience, having hired thousands of people, I’ve developed three guidelines to identify the candidates who – because of their integrity, loyalty, and attitude – have the best chance at success.


1. Look at experience other recruiters may ignore.

I want to hire people who are smarter than I am. I want employees who have integrity and thrive on accountability. And I want a team that’s ready to work hard and play hard with the team I’ve already built here. There are several things I do to find these people.

For example, I select employees who will have the company’s best interests at heart at all times. One of the questions I ask applicants is “Suppose you see a co-worker, or someone you manage stealing money. What would your response be as a co-worker and what would your response be as a manager?”

While the answers may seem incredibly obvious to you, more than 80 percent of applicants respond to this set of questions with answers like “As a co-worker, I would urge them to put the money back,” and “As a manager, I would discuss it with them and give them a second chance.” Fewer than 20 percent give the answers I want to hear.

I look for people whose instinctive reaction is to either report the person to their manager, or, as a manager, terminate that person’s employment immediately. There is no gray area.

Integrity is a key value for my company that other employers do not usually focus on in the interview: I want every employee to treat the company as if they own it themselves. I want people who think for themselves and are motivated to be part of our company’s growth.


2. Don’t overlook key skills found in the least expected places.

I look for leadership skills in ways that other CEOs might not notice. I place less focus on what experience candidates have in our industry and more on them as individuals.

For an applicant interested in an entry level position, I will note that they started a Spanish club at their college because one didn’t existed there (this is a take-charge initiator in my eyes), or that someone was captain of their hockey team. One of our outstanding employees turned mowing lawns during high school into a complete seasonal landscaping business and employed several people during summers off from college.

For someone applying for a management position, I look not only at how long they were employed by another company and why they left, but if they rose within the company over those years. If their career shows a steady and lasting period of growth and management experience, this tells me they have what we are looking for.

For example, one employee had taken over as manager of a restaurant and took it from the brink of bankruptcy to a growing and sustained success. I look beyond the industry, which is not relevant to me; to the rate of success this person achieved, which is indeed relevant.

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