Here’s the challenge marketing hiring managers face these days:
When looking at a candidate’s resume, on the surface they look great: they’ve worked at great companies, they have the job title you’re hiring for, and even may have a marketing degree, but after bringing them onboard, they’re not delivering the results you thought they would.
What happened? The standard hiring model failed you. In this article I discuss one solution we’ve recently run into at Grow and Convert.
I’ve previously written about how marketing has become the hardest position for but now I want to share a solution we’ve found to bring in better quality candidates and get a better predictor of success for hiring marketers into your organization.
We’ve used this method to find some of our best writers, account managers, content strategists and content promoters, and if we had used traditional hiring practices, we never would’ve found these candidates.
It’s called the screener question method.
In this post I’ll share what it is, some examples of how we’ve used it and stories about how we’ve made some of our best hires using this method.
The Traditional Hiring Model Is Broken (Especially for Hiring Marketers)
I don’t know why, but most companies still hire the same way they have been for years.
They create a job description with some job responsibilities and some skills required, send it over to HR, then have HR screen the candidates, and HR delivers “the best candidates” to the hiring manager to interview.
Why is it done this way? Good question.
My hypothesis is two-fold:
- It’s because people are lazy when it comes to hiring. If you don’t believe me now, hear me out.
- It’s because hiring managers don’t have the time to sift through the hundreds of resumes that come in for one role. They have their own job responsibilities and goals they need to hit. How are they supposed to have time to screen and hire candidates on top of their current workload?
On the point of being lazy, have you ever tried to write a job description?
Let me take a guess at what you did to create it.
First, You searched on Indeed or Google for the title you’re hiring for, looked at another company’s job description, copied pieces that sound good into a Google doc, and then published that description to find your “rockstar marketer.”
And it gets worse…
Then, you send this job description over to your HR team, tell them what you’re looking for on someone’s resume (3-5 years experience, experience doing X task, and “these skills”), and ask them to screen the candidates for you and only send you the best ones.
The problem with this process is two-fold:
(1) You’re assessing people based on things that are not important to the job at hand. For example, you’re selecting candidates based on years experience, the company they worked at, past job titles, or a name brand school they went to instead of assessing them on whether they’d be a good fit for the role. Good fit is defined as both having the soft skills and hard skills needed to excel in a role.
(2) By giving this task to HR, it’s nearly impossible to convey all the nuances of what you need in a candidate to someone who’s never operated in the role themselves.
A better way to hire: The Screener Question Method
First off, for this to work well, it’s important for the hiring manager to have an active role in hiring. Unfortunately, you cannot outsource this process to HR.
What is The Screener Question Method?
Instead of asking for a resume from the candidate, you create a job description that shares the characteristics (not responsibilities or experience level) that you look for in a candidate. Ie. soft skills.
Then to test their hard skills, you create a job application that’s essentially a questionnaire with a series of job contextual questions. One of those questions is your filtering mechanism and you filter out candidates based off of the answer to that one question.
This method does two things:
- It saves you time when filtering through tens or hundreds of candidates. One question for rapid filtering — not entire resumes or applications.
- It leads you to find candidates who are best for the job at hand and who may have non-traditional job backgrounds. Your question will be designed to show if they have the core skillset needed for the role, not if they worked for a big company or went to a fancy school.
Creating the characteristics-based job description
First, we start with the job description.
Instead of creating a job description with responsibilities and skills, you create a job description that shares the characteristics that are important for the candidate to have. This way you’re aligned from a culture perspective and the necessary soft skills that you think are important for a candidate to have in the job role.
(Don’t worry, the screener question and follow-up will test for hard skills.)
Here’s an example of our job description when we hired a content promoter:
Notice what this is, and what this isn’t.
We share qualities that we think are necessary for the candidate to have. Candidates can read through this and see if this role speaks to them.
It’s not just a list of tasks that you want the candidate to do on a daily basis. It also doesn’t ask for a resume, their background, a certain experience level, prior job experience, etc.
This is key to not filtering out good candidates too early.
Note: This is method is for marketing jobs. I understand that other more technical jobs (e.g. statistician, graphic designer), hard skills matter more than these characteristics. But for marketers, there is no “math test” or “design portfolio” available. You can ask for their previous marketing wins, but you know every marketer is going to take credit for a lot of company growth that may or may not be a direct result of their actions (again, I discuss this challenge at length in my previous article on this topic.).
Create the questionnaire with contextual job questions
The second part of the screener method is to create a questionnaire to help you find the best candidates. This will largely test the candidate for hard skills while also helping you learn a little bit more about the candidate.
The key to creating this questionnaire is to think about the job at hand and create exercises that directly relate to what the person would be doing.
Mini rant: I’ve been in interviews or have had screening exercises where the company likes to test for the “analytical or problem solving abilities” of a candidate. They’ll ask questions such as “How many golf balls fit inside of a 747?” for a marketing role. This type of question has nothing to do with marketing or the job at hand. If you’re using these types of questions to screen candidates, you’re likely losing out on the best ones.
The moral of this story, keep your questions and exercises to things that relate directly to the role.
Here’s an example of questions we asked in our content promotion application:
We asked why they’re applying for the role to get a sense for how passionate they are about the role.
We asked for examples of previous content the candidate has promoted to see if they have any experience doing the task necessary for the role.
But most importantly, we gave them an exercise to find 5 facebook groups that would be a good fit to promote an example article in. Why? Because we needed to see how someone thinks strategically about attracting the right audience when promoting. This is the main task of the job and if someone fails here, they’re likely not going to be successful in the role. At the top of the application, we also gave them an article that outlines our content promotion process, so we wanted to see how well someone could follow the instructions.
Then we gave them a second exercise to see how they would promote the article without Facebook groups. This was telling to see if they could take the same strategy and think outside of the box with it.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, this was the screener question:
When sorting through candidates, we looked at answers to this question as an indicator for how good someone would be in this role.
As you’ll see from the example I’m about to show you, it became very clear from the responses who took the time to answer this question properly and who tried to get through the exercise as quickly as possible. This showed us how passionate someone was about the role and clearly differentiated some candidates from the others.
It also showed us people who had the right mindset about promotion from the people who didn’t have the skills necessary to complete the exercise.
The screener question method in action
As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, we’ve used this method to hire writers, content promoters, strategists, and I’ve also used this to hire candidates in other companies I’ve worked for as well.
While a screening question or exercise isn’t all that unique, it’s the full process that leads us to finding better candidates.
Oftentimes, I’ve seen companies use a screening question only after they’ve filtered by resumes, but this approach allows you to find diamonds in the rough without filtering too early.
In our case, the candidate for the content promotion role we ended up hiring had no prior marketing experience. And she’s doing amazing so far. There’s no way she would have made the cut if we had first used resumes as a traditional filter and only asked these questions afterwards.
Here’s an example of her answer to the 1st and 2nd screener question, asking, where else would you promote this article (we gave them some article we published long ago):
The answers from the person we ended up hiring
Again, here was the 1st question we asked:
Here was the response to the first question from the candidate we ended up hiring:
– Targets product manager, who is the intended audience of the article
– Targets scrum masters, which is an integral part of any agile team. The article is speaking not only to PM’s but anyone who works on an agile team (including scrum masters). They may also find it useful, especially if they work for an enterprise software company.
– Product managers + Strategists are encouraged to share information about best practices in this group. The article fits very well into the type of content this group is looking for.
– This group is filled with people who are believers of Agile and are looking for ways to keep it fresh and modern. The article is a new and different take on the agile methodology and would be a good fit for the audience of Modern Agile.
– The group is geared towards B2B enterprise software companies. This Facebook group is where many people who are involved with B2B software in Europe hang out. This could be useful to anyone working in B2B software, not only PM’s.”
What was great about this response:
She was the only one who included reasoning to why she chose the groups. Which was a good indicator of strategic thinking.
Again, here was the 2nd exercise we had the candidate go through:
Here was the response to that exercise from the candidate we ended up hiring:
This is the perfect article for Linkedin Groups. One example I would post in is “The Accidental Product Manager” https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3995219/profile. This group encourages posts that provide tips for how product managers can be more successful. Through this, PM’s who find the article relevant can share it with their network of PM’s on Linkedin.
Things we immediately notice:
- She’s focused on who the target audience is (PMs) this is rare. See below.
- She found an actual LinkedIn group that is perfect and linked to it.
- She even listed what this group encourages. (OMG)
In contrast here are samples of responses to that same question that immediately let us screen out these candidates:
Response from candidate that was screened out, example 1:
“ I’d push it in my Linkedin to begin with. There’s also cool Slack Groups out there. Then there’s reddit.”
This was the entire response. Look at the difference between this and the hired example. It’s like night and day.
In fact this applicant was a gem, their answer the the question before it (finding Facebook groups to promote in) included our favorite line ever. Here’s the full response (emphasis mine):
“I’d push it in my Linkedin to begin with. Then there’s 2 Young Creators groups, Groove Learning and two more will be disclosed upon contacting me. No money, no honey.”
I guess I’ll choose “no money”, thanks.
Response from candidate that was screened out, example 2:
“One way is to share with people in your Linkedln connection who have a interest on what your article is touching upon. These people can share with their friends or groups who follows them or vice-versa.”
This is totally generic. Yes of course we’re going to share it with people who have interest. Yes it’d be nice if they shared it with their friends.
Response from candidate that was screened out, example 3:
“Partnering with Wayne Kimmel at 76 Capital would be ideal, because that firm deals a lot with B2B businesses, and they work with early stage startups in the medical and technology space that would benefit from the insight found in this article.”
Who is Wayne Kimmel? Why are we focusing on medical and tech? Confusing.
[View all of the candidate responses to our questions here. It’ll help you understand how we ended up choosing the two we interviewed.]
Let’s take a step back at the full process again:
- Start with a job description that starts with characteristics instead of tasks,
- Then creating a questionnaire with questions that relate to the job instead of just trying to judge a candidate off of their background
- Filter candidates based on the screen question
- Interview only the candidates that pass the screening exercise
The benefits versus the traditional resume and HR method are:
- You’ll find the marketers with non-traditional backgrounds. Many of the best marketers have non-traditional backgrounds – they’re self-taught or have transitioned from another field – this approach allows you to find them before they’re screened out.
- It saves the hiring manager’s’ time. Oftentimes candidates will be sent from HR to the hiring manager for a screening call – many candidates make it to the screening call only for the hiring manager to realize they’re not a good fit. The screener method helps you get to know someone and see how they think prior to spending valuable time talking to the candidate.
- It allows the hiring manager to take control of the hiring process. The hiring manager knows best as to what they need on their team. Why outsource the responsibility of finding the person who’s going to help your team succeed to someone else?
- You can test for hard and soft skills before spending time interviewing a candidate. It’s hard to know if someone’s going to succeed in their role until you bring them on board and give them 3-6 months. However, this method gives you better indicators of success than the traditional hiring model by helping you see how a candidate thinks strategically and how they would go about executing on their core responsibilities.
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