Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Persistence Is Golden: How To Hire Great People

It’s no secret that hiring is one of the biggest challenges of managing and growing a creative team. So why do we chronically underestimate the time and energy that we need to dedicate to this crucial task?

Creative business owners frequently minimize the importance of hiring. It’s a “tertiary task” superficially unrelated to client work, and often triggered under duress: a huge new client project to ramp up for, the opening of a new office, or the exodus of a few great employees. For this reason, hiring often takes on a stressful tone and is executed hastily. Yet no decision can have a bigger impact on the direction of your work and the long-term success of your business.

Hiring exceptional people allows a leader to set strategic direction and then hand over incremental decisions to smart, capable team members. In Linchpin, Seth Godin uses the example of the fast and complex Japanese transit system, which operates on-schedule and on-budget, not by top-down directive, but by a large pool of empowered employees making the best decisions in the moment. “Letting people in the organization use their judgment turns out to be faster and cheaper – but only if you hire the right people and reward them for having the right attitude.”

The trick is uncovering those talented and trustworthy people – and knowing what they look like when you find them. Here are a handful of tips:

1. You cannot clone yourself.

One of the first obstacles in expanding a creative operation is rewiring your brain. Subconsciously or not, you may be fixated on looking for someone with the skills, mannerisms, single-minded passion, and other useful qualities that mimic your own. Instead, look for a cocktail of complementary skills to balance your weaknesses. Seek a foundation of rudiments and a likeable and hard-working personality. There is no one who loves your work more than you.

2. Persistence is golden.

There’s a rule of thumb called The Rule of 100. Assume you’ll need to make contact with 100 people in order to find 10 prospects to narrow to a pool of 3 great matches. Sometimes this is an overestimation, but the point is that finding the right person is usually a matter of persistence. Don’t stop looking if you’re having trouble finding the right fit, just keep looking.

3. The best resource is your personal network.

Hands down the best source for locating a person that fits you and your company is your circle of contacts. It’s your job to communicate effectively to your network by being clear about what you’re looking for and the context of the hire. It helps to be specific when approaching your network to give them information that’s easy to act on.

4. But… don’t forget to look beyond your network.

It is a common strategy (and a common mistake) to stick to your personal network to find quality people. Go beyond your circle of contacts. Make a list of people and companies you respect or admire and reach out to them for assistance. Always ask who you should speak to next to continue to expand your network concentrically outward.

5. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior… but it’s not always obvious.

Often a person’s interests are found in the seams of their resume or professional trajectory. Find out about hobbies, art projects or groups they started outside of work. This type of initiative will provide insight into how well a person works independently and if they’re prone to turning ideas action.

6. Use “critical incident interviewing.”

This is an interview model that queries specific past events as a basis for discerning a person’s capabilities. It’s all about cascading questions. Start by asking about an incident, then peeling back the layers to evaluate the person’s thought process, judgment, and how he or she deals with a situation.

For example:

  • “Tell me about a time you disagreed with your supervisor on a creative issue.”
  • “Walk me through the problem.”“What did you do about it?”
  • “What led to that decision?”
  • “Why do you think that was effective?”
  • “What was the outcome?”

7. Assign homework.

After a series of interviews, it is common practice for companies to assign a phantom project or problem to solve. Some even hand off a client assignment and compensate potential employees for their work. There’s no better way to predict performance than by having the opportunity to evaluate the work directly and get a feel for a prospect’s style and habits.

8. Do great work and make great stuff… so the best people find you.

It’s no surprise that the best companies always have the easiest time hiring. That’s because people are clamoring to work for them. Strive to do mind-bendingly great work and the hiring will take care of itself!

What’s Your Experience?

How do identify great hires? What do you struggle with?

More insights on: Hiring

Scott McDowell

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Scott McDowell is a strategy consultant and a coach to new managers & first-time leaders. He wrote New Manager Handbook to help leaders in transition panic less. He also hosts a radio show called The Long Rally on WFMU.
load comments (17)
  • Arkadiusz Dymalski

    I’m really surprised that the article about hiring doesn’t even mention competences – defining them and then assessing during recruitment process. Thinking in terms of well prepared competence model is a way to escape from the ‘The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior’ trap – because such statement can easily turn into a trap and filter for potential talents.

  • Geoff Talbot

    Persistence is golden. I need to be more specific when looking for collaborators. And I need to be unafraid to look outside my own network. Really good pointers.

    I think the way the interview is done is uncomfortable. It’s impossible to get to see the real person, to get more of a glimpse of personality and to see if you will have symbiotic chemistry etc.

    Have you done any work on interviewing people in different environments, cafe’s, restaurants, parks, homes etc?

    Geoff Talbot

  • Scott McDowell

    I like to interview + eat. The only issue is that you need let the person eat and do some of the talking yourself. Also, it’s tough to take notes. But it does always seem to be more natural than in an office. For big jobs I’ve seen interviewers invite spouses for dinner or do ’em in their homes, but it’s not so common.

    I wrote up some interview tips on my personal blog a while back, maybe you will find them useful?

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Noah Lomax

    I’m in the middle hiring a new personal assistant. This post has been very helpful.

    I think it is also important not to be fixated on finding a cloned replacement. My last PA was great, and I’d love a dozen more like her. The reality is, however, that everyone is different.

    When it comes to interviews, are there some core competencies or personality traits that value over others?

  • Salvador Figueros

    Nice post. I would add to the list: “Look for happiness”. Happy people make the world go roung. They are motivaded, they are pushers. Happiness is contagious. It makes your business move forward at light speed.

    Thanks for your info,


  • Scott McDowell

    GREAT point.

  • essay writing service

    very interesting post! thanks a lot for sharing!

  • Thom Holland

    Great point Salva.

    In many cases, you can train and educate people to perform a specific task. However, it’s much more difficult to people to be positive and happy.:-)

  • Rodrigo Langeani

    Great tips, that’s just what I was looking for.

  • Broderick

    Grat advice. I might add the importanve of meshing well with the culture of the company. A great person at XCO may be lousy at YCO.

  • Greg

    Good advice. From my experience, interviews in that critical incident style are fulfilling both for the hiring manager and the prospect. And handing them a challenge is a great way to measure outstanding candidates. How much do you use the resume in recruitment? There has been buzz about updating styles, switching to biographies, getting rid of it entirely… LinkedIn has their new application system based on user profiles, and groups like Smarterer and Klout talk about standardizing Skills sections. Where do these changes fit in to recruitment?

  • Greg

    As long as you really do give the interviewee time to eat. I’ve been in some awkward interviews where, while there was food, I didn’t have an opportunity to actually try it. 


    Going through this process right now. Immense help. Thanks for posting this!

    Point #6 is a great one to get someone to reveal themselves. 

  • Esteban Alvarado

    If you hire trouble, you area getting trouble, always need to search someone who life it it balance, because if his personal life is with a good balance it is going to affect the results in work.  I always like to say, when you hire someone I am searching for solutions not troubles.

  • Andrew Wargo IV (360 Minutes)

    Tip #6 is a great one if the interviewer can discern the truth from the fluff in the answers. Follow-ypmwith references is essential, as are great notes when interviewing. After interviewing quite a few people over the years and hiring a large percentage of the positions, I’ve also learned it’s essential to have a great interview team member who can also take the kind of notes you’ll find useful later.

    I’m a big fan of the walk-me-through-how-you-solved-problem-in-spite-of-resistance approach, as well as share-how-you-adopted-a-new-approach-to-resolve-challenges.

    My interviews usually take an hour each, bit it’s time well spent.


  • Grace Galape

    I like how you quoted what Seth wrote, “Letting people in the organization use their judgment turns out to be faster and cheaper – but only if you hire the right people and reward them for having the right attitude. ” I agree with that and people should know this one before we get deeper into our business. I came across this video about what employers should know before they hire people. It’s a great video and I’m sure you’ll like it too.

  • Grace Galape
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