2018 Conference

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Bank Culture: Recruit and Hire a Highly Engaged, World Class Team

Presented By:

Mikey Trafton – Blue Fish Development Group

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You may remember Mikey Trafton from our BankOnPurpose 2016 Conference where he shared a three-part framework to building a world class culture. This year, Mikey will share his secrets for a building a team that is a rock-solid a culture fit and incredibly productive.

In this session, Mikey will share how to perfect your job descriptions and attract the best talent, the most effective ways to interview, and how to make candidate’s feel loved, so that they’ll accept your job offer.


Thank you all for having me back. I'm super excited to be back at BankOnPurpose. I'm Mikey Trafton. A couple of years ago, I was here and I talked about my company, Blue Fish. We make custom software for large companies. What I told the story of how we were able to create a really strong corporate culture and use that culture to grow the business, survive the great recession.

About five years ago, I was able to actually fire myself from my own company and I was able to turn the reigns over to my team and my team has been running my company for me ever since while I went and started some other startups and did some other things. 

Obviously, you can't just turn the reigns of the company over your team unless you have a really freaking good team, and so that's what I want to talk to you about today is how we were able to recruit and hire a world class team. I'm going to describe the process that we used and some of the tips and tricks along the way.

The first thing I want to talk about is this term that we used in the technology field for a really awesome employee and we call them ninjas. A ninja is someone who's just the best of the best. I've always worked really hard to build a whole company full of ninjas. They usually don't look much like this. They usually look a little bit more like this. 

The key thing that I have learned over the years in trying to hire ninjas is that ninjas love to work with other ninjas. In fact, the best way to build a big company full of ninjas is to start with a small company full of ninjas. If you think about, for example, the United States Navy, there are 300,000 sailors in the Navy. They're all incredibly well-trained. They are all very good at their jobs, but inside the Navy, there is a little tiny team of modern day ninjas, which are the Navy Seals.

The individuals in the Navy Seals put themselves through incredible hardship in order to join the Navy Seals. First, you have to take a test just to get permission to apply to be in the Navy Seals. Then you have to go through a grilling assessment process that weeds out most of those people. Then if you're allowed in, you have to go through this amazing, rigorous training process. It's the most rigorous and hard military training in the entire world. 

If you get through all of that, become a Navy Seal, your reward is that we ship you off to the most dangerous places in the world where you can risk your life. Why is it that these individuals do this? Why do they want to become a Navy Seal? Why would they put themselves through all of that? Is it because they get paid more than everybody else in the Navy? Well, it's not. They get paid exactly the same as anyone else in the Navy with the same rank.

The reason that Navy Seals put themselves through all of this is because ninjas love ninjas and they want to be surrounded by the absolute cream of the crop. If you are wanting to build a company full of ninjas, of great team members, here are some tips for how to attract ninjas into your team. 

The first tip is you got to use your existing ninjas to interview your candidates. This is really hard, because your ninjas that you have working for you now, they're your best employees and they're busy. They're doing your most important stuff. They don't have time to go interview candidates. You end up oftentimes having your kind of mediocre employees who don't have anything better to do and you send them off to do the interviewing and you got to do the exact opposite. 

You got to take your best employees and you have to have those be the ones in the actual interview, because ninjas love ninjas. The candidates, in order to attract excellent candidates, you have to project excellence. Also, you should let your candidates meet as many of your ninjas as possible during the recruiting process.

At Blue Fish, my company, it's not unusual for a candidate to meet eight different people during the recruiting process. Our goal is just overwhelmed them with how awesome the team is so they get the sense that everybody in the company is a ninja.

Once you decide that you want to build a team of ninjas and let's say you have a new role that you need to hire for. The first thing you have to do in that role is you have to figure out, "Well, what do you need?" You start getting with your team, you're brainstorming. You're thinking about what do you need in the role, which begs the question if you want to hire ninjas, what makes a ninja.

Of course, a ninja is going to have excellent technical or functional skills to perform the job, but that's not what makes a real ninja. What makes a ninja is what I call their superpowers. Their superpowers are the unique characteristics that an individual has that makes them excel in a given job or role. Let me give you an example.

Let's say we're hiring a bookkeeper. You got to figure out what do you need this bookkeeper to do, what do they need to be good at. Of course, there are some table stakes, skills the bookkeeper has to have. She has to understand invoicing and the difference between accounts receivable and accounts payables. She's got to know how to use your financial software. You're not going to hire somebody without these skills, so that's just table stakes.

What makes a bookkeeper a ninja would be things like can you trust her with the passwords to all the bank accounts? Will she treat your money, the company's money, like it's her own and will she be frugal? Can she be persistent in attracting payments from your customers without being so pushy that she annoys them? Can she keep a secret? Because the bookkeeper does everything that's going on in the business.

It's these things, these are the superpowers that you need to be really thinking about when you're putting your role description together. How do you do that? Sometimes it's hard to start thinking about what the superpowers might be, so I like to use this tool called the Lominger Leadership Architect Cards. It's literally a deck of cards. It cost about 100 bucks and it contains about 70 leadership competencies they call them, which are like leadership skills or characteristics.

This is what one of these cards looks like. This the front of the card. You can see here this competency is called planning and then it gives a description of what it means to be skilled at planning. Flip the card over it tells you what it's like to be bad at planning and it tells you what it's like if you over use this skill.

What we do is we literally lay these cards out on the conference room table, we sort them into piles and there's a pile of these are the skills we absolutely have to have, these are the skills that are important and these are the skills that are kind of nice to have. This is a really good way to get the creative juices flowing for what you need in a role and then what we'll do is we will design interview questions that assess whether somebody is good at each of these competencies.

Okay. Now, you figured out what it is that you need in your role and you need to go about attracting candidates to apply for the role. The best way to think about this is to compare it to marketing and sales is. In marketing, what you're doing is you are attracting prospective customers to your product or service. You're helping them figure out if it's the right fit for their needs. You're negotiating with them. You're closing them.

The same thing happens in recruiting. You need to attract prospective candidates or prospective employees to the company. You are trying to figure out if they're a good fit for your needs and then you got to negotiate with them and close them. I think about attracting candidates is really lead generation for your recruiting process and we're going to use a bunch of techniques from marketing in our recruiting.

Now, if you're trying to attract a bunch of people to apply for your job, the absolute easiest way to do this is just become famous. If you think about Google, when Google puts a job description out for a software engineer, zillion people apply because they have such a strong reputation as being a great place to work for software engineers. When Southwest Airlines puts out a job posting for a new flight attendant, they get a zillion people applying for the same reason.

You can do the same thing and you should do the same thing, but you're probably thinking, "Mikey I can't be as famous as Google." The good news is you don't have to be Ben Affleck famous, you can be Casey Affleck famous. Casey Affleck is Ben's little brother. He's an actor, he's not a superstar, international superstar, but he's more of an indie film darling. You can be the same thing. You can be the darling in … Maybe you're at your geography you can be famous. Maybe it's your industry you can be famous, your community.

There's something special about your company. Whatever it is that's special about your company, that's what you can become famous for. How do you do this? How do you go about being famous for as a great place to work? Well, you do it exactly the same way you would go about trying to become famous for your products and services, which is you blog about it, you go to meet ups, you get the local press to write about you, get the industry press to write about you. Go speak at conferences. Organize and attend community events. All these things that you would normally do for your product and service, you should be doing to make your company and your work environment just as famous as your products and services.

Now, there is a group of people out there for whom you are already very famous, and that is your customers. Your customers are actually a great place to find candidates for your open positions. They already know your company, they love your company, they know your product and service, they love that, so they are primed. In fact, I have a buddy, he runs a software company. Whenever he needs a new customer support person, he just mentions it in his customer newsletter and then he gets a bunch of his customers who are applying to become support people and they know the product inside and out, because they use it all day every day. They make great customer service people. You should steal this idea.

Maybe your customers is a place to find prospective employees, but you're probably also going to do the old Internet job posting. I've got some tips for how to make your job postings the most effective. The first is you're not allowed to have generic job postings. Here's an example.

I pulled this off the Internet. This is just for an IT support person. Let me read a little bit of this to you. Incumbents are responsible for coordinating daily operational tasks on the computer, administering the applicable communication systems." I'm about to die. Boring. Awful job description. This is not exciting to anyone. Anyone who's interested in this job is desperate for a job. This is not a ninja who's going to be interested in this job.

In contrast, there's a movie theater here in town called Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. This is their job description for the exact same role. It says, "Hey, do you love movies and technology? Do all your friends call you for help when their computers aren't working? Do you love tinkering with cool technical projects at home? If you answered yes, we probably have the job for you. But, we want to hire a positive, friendly, helpful attitude people. If you even remotely resemble the grumpy IT stereotype, don't even bother apply." 

I love this. It's a great intro for a job description, because right away you don't have to know anything about this company, but you already know this is not a boring company. There's something fun and interesting about them, and there's probably an IT person sitting in an office somewhere surrounded by grumpy IT people saying "I got to get out of this place. I want to be valued for my helpful attitude. This is the place that's going to value me." No generic job descriptions. Make your job descriptions interesting. 

Second. The title of your job description is the most important part of your job description. Let's put our marketing hat back on. If you think about when you send an email blast to your customers, the most important thing in the email is the subject line, because that's what gets them to click and open the email. The same thing is true for your job description.

Here, I did a search just on the Internet for an accountant and look at these titillating job description titles. Staff accountant. Staff accountant. Senior staff accountant. Global staff account. They're all the same. It's boring. We don't want boring job descriptions. 

In the technology field, we have figured this out. Here is a set of job descriptions from a job board that focuses just on software developers. The first one says, "Developer to lead an open source project with social impact." The next one says, "An engineer changing the online education industry." I love the third one. "Making pizza restaurants more awesome." The last one. "I need an engineer for a next-generation cyber security program."

All of these job postings, they tell you a little bit more about the job. If you love pizza, one of these jobs is jumping out at you right now. Or if you're a nut for cyber security, there's one of these jobs you're going to click on first. When you're writing your job descriptions, make sure that you make them relevant to your ideal candidate. Add some more stuff and don't just give it the technical name of the job.

My third tip on job postings has to do with the page on your website where you talk about your company, the careers page. You got to make this page like an e-commerce product page. Here's an example. This is a company here in Austin called WP Engine. They're a website hosting company. They have over 500 employees and they designed their careers page to look like a product page for an e-commerce company.

They have a call to action but instead of buy now, it's apply now. They have testimonials from happy previous customers. In this case, these are employees who are happy that they took the job offer. They have a product overview video. The product is the culture of the company, so they have the founder and other people talking about what it's like to work there. They even have features and benefits. The benefits, the intangible benefits of working at this company. I love, love, love this idea. Go back home. Redesign your careers page to make it sell your company a little bit more. It's probably just a list of job openings. Put some posses in it. 

Okay. There's another way that you can find candidates, which is you can hire recruiters. I am fascinated by recruiters, because if you were to plot, say a distribution of the quality of a recruiter, you would expect it would be in a normal bell curve distribution. There would be some recruiters that are pretty sucky at their job. There would be some that are pretty good at their job, but you'd expect most people to be kind of average in the middle of the bell curve.

My experience is that, that is not the case and this is the actual distribution for recruiters. That they're all awful. If you're going to use a recruiter, and I do use recruiters, I've got a couple tips for using recruiters most effective. The first is you should think of recruiters as lead generation not as sales. What I mean by that is that your recruiter is going to tell you that they're going to help you find the candidate. Then they're going to help you assess them and figure out if they're a good fit for the role. Then they're going to help you negotiate and close the candidate.

You don't want them doing any of that. You just want them giving you candidates, lead generation. The sales part, you're gonna take care of. You are going to be better at assessing if they're a fit for the role. You're going to be better at figuring out if they're a culture fit for your company. You're going to make them fall in love during the interview process and you're going to be better at negotiating and closing. Just treat recruiters as a source of candidates.

My second tip is don't pay a percentage of the salary as the fee to the recruiter. Recruiters, this how they want to get paid. They get a percentage, 20%, 30% of the first year's salary, but the problem is it misalign  the incentives of the recruiter and of the hiring company, because they want the salary to be as high as possible because it makes their commission higher. You want the salary to be as low as possible for obvious reasons.

What I do is I negotiate a flat fee based on my budget for the role. It's still 20%, 30%, but not of the final salary number. It's of a budget. That way, at the very end, when bummed because I love fell in love with the candidate and I get to give him an extra 10 grand to close the deal, I'm not also giving the recruiter an extra piece of money. It's pre-negotiated what I'm paying. 

Now, we have filled our funnel with candidates and we need to move on to the step of assessing the candidate and figuring out if they're a fit for the role. At Blue Fish, we use a nine step process that most people think is overkill, but is freaking awesome. It's just like a marketing funnel. We get a lot of candidates in the top of the funnel and then we weed them out as we go through until at the very end we just have the ninjas are remaining.

I want to share with you the process that we use. In fact, I share the process with our candidates ourselves. We send our candidates this document that says, "What to expect from the Blue Fish interview process." It lists all the different steps they're going to have to jump through. Some candidates, they exit. They're like, "I don't want to do this. I can go work across the street and not have to jump through these hoops." I say, "That's great. There's no ninjas across the street, because the only way you get to find ninjas is by being very committed to assessment." What we find is our best candidates see this and they get more excited, because now there's a challenge.

Most people start their assessment process by looking at resumes. Not me. I think resumes are useless. The problem with resumes is that, number one, there's only good stuff on a resume. Nobody ever puts the bad stuff about themselves on their resume. In fact, if somebody gets fired from their job, they say, "I moved on to pursue other opportunities."

I don't like resumes for that reason and I also don't like them because it's very hard to compare apples to apples because everybody writes their resume differently. I don't start with a resume, I start with something called an application form. What this looks like, here's a picture of it on our website. It's literally just a form on your website where when someone submits their resume, they don't email it in, they attach it to this form and they have to answer a few questions as part of submitting the resume.

THe good news is you don't have to be a website expert for this. You can use applicant tracking software to do this for you. The product that I use is called Workable. It's very inexpensive. It's awesome, and it will allow you to define an application form for each different role with different questions for each role. It will take care of that sort of headache for you.

What kind of questions do I ask on my application form? The first is I ask questions about the requirements of the job. If it's a requirement that someone live in Austin, I ask, "Do you live in Austin or will you relocate?" If it's a requirement for someone to have a certain number of years experience, then I will ask him, "How many years of experience do you have?"

If it's a requirement that they have some certification like a CPA, I will ask, "When did you get your certification?" What's cool is that the software can automatically disqualify these candidates if they don't answer these questions properly, so I don't have to waste my time reviewing them if they aren't willing to relocate to Austin for example.

The other kind of question I ask in the application form are questions about the skills and talents of the particular role that I'm looking for. A quick aside, we just recruited for a senior HR leader like a chief people officer, and we had people applying for this job that were mortgage brokers and gas station attendants. People that are obviously not qualified. This application form is designed to weed those people out.

For example, if you were a customer support person, then we might ask you, "Hey, here is a sample inquiry from a customer. How would you reply to this inquiry?" Or for that HR person, we ask, "What's the most innovative thing you've done to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace?" We'll ask typically two or three easy to answer. We're not looking for them to spend hours on this, but easy to answer questions. The more entry-level the question, the role, the easier the question. The more senior the role, the harder the question get. We expect like a paragraph or two from a senior person.

This application form is our first choke point in the process to weed out candidates that are not going to be a fit for the company. If they're not going to take the time to answer a few questions or these questions will … It's obvious if they're not qualified. If they are qualified, if we like the answers, then we will open up the resume and look at their background and see who they are.

One of the benefits of this if you are interested in doing diversity hiring where you are blind to the gender and to the ethnicity of the employees, this is great because we don't even know their name really when we're looking at these application questions.

If you get past the application form, then we invite you for a screening interview. What I like to do with my screening interviews is they're 30 minutes long. I like to do them over a web video chat. What I find is that if I invite them into my office and I can tell in the first five minutes that they're not a fit. I got to spend all 30 minutes with them. Over web chat, I can wrap it up and move on to something else.

I do want it to be face-to-face. I want to see facial expressions, body language. I try not to do it over the phone if I can. The purpose of the screening interview is I want to make sure they're professional. I want to see how they communicate and I want to see if they have the skills for the role. 

I start out my screening interviews with a little small talk just to build rapport. I'll say, "Hey, give me a brief recap of your career. What did you like most about your last position and what are you looking for in your next position?" This is just about me … If they're looking for a role that is introverted where they get to sit in their desk all day but my role is very extroverted, talking to people, then this lets me see that there might be a potential mismatch in there.

What I spend most of my time on is what I call depth charge questions. I'm trying to figure out how deep is the candidate in the given subject matter required to perform the role. What I'll do is I'll come up with two or three hypothetical scenarios and I'll talk to the candidate about them. 

I'll just say, "Hey, how would you handle a situation where …" Then I lay out the scenario. Let's say that we're hiring for a customer support person. I'll say, "Hey, how would you handle the situation where you get an email coming in from a customer and they're very upset about the service that they received?" That's a pretty easy question for a customer service person to answer. They've probably dealt with that a lot, and so I want to hear what they say.

Then I'll say, "Okay, well, let me just make this a little bit more complicated. How would you handle it if that customer used a bunch of profanity in the email and said they were gonna write negative reviews about you on Yelp and social media?" Okay, that's a little bit of a harder question, and so I let them answer that.

Then I'll say, "Okay, well, let me make it even more complicated. Let's say this is one of your top 10 absolute best customers they spend the most money with you and in their email they call out the manager of the store location by name. They say if I ever see that guy in the parking lot, I'm gonna punch him in the face." That is a hard question. You got to be a very good person in customer service to be able to answer that question well.

That's what I try to do. I try to design three levels of depth charge to figure out how deep is the candidate. What I found is that in 30 minutes with two or three of these type of scenarios, I can eliminate a lot of people who are not ninjas just through that casual conversation.

The last thing I do in my screening interview, which is a thing that most companies I found don't do, is I clarify expectations about salary. I will ask, "Hey, what are your salary expectations for your next role?" I'm just trying to make sure. Even though it might have been on the job description, I just want to make sure that we're a match.

The heartbreaker is when you fall in love with the candidate, you get all the way through the process at the end, you realize they were expecting $50,000 more than you were budgeting. I address this upfront. In some states, this is an illegal question. You can actually ask about salary history. This is not about salary history, but almost everybody will tell you what they're making now. In California and some other states, that's not legal. In those states, I will ask, "Hey we have budgeted between X and Y for this position, is that gonna work for you?" Same goal. 

If I like them in the screening interview and if I didn't like them, I'll tell them right there, "Hey, I don't think you're a great fit. We're looking for somebody who's a little more extroverted. That feels like you told me that you really like sitting at your desk all the time, so I don't really think it's a fit." I'll just address it right there if I can.

If I like them, then I'll invite them to take the next step of our process which is the written interview. This is literally an essay test. Three, four, five questions in a word doc that I'll send to the candidate. I want to see how do they communicate in writing and then what do they have to say on a bit meatier topics when they have time to reflect on it rather than the bright lights of an in-person interview.

These questions are designed for the role and so I might ask a project manager, "Hey, describe the techniques you use for organizing and tracking the projects requirements." A marketing person I might take a newsletter that we've written and I might insert a bunch of typos and mistakes. I might send it to them and say, "Hey, proofread this for me and find all the mistakes that you can."

For an executive, I might ask, "Hey, what are the biggest challenges our industry is facing in the next three to five years?" Then for a manager or an executive, I love this question, I love to ask, "Hey, let's say we gave you the budget to hire a second-in-command. What part of the role would you keep for yourself and what part of the role would you delegate to someone else?" The reason this is a great question is it's a sneaky way to ask about someone's strengths and weaknesses. People will delegate away their weaknesses and they will keep their strengths for themselves. 

The written interview is the second choke point in the process where we weed out a lot of people from the written interview. Either their writing is awful or their answers are just not that good. One of the nice thing about this is you get the exact same questions, go to every candidate. It's very easy to do apples to apples comparisons, and it only takes me about 10 minutes to review a written interview document. Whereas if I ask these people these questions, that would be 30 minutes to an hour of my time, and so it makes for a very efficient processing.

If we like your interview, your written interview, we probably love you. At this point, we're kind of falling in love with you because we've screened you. You did great on the scenarios. You did great on the written. We want you to come in for what we call the gauntlet. This is our in-depth interview. It's a daylong interview process. You're going to meet a ton of people at Blue Fish. The goals of this are to assess the skills, the attitude, the superpowers. Make sure you're a culture fit and then make you fall in love with us so that when we make you the offer, you are going to say yes.

The best way to achieve these goals is to set a high bar. What we found is that when we push the candidates, when we challenge them, when we ask them tough questions, our ninjas, the ninjas we're looking for, they like that. They respond. They're excited that if they get through the process, they know on the other side the whole company is going to get the people who went through the challenging process.

The day starts 9:00 in the morning with what we call our panel interview. This is a super awesome way to interview. We take three Blue Fishers, we put them in a conference room with the candidate and we go round-robin and take turns asking questions. Each Blue Fisher has been assigned some area to assess, and they kind of create their own questions. We have a database. A little Google Doc full of questions that they can pull from. Each interviewer is charged with assessing a certain leadership competency or superpower or something like that.

We just go around in the circle. First Blue Fisher ask a question, then the second, then the third. Then the candidate gets a chance to ask one of us a question. We just go around until we run out of time or run out of questions. 

One of the things that we do in the panel interview is we make the Blue Fishers … We are conscious about our interactions with each other. We try to make them fun and authentic, so we tease each other and we laugh. We're trying to give the candidate a sense of what it might be like to work here in a collaborative manner, because there's three people and it just makes it a little more informal than a formal one on one across the table interview.

The other thing that's great about this panel interview is that all three people are listening to the answers to all the questions and all three people are building rapport with the candidate at the same time, which helps later on in our process. 

Some tips for having a great panel interview. These are some of my favorite interview questions to ask in this format. Now, every company likes to ask the obligatory, "What are your greatest strengths and your biggest weaknesses," question. I hate that question because it has a rehearsed answer. Somebody always says, "Oh, my greatest weakness is I just worked too hard. I'm just so dedicated." 

It's a BS answer. Instead, what we ask is a TORC, threat of reference check. What we'll do is we'll say, "Hey, give me the contact information for your current supervisor. We are going to call this person. If you make it through the process, we are going to reference check this person. Did I spell their name right in the email? Is this really their phone number?" You're really dialing it in.

Then you ask, "When I call this person …" Not if. "When I call this person, what will they tell me about your last performance review?" What that does, it does two things. One, they can't quite make something up because now they're going to get checked when you call the person. Second, it shifts their mind out of creative mode and how do I make my weaknesses seems not so weak, and it shifts their mind in a memory mode, which is a lot harder to lie when you're remembering something. This is super awesome technique.

Another question I like to ask, I call it the scale of 1 to 10. Let's say for example I'm trying to assess detail oriented. That's one of the competencies that is needed, a superpower that is needed. I'll ask, "So Sally, on a scale of zero to 10, how detail oriented are you?" A very simple question. Almost every candidate will answer a high number, eight or nine or 10. 

Then I'll reply, "Wow, that's way higher than average. What are some examples? Give me two or three examples of how you are way more detail oriented than your peers." Now, they're stuck. Either they have good examples or they have bad examples. I had asked this question to somebody and she said, "Well, if you came to my house and you opened up my kitchen cabinets, you'd see that every shelf is labeled sugar, flour, exactly where everything goes. If you went into my bedroom, you'd see all my clothes are organized by color." I was like, "Yeah, you're a 10. Yup, I believe you."

Okay. Another thing I like to do in the panel is I like to pick a fight with the candidate. What I mean by that is I have a question or two where I can argue either side of the answer. No matter what they answer, I'm going to argue the opposite. I'm just trying to see how do they deal with that, because in real life if you're working for me, I'm going to argue with you about what the best way to achieve something is. This is a real-life thing that happens in our company. If you can't take it, if you can't argue back with me, you're not a fit. I want to see do they cower because I'm in a position of authority? Do they earnestly try to convince me? Can I convince them? This is a great technique.

Then finally, anytime you interview in multiple people interviewing one person, you got to have what I call a kill switch question, which is a question that I can ask and it tells my other interviewers, "I'm vetoing this candidate, I hate this candidate. There's no way we're hiring this candidate. Let's get out of this meeting as quickly as possible and get back to the rest of our day."

At the movie theater, Alamo Draft House, the kill switch question is, "What's your favorite movie?" It seems like it's an appropriate question for a movie theater to ask, but it's actually the kill switch. What will happen is the candidate will answer and then it will go to the next interviewer and that person will say, "Well, I'm all out of questions." We'll wrap up.

At the end of the panel interview, the interviewers all huddled in a corner and we all vote yes or no. "Does this person move on to the next step of the day?" We've told the candidate this is going to happen. The best candidates actually enjoy it. We'll come back and they'll say, "So did I get to stay or should I hit the road?" We'll vote yes or no and if we vote yes, you move on to the second step of the process, which is our skills assessment.

This is a one-on-one interview, one hour long and it's about the skills, technical or functional skills necessary to do the job. We make sure this person conducting this interview was in the panel so they already have rapport with the candidate. They don't have to learn about the background. They don't have to take time for that. They just hit the ground running, get on the whiteboard or whatever and assess the skills.

Sometimes, you're hiring for a role where you don't have the expertise to know whether or not they're good at the job or not. When this happens, I just bring … I will hire a consultant from outside to do the skills interview. That's how I handle that situation.

After the skills, we send the candidate to lunch with a whole new group of Blue Fishers. Typically, three or four people will take the candidate to lunch. This is not a hard-hitting part of the interview. There's no prearranged questions. We ask one question of the Blue Fishers when they get back. "Hey, do you ever want to go to lunch with this person again?" That's it. If the answer is yes, they can move on. If the answer is no, they're out of there.

After lunch is the next step of our process, which is the practical. This is the most controversial part of our of our process and the most helpful. What the practical is, is we try to simulate the real job that you'd be doing at the company. If you are a developer, a software developer, we have you sit down and write code for an hour and a half. We give you a little coding challenge and we have you write code.

If you are a project manager, we tell you to bring in your status report from your latest project that you've been working on and they present it to us and we act as a … We role-play with them or we act like the stakeholders and we poke and prod and try to see if the project manager really understands everything that's going on in the project. 

If you're a salesperson, we will say, "If you were not interviewing for us today, you would be cold calling prospects, so bring your list of prospects for your current employer and cold call in front of us and we're just gonna sit here quietly in the room and we're going to listen to you cold call for 90 minutes." A lot of salespeople will tell you they know how to cold call and they're good at it and whatever but you'll find out very quickly just by listening to even just the one side of the conversation, you can find out if they really are a cold caller or not.

Whatever the role is, we design a practical to suss out the superpowers and do they know how to do the job. This is the third choke point in the process. A lot of people we like in the panel interview, but they get to the practical and then their skills don't match up. 

If you get through the practical, you move on to the last step of the day, which is the executive interview. Two-person interview, hour-long, CEO with the company, head of the department that the person is going to report to. Our employees tell us this is the best part of the day for them because they typically there don't get to hang out with the CEO and ask questions about the future of the company and have that vision painted for them. We put this at the end of the day so the CEO doesn't have to meet with every single person, because some of them are getting ejected along the way.

In fact, the CEO sometimes is rooting for the person to get ejected so they can have that hour of their day back. The goals of this interview, two things, one is we want to dig into any concerns that cropped up over the course of the day. Maybe something came up in the practical and we liked the person enough but we're still worried about one thing. We'll tell the execs and they'll dig into it.

The second is we're trying to make this candidate fall in love selling the company because at this point, we pretty much want to make you an offer. We do a little mini panel round-robin just like we do the original panel. At the end of the executive interview, we want to make you hire probably. At some point in the process, we got to do a reference check, but reference checks are awful because the person that you're calling for the reference check is obviously friendly with the candidate or you would have never gotten their name.

They're trying to get this candidate this job and they don't really give you the straight scoop. I solved this problem by not calling it a reference check. What I do is I call the person and the first words out of my mouth are, "Hey Bob, thanks for taking the time to meet with me. We've decided to make Sally an offer. We think she's great. We're making her an offer." 

Right now, the pressure is off of Bob. Bob is not trying to convince me to hire Sally. Then I say, "What I was hoping to get out of the call today was I was hoping that you could give me some advice on how to manage her most effectively." Now, it's turned from a reference check into, "Hey, just help a brother out man. I'm going to be hiring her. Manager to manager, give me some advice." 

The kinds of questions I'll ask are, "Hey, what kind of advice can you give me about managing her effectively? What are the best ways to motivate her and what demotivates her? Does she do better with a detailed set of instructions or is she better you just give her a high-level goal and let her go tackle it?" These are all the same kinds of things you'd ask in a real reference check, but they're positioned in a way that you'll actually get a more truthful, honest, practical answer.

Now, we love the candidate. Reference checks checked out. We want to make the candidate an offer. I have some tips for how to make the best offer. The first is you got to make the offer in person. You cannot do this via a PDF, email to the candidate, that's awful. You need this person looking at you in person. We'll often do this at the end of the executive interview. If we decided that we want to make the offer, we'll do it right there, but you got to do it in person so you can see the facial expression. You can see the body language.

Second, get the candidate to pre-commit to working for you before you make the offer. What we do is I'll say, "Sally, you killed it today. Everybody loved you. You've just aced the practical. Your written interview questions were awesome. Everybody loved you at lunch. We want you to come work here. What are you thinking?" Sally will either say, "Yes, I want to work here." Or Sally will say, "Well, I think I need to think about it, go talk to my family." That sort of thing.

I'll say, "Great. When you have decided that you want to come work here, you let me know and I'll make you an offer. I'm ready to make you an offer once you tell me that you're ready to work here." What I'm trying to do here is I'm removing the details of the offer from the emotional decision of does she want to work for us or not. She spent all day with us for crying out loud. She probably knows whether she likes us or not. That's key.

Then I will make the offer in verbally and I'll get verbal agreement. I'll do a verbal negotiation right on the spot. If she says, "Yes, I want to work here." I'll say, "That's awesome. Let me tell you what that would look like. We're going to offer you this base with this bonus. You're going to work for Fred over here. Your tile is going to be this. You're going to need this much vacation." Then she can say, "Oh, I was really hoping for an extra week of vacation. I have an extra week at my current job." You'll say, "Oh, yeah, extra week, that sounds great. I tell you what, you work here for six weeks, you kick ass, we'll throw an extra week of vacation or whatever it is."

You negotiate in person back and forth what I call high-bandwidth communication. You get the whole offer agreed rather than back and forth through a recruiter, there's a middleman. Oh my God, kill me. I just want to talk to the person.

Then the final thing you have to do is you have to block the counteroffer, because there will be a counter offer from her current employer, because she is a ninja. That current employer doesn't have very many ninjas, they're very rare, so you're stealing their ninja and they're going to put up a fight. The way you block the counteroffer is you just ask the candidate. "What do you think is going to happen when you walk in on Monday and resign?" You just talk through it with the candidate. You just role-play a little bit with.

We'll say, "What are you going to say when they make you a counteroffer?" A lot of times, the candidate will say, "Oh, that won't happen." "Oh, yes, it's going to happen because you're freaking awesome and they're not going to let you go." You give a stroke and you force the candidate to role-play with you.

I will say, "What happens, you walk in, you resign and your boss says, 'You know what? We can't afford to lose you. We're going to give you a promotion and a big fat raise.' What are you going to say?" You're just hoping that the candidate will think through it there with you rather than the first time they're think about this in the room with their current boss. 

Oftentimes, the candidate will sit there and think about it, and because you did such good work on the emotional side of getting her excited about working for you, she'll say, "No, it's time for me … I don't care what they offer. It's time for me to move on. I don't like the direction of the company." She'll start justifying it, but now she has all those justifications queued up in her mind for when it actually happens.

After the offer, she accepts the offer. We got to do a couple of things after the offer just to put the cherry on top. The first is pretty underhanded I have to admit, but it's the old gift for the spouse. What we'll do is we'll get the offer signed back. We'll send a bottle of wine gift basket. Tickets to a show, something like that. We'll send to the spouse with a card. It will say, "Hey Larry, we love Sally. Thank you for sharing Sally with us. She's a rock star. We cannot wait for her to be part of our family and we can't wait to meet you either." Now, I got the spouse on my side, right? That counteroffer comes in, the spouse loves us. No company does this. This is the easiest way to form that bond instantly with the new employee's family. 

The second thing that you got to do after the offer is you need to make the first day wonderful. Most companies start new employees on a Monday. It's the worst day to start a new employee. It's chaos. Mondays are chaos. You're preparing for the whole week. At Blue Fish, everybody starts on a Tuesday. Monday would be the chaos day, Tuesday is the day where you can actually spend time with the new candidate or with the new employee at this point.

We celebrate the arrival of the new employee. We will decorate the office, big sign that says, "Welcome to Blue Fish." We tie balloons onto the chair. We take the candidate out to lunch with the whole team. We have a happy hour after their first day. We invite the spouse to come celebrate with us. The goal is you want that candidate leaving saying, "Hey, it's the first day of work, everybody loves me already." That's what I have to share with you about hiring a world-class team.

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