The inverted hiring process: Does it work?

hiring process

Yesterday, I made the selection decision for a new publication’s editor. Will my choice be good? I cannot be 100 per cent confident of any future hire, but experience over the past 30 years has taught me the system I use is pretty reliable.

Stage 1 — Advertise the opportunity, inexpensively

There’s a specialized job board for Canadian journalists, Jeff Gaulin’s Job Board.?It is highly focused, obviously, and the fee — while a little more than “free” — is a sustainable $100.00.

For other occupations, I’ve had some success with the Canadian government’s Job Bank”(free) and (online service — they’ll encourage you to pay for listing priority — but you don’t need to do this unless you wish.)

Stage 2 — Invite virtually all candidates to complete a brief test/paid evaluation process after an extremely light resume screening process

At this point, I don’t read resumes except for obvious serious disqualifiers. These could be people offshore who clearly cannot obtain a Canadian work permit, or resumes/cover letters with glaring problems (bad grammar on a cover letter for a writer would be a killer, of course.)

The test will vary depending on the work. I discovered a multiple-choice “bookkeeper’s test” that asks questions that only a bookkeeper would care to know and answer. For salespeople, I administer a sales aptitude/orientation test. We use one now devised by a former consultant; but there are online options that cost about $25 to $30 per person.

For writers, administrators, and where possible, other employee categories, we try to devise some sort of paid working assignment. I give writers the challenge of developing a couple of story ideas and writing some freelance articles. Administrators would be called in for a day or two of temporary work. Salespeople are more challenging because of the lead time for effective sales, but often I will set a week or two paid assignment with a reasonable follow-through period for the work to be completed.

Stage 3 — Shortlist review

By this stage, the mass of potentials will be down to one, two, or three names. Little time is wasted on people who fire off dozens of resumes without any expectation of success; they almost never respond to the questionnaire or accept the trial assignment. And others who say they will do the trial project, fail on it, either because they don’t complete it or they do a terrible job.

At this point, I bring out the resumes again, review them, and arrange for a brief phone interview.? My goal at this stage is to determine the relationship/chemistry and, notably, to invite the candidates to tell me how much money they need. (I have a budget but try to avoid volunteering pay rates until I hear from the candidates.)

Stage 4 — Selection and post-selection review

Now we have our finalist. At this point, I’ll validate references, and generate an employment contract drafted by our lawyer. These contracts are important in Canada because of common-law provisions that are totally in favor of the employee, especially if you need to dismiss them after many years of employment. The severance penalties can be huge, and drain a business already suffering in a downturn.

So how did it work out this time?

We had about 30 applicants for the writing work. I invited about 25 of them to take on the trial assignment, and four or five said they were interested. Three failed to complete the assignment (one after explicitly saying he would work on it and was aware of the deadline). That left two names in the pot.

I called both of them, and both suggested salary requirements somewhat higher than I had expected. But in retrospect, the amount they were seeking isn’t that unreasonable (though my management salary is, I realize, now unreasonably low.)

Here is where the story takes a twist. Last year, as we were first developing this publication idea, I received an inbound inquiry from someone I had known as a public relations person for one of the major provincial trade unions. His writing was always far better than any that I had seen from others with similar responsibilities. As well, he had a solid background in journalism within the industry — he was in fact several years ago (and therefore not in conflict now) the managing editor the major competing publication. But we weren’t ready to hire anyone then.

I sent him an email. Yes, he would be available for work when we needed the position to be filled. I called and asked his income/salary expectations. He cited a number similar to the other two candidates. So I offered to take things forward with him, starting with some freelance assignments.

Obviously, I threw some of my rules out the window here but this somewhat lengthy narrative shows the concept in practice. I consider resumes and interviews to be minor tools in the hiring/selection process — they are more validators than substantive. I like to see real work and measurable results in the evaluation stage. And accordingly, I don’t waste much time on the hiring process, while giving every reasonable candidate a fair shot at the opportunity.

What do you think? Can you poke holes in the approach here, or do you have your own, better, selection/hiring system?? Please feel free to share your thoughts as a comment (see below) or send an email to me at

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