An Overview of the 21st-Century Hiring Process

Orin Davis
6 min readFeb 27, 2019

Hiring in the 21st Century is all about making sure that your company has a solid talent pool within, and many delightful tributaries that feed into it from without. Your talent pool is a direct extension of your value proposition, because the people in your company are the ones who are executing upon it! As such, your team should be consonant with your brand, and so should your culture, and your hiring should be a simple extension of your brand, culture, and value proposition.

A friend of mine once described a recruiting strategy used by a consulting firm, pointing out that the company ensures that all interviewees, even the ones who are rejected, have a good opinion of the firm. The reason, he explained, is that anyone who does not join that consulting firm may still end up in a position to influence whether or not another company will hire them to consult. And this makes plenty of sense; anyone who is sufficiently talented to get an interview at the consulting firm is also talented enough to take a job at a company that may become a client. Also, not being the right hire in that moment doesn’t preclude someone from being the best person for a future position and/or knowing someone who would be the ideal candidate for the position.

I have already written about how to get the right talent in the door and how to review applicants, so here I provide an overview of an effective 21st Century hiring process.

1) Understand your company

Make sure that your company has all of the following:

  1. A clearly articulated value proposition that is unique to the company
  2. A document that details the culture and values of the company that employees actually buy into and believe in
  3. A defined perspective on talent and fit that lets anyone in the company know how to identify a good cultural fit when interviewing a candidate
  4. You remembered to address diversity and inclusion in the two items above, right? (If not, here’s a cheat sheet:

2) Understand the position

Consider all of the following:

  1. What are the needs of the position today?
  2. How will this position change in accordance with the company’s strategy and plan for the future?
  3. What are the skills/metaskills needed for the new hire to produce the requisite deliverables?

(Need a hint? Here’s how to write a job description)

3) Start the hiring process by determining whether candidates have the right skills and metaskills

If you are planning to test candidates for essential competencies, this is the time to do it. There is no point in looking at a resume or cover letter, or in doing any kind of interview, if you have questions about whether the candidate is qualified.

A few rules for assessing candidates:

  1. 1 hour at maximum (does not include gathering existing materials for a portfolio)
  2. A formal agreement that, if candidates produce anything that can be used for revenue generation, the candidate will be compensated
  3. State the criteria against which candidates will be assessed so that they know what to show
  4. Confirm that the test is culture-fair and EEOC/ADA compliant, as relevant
  5. Make sure that it is obvious to the candidate that the questions being asked are related to the job
  6. Personality and strengths tests are ill-advised, as any personality/strength combination can do any job, but if you use any, make sure that candidates are very clear about how you will use them in the hiring process (hint: unless you are using the personality/strengths test for future job crafting, don’t bother). Do not, under any circumstances, remove a candidate from your pool based on a personality/strengths test!

4) Review the resume as if it were a portfolio (or just review a portfolio)

There are a number of items people put on a resume that don’t matter, and it’s important to take them all off the table:

  1. GPA
  2. Major
  3. University attended
  4. Location
  5. Name

Even the names of the companies where they used to work and their job titles should be taken with a grain of salt, if included at all. The reason is that most of these items are a function of luck, genetics, class, and/or network, which has nothing to do with actual talent, experience, or requisite skills (which you already assessed anyway).

Your main focus on the resume should be the experiences that the candidate has, and how they compare to the opportunities that were available to them (this is the best use of the company name). Use this round to determine whether the candidate has experience producing key deliverables, shows some evidence of growth potential and a good work ethic, and indicators of depth and breadth (among other details). Also consider whether the candidate has experiences that reflect having the requisite judgment and insight to handle the range of situations that is likely encountered on the job.

5) Run a phone screen OR look at cover letters (not both!)

By now, you should be down to 20 candidates at absolute maximum. The next step is assessing motivation and connection to the company. Either through cover letters or phone screens, ascertain the following:

  1. Why do they want to work for you?
  2. Do they understand what the company is about?
  3. Can they explain why the company’s culture and value proposition are resonant for them?

Whether in a phone screen or a cover letter, candidates should know in advance what they need to address and how you are going to assess their responses.

6) Conduct in-person interviews

There is a lot to say about conducting interviews (start here; more here), but the main point is to give both you and the candidates the opportunity to do the following:

  1. Connect — anyone who can get this far is almost certainly worth knowing
  2. Assess fit — remember that both sides are doing this!
  3. Jointly craft your (plural!) vision for the job — create a fit between the candidate’s best offerings and the company’s needs

Priority #1 is to make sure that the candidate has a great experience!

7) Make and communicate hiring decisions

If you did this process correctly, you now have a really hard choice to make. I advise companies always to hire as many candidates as fit, if only because the costs of hiring are so high that it is often worthwhile to hire ahead of needs. But, if you absolutely must hire only one person, then confirm with the candidate and then get back to the others in a timely fashion. Anyone you choose not to hire should be getting feedback, and anyone you actually liked should be invited for coffee/lunch to keep the connection going and the talent pool hot.

Why Companies Don’t Use Effective Hiring Processes

While the process for effective hiring is pretty simple in its scheme, the execution is far from easy. Any one of these tasks can take tens of hours to do well (at least the first time — it gets much quicker with practice), and many companies require outside help to update their hiring. This is a pretty sizeable investment of time, money, and resources, often for a hard-to-quantify outcome (strong talent pool, good work, strong culture) whose ROI is consequently hard to measure. In turn, this makes companies reluctant to turn away from the easy, tried-and-true, but hopelessly flawed 20th Century hiring system.

Though they don’t want to admit it out loud, these companies are OK with mediocrity. They are OK with the minimum getting done, not being able to promote internally, a lack of diversity, and a weak talent pool. They think they will have no problem getting warm butts to put in chairs because there are far too many people who want a job. After all, anyone with at least a flea’s intelligence can do the job, right? More realistically, these companies think that anyone who sat in a chair for four years while a bunch of professors talked at them and then didn’t completely screw things up for X number of years can totally do the job. These firms just need to tread water, hold tight, and keep on producing the same way they have always been, because innovate or die is just a myth.

If that paragraph isn’t how you want your company described, start updating your hiring.



Orin Davis

Self-actualization engineer who makes workplaces great places to work. PI at Quality of Life Lab ( Consultant. Professor. Startup Advisor.