Hire Right – Every Time

Tried and tested tips for interviewing candidates

I have been blessed to work with some fantastic teams over my career. I feel like my current teams at Pragmatic Works are real dream teams! As we grew quickly, not everyone was the right fit and, with hindsight, I believe we could have avoided those situations, which would have been better for all involved. Having someone leave your firm is never a good situation because it means that all involved probably could have done something better. I want to share a special credit to Mike Davis (@mikedavissql) who has helped us mature this process over the years!

Hiring and onboarding people on to your team is an incredibly important process. I’ve written more on onboarding here in my article “The Four C’s of Successful Onboarding.” Today we’re talking about how we get the right people through the hiring and screening process. Hiring the right person can exponentially increase your return on investment over the average tenure of an employee.
Maximizing our Hiring Process

Interviewing and hiring is a time-consuming process, and since Pragmatic Works offers positions to fewer than 1% of the people who come into our funnel, it used to consume a lot of valuable time from my leadership team. That isn’t because the candidates were unqualified. Many of them were smart, experienced professionals, but for one reason or another, they weren’t quite what we needed. Let’s take a look at what we do now – after years of experience improving our hiring process.

Reduce time spent and increase results!


Don’t leave hiring to HR
Your team is a personal thing. These are the people you’re trusting to help you think through tough problems and create new exciting things. You’ll be in the trenches together, so go out and help HR find the right people. Reach out to your networks and your team’s networks to find ideal candidates.

Does HR have the relationships to bring you the right candidates?
Would you trust something this important to anyone else?


Get people face to face
I would never hire anyone we haven’t met face to face. Technology makes this very easy today. Even if we have to do it like this:

This clip is one of my favorite scenes in a movie ever!

How can you get people face to face easily and quickly?
What are you looking for when they are face to face?


Prioritize personal referrals
When a candidate comes in from someone you know, move them to the top of the pile. Be careful to set the expectation with the referrer that just because they referred them, they still might not be the right fit. That said, a personal referral from someone who knows you or has worked with you in the past might be gold since that person knows what you’re looking for and who will work well with you.

Has this worked for you in the past?
Who is most likely to know good candidates for you?


Create a process to pre-screen
Create a simple quiz, pre-test or something that is relevant to the job. We also use an aptitude test that tests a mix of personality, emotional intelligence and communication skills. We picked these because they are some of the most important things to being successful with our firm.
What is most important to your team?

What ways could you easily prescreen candidates?
Could they self-screen using today’s technology?

Ask them real questions
That video still cracks me up! I promise we won’t ask you what you’ll do if you’re the size of a nickel. I respect their process, and I admit we have one or two of those oddball questions that we may ask when hiring for senior roles to see how they think about things, but they are limited and asked at the very end. Focus on questions that will help you see how your candidate will approach problem-solving or creating.

What do you want your team to do well?
What could they add to your team that it’s missing?

interview image

See how they work
Sometimes we have the opportunity to hire someone on a contract basis before bringing them onto our team full-time. Other times we create opportunities to have them create something or do a small project so we can see:

1.    Attention to detail
2.   Communication skills
3.   Timeliness
4.   Overall quality of work
5.   Interaction with the group doing the project

We have found these to be good indicators of how a candidate will do on our team.

What are you looking for when you review someone’s work?
How did they do it differently than you would have imagined?


Never interview alone
While final decisions are usually mine, I don’t make them without consensus from my leadership team. Create specific audiences for those conversations, compare notes and carefully consider the thoughts and suggestions from your team members.

Who would be a good group to participate in this?
How can you help them each think about this person in their way?


Create a standard-ish for evaluating candidates
Use a standard to evaluate candidates but leave room for their personality or experience to shine through. I look for people who have kept customers happy before in a service industry, including bartenders, servers, retail managers, etc. Tough jobs that, when done successfully, give lifetime customer service skills.

What are you looking for in your candidates?
What makes this candidate stand out from all the other qualified great people in your process?


Focus on creating relationships
It might not work out. It might not be the right fit. We try to leave each candidate that makes it through our interview process with a path to professional development. That means in many cases, we have suggested tools, courses and, in some cases, given them access to some of our internal resources to help them improve themselves. Many of those people have applied again months later and we hired them! Yay!

How are you creating relationships with candidates over time?
What are you doing to be compassionate and helpful to all your candidates?

Once you’ve hired the right people, then you need to onboard them. For more on that check out my article “The Four C’s of Successful Onboarding.” Don’t forget to join the conversation by following me on Twitter @wadamj.


I want to learn from you! What is the one best thing you’ve seen or done to find the right people for your organization?

Let me know in the comments below.  I’ll post a follow up with credit to the best ones submitted!

3 Steps to Take Back Your Time

Identify and reduce daily time wasters

If you’re anything like me, your day is packed with more things than you can hope to finish. Your to-do list is never all scratched off and likely looks something like this.

to-do list

There are lots of “solutions” for this. Programs like Getting Things Done are useful if you’re willing to adopt them. The bottom line is: time management is a myth.

Life revolves around a series of priorities and at best, your time-allocating, but your not time-managing.


To further prove my point: From Dictionary.com

Allocate – verb (used with object), allocated, allocating.
1. to set apart for a particular purpose; assign or allot

Manage – verb (used with object), managed, managing.
1.  to bring about or succeed in accomplishing, sometimes despite difficulty or hardship.
2.  to take charge or care of:  to manage my investments.
3.  to dominate or influence (a person) by tact, flattery, or artifice.
4.  to handle, direct, govern, or control in action or use.
5.  to wield (a weapon, tool, etc.).

So now we know that your to-do list is just helping you track all those things you believe need time-allocated.

How do we take control of our time?

Step 1 – Take a hard look at your priorities.

Do you know what your priorities are?
How much time do you spend working outside of those priorities?
Are your priorities aligned with those around you?

Reviewing them is easier to do when you’ve clearly identified them. Many of my team members have used my Foundational Five framework, which I wrote about previously. You need to understand when you should be saying yes, and more importantly, when you should be saying no.

Step 2 – Perform Calendar Triage

What meetings do you have that you don’t need to have?
What meetings are you in where you’re not adding value?
What are not able to accomplish because of these meetings?
Have you set calendar-specific work time for priority items each week?
Have you set aside time for thinking and planning?

I do this once a quarter and usually can cut several meetings. I also find opportunities for setting time aside to try new things that have become a priority and push other things out of my top five focus areas. I also do my best to make sure my team at Pragmatic Works isn’t working on something that isn’t a clear shared priority. I’ll give myself a B+ on that.  :)

If you don’t set the time aside for the right things, it won’t get done.

Step 3 – Who is wasting your time?

Do you have interactions, projects or meetings with people that are not productive and are taking up your or your team’s time?

Now is the time to sit down with those people and discuss how to make your time together more productive, action-friendly and focused. Look for ways to make these interactions worthwhile for all parties or politely suggest that you decrease the frequency to allow for more opportunities to surface. You may even need to reduce the frequency to zero.

What are the biggest time wasters of your day? Share with us in the comments below. I will compile a list of the top 10 and share them in an upcoming post!

Leadership Checklist for New Leaders

Start strong, get equipped and get going!


I’ve been blessed with opportunities to work with many different kinds of teams over the years. Big and corporate, small startups, church and nonprofit – they all have pros and cons. An industry publication interviewed me recently and asked me about the first things I always do when I take over a new team. I thought that was a pretty useful question, so I’m sharing my list here and looking for yours in the comments or on Twitter @wadamj.

12-Step Program for New Leaders

#1 – Assess your team – Get in there are understand how your team operates, where their skills are and what they struggle with. You’ll need this context to help them align moving forward! Learn more about hiring the right team here. 

#2 – Understand the vision and goals of the company  – Make sure you understand the goals of your company and your team’s role in contributing to those. You’ll need to be able to communicate these clearly to your team. Are you ready to do this?

#3 – Practice communicating vision and goals in a way that makes them real to your team – You need to practice relating those goals and the vision for the company to your team. Make sure you can relate it to their own needs and goals.

#4 – Work with team members to understand their goals and align them to company vision – Make sure you understand each person’s goals on your team. You’ll need to make sure to align their goals to company goals and help them see their vision alongside the vision of the company. More about serving your team in my post on servant leadership. 

#5 – Create a vision for your team’s impact on company goals – Create a plan for your team for the next 90 days and first 6 months. Set reasonable check-in timelines, so your team knows when they need to reach key milestones.

#6 – Create a method for self-assessment – Create a way for your team to evaluate themselves and determine how they need to improve. This is as simple as a list of short questions focused around their goals to help them keep the right focus across their goals.

#7 – Set up 1:1’s and create a plan for each team member – Make sure you’re not leaving your team to progress in a vacuum. Make sure you have regular check-ins scheduled. These should not be just project updates, but should be driven by progress on goals, relationships and roadblocks.

#8 – Get teammates working together to spur productive collaboration – The best way to get teams communicating is to get them working together on something. Find opportunities to make this happen. This is definitely a priority!

#9 – Define outcomes and recommendations for achieving them – Once you have a handle on the team, and they have their goals, work on backing down from specific expectations. Instead, focus the team on desired outcomes and the guidance for achieving them. This means less managing and more leading. You need to trust your team. Trust, verify and guide. Learn more about outcomes in my post here. 

#10 – Set goals for yourself – Don’t spend all your time on your team. You need to determine what your success measurement looks like and set goals for yourself. Communicate some of these to your stakeholders and team to have them hold you accountable. More on creating your leadership checklist in my post here. 

#11 – Create a method for assessing yourself – Make sure you outline your goals in a way that you can self-assess each week. I recommend a series of 5-10 questions to help you reframe your perspective on your week.

#12 – Make sure you’re regularly communicating with your stakeholder community – With all of this work happening, you need to make sure to let people know. Your stakeholders, bosses and peers will help guide you as you move forward. Make sure to talk to them and over-communicate before your under-communicate! This is another top recommendation in my leadership checklist. 

I hope these 12 steps are helpful for you.

What are your priorities when you start a new leadership role?

There are many, so let’s get a good discussion going in the comments or @wadamj.

See you out there – Adam