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The Dumbest Hiring Hack You’re Using

There is an ancient proverb that says, “The best ideas always come from the oldest person in the room.” Wait, no there isn’t.


Well at least the best ideas always come from the most established companies.


No? Guess not.


You see, experience is just that – experience. It’s not skill. It’s not lessons learned. It’s not proof that someone has squeezed every ounce of wisdom out of their last ten years of employment.


So why are you still disqualifying job candidates based on experience?


Hiring is a game of long odds. Really long odds. Hiring based on years of experience is like betting on the oldest race horse at the track. Not the most brilliant strategy.


If you’ve limited applicants to those with “X – Y years experience” I have likely said something shocking. In fact, I may have upset you.
Your argument may sound something like this: “But Rex, we get a lot of applicants. Hundreds or even thousands. If we don’t use experience to whittle them down, we will be inundated with interviews and we’ll never hire anyone!”


I’m certainly not suggesting you interview every applicant or even read every single resume that crosses your desk. That’s a terrible plan.


If you’re hiring sales reps, you need to consider the enormous cost of a bad hire (especially true for startups). It is a lot more than you think.


If you’re hiring for any other position, here are two solutions you may want to consider:


1. Skills testing

You want to know which horse to bet on? Take it for a lap around the track!

“Unscalable!” you say. “I can’t possibly test every candidate!” Well, it turns out for sales positions, you really can. Here’s a technique I used with one of my current clients, and it cut down on the amount of time spent pouring over resumes, plus increased the value of first interviews:

  1. Before reviewing resumes, have all candidates leave a 30-second voicemail on your phone explaining why they’re a good potential hire.
  2. If they sound good (a critical skill in sales), review their resume for critical data. 
  3. If their resume passes muster, schedule a phone interview.
  4. If they pass the phone interview, schedule a face-to-face interview.
  5. If they pass the face-to-face interview, send them some homework to complete (usually writing a cold call script and cold email template for a particular type of prospect).

Now tell me that’s not scalable!


2. Cover letters

Seriously, Rex? Those old things?


Yes, skeptical reader. Cover letters.


There’s a reason they aren’t called “useless afterthoughts” or “things that protect the resume.”


Read through cover letters. That’s where applicants have to sell you on their fit with your company and the position they’re applying for. If they convince you, they’re one step closer to an interview. If they don’t, even in the first paragraph, put their resume in the reject pile. (Don’t throw away that pile yet – this isn’t a perfect solution so you may need them later.)


That’s one step a lot of employers skip. Heck, some don’t even require a cover letter at all!


Hopefully before reading this you had some inclination that the oldest horse wasn’t always the safest bet. Maybe you saw one (or several) of your young employees contribute some great ideas at a planning session. You might have noticed an up and coming rep who’s outperforming the more experienced salespeople.


If that’s the case, I hope this pushed you over the edge. I don’t think I’ll convert everyone to predictive hiring or cover letter reading. Some people just won’t believe me.


But I’ve seen the data. I’ve seen what happens when a skilled rookie gets trained for the job. And the results are a lot better than hiring for experience and trying to train for skills and culture.


All this being said, I readily admit that some positions require experience as a matter of qualification. I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor who hadn’t been through the arduous experience of medical school. But then, I can change doctors without costing my family six months of training, salary, and benefits.

So what’s your hiring strategy? Do you read cover letters or not even require them? What’s worked for you?

Have you been a rookie who succeeded, or have you struggled to find “entry level” positions that weren’t beneath your skill level? 


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