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REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Your company is only as good as its hiring process

Chris O'Neill
By Chris O'Neill

CEO, Evernote

A company’s brand is not just the sum of its talent, logo, people and product; it is also— more importantly— the impression it leaves on people. So the experience of interviewing at your office should always be a positive one, even for the candidates who don’t end up with a job offer.

Being good at hiring is an art and skill that you need to practice and teach to others. Being intentional with the entire hiring process—from correspondence to interviews to candidate feedback—is imperative to a company’s success.

I’ve honed my hiring philosophy based on my experiences hiring thousands of people throughout my career, from a decade of leading teams at Google to now running Evernote, plus my time as a board member, angel investor and mentor to various startups. I spend a lot of time finding the perfect members for my executive team. I’m always learning, adapting and improving, but these are the principles that guide me.

Play for the front of your jersey: it’s all about the team

As a child playing hockey, I learned to “play for the front of the jersey, not the back.” Through sports, my parents wanted to teach me that the best teams win— not necessarily the best individuals. Simply put, the team you build is the company you build. It’s important to keep that in mind throughout the hiring process, no matter how much time it takes. I’d much rather dedicate more hours and effort on the front end of hiring than hire too fast and need to cut low-performing candidates later.

Team chemistry is also crucial. When employees operating within a unit are on the same page, communicate openly and authentically, and celebrate transparency, then a company thrives despite challenges. This is especially true for millennials in the workforce. They have a keen eye for detail and an unprecedented appetite for transparency, both from their peers and employers; trust is their currency when it comes to company loyalty.

All of this makes hiring a new member is a high-stakes endeavor. The wrong new team member can throw off the whole team. I’ve made the mistake of hiring “brilliant jerks”—people who are immensely talented but don’t respect their colleagues—and learned that the costs are simply too high. What initially may seem like a fixable situation is always undermined by the distrust and dysfunction that inevitably happens when self-serving individuals are added to the mix.

Hiring is not only the job of the HR department

Hiring shouldn’t land strictly on the shoulders of your HR team. It should ultimately be the responsibility of the hiring manager. Managers are the ones who coach, instruct, and interact with their teams on a daily basis. They feel the impact of new team members more than anyone, and they know the team’s needs best.

Although the process should be led by the hiring manager, I like to hire by committee. Receiving detailed input on potential candidates from multiple team members ensures that different opinions and points of view are considered, which helps eliminate bias and prevents pattern matching, the tendency for people to hire others who remind them of themselves. That said, for the sake of efficiency, the process can’t be fully democratic, so the hiring manager ultimately makes the decision.

Be intentional with training

Interviewing and hiring is an art that’s not natural for most people— especially those outside the HR team. You may need to train managers how to do it effectively. We teach our team members how to communicate the company’s values, conduct an interview, evaluate candidates, and provide useful feedback. It’s important that all the team members a candidate meets are communicating the same information about the company’s and team’s philosophy and goals.

Rather than relying on the vague criteria of “culture fit,” as many companies do, I also work with my colleagues to rigorously define both the skills and the personality traits that would fit well on the team, in order to minimize bias. We take extreme care to define our company and team values and craft specific questions to assess interviewees beyond the skills listed on their resumes. We also train the hiring team on the roles of each person within the interview process. The hiring manager is responsible for communicating with the team about what we’re looking for and gathering feedback after interviews. It’s the hiring manager’s job to look beyond technical skills and experience and analyze candidates for culture fit, leadership style, and overall alignment with company values.

Don’t hire only well-rounded candidates

Many executives tend to think they always need well-rounded candidates who can do a little bit of everything. It may not seem intuitive, but I advise against this. Instead of hiring people who are relatively good at almost everything they may need to do, identify two or three skills that are absolutely crucial to the role—then hire someone who is absolutely amazing at those priority skills. It’s helpful to involve the team on identifying these necessary skills.

In today’s complex, fast-moving world, I also hire for potential skills in addition to the skills the candidate already has. I’m looking for people who can adapt quickly to solve tomorrow’s problems, because the playbook for problem-solving is constantly changing. A growth mindset is paramount in these situations.

Leverage useful tools to help shape the process

At Evernote, we use a slew of tools for HR purposes. Greenhouse is an applicant tracking system and recruiting software that optimizes the entire process. Using Glassdoor helps ensure that there’s transparency both inside and outside the office walls and the reviews help us improve our culture and processes. Textio generates effective job listings for us by customizing descriptions with hyper-specific keywords to ensure we can find the best person for the job without using biased language.

Your company’s talent is your greatest asset and, when the fit is right, magic happens. I follow these steps to find all of the newest members of what we call our “notable herd,” and I’m incredibly proud of the team we’ve been able to build.

My ultimate goal is to leave a great impression, whether it’s on the candidates we invite to join our team or all the others we’ve interviewed — our brand depends on it.

Chris O’Neill is the CEO of Evernote.