How BoS conference and Mikey Trafton taught me to love hiring people

Shawn Anderson, founder of Admin Arsenal, and long time Business of Software Conference regular writes about something he learned from Mikey Trafton – how to learn to love, not loathe, hiring people.

“The only thing more stressful than firing an employee is hiring one”.

I’m not sure if that’s a popular quote.

Shawn Anderson

There’s no doubt Shawn’s interviewing techniques needed improvement

I first heard it from a lawyer friend. I wholeheartedly agreed because I used to hate the hiring process. During interview week I would scowl (more than usual), turn snippy, and just plain be a pain. Just ask my partners or employees. During interview week I could go from 0 to prick in 3.2 seconds.

Our company just hired employees number 9 and 10. That’s a big deal for us. But this time around the hiring process was different. Actually, it was enjoyable.

During BOS 2013 I was riveted with Mikey Trafton’s talk on how to hire employees. I walked away excited. I didn’t doubt Mikey’s assertions for an instant because they just made sense. How could I have been doing it wrong for so long? To sum up Mikey’s process in my own words, the key is to have job candidates disqualify themselves before you even see their resumes. It works. Just compare two processes below.

Old hiring process:

Action Company hours Candidate hours
Write great job description 2:00
Read great job description 0:00:5
Email resume 0:00:1
Receive, print, sort resumes 1:00
Review resumes 16:00

So how much time was spent by each party up to the point that the resume is submitted and reviewed?

  • Company: 19 hrs.
  • Candidate: 0.6 seconds

Clearly something has gone wrong here. Up to this point the candidate has no skin in the game.

New hiring process

Action Company hours Candidate hours
Write great job description 2:00
Read job description 0:00:5
Submit web form 0:02
Complete written assessment 1:00
Review written assessments 1:00
Review resumes 2:00

New tally of time for steps through resume submission/review:

  • Company: 5:00 hrs.
  • Candidate: 1:02:5 hrs.

Resumes are NOT the first step of candidate elimination. For our market, it’s not uncommon for a job offer to garner around 200 resumes. If you are using a resume as the first line of elimination you will waste time and will more than likely miss the needle in the haystack. I know it sounds corny, but with this new process by the time a resume got into my hands I was actually excited to read it. At this point 90% of the candidates had already eliminated themselves for whatever reason (didn’t fill out web form, didn’t complete written assessment, or the assessment didn’t pass review).

Putting it into practice

I’ll admit that I was a little nervous with the new process. That same nervousness intensified after we submitted our first job description on a local job board. In the past, using the old system, I knew that within minutes of a posting I would start to receive resumes (thank you job board bots). This new system eliminated auto-submission.

We had to wait a couple of hours before the first web form submissions came through and it took three days before we received our first written assessment. During that time I was really starting to second guess myself. Was the assessment too hard? Were we kidding ourselves? Was our old system really that bad?

Once the written assessments started coming in, it was very clear that only the best of the best had stayed in the game. From that point on I was sold. Keep in mind that up to this point we hadn’t needed to eliminate candidates because they were eliminating themselves. To use another analogy, the candidates were dropping like flies before they even got to the picnic. It was awesome.

The Written Assessment Must Be Tough

The two positions that we recently filled were for a marketing lead and an IT sys admin. The written assessment for the marketing position seemed to hit the sweet spot. Almost every written submission came from a qualified candidate. The same was not true for the System Admin position. We started seeing a large number of submissions, and more than a few were not as qualified as we would have liked.

Solution? We toughened up the written assessment. By adding a little more complexity and time needed to complete the assessment we started seeing a significant decrease in unqualified candidates. A difficult written assessment piques the interest of gifted candidates. They seem to intuitively understand that only a few submissions will pass muster. They are driven. Like a needle in the haystack that gets pulled up by a magnet, they will rise above the rest. It’s pretty cool to witness.

The flip side is also true. I am certain that a large number of candidates started the written assessment but didn’t finish it. There is something inherently beneficial to someone being alone during the written assessement. After using Google for the sixth time to answer a difficult assessment question they probably think to themselves that they may not be as qualified for this position as they had hoped, and rather than embarrass themselves they simply drop off the radar. Since there has been no human interaction to this point they don’t feel like they are losing face.

Devour, Gulp, and Digest Resumes

After approving a written assessment it’s time to request a resume. If you’re like me this will be the first time you’ve ever been excited to read a resume. But there is something else that you may notice. You don’t just skim a resume, you completely absorb it. You read and reread every single line. Within minutes the margins on the resume will be filled with your notes and questions.

With the old system the best I could do was skim a resume. It was like I was daring each resume to give me just enough of a reason to place it in the keep pile. I never actually timed myself, but I’ll bet on average I would spend 20-30 seconds on a resume with the old system just to see if I wanted to keep it for consideration.

The Beginning and the End

I have left out the beginning and the end of Mikey’s process. That’s OK. I’m writing an article, not a book. I suggest that you watch his video which is hosted on the BOS site.

The actual beginning of this hiring process used Lominger cards, which Mikey spends some time explaining. In short, it’s a quick way to determine the skills needed for a particular position. This helps with everything from writing the job posting to formulating interview questions. The subject of these cards is an entire article in and of itself.

The end is the actual interview process. Mikey goes into great detail in his talk about how to hold these interviews. We followed his suggestions and they worked. It may seem like overkill, but having a second  (i.e. gauntlet) interview will make all the difference. Remember, you’ve saved hours and hours by allowing candidates to disqualify themselves. That isn’t free time that you get to save up for a Disney cruise. Spend it on the interview process. You’ll need it. Trust me.


It works. Our new employees fit into our company very well. They bring diversity and some really great strengths. Our company is better because of them, and I didn’t have to get an ulcer tracking them down. Thanks Mikey. I hope to see you at BOS 2014.