In the early days of a startup, it’s not uncommon to take on a multitude of roles—receptionist, accountant, programmer, human resources specialist—whatever position needs to be filled at a given moment.
But eventually—with a lot of hard work and a little luck—your company will grow big enough that you’ll need to hire full-time staff members. And while this is a great thing, there’s one little problem: Even though you’ve been figuring out these roles on the fly, you’re by no means an expert. How do you identify and interview outstanding candidates for sales, marketing, or tech roles—if you don’t really know the ins and outs of their jobs?
Well, just like anything, one of the most powerful resources you have is your network. Here are four ways to leverage your contacts to help you make fast, successful, and informed hiring decisions.
First, take a step back and evaluate your network. Who do you know who’s already successful in the type of role you need to fill? Or, who’s hired for that role recently?
Set up a few coffee meetings with these people and identify strategies you can use in your hiring process. When you ask the right questions (think “Where did you have the most luck finding candidates?” or “What were the most important skills you were looking for in this position?”), you’ll learn a lot about the essential skills for certain roles, the mistakes others have made, and the crazy must-dos that actually work.
You can even ask your contacts to share sample interview questions and answers. Try to get a range, from the very basic (“Can you give me an example of a well-designed website? What makes it great?”) to the most challenging (“What are the advantages of client side rendering versus server side rendering? If you were building our site, which would you use?”).
If you have a connection who can spend a little more time with you, ask him or her to train you on the necessary skills of a field—beyond the basics that you’ve already (kind of) figured out on your own.
For example, if you’re a coding whiz hiring a content marketer, ask a qualified friend to give to you a crash course in the specific tools and techniques a successful candidate for that role will use—like Google Analytics, editorial calendars, and blogger outreach strategies. With a few specifics in your pocket, you’ll be able to craft smarter questions and high-level talking points that can help you have deeper conversations with candidates about their work.
That said, especially if you are hiring for high-level or very technical roles, an expert always makes the best interviewer. An experienced developer or UX designer can pose questions you wouldn’t think of and better evaluate candidates who answer those questions with complex thoughts or intricate examples.
So, if you have friends or contacts who would be willing to interview candidates on your behalf, take them up on it. (If you have the budget, you can also work with a specialized recruiter.) Don’t leave the decision completely up to a third party, though—it’s best if you can sit in on each interview or do a multi-part interview so you can assess culture fit, personality, and other soft skills. By covering both technical topics and behavioral interview questions, you’ll get a more complete picture of each candidate.
If you can’t find anyone to interview for you, the next best thing is to ask someone to help you debrief. Ask candidates if you can record their interviews (most people won’t have a problem with it if you explain, “My colleague who couldn’t be here today wanted to review the interview”), then play the recording for an expert later on to get his or her feedback.
Of course, the very, very best thing you can do during this process is to solicit referral candidates—or people who have been pre-vetted by the people you trust. Of course, you’ll still need to interview anyone who walks through your door, but when an expert programmer sends an engineering candidate your way with an enthusiastic recommendation, you can usually trust that the candidate has the right skills, experience, and integrity necessary for the job.
So, draft an email detailing what you’re looking for, blast it out to your network, and see who comes back. Even one or two leads will put you way ahead of the game.