Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

The Secret to Hiring: It Starts Before You Post the Position

The moment has come. You know in your gut that your business, team, or department needs to bring someone new on board.

With that comes a feeling of pressure—you know how difficult it can be to find great people, and you’re not sure of all the steps you need to take to ensure that you’re not wasting your time. And on top of that, you know the costs of time and money that come along with open roles and bad hires. You know you need to get this right.

Aside from actually finding qualified candidates for the roles you’re hiring for, the hardest thing about acquiring talent is knowing how to scope the role: going from a vague idea of wanting to hire someone to knowing exactly what the new hire will be expected to do, what qualities a candidate needs to have in order to deliver the results you’re looking for, and what you’ll do to attract the right people.

So your first step should be scoping the role clearly ahead of time. This process helps you to articulate the role effectively in your job description, find the right talent, and keep you focused on the right things when it’s time to screen and interview candidates.

Here’s a simple checklist you can follow to make sure you don’t miss anything when you’re scoping the position.

Recognize Your Reason

Why this role? Why now?

It’s important to be able to state for yourself and your team the reasons you are hiring this person, now, in a concrete sense. Typically people are hired to address challenges (i.e., fill a gap in the team’s skill set), pursue opportunities (i.e., the business is expanding), or to replace someone else who is leaving. Be clear on the reasons for your hire, or you’ll risk spending massive amounts of resources on something you don’t actually need.

Define the “Commander’s Intent” of the Role

This term (coined by the Heath brothers in Made to Stick,) refers to the fundamental mission of the role. New information and shifting circumstances will always mean that strategy and tactics are subject to change—but the commander’s intent remains the same. Having a consistent, overriding point of focus (ideally expressed as one or more concrete, objective metrics) allows the person to grasp the primary reason he or she is being hired, and what the position will be held accountable for.

Examples of commander’s intents might be:

  • To make the events division of the company profitable while running at least one event per month.
  • To design and launch a new program.
  • To transition a team from marketing product A to product B within 6 months.

Assemble Your Hiring Team

Deciding further details about the role should wait until you know who will be weighing in on the decision of whom to hire. This is your hiring team. It should include the direct supervisor of the person being hired, at least one peer, one person who will work under him or her (if applicable), and the managing director of the unit.

It should be clear to this team who is leading the process, who is conducting interviews, and how each person should expect to be involved along the way. This is critical both for making sure that as much relevant perspective is included in the decision and for ensuring buy-in when someone is actually selected and on-boarded into the organization.

Nail Down the Details

Once you’ve got the team nailed down, it’s time to think through the nitty-gritty of the position together, including:


Of course, there will be many things that fall under the umbrella of the role’s mission. These are the key responsibilities (there should only be three to five), and they should be a logical cluster of related items. In most cases it shouldn’t just be an assortment of all the things that you’d like to see improved about your business or business unit. If you realize that you have scoped a role that is handling everything plus the kitchen sink, it probably means you aren’t ready to hire, or don’t have realistic expectations about what someone can (or will want to) handle.

Position Title

The title should convey the seniority and domain of responsibility as accurately as possible. Remember that whoever holds this position will have this title on his or her resume for decades to come, so you want to make sure that it feels like it was an accurate depiction of the role. If someone has manager-level responsibilities, don’t call him an associate. And yes, this is the case even if you can’t pay what managers in other companies earn. Don’t downgrade a title because you can’t afford to pay market value.


Determine what background, skills, expertise, and accomplishments this person needs to have. Stay away from proxies like “having an MBA.” Instead, focus on the skills that you assume that proxy will lead to. In the case of an MBA, it might be high proficiency with Excel or familiarity with calculating customer acquisition costs over time and how that applies to a startup. Choose carefully which qualifications are actually essential—all the others that are bonus points should be treated that way in interviews.


What resources will this position have access to? This does include budgets, but even more important are things like mentors, other team members, team buy-in, data, tools and software, and so on. This is a summary of what the person who fills this role will have at his or her disposal—and is a key thing to consider and be upfront about.


Who is the role reporting to? Why? How will success be determined? You should have concrete answers to this long before the interview process. This is the most commonly overlooked element of role scoping.


What do you want to pay this person? What is the most you’d be willing to pay to get the ideal candidate? You need to know both of these numbers early on, so that you aren’t spending unnecessary time deliberating later in the process.

Establish a Game Plan and Timeline

Now that you have a sense of the reasons for hiring the role, the team that will execute the hire, and exactly what you’ll be looking for, it’s time to make a game plan. Your plan should include the following points:

Make an Outreach Plan

Where will you post the job? Which networks will you alert? What search criteria will you use to find candidates on LinkedIn? How will you get as many qualified candidates as possible to hear about your role from a trusted source? Answer these questions in an outreach plan.

Find an Application System

How will you keep track of incoming applications? Try to resist the urge to use your inbox; that will lead to an overwhelming amount of communication and things will inevitably slip between the cracks. A quick search will turn up a variety of low-cost Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software that you can use to organize resumes, rank candidates, and keep everything in order.

Develop Your Timeline

When will you confirm the additional details of the job? When will you launch the application? When will you close the application? When will interviews take place? What day will the person ideally start?

Once you have the foundation of your hiring process in place and understand exactly who you are looking for, you can start crafting a job description that will attract the right people (more on that next week!). While you’re likely anxious to get started, remember to give these initial steps in the hiring process the time and attention they deserve—so that your team can see the growth and benefits that result from fantastic hires.

Photo of man drawing courtesy of Shutterstock.