The Most Important Step in Recruiting That You’re Probably Forgetting

4 min readOct 22, 2015


Here’s the number-one differentiator between good recruiting and great recruiting: prep time with hiring managers. The more time you invest with hiring managers upfront to find alignment around what you’re looking for, the less time you’ll spend on every other step of the recruiting process. Unfortunately, it’s also the easiest step to overlook. Read on for a step by step exercise on how to achieve that alignment.

If you’re a recruiter, you’re probably familiar with this scenario:

You open up a new requisition, and the first thing you do is write a job description and start accepting applicants. It’s only when a candidate makes it to an on-site that interviewers realize they can’t agree on whether to move forward with an offer because they don’t actually know what they’re looking for. And because they’ve never articulated what criteria to evaluate against, they find it difficult to articulate their opinions, and a lot of “maybes” float around. Even one miscalibrated interviewer may influence the hiring manager to pass on a potentially great hire, and it’s back to sourcing and interviewing, beginning the cycle all over again.

It’s easy to forget that you need to set aside time at the beginning of the recruiting process to reach alignment on important questions like recruiting strategy and what candidates should look like.

As the recruiter, it’s your job to help the hiring team find that alignment. If you’re about to start hiring for a new role, or need to course correct for one that’s been open for too long, lead your team through these three questions and exercises to get everyone on the same page and ensure a more efficient hiring process than ever.

1. What background and skills are you looking for?

It sounds obvious, but too often, recruiting teams charge full steam ahead on a search without fully understanding or explicitly aligning on desired candidate background and skills. The goal of this exercise isn’t to produce an impossible checklist of requirements, but if your team never discusses the qualifications they value most, there’s simply no way everyone will be on the same page.

Give every hiring decision maker an identical set of post-its with all the skills a dream candidate would possess. Then, give them all five minutes to bucket the post-its into three categories:

  1. Major points
  2. Good to haves
  3. Nice to haves

This step is supposed to be hard; you’re forcing your stakeholders to prioritize among all the great background and knowledge that you’d want in an ideal candidate. By viewing everyone’s post-its side by side, you’ll gain a sense for where your the team is already aligned, resolve differences, and spark further conversation about the skills that really matter.

2. What personal attributes should this person have?

Take your hiring decision makers through the same exercise as above for personal attributes — the characteristics and qualities a person possesses — but this time, prompt them with a discussion around the question, “Tell me about the best [job title] you’ve ever worked with?” The range of possible skills and background for a job are more finite than all the softer attributes a person can have, so a question like this will help get your team thinking along the right lines.

Once you map the attributes into major points, good to haves, and nice to haves, as you did with background and skills in the previous step, you’ll have a framework for evaluating candidates. It’ll be particularly useful when the team is on the fence about a candidate and you can ask “Does this person meet our major points and good to haves?” or say, “You’re hesitant about the candidate for [reason], but we all agreed that was only a nice to have and thus less important than [competency].”

3. What differentiates your company, team, and offer?

The best candidates are evaluating you as much as you’re evaluating them, so get on the same page about how you’ll sell them. Push your hiring decision makers to answer questions around the differentiators: “How is our company different from other companies in our space? How would you describe our culture? More specifically, how would you describe your team’s sales, engineering, etc. culture?”

If you can’t drive home what’s special about your offer, your company, and your team, you risk a candidate passing on you for a recruiter and hiring team who can.

It’s tempting to skip straight to finding candidates as soon as a new role opens up because it feels like the most productive thing to do, but the best recruiters resist that urge. Kick off a candidate search by asking your hiring team the questions above, and your entire process will be more fruitful and efficient.

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