Most hiring processes are made up on the spot.
For a while, ours was too.
Hiring isn’t easy. It’s one of a thousand different things that a manager has to do. They’re already doing the job of their future hire on top of their own (that’s why they need to hire), so they’re too busy to put any thought at all into the process.
For every candidate they invite to a job interview, they’re sorting through and throwing away 49 applications.
Well at Ladder, after tons of headaches with our old, disorganized system, we made the effort to get it right.
You have to have a good process when you’re hiring a new marketer every month.
It’s especially important in a marketing agency business. The reality is that the people who run agency businesses actually do very little of the client work these days. So our ability to retain clients depends entirely on our ability to hire and train the best talent.
So we worked hard to make the process top notch. I pieced together and modified all the best parts of every great recruitment process I’ve been a part of:
- Excel test from my first job at Efficient Frontier
- Pre-screening process from the British Civil Service
- Half-day workshop experience from Travelex
- Focus on personal network referrals at Travelzoo
- Video Application format used at Inspiring Interns
- Intensive interview process learned at ShopStyle
- Divergent question survey from AppSumo
I also added my own spin on things, such as a copy test and landing page teardown. And I also insisted we pay candidates that attend our half-day workshops.
And now I’m going to share our exact process with you, along with the Excel test we use to evaluate our candidates.
Why would I give away our secrets?
Well if you’re interested in applying for a job at Ladder (instructions at the end) then I want you to know exactly what to expect. That makes it less likely a good candidate will be unfairly ruled out because I unintentionally threw them off guard. This is especially important if you’re hiring introverts (I would know, I am one).
If you’re a hiring manager yourself, feel free to steal our process.
As someone who had to apply to over 100 jobs just to get my first interview (recession), I’ll feel warm and fuzzy inside if I can help anyone else avoid the awful experiences I had.
Our Hiring Process (aka “Project: Gate”)
At the time I took this project on, we were parting ways with 1/3rd of everyone we hired, which is clearly awful. It was a genuine threat to our business. Morally, we owed it to the people we hired to make sure this stopped happening.
The first step was scoping out what I wanted to achieve. The following is copy / pasted from the actual document I created to get buy in on this from my co-founders (yes, including the cheezy code name).
GOAL #1: Make sure we’re hiring the right people.
GOAL #2: Make the hiring process more efficient.
Percentage of new hires still employed 6 months after start date (currently 66%)
- Waste as little time as possible (for both sides)
- Hire for potential, not experience or education
- Getting a job here should be a real accomplishment
- Went to college (dropouts welcome)
- Interested in tech
- 1 year work experience (office environment)
- Taken classes outside work (Startup Institute, General Assembly)
- Working on a side project
- Made a ^big bet on themselves
- Any of these marketing certifications
^The big bet:
This could be quitting their job to travel the world, starting a startup, touring with a rock band, playing high-stakes poker, or joining a full time marketing bootcamp. It’s different for each candidate, every Ladder employee has a different story.
In our interviews we’re looking for evidence of this attitude. That you took the risky option at least once in your life and trusted in your own ability to see things through. In our experience this is highly correlated with success at Ladder (and in life).
- Capacity for critical thinking
- An eye for creative that sells
- Ability to reason numerically
- Rigorous attention to detail
- Performance under pressure
In the next 6 months we’ll make you better than most marketers get in 5 years. From day 1 you’ll work directly with startup founders and the senior management of fortune 500 companies to launch and grow new businesses rapidly and cost-effectively.
We’re full-funnel and full-service: that means you’ll learn every major marketing channel, industry, and business model while having the creative freedom to test innovative new techniques. You’ll work in a high-pressure, results-driven environment with smart, helpful people.
You have full ownership of your client relationships, set your own schedule and location and be promoted based on merit. You’ll contribute to the development of “JACK”, our marketing recommendation engine, and benefit as it does more of your work for you.
- Step 1: Candidate referred via our network, or from our website
- Step 2: They apply online via filling in this application survey
- Step 3: We reach out to set a time and date for the competency test
- Step 4: They complete the test and send it back within 1 hour of receipt
- Step 5: If successful, candidate is invited to 3 in-person interviews
- Step 6: If successful, candidate invited to half-day (paid) workshop
The Application Survey
Take a look at the survey here. You’ll recognize some of these questions. These are the inane questions you ask someone when you can’t think of anything to get them talking at the start of an awkward interview. We’ve found that by putting these in survey form, candidates can’t help but reveal much more useful information about themselves (rather than being put on the spot) and we can skip them in the interview and talk about something interesting.
The Competency Test
This test is taken remotely; we set up an email to go out at a time you specify, and you send it back exactly 1 hour later. The first section is data analysis. You have to look up data from other tabs and use the right calculations when averaging and totaling. If you understand the SUMIF formula, VLOOKUP and/or Pivot Tables, you’re golden. Most people don’t. This test has an 85% failure rate!
The next section is a creative test. You’re given a page and you need to write some ad copy that would work to advertise that page on Google Adwords, then the same again for Facebook, where you also need to pick an image. You then need to take a deeper look at the page and tell me what you’d change to increase sales.
Finally, you’re asked to submit a short video talking about your experience. From this we get a great idea of your personality and how flustered the test got you. If you did get flustered, don’t worry. What we look for is evidence that you have the capability to complete the test, even if you didn’t finish in time.
The In-Person Interviews
Candidate must be interviewed by their future line manager, one of Ladder’s leadership (c-suite) and one person in the same (or similar) job as the candidate. All 3 have the power to veto any candidate.
Did it work?
The answer? A resounding YES.
We’re now 4 months out from when we implemented this process and we’ve not lost a single employee.
Sure, this isn’t much data (4 new hires) and a bunch of people could still leave next month, but it doesn’t look likely to happen. (if it does, I’ll update this post and eat my words).
I know it’s made a difference because it’s actually made me change my mind about 3 or 4 people I wanted to hire, and probably would have hired under the old hap-hazard system. By slowing things down and forcing us to think, we don’t rush in like optimistic fools like we used to.
I can’t prove this but I’d also like to think the successful candidates themselves value the job more from day 1 because they’ve been through a tight, professional, competitive process to get here.
Honestly, even if it had no impact on GOAL 1 (6 month retention), we’d still be happy with this process because it had an enormous impact on GOAL 2 (efficiency).
- We rule out anyone too lazy to fill in a survey
- We read LinkedIn instead of embellished resumes
- We test whether they can actually use Excel and write copy
- We screen out poor personality remotely via video
- We empower their potential team to veto a bad fit
Importantly, doing things this way also saves the candidates time.
- If they fail the survey, they’ve only wasted 30 mins
- If they fail the competency test, they’ve only wasted 90 mins
- If they fail the interviews, they’ve only wasted 3 hours
- If they fail the workshop, they still get paid for their time!
- If they pass, we offer them a job within 72 hours
Obviously this process isn’t perfect, but it’s working well so far. We’ve been extremely happy with all the hires we’ve made and we’re excited to see other people try this out.
Want a job at Ladder? Get started by filling in this survey.
If you’re interested in setting up a process like this for yourself and want to borrow my Excel test files, get it here:
With proprietary technology and a data-driven strategy team, we find the right combinations of audience, channel, and creative to drive growth across your entire marketing funnel. Interested?