This week in Harvard Business Online: my post about how to Hire Smarter with Social Media. That post shares some lessons on how social media can help employers find the best people for their team, inspired by the process we used to find our latest, fantastic hire, Channing Rodman. To show these lessons in action, I’m sharing the story of social media helped us find Channing.
Channing joined us in April as a Social Media Strategist, and she has rocked our world with her terrific online instincts, brilliant writing and client diplomacy. You can use social media to hire team members who wow you just as much as Channing’s wowed us, whether you’re hiring for a social media gig or something entirely analog.
My top tips and tools for finding, screening and validating applicants are in the Harvard post. This is the story of how we applied these techniques to hiring Channing, with links to some of the key documents we used in the process.
Planning a hire
As with a lot of small organizations, each member of our team needs to wear several hats. In our early days, we took a laundry list approach to creating job postings, compiling a daunting collection of every kind of skill or experience we’d want a new hire to bring to our business. Over time, we’ve become more realistic about what kinds of talents are likely (or unlikely) to be found in the same person, and with each hire, we prioritize the core competencies we must have in our hire, and then keep an additional list of nice-to-haves.
To consult with Rob and the rest of our team on the competencies we wanted to look for — and the role we wanted to create — I set up a Google spreadsheet with the following columns:
- Offering: The service this new hire would help us to deliver.
- Activity: The phase or element of this service offering that the new hire would be expected to own or help deliver.
- Role: The notional job title this activity might correspond to — we considered “social media strategist”, “project manager”, and “client services”.
- Competency: The specific skills needed to fulfill this activity/role: e.g. “writing”, “strategic thinking”, “powerpoint”.
By grouping the activities and competencies by role, we were able to identify “social media strategist” as the role for which we had the greatest need.
Reaching potential applicants
We put a long version of our posting on our own web site, and a shorter version on Craigslist. When we posted our gig to the Social Signal blog (along with a similar posting from one of our clients) and twittered the link, we got a huge volume of retweets, link love and site visits. One of the people who saw — and forwarded — our job posting was Channing’s brother, Sean; Sean and Channing co-author the Social Ch@nge blog, so he knew exactly how much our position would interest her.
Channing wasn’t the only terrific social media geek we met through our online recruitment process. There were several other bloggers, strategists and project managers who we are looking forward to working with on future projects as contractors or even as clients: our own job postings serve as a great source of referrals for clients who are looking for online community managers or project leads.
Channing sent us a very compelling cover letter that — combined with her Wufoo application — demonstrated both her qualifications and passion for the social media role. There was just one wrinkle: she was living in Poland. That meant we had to think very carefully about whether and how to interview someone who’d be moving half-way across the world for this position. I started with a brief phone call that confirmed that yes, she sounded like a serious candidate; as with all my screening calls, I put my notes in an Evernote notebook so they’d be accessible from any computer.
For our first interview, I relied on a series of questions we’d developed as a team using a Google spreadsheet. The questions covered each of the skills, experiences or traits we were looking for and included a mix of open-ended questions (“Tell us about a success you’ve had in engaging or managing an online community”) and specific scenarios (“How would you advise a small non-profit with a narrow audience to spend $50k on social media?”) We kept the spreadsheet open during the interview so that Rob and I could collaboratively take notes.
The interview itself took place via Skype video: while this was the first time we’d interviewed a candidate via Skype, we’ve done enough video meetings with clients to have a good sense of how someone’s on-screen presence corresponds to their real-life personality. Channing was warm, polished, and very effective in answering our questions; she even had the guts to challenge us on one scenario we’d throw in to gauge candidate’s comfort levels working with questionable clients.
Validating your choice
After our, full-length Skype interview with Channing we were quite confident she was a fit, but the fact that we hadn’t met in-person made us concerned to double- and triple-check our instincts. We set up additional Skype meetings for her with two other members of our team, and with our long-time business coach, Jeff Balin; we asked each of them to treat the content of the meetings as confidential but to provide general feedback on whether they thought it was a fit. (They did.)
Next, we gave Channing a test assignment: to recommend an interim Facebook strategy for a client who had engaged us for a major Facebook campaign. She delivered a polished, well-written document that not only delivered immediate answers but also highlighted a couple of bigger-picture strategic issues. To ensure she’d have adequate time to complete the assignment, and that her work was subject to appropriate confidentiality provisions, we set up a formal short-term contract to pay her for her work.
When that assignment was completed, we decided to assess her technical learning curve by asking her to set up a page on our Drupal web site; since Channing hadn’t worked on Drupal before we figured this would be a good chance to see how quickly she could get comfortable on a new platform. At our request, she created the first version of our presentations and workshops page — which included compiling a Google Doc full of all the nice things people had said about our past presentations. Not only did we see how quickly she took to new software: all those third-party testimonials intensified her interest in working for us.
We did a final round of due diligence by talking to several of her (glowing) references by phone, and having a couple more Skype video calls along the way. We recognized the long distance wasn’t just a challenge for us; the time it took for us to double- and triple-check our instincts made for a long (and anxiety-producing) hiring process for Channing. Regular video check-ins kept her engaged in the process and helped us build a relationship.
On Channing’s seventh Skype call with our team — her fourth with me — I formally offered her the position. Even on a teeny tiny Skype window, her delight was evident; we were equally delighted that she accepted right away.
How has Channing worked out? Our clients love working with her; so do our development partners and staff. Her social media instincts, creativity and solid project management skills have all exceeded our admittedly high expectations.
But I personally knew just what a smart hire we’d made on the day that Channing sent me an e-mail she’d drafted for me to send to a client. “Can you copy me on the changes so I can learn from your writing style?” she wrote in her covering message to me. “I think you nailed it,” I responded. “Did you deliberately try to write like me, or do we just have the same voice? Fantastic news either way.”
When I recounted this good news to Rob, he was surprised I didn’t know the answer: “She’s been reading through our blog archives for weeks,” he told me. “She’s been figuring out how to capture our voice.”
That moment crystallized exactly what Channing brings to Social Signal: the ability to identify what’s needed for social media success, the willingness to go the extra mile, and of course, extraordinary writing skills.
Have you used social media to find your Channing — the great hire who takes your organization to the next level? I’d love to hear your experiences.