Hiring a Needle in a Haystack

How to hire the perfect person for the job  

I’ve been hiring wrong. My hiring methodology has been completely, utterly, 100% incorrect. Sometimes an employee has worked out. Sometimes they haven’t. But every single time, the process has been flawed. Chances are, you’ve been hiring wrong too.

I can explain why. But first, some history.

Since becoming CEO earlier this year (see the origin story here), and writing my job description, my first order of business was to hire a dedicated employee who ensures our Javelina “rocketship” is running smoothly every day. We’re taking this rocketship to the moon! This was a tall order, and we needed the perfect person.

Truthfully, we were searching for a needle in a haystack. This new person would provide a second-to-none service. They would be able to produce incredible results for our clients. Specifically, they would develop flawless systems to foster growth for decades to come. They would create an inspiring office environment for our team. And, most of all, they will make sure our team has fun along the way. How would we find such a person?

Hiring for this position was liberating and terrifying all at once. Liberating, because I could feel in my gut it was the right thing to do, and completely vital to our success. Terrifying, because for the first time, an employee’s salary would not be directly tied to a client. This employee would be an investment in our company’s future! We’ve never hired this way before. It was an important investment but also felt scary to go into the unknown.

Running a business is not about being fearless. Sometimes, you have to make choices despite being scared as hell. I took a deep breath, wrote the job posting and went for it.

And this time, we did things differently.

Throughout the hiring process, we were unconventional because we were looking for someone unconventional. If they were to manage systems, pay attention to details and be creative, we wanted to build that into our approach.

So, for the first step, we asked applicants not to send a resume and cover letter. Instead, they were to send us a note outlining why they were perfect for the position. Bonus – an unintentional genius step in the job posting – this instruction served as the perfect screening! Attention to detail was key to the role, and the right person for the job would read the details to the letter – and follow them EXACTLY. Anyone who sent us a resume or cover letter was out of the running.

The applicant was also encouraged to be as creative as they wanted to be. Because of the limited details, we were curious what results we would get. We offered scenarios and keywords to describe their role, but not specific responsibilities. While the right person would connect with this concept, we had no idea what to expect.

And the applications started to come in.

The first application was everything I had hoped for and more. The applicant was funny, creative, intuitive, and inspiring. (I was so excited!) A few hours later, we received tons more applications. Many were just as funny and creative. Others were typical one-line notes referencing an attached the resume and cover letter (wrong). The new process was working!

Then, applications began FLOODING in.

Then, we saw an opportunity: Let’s ask the applicants to provide further documentation, with very specific instructions.  Following directions was JUST as important as the quality of the documents themselves. So, narrowed the field even further.

I was inspired by this blog post describing how to hire an A-player team, and asked all of the top applicants to send:

  • A one-page resume saved with a filename in the following format: LastName_FirstName_FileDescription_Day.Month.Year_FavoriteColor This logic was twofold. First, many applicants would have resumes more than one page. We wanted to see how they tackled changing the format. Second, the filename would be easy to mess up – but not for the OCD-types we wanted to attract.
  • A reverse job posting in which the applicant described their ideal work environment, their dream boss, and what kind of tasks fulfill them.  We wanted to know them personally and provide an opportunity for them to impress us with their creative flair.

Now, the applicant pool was whittled by 53%. Many people didn’t follow the filename format. Even more completely ignored the one-page resume request. My favorite example was the applicant who chose to shrink the font size of the bottom half of their resume to make it fit onto one page. (Interesting choice.)

All of these individuals, without a doubt, were A-Grade professionals. For the right company, they would be amazing. For us, this process was to see how an applicant handled instructions and paid attention to detail. We wanted to find the right fit for the role. The person right would prosper in this role. They would have read the instructions so many times, it would practically be memorized! While that’s not everybody, it was the person we were searching for.

With the application process complete, we were still left with a large number of applications who followed every letter, and wowed us with creativity and intrigue. We conducted a blind resume review, removing every applicant’s name and other identifying details to ensure that the people deciding on who to interview were doing so without any judgments (intentional or not) based on age, gender, or other details irrelevant to their role. From there, we narrowed it down to seven star applicants we wanted to meet in person.

We loved how this hiring process was going! From start to finish, this approach felt fresh, different, and exciting – and we wanted to keep it going. So, we continued this approach with the interview stage.

So, instead of holding traditional interviews at our office, we opted to interview at Ben’s Bells. This amazing nonprofit promotes kindness in communities and has a unique ceramic studio where they make clay bells. People were welcome to come in voluntarily and paint clay bells that are hung in the community for random people to find. What a perfect place to hold a job interview!

We memorized most of our interview questions to avoid a sterile “reading from a piece of paper” scenario. Instead, we held a casual, engaging conversation while painting ceramic bells. The result was a completely relaxed and easy interview process. Applicants opened up in ways I have never before experienced.

This all lead us to who we believe is the perfect candidate.

Our needle in the haystack starts at the office today! Look out for the official announcement later this week – and we are so excited to introduce you to her.

Are you hiring at your company? Want to change it up? Here are some tips.

The simple and profound lesson that we learned is this: Don’t do what you’ve always done before. Build a hiring process tailored to the role that will let the right person shine through.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you need this person to be able to think on their feet? If so, hold interviews. If not, don’t. Find another way to get to know them. Interviews test someone’s ability to think quickly and hide their nerves, and little else.
  • Is this person expected to research, analyze and presenting their findings? If so, give them a bunch of questions ahead of time and ask them to share their thoughts with you in written form.
  • Should a champion in this role be social? Then, have your first meeting in a crowded place and invite other people.
  • Will your new star employee manage a team? Then, plan a group challenge or company game and have them lead a team. Then, step back and observe how they do.

This process may sound strange, and feel like more work. But, it is totally worth the investment. The time and effort you put in the interview process will help you find the perfect new hire. Avoid the traditional and done-to-death application process. Consider the time you would waste in hiring the wrong person!

Next time we hire (which might be soon), we will ask ourselves these important questions to design our process:

  1. What are the personality traits and skill sets of the person that will DOMINATE this position?
  2. How can we completely remove aspects of the traditional hiring process?
  3. What kind of job post would attract the person we need?
  4. How can we eliminate bias to give every applicant a fair shot?
  5. What steps can we take next to test for the strengths we are looking for?


If this is helpful for you, share it with someone on social media and let us know what you think! The hiring system is broken. And this new process might just help fix it.

Javelina Blog Author Ariel Reyes
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Javelina Blog Author

Catherine Alonzo, CEO & Founding Partner

Catherine Alonzo is the CEO and founding partner of Javelina, a company that brings brand experience to life for non-profits, businesses, campaigns and individuals. Having played a pivotal role in growing Javelina into a leading branding and marketing firm, Catherine specializes in effective messaging, brand development and business strategic planning.


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