If you want to build a scalable, predictable, and revenue-generating agency that runs itself, then you are going to need a team.
People are the foundation of your agency.
As the agency owner, building out a dynamic hiring process is the most important thing you can do for the agency. After all, if you don’t hire or worse hire mediocre or bad fits, you’ll never achieve a truly scalable agency.
In this post, we’re going to share how you can build an agency hiring workflow that is dynamic and can fuel your growth, including:
- Creating the job description
- Where to post the job ad
- Writing the job ad
- Attracting quality candidates
- Conducting phone screens
- What to ask in interviews
- Running a test project with top candidates
- Making the hiring decision
- Sending the offer letter
- Refining your hiring process over time
Also: Don’t miss our free 3-part video tutorial on setting up an automated hiring funnel using ProcessKit. Check it out here.
Create the job description first
Whether you are looking for someone full-time, part-time, or even a contractor, it can be tempting to jump right into writing and posting a job ad.
A better strategy is to get clear on what this person will do, how you intend to measure their performance, and how success will be defined.
If you go into the hiring process with clarity on the exact role you need to fill, the entire process will go a lot smoother.
Here are some things to include in your job description:
- Who will this person report to?
- What are their main job responsibilities?
- What will the day-to-day look like for this role?
- Who will this person work closely with?
- What technical skills should they possess?
- What soft skills are essential for this role?
- Are there any nice-to-have skills or expertise?
- What will be the main success KPIs / benchmarks?
- What is the estimated salary / budget for this hire?
Be intentional about where you post the job
This added level of clarity can also inform which job boards and social media groups/sites where you should post this job.
Here are a list of some popular job boards, including:
- We Work Remotely
- Dynamite Jobs
- Authentic Jobs
- Hire My Mom
- People-First Jobs
Instead of wasting hours posting on every single job board you can find, it is better to focus on a couple of job boards that specialize in the type of role you are hiring for.
For example, Laura Mellor, who is the COO of AMZPathfinder, a remote Amazon PPC agency, says, “We use Dynamite Jobs for our hiring process. They list our job applications, and we tend to find good candidates through their system.”
However, if you are looking for a Web developer on the West Cost, you might want to post on Authentic Jobs.
Or, you might decide to only post on niche social media groups and rely on referrals over job board candidates.
Write the job ad
One of the biggest misconceptions about writing a job ad is that it is one-sided. You can coast with a generic ad, and you’ll still get plenty of candidates.
The reality is the opposite.
You need to put as much energy into selling your company and why a candidate would be lucky to work there as the candidate does when they apply for the job.
Create it in a way that highlights your agency’s goals, mission, and values in addition to describing the day to day responsibilities.
Also, highlight how this person can grow in the role (i.e. the secret to attracting A-players)
In fact, Josh Krakauer of Sculpt, says, “Make your job description scream, “that’s so me.” Your job is agency marketing. Some of its most important marketing, in fact. Use the space to set the stage and sell the vision and opportunity—in your own voice. Describe your ideal candidate and make it feel personal. Finally, tone down the ‘must-haves.’
Add in quality checks
Most agency owners build in quality checks starting in the interview process. I’d argue this process should begin with the actual job ad and application.
Since you’re going to receive a lot of applications (if you use job boards), you need a way to filter down your short list.
This means deciding on a couple requirements that applications should include in order to be considered. You could require a video cover letter or ask candidates to share three samples of work. This will make it easier and faster to disqualify those who don’t include this info or don’t meet the requirements.
For example, Emily Brackett of Visible Logic says, “I post on LinkedIn and Indeed. I always send candidates back to our original job posting, for additional details. This is a quick check on who takes the time to actually review the details, but so many potential applicants skip this step!”
Another built-in quality check is to replace the cover letter with a video.
Josh adds, “We send Loom videos to our candidates to introduce them to the role, then ask them to send one back. We’d rather skip the text cover letter and hear them talk.
Previously, we sent short assignments over email (like a qualification prompt), which felt impersonal.
With Loom recordings, we can put a face to our job description, provide context for the interview assignment, and rationale for why we do it. Then, we share their video with our hiring committee so everyone can easily watch. (No more logins or video downloads.)
Since our team interacts remotely through video, assessing verbal communication is so important. Loom makes the whole process as painless as possible.”
Conduct short phone screens
If you are reviewing resumes and implementing quality checks, there is a good chance you are going to be able to quickly remove around 70-80% of applications.
Scheduling 10-15 minute phone screens should be able to whittle down your candidate pool to the final 5-10%.
Emily adds, “Review resumes. Do a fast sort: Yes, No, Maybe.
I honestly hardly go back to the maybes.
Invite the best candidates in for a first interview. This is with me alone. I usually do about 10-12 first interviews. I always prepare a set of questions, so I’m asking them all the same thing.
I have a small firm (just adding our 6th team member now).
So, with the last couple of hires, I really had a vague notion of what level of experience I really needed and/or what I could pay until after the first interviews. After the first round, I’m able to refine the job listing and put a tighter parameter on the salary I’ll be prepared to offer. I put this into a detailed PDF. It has much more detail about the day-to-day requirements of the job as well as details about pay, benefits, and other policies they’ll need to be prepared to accept. For example, one of our clients requires a criminal background check, so I want to upfront about things like that.
I share this write-up with all of the candidates I want to have a second interview with.”
Schedule longer, more in-depth interviews for the top candidates
This is where you should spend the majority of your time. Depending on how large your agency is, you may find that you’ll want to spend 1-2 hours interviewing each candidate. In other instances, you may want to schedule multiple longer interviews with multiple people in the agency.
Most candidates are going to be nervous, going into this interview. Your job should be to make them feel more relaxed and comfortable. The more these interviews feel like a conversation instead of an interrogation, the more you’ll be able to learn.
Whether these interviews are taking place in an office or remotely through Zoom, here are some things to pay attention to:
- Do they show up early or on time?
This almost seems too obvious to include. If a candidate shows up late or doesn’t show up at all to an interview where they are going to be on their best behavior, what do you think will happen if they are in the job for a few weeks?
- Are they prepared?
A great candidate is going to demonstrate why they want to work at your agency and not just at any agency or job. This will be evident based on how much prep and research they did in advance or lack thereof.
- Do they make excuses or cast blame?
When asked about prior work experiences, are they quick to make excuses if a past project didn’t go their way? If so, this can be a sign that they lack self-awareness or aren’t a team player.
- Do they ask great questions?
One of the biggest red flags is a candidate who asks no questions during the interview. Or only asks questions related to salary or vacation time.
Assign a test project
Most people wouldn’t buy a car without going on a test drive.
So, why would you hire a full-time employee in your agency without working on a test project?
The stakes for a full-time employee are a lot higher since a bad hire is both expensive and can permanently damage your company culture.
Sam Shepler of Testimonial Hero recommends, “Include a small test project where you can actually see how the candidate performs. This should be after the first interview, with the most promising candidates. Something relatively small but significant enough that you can really get a feel for how they perform. Interviewing is a skill in and of itself. You absolutely need to put people through a functional test project as well. This also helps you compare candidates who both interview well—since you are comparing them apples to apples. So yeah, test projects are amazing. You can even do small tests and multiple small test projects each round. Interviewing alone is simply not enough to get a full picture of a candidate.”
Take your time making a decision
The old cliche, “hire slow and fire faster,” holds true.
“Always interview at least three people for every position, then hire slow and fire fast,” says Jason Long of JH Media Group. “In my agency, we always give people a number of tests before they are hired, and we always hire them for a small job before we give them a big one.”
Laura says, “Although hiring can be stressful, and you might be in a bit of a tight spot needing someone immediately, don’t panic and settle for second best.
We have found hiring someone who we are not 100% excited about leads to trouble down the road. This is more of a headache than drawing out the hiring process.
If left with two average or unexciting candidates, they should both be a no until you find someone you are enthusiastic about.”
Josh adds, “Hiring takes time, period. Don’t look for shortcuts. Look for more time. Hiring well has a high return, so it’s worth the investment. Give every candidate the dignity of a fair shot. Tap your networks and invest in new ones. To unlock more time, build efficient systems for managing the pipeline. Cue up templates for every interview and delegate the applicant tracking and comms. But crucially, invest in finding, vetting, and talking.”
In fact, depending on the role you are filling, it is normal for the process to take anywhere from a few weeks to six months or longer.”
Alex Panagis of ScaleMath says, “This really varies depending on the role so for part-time team members, it can be as quick as 2-3 weeks to get them on board and start training them, whereas for full-time roles it can take over 1 month (if not 2) to find the right candidate for the position.”
Sam adds, “The more senior the position, typically it takes longer as there are more considerations. Also, if the person is able to go “contract to hire,” ex. contract first, before we hire them as a W2, then those de-risks things significantly. We can easily move faster. But on average, I would say it takes us 30-45 days from job posting to making the hire.”
Send an offer letter
Many newer agency owners think the hard part is over once your new team members signs an offer letter. However, this is where the real work begins, since how you onboard team members speak volumes.
“Hiring is the first part of scaling your team. Beyond that is training,” says Alex. “While a solid hiring process is important, the absence of a proper training system and an organized business for a new team member to work in will mean that any new team member regardless of how solid your hiring process is will struggle to perform to your expectations.”
Pro Tip: The onboarding process is particularly important for new project managers. Check out our guide with onboarding tips.
Continue to refine your agency hiring workflow over time
Hiring isn’t a static process.
As you hire more people in your agency, you will learn new things based on what is working and where you can approve. The key is to take those learnings and apply them as your hiring process evolves.
In fact, of the current and former agency owners that we reached out to, many of them cited books that have directly helped them with building out their hiring frameworks along with how they want to grow their agencies.
Alex recommends reading “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work by Jason Fried and DHH (of Basecamp)”
He says, “This isn’t really specifically related to hiring, but it’s definitely one of the main books that have helped more clearly define how I want to build ScaleMath as a business (i.e. no growth at all costs mindset, distributed, etc.)
Another book that came up a bunch was Traction.
Josh says, “Traction introduces a number of proven systems, collectively called the ‘Entrepreneurial Operating System.’ One of the frameworks that EOS introduces is how to assess if you have the right people in the right seat. Often, in hiring, you meet great candidates that demonstrate your core values (right people), but they’re not the right fit for the role (right seat). Or the other way around.
When we’re making a final decision about a candidate, we walk through our 6 core values and the ~5 things that person will be accountable for handling with the decision makers. We then assess if they ‘GWC’ all of the attributes of the role — get it, want it, capable. Do they ‘Get it?’ Do they ‘Want it?’ Do they have the ‘Capacity’ to do it?
Importantly, it doesn’t end there. Every quarter we ask our team members to perform that same task as a self-assessment in their 1-on-1s. People change, but there’s no room for the right person in the wrong seat or the wrong person in the right seat. So if they no longer GWC their role, we find the right seat for them.”
A third must-read book is The WHO Method for Hiring.
Sam adds, “As we know, best practices quickly become outdated and are often actually not in fact what you want. The one book that I would recommend is the WHO Method for Hiring, however even that, it’s just ok. I think it’s important to read these books to get a sense of the principles, but then you also have to apply them to your own situation and your own business.
You need to conduct a LOT of interviews.
Interviewing is a skill you can develop. There’s no substitute for experience. Also, you need to interview people for culture and values fit, not just skills fit. I can’t understate the importance of this.
You need a process and interview questions and exercises for determining how well a candidate fits with your values and your culture. I have some further suggestions there, but that’s probably a whole additional topic.”
In sum, building out a dynamic hiring process is the most important thing you can do if you want to build a scalable and predictable agency. While the process isn’t static, the strategies and tactics outlined above can provide a solid foundation.