How to Find Great Employees: Taking a Proactive Approach

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on August 12, 2019

Tim Walsh is a Partner at MICA Consulting Group, a boutique search firm in Boston. For the past 15+ years, he has specialized in placing marketing professionals with growing technology companies in the Boston area.

The question is simple: how can you do a better job of hiring the best talent? Companies of all sizes depend on top talent to succeed. In today’s hot job market, acquiring that talent is more challenging than ever.

So, for starters, how do you better locate talent? You have to take a proactive approach. Posting a job description in hopes of netting a top candidate or two is well worth doing, but a crapshoot. Beyond the “post-and-pray” method, you need to do the following:

1. Develop a list of top local companies similar in size and stage to yours, even if they are not in your industry.

You can probably think of several companies off the top of your head, but there are also resources like trade associations and industry news sites, such as AmericanInno, that can be invaluable. The theory is this: successful, well-regarded companies typically have top-performing employees. Make these companies your targets and start proactively reaching out to their employees, whether via LinkedIn (via direct messaging and through shared LinkedIn groups), the networks of your current employees, or in partnership with a headhunting firm that specializes in the role you are trying to fill.

2. Look for local professional niche networking groups.

You can find potential candidates through online resources such as – a great place to find groups of developers, engineers, UX and analytics folks, among other disciplines –  and professional learning communities such as General Assembly and Startup Institute. Members of Meetup groups tend to be passionate about what they do, and very good at networking. Join a Meetup group and attend one of their meetings and you’ll be among many potential candidates. General Assembly does a great job of helping their students land positions after they complete their programs, hosting recruiting events and maintaining alumni networking groups.

3. When you do locate the talent you want to recruit, make sure your message to them is tight and compelling.

Don’t just fire off a job description (chances are the person is not looking to make a move). Rather, talk about the reasons the position is open, what impact the person can make in the role, and what career growth opportunities are available. What are the top two or three reasons the job is compelling? (Note: these reasons often don’t even appear in the job description!) Highlight all these things in your outreach. You may also want to consider taking a soft-sell approach – letting the person know you’d love to connect with them over the phone or for coffee even if they aren’t considering a job change at the moment. This kind of approach will elicit a better response than just sending along a standard job description and asking, “What do you think?”. And, it will help you build a talent pool for future openings.

Once you get a candidate into your interview process, feel good about your efforts, because attracting top performers is not an easy job. Now, you have to evaluate the candidate’s skills for the job. That can be an equally difficult task, even though you know the person is coming in with strong credentials (and maybe even with a personal referral).

It’s no secret the interview process at most companies is lacking and in need of improvement. Most people aren’t trained on how to conduct a good interview, and hiring managers frequently rely on their “gut feel” when deciding to hire someone. Often, there is inconsistency in the interview process for a position (e.g. different interviewers, varying number of rounds, etc.). But, while it takes some extra effort, you can improve your methods for evaluating a candidate and, by doing so, you will make better hires (while greatly reducing your odds of making a bad hire). Here are three things you can do immediately to improve your interview process:

Require candidates to complete an assignment

More and more companies are making “homework” part of their interview process. And why not? It’s a great way to see a candidate’s work product and get additional insight into how they think. Sometimes someone seems great in an interview, but their assignment shows a gap in knowledge. It can work the other way, too. Someone who does not wow you initially can crank out an impressive work sample, causing you to rethink your initial impression. Pro tip: when developing an assignment, try to design it so it won’t require more than two hours for a candidate to complete. Why? Usually, the person is working and will have limited time to complete and return the assignment. It takes some pressure off them and ensures you get the assignment back in a timely fashion.

Conduct a behavioral interview

In addition to a traditional Q&A/conversational interview, you will learn a lot more about a candidate if you also conduct a behavioral interview. Behavioral interviews allow you to probe further when evaluating traits such as leadership, initiative, problem-solving skills, and others. Use the STAR method:

  • Situation: Ask the candidate to describe a situation in which they needed to accomplish a specific objective[s].
  • Task: What goal were they working toward?
  • Action: Describe actions taken and steps followed over a period of time. What was their specific contribution?
  • Result: What was the outcome of actions? What was learned?

Done right, a behavioral interview can take up to an hour and revolves around one initial question followed by a series of additional probing questions that allow you to peel back the onion of a specific experience in a candidate’s past. Google “behavioral interviewing” and you will find a wealth of info on the topic. Becoming a good behavioral interviewer takes practice and you may want to get formal training. But, even if you’re doing it for the first time, you will find it can dramatically improve your quality of hire.

Spend time with candidates in an informal setting

Taking a candidate out for lunch or coffee, either one-on-one or with your team, will give you a better sense of how the person will fit in with your corporate culture. As much as you want to find someone who has all the right technical skills for the job, it is equally important to find employees who gel with your culture, especially if you are part of a smaller organization.

Hopefully you’re already doing some or all of the best practices noted above. If so, kudos to you. If not, all of these tactics are relatively easy to implement, and by doing so, you should see some quick, positive results in your recruitment efforts. Good luck out there!

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Tim Walsh
Tim Walsh

Tim Walsh is a Partner at Foundation Talent. He was previously Co-founder & Managing Partner, Digital Marketing Practice, at ConnectedSearch. CS specializes in filling digital marketing & media, sales, creative and technology roles. Tim spent the first eight years of his career in direct and digital marketing roles. He made a successful transition to the recruiting field in 2003, becoming the top-performing search consultant for a search firm in Cambridge, MA. While there, he filled more than 400 positions and helped the business grow from four to 15 employees.
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