Lead by writing

Guides, resources and templates for managers. Learn from the best and become a better manager from recruiting to employee onboarding.


The craft of your most valuable asset, people.

Employee Onboarding

Improvised starts lead to early ends.


Say it before it's too late.
1. Recruiting

The craft of your most valuable asset, people

Hiring is not an intuitive skill. Everybody knows it's the people that dictate a team's success or failure. Everybody wants to hire well. But it doesn't always work out this way. This guide will help to set your company apart by bringing more intention, transparency, and scalability to your hiring process.

Before the interview

Align the team on what you're looking for

A rigorous hiring process requires a shared source of truth defining what a successful hire is. Otherwise, throughout the hiring process (that can drag on longer than expected) teammates may fall out of alignment and start looking for different things in candidates, and biases may arise.

“When we were smaller, the hiring process would start with someone stating "I need to hire for x" and then immediately start looking for that person based on that person's need.
Every team that needs to hire drafts a hiring plan that is then circulated to the hiring team to ensure recurring questions have been answered.”

— Henri Stern
Research Scientist, Protocol Labs

Important questions to answer in your hiring plan are

  • How urgent is this role?
  • What level will they be at
  • Which teammates will this new hire be in close contact with (have they seen the hiring plan)?
  • What are the expected responsibilities within 3, 6, 9 months?
  • What would the growth of that role beyond a year look like?
  • What are clear traits or anti-traits of this role?
  • What interviews should be done (down to specific questions for structured interviews)?
  • Who on the team will be conducting them?

Define a weighted scorecard

One of the best ways to prepare is to define and evaluate based on specific criteria in a scorecard. Follow our template inspired by Intercom's hiring process to start hiring more efficiently and fairly.

Choose and weight the key competencies

Decide on 5-10 factors that are needed to perform in the job, then weight them. It's worth including as many factors as possible that will contribute to success, but acknowledging that some are more important than others.

For example for a sales rep, technical ability might be good but not necessary, so weight that 5. Whereas communication is critical, that would be 10.

Build interview questions based on the criteria

For each success criteria defined above, think of 3-4 questions that will give an idea of their level of expertise.

For example to lightly evaluate a candidate's technical understanding, one could ask about the latest technology trends or experience with coding.

“The scorecard reduces possible biases. For example, I could easily subconsciously favor a candidate who worked at a startup I really admire, or from the same city as me.”

— Stan Massueras
Director, EMEA Sales, Intercom

Source creatively

Particularly if your company is early stage, you may not have the luxury of having an established brand that passively attracts top talent. If this is the case, you'll have to get creative. For more information on this, check out our blog post on how we sourced 86+ quality applications.

Watch online communities that your ideal candidate might post in (e.g, Twitter, forums, Hacker News Who's Hiring threads). Watch the employee activity of comparable companies on LinkedIn. Get in touch with the writers of relevant newsletters. Write blog posts on Medium that would appeal to them.

During the interview

Make a good impression

Hiring is a two-way street. It isn't about setting a stage for candidates and getting them to perform. The best people will have options, so they're interviewing the company as much as they are being interviewed. It's a moment to show how great, or not-so-great it is to work at your company.

Be clear about what the process will be. Send a rough timeline of what's upcoming. Give feedback. The more you share and the earlier, the better. Especially as a remote company, it's better to get in the habit of over-communicating and not leave candidates guessing.

“Our main focus in the hiring experience is the candidate experience, which is often overlooked.
We put huge efforts into making the process entirely transparent and we always give feedback, whether we move forward with candidates or not.”

— Rita Wittek
People Operations, Homerun

Get a second opinion

When possible, have at least two people in every interview, with one doing the note taking, and the other leading the conversation. Do a short debrief after to compare your impressions.

Previously, we've felt that it would be overwhelming to interview one candidate with two people but we actually have found that it allows one of us to focus on the conversation, the other to take a lot of notes.
It also helps to avoid bias and encourages diversity.

— Åsa Nyström
VP Customer Advocacy, Buffer

Reference checks

A common interviewing mistake is not doing reference checks. These will often give you biggest signal you need on a candidate, either positively or negatively.

You need to do at least two reference checks over phone calls. Warn the candidate, ask if it's ok (and dig if it's not), but don't ask them to intro you. The call should last 15 minutes, max. You simply ask the following questions.

  • For which job do you think we're talking to John?
  • What's an anecdote or moment he/she surprised you the most?
  • What's an anecdote or moment he/she disappointed you the most?
  • What's his biggest area of improvement?
  • How would you rate him a scale 0-10?

After the interview

If you make an offer, let them know what to expect

Setting expectations should happen not only during the interviewing process, but also as soon as the offer is sent.

When the offer is sent, we spell out what will happen in the next 30, 60 and 90 days. If the offer is accepted, it really helps with preparing for onboarding and the first performance review 90 days in. We strive to make our expectations transparent so our new teammate is set up for success.

— Henri Stern
Research Scientist, Protocol Labs

Reject with care

There will of course be candidates that don't match your expectations. When this happens, it's easy to send the stock "We've decided to move forward with other candidates, thank you for your time." Candidates know this sentence has been copy and pasted, which is just salt on the wound of the rejection.

Instead, take 5 minutes to put in that small bit of effort to tell them what's not fitting. If any come to mind, offers tips or potential alternative paths to the candidate. Having a scorecard or an interview feedback template can help you provide value and insights for their future search.

This leaves them with a growth opportunity and a good reflection on your brand, and they may apply again to a better-suited role in the future, or talk about their positive experience with your brand to other job seekers. It's also simply the right thing to do.

Keep a record of what happened

While interviewing, the idea of what the ideal candidate looks like is bound to change. Capturing on these final expectations for a new teammate at the time of offer helps to align everyone on how to bring them on board. It also provides context to iterate on your team's hiring process.

Protocol Labs is inspired by Palantir's "hiring thesis" approach. It's a one-pager drafted by the hiring manager that records each candidate's story, as gathered from specific interviews/interactions. It includes:

  • Strengths
  • Risks
  • What success level looks like
  • What exceeding looks like
  • Specific ways in which the candidate can be set up for success in their first month

Whether it's a hiring thesis or another document, the idea is to centralize all the interactions, impressions, reference tracks of a candidate in a consistent document across teams. It's an invaluable resource to look back on when making the final decision.

We keep hiring theses, which help align everyone's expectations for the role and teammate and also give us a source of truth when our process falls short. With the thesis, we have unredacted clues on what might have gone wrong. This helps us to avoid making the same mistakes twice.

Finally, we have a panel that reviews these and makes a final decision on hires to ensure all of our teams hold themselves to the same standards when hiring.

— Henri Stern
Research Scientist, Protocol Labs

Act fast when someone's not working out

It's one of the most difficult things to do, but if expectations have been set in stone clearly from the start, it should be obvious when it's time to let someone go. Delaying it ends up wasting more time, for both the team and the hire.

Do not be afraid of letting people go quite quickly.
I’m a big fan of hiring the finest, being super transparent, giving people empowerment and the tools that they need to succeed. If they can’t succeed under those circumstances, you should transparently let them go in a way where there’s no shock or surprise.
Everyone should be aware of where they stand and what the expectations are, and if they’re missing them, it’s the end of the road.

— Sam Jones
Founder, Gener8

Really, consider going remote

Many industries are going through a revolution of remote working. On the employee side it lets people live where they choose, focus better, and spend less time commuting. On the company side it removes a geographical constraint on your hiring pool, and opens you up to top talent all over the globe.

A lot of the past problems of remote work are being ironed out as simple communication and trust issues. We also believe this is being accelerated by tools like Slack and Slite. It's only a matter of time before all the best talent in the world will work remotely. The benefits simply outweigh the cons. Now is the time to take the competitive advantage of hiring remotely while you still can.

Every CTO I speak with complains about hiring difficulties, but when I ask if they're hiring remote, they all say "no". It's been the single most effective recruiting strategy we've used.

— Pierre Renaudin
CTO, Slite
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