Management Skills

5 Hiring tips from a first-time manager

16 min read

From sharing effective and personalized feedback to blocking "you" time in your calendar, hire the best candidate for your team without burning yourself out.

This year marked the beginning of my journey as a people leader. It was also the first time I stepped into the shoes of a hiring manager.

So, in an effort to document my learnings, I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned to help you hire the best candidate for your team without burning out.

In this article I’ll walk through the biggest lessons I learned going through my first hiring process:

  1. Hiring is a marathon, not a sprint
  2. Remind yourself that hiring is your job
  3. Have a process in place
  4. Encourage candidates to ask questions
  5. Share helpful feedback with every candidate you talk to

#1 Hiring is very time-consuming

When you’re getting into the world of being on the other side of the table, there’s a lot of excitement to go around:

  1. For first-timers like me, it’s a new skill and process that you’re learning about. Who doesn’t love growth?
  2. You’re building out your team and that’s an incredible feeling. You’ve not only proven out the importance of your department or discipline within that department, but you’ve done such a good job that you now have the budget to warrant more resources.
  3. You have the opportunity to bring on individuals who will level up the team. You’ll be able to coach them, but they’ll bring in their own expertise to teach you as well.

All of this makes hiring a really exciting and enjoyable process. 🙌

But, with all of that excitement, it’s easy to want to hit the ground running.

However, after a few weeks into the interview process, you quickly learn that it’s draining. All of your time and focus are spent on hiring the best person for the role. From the emotionally draining process of rejecting great candidates to constantly being “on” across multiple interviews, it takes its toll, fast.

The time-consuming reality of hiring

Before we kicked off interviews, I never had more than 2 hours’ worth of meetings in my calendar in any given week (shoutout to the Soapbox team for running effective meetings).

Look at all of that beautiful focus time. 😍

Hiba's calendar pre-hiring
(Hiba’s calendar pre-interviews)

But, in the midst of hiring, my calendar got booked up with a slew of meetings every week.

Bye-bye focus time. 😢

Hiba's calendar during interviews
(Hiba’s calendar during interviews)

Not only does it take a toll on you mentally to be giving each candidate 100% of yourself, but you feel less productive as a result. Not to mention the emotional toll it takes to reject candidates in a meaningful way, but more on that later.

Key takeaway #1:

Hit the ground running, but do it at a reasonable pace. Block off hours for yourself every week for things like lunch, mental breaks, and productivity blocks.

Not to mention, you’ll also need to block off time to let candidates know if they’re moving on to the next round or not (and what next steps are!)

#2 Reminder: Hiring is your job

Before hiring, your day-to-day feels a lot more productive.

  • You can crank out 3-5 blogs per week
  • You’re able to write 400 lines of code every sprint
  • Your average time-to-close a ticket was 5 minutes

But, once hiring starts, it’s unrealistic to expect that same level of productivity to continue. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself that hiring is productive.

You can do this by:

  • Setting goals for yourself (review 100 resumes by the end of the day)
  • Reach out to and schedule the first round of interviews with top candidates by the end of the week
  • Have an offer out within 30 days of the first screening call

Having goals will help you measure your progress (and feel productive as a result!)

While it’s time-consuming, it’s still productive

Don’t get me wrong, hiring is a productive effort because of the results it will yield once an offer is signed (when done right) and the employee is onboarded. But, you don’t get the instant satisfaction that you’re used to getting with contributor-type work.

That’s why it’s so important to remind yourself that hiring is your job now and, while it might not feel like it at the moment, it’s productive.

Throughout this process, you’re making a BIG and costly business decision that will ultimately help the business grow. This isn’t an A/B test that you can approach with the classic startup mindset of “fail fast and learn.”

Failing here means you’re okay with hiring and firing people until the right person comes along. That’s not okay.

Take your time throughout the process. Don’t settle on a candidate (and don’t let them settle either).

Key takeaway #2:

It’s okay to feel less productive during the hiring process. It doesn’t mean, however, that your actions aren’t productive. Expect less output and productivity in the short-term in exchange for more in the long-term.

#3 Have a process in place before you post the job

If you want to ensure you’re selecting the right candidate, it’s important to truly understand what you’re looking for. This means that you should have the following documented before you hit “post” on the job description:

  1. Outcomes: What will success look like for this person? How will their success be measured?
  2. Scorecard: What qualities, soft skills, and technical skills are most important for success in this role?
  3. Interview steps: How many rounds of interviews will you need to make a decision? What will each round entail? Who will be involved at each step?
  4. A standardized list of interview questions: What questions will you ask every candidate?

Let’s walk through what we used at Soapbox when hiring a Content Marketing Manager. These documents were adapted from SMARTtools for Leaders™ templates. The information shown has also been altered.

Candidate scorecard

Here’s a list of the information to include for each candidate:

  • Candidate name
  • Date of interview
  • Rating and contexts (A, B, C, etc)
  • Recommendation (should they move on to the next round?)

Here’s a list of the standardized information to include on the scorecard across every candidate:

  • The mission of the role
  • Desired outcomes/how they’ll be measured on success
  • Desired competencies (technical, hard, and soft skills)

Here’s what it looks like all together:

Interview scorecard for hiring managers
competencies matrix for scorecard for hiring managers
At Soapbox, we only move forward A-level candidates. These are candidates who we would score an 8/10 or above.

Standardized questions

While these will differ from role to role when it comes to the technical/skills-focused interviews, at Soapbox we typically keep our screening call questions the same across the board. Here’s the template we use across all of our screening interviews:

Phone screen interview questions template

Key takeaway #3:

Having a process in place will help you take a very chaotic and balancing-act-type experience and turn it into one that’s an organized flow. When you’re able to feel prepared for every single conversation, you’re more likely to succeed in hiring the right person.

#4 Encourage candidates to ask questions

Remember that candidates are interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them.

But, just as you’re creating a psychologically safe space with your direct reports, it’s important you do the same across the interview process.

How we created a safe space for candidates to ask questions and be themselves

At the start of every screening call, Soapbox hiring managers will say some form of the following message:

I wanted to share the goal of this call. Ultimately, we just want to learn what your career goals are and make sure that not only is there a fit from your skills, but that we can facilitate a path for growth for you.

Before I dive into our questions, I want to preface that there really aren’t any right or wrong answers. So, we’ll take turns, I’ll ask my 6 standard questions here and then I’ll open up the floor for you to grill me! How does that sound?

That final sentence “you can grill me” puts a smile on every candidate’s face. Using humor really helps ease people into the conversation. As a result, I’ve been asked anywhere from 3-7 questions about the role, culture, position, and team from each candidate.

If a candidate is grilling me, I take it as a sign that they not only care about their next step but that they feel comfortable asking questions.

My biggest flex to date in my journey of becoming a manager was when a candidate shared in an interview that the entire Soapbox team made them feel safe and comfortable to be themselves and get the answers they needed to evaluate the role. 🏆

If you’re looking to set some goals as you enter your next hiring process, making candidates feel safe should definitely be on the list.

Key takeaway #4:

Create a psychologically safe space for every candidate to be themselves. This will make it easier for them to open up and ask the questions they need answered to make the right decision for them. Use jokes and be vulnerable to ease the mood and set the tone for open, honest communication.

#5 Your relationship goes beyond one interview process

With every interview process you run, it’s important that you understand that your relationship with candidates doesn’t end when you say yes or no.

If they had a great experience, they’ll remember that the next time a role opens up. They’ll recommend relevant and talented friends or apply again themselves.

If they left feeling sour because of how you treated them, that will affect your entire employer brand. If they hear anyone mention being excited about a role at your company… Chances are they’re not going to be encouraging and excited for that individual.

Careers are lifelong so be sure to leave a good impression with every person who enters your interview process.

Let’s walk through 3 ways to do this:

  1. Share feedback with every candidate
  2. Don’t use a boilerplate rejection letter
  3. Help open doors for candidates

Every candidate deserves feedback

Similar to manager-employee relationships, feedback sharing is the key to building trust and improve performance.

Sharing feedback with prospective employees not only gives them closure, but also enables them to improve for the next interview.

If you spent time talking to a candidate who isn’t moving forward, don’t use a boilerplate rejection letter. The least you can do is share your reasoning.

A lot of managers lean towards not doing this because they don’t want to deal with a candidate who disagrees with their decision. They also just don’t want to be called an “asshole.”

Honestly… Valid.

Also, it’s a time-consuming task so some managers just default to laziness because its’ easier to use a boilerplate template.

The positive impact personalized feedback has

Most candidates will truly appreciate and listen to the feedback you share, so long as it’s personalized to them. Don’t take my word for it though. Here are some of the responses I got back from personalized rejection emails I sent out to candidates:

“Thank you for getting back to me with this detailed response. I appreciate the honesty, thoughtfulness, and constructive feedback. I understand that as much as I love data and strategy, those things do not shine through on my resume. I will definitely keep them in mind moving forward when looking for other roles and adding new skills.”

Anonymous

“Thank you so much for the feedback! I really enjoyed our conversations and just connecting with you from a peer side! Know that I will continue to champion Soapbox at any company I’m at or build relationships with. I absolutely love what you guys are doing and the tools you’re creating for managers and employees everywhere.”

Anonymous

“Thanks so much for actually taking the time to provide personal feedback. That’s really refreshing and out of the norm, and honestly very needed after some horrible interviewing processes I’ve been through the past few weeks.”

Anonymous

Write a rejection letter that doesn’t suck

Templates are a great starting point, especially considering that there are a couple of messages you’ll be repeating across every candidate. Here are the two variations I used, depending on the stage within the interview process:

Email rejection template after screening call

Hey [candidate name],

Thank you for your interest in Soapbox!

We received a great response to the [job title] position, which makes us feel pumped that so many talented individuals (like you!) want to join our team. Although your background is impressive, we regret to inform you that we have decided to pursue other candidates for the position at this time.

Some feedback around our decision why:
1. [List first specific and relevant reason]
2. [List second specific and relevant reason]

I will note though that [share things that you felt they were strong in or things you admired about them].

We keep all resumes and interview notes on file, so if a role opens up that we feel you would fit, we will certainly reach out! Please also keep an eye on our careers as new positions open up. 

If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to reach out! 😊
-[your name]

Email rejection template after skills interview:

Hey [candidate name],

Thank you again for your interest in Soapbox! I appreciated the opportunity we had to speak together, and I was overall impressed with your background and experience.

Although your background is impressive, upon further review, the team was unable to select you as an ideal fit for the position and current needs. We just had a lot of incredibly talented applicants like yourself and decided to move forward with [add reasoning for why they weren’t selected to move forward].

While this isn’t the news we were hoping for, I do want to say that I really was impressed by you and really enjoyed getting to know you better. One of the strengths that I saw in you was [highlight things you think they do well, soft and/or hard skills].

On the flip side, here are some reasons as to why I felt like this role wasn’t right for you:
– [list out reason 1]
– [list out reason 2]

Like I said, you’re someone that I’m really impressed by and would love to continue to stay in touch, even if it’s not at Soapbox. If there are ever any intros I can make to help further your career, I will gladly do so.

[If you have any intros you can make or communities you’re open to inviting them to, now is a good time to share that!]

Please reach out whenever!

-Hiba

Email rejection after project:

Hey [candidate name],

I wanted to thank you again for your interest in Soapbox! I genuinely appreciated the opportunity we had to speak together, and I was overall impressed with your background and experience.

Although your background is impressive, upon further review, the team was unable to select you as an ideal fit for the position and current needs. We just had a lot of incredibly talented applicants like yourself and decided to move forward with a candidate who [add reasoning for why they weren’t selected to move forward].

While this isn’t the news we were hoping for, I do want to say that I really was impressed by you and really enjoyed getting to know you better.

In regards to specific feedback, here’s what I felt were your strengths that you should continue to highlight:
– [Strength #1]
– [Strength #2]
– [Strength #3]
– [Strength #4]

On the flip side, here are some reasons as to why we decided to go in another direction:
– [list out reason 1]
– [list out reason 2]

I know that this news probably sucks and I want to give you the time to process, but if there is anything I can do to help you out, I’m always here to help!

[If you have any intros you can make or communities you’re open to inviting them to, now is a good time to share that!]

I hope we can stay in touch. Please reach out whenever!
-Hiba

Is providing candidates with specific feedback a lot of work?

Yes.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely.

Open doors for every great candidate

For every candidate you’re impressed by, it’s important that you open the door to other opportunities. Just because it didn’t work out with you, doesn’t mean that it won’t with someone else. Here are some of the ways in which we’ve done this at Soapbox:

  1. Extend an invite to a community that’s helped you. For me, this is communities like All In and Superpath.
  2. Make an intro to other companies hiring for a similar role.

Key takeaway #5:

Be a good person and personalize feedback for every candidate you speak with. And, when you can, open doors. Careers are lifelong so be sure to be a positive blip on their memory.

Wrapping up

As you kick off your first, tenth, or fiftieth hiring process, I hope that the lessons I’ve learned will help you hiring the best candidate for the team. To wrap things up, here are the key takeaways:

  1. Schedule time for yourself throughout the week for things like lunch, checking things off of your todo list, and mental breaks to avoid burnout.
  2. Treat the hiring process as a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time to find the best candidate for the role and don’t settle.
  3. Document and plan your process before you publish the job description. This will save you a lot of time and stress once you kick off the interviewing process.
  4. Personalize feedback for every candidate who made the time to speak with you. They deserve nothing less.
  5. Be a good person throughout the process.

And finally, remember that careers are lifelong. Aim to be a positive memory for every individual who comes through your hiring funnel. It will pay off.

Have any hiring tips you’d like to add? Reach out to marketing@soapboxhq.com! We’d love to feature you in this piece. 😊