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Foolproof Steps to Hiring an Employee into Your Creative Agency

Your Foolproof Checklist for Hiring Employees

To grow your creative agency, you will have to hire people. There’s only so much you or your existing team can do. The problem is that you find hiring procedures for creative agencies more than a little challenging.

If the hiring process leaves you frustrated and fearful that your chosen candidate will turn out to be a failure, you’re not alone. I’ve had hundreds of creative agency owners tell me their hiring horror stories. Others become so frustrated that they take potentially calamitous and costly hiring steps. Here’s a couple of examples:

  • One executive told me that he has practically given up trying to hire great people first time. Instead, he hires a lot of people and hopes that among them he finds the star his business needs.

  • A former boss explained to me, ‘You can never really know who you’ve hired until they’ve worked here for a few months. Every new hire is a crapshoot.’

I think you’ll agree that neither strategy is a great way to approaching hiring an employee who will be the asset your business needs. In this article, you’ll learn the hiring process steps that will swing the pendulum in your favor. You’ll also have a ready-made checklist for hiring employees to make sure you don’t miss a single step.

Article Contents:

  1. The creative agency’s checklist for hiring employees
  2. The cost of a bad hire
  3. You need a hiring mindset
  4. What are the steps in the hiring process for creative agencies?
  5. Stage 1: Preparing and promoting the job description
    1. Hiring Step #1: Prepare the job description
    2. Hiring Step #2: Complete the job posting
    3. Hiring Step #3: Promote the job
    4. Hiring Step #4: Establish a pay rate
    5. Hiring Step #5: Review resumes
  6. Stage 2: The Application Process
    1. Hiring Step #6: Send out application forms
    2. Hiring Step #7: Conduct a phone screen
    3. Hiring Step #8: Request work samples
    4. Hiring Step #9: Test for personality
  7. Stage 3: In-person interviews
    1. Hiring Step #10: Create an interview guide
    2. Hiring Step #11: Follow a proven interview process
    3. Hiring Step #12: If needed, conduct a second interview
  8. Stage 4: Making the hiring decision
    1. Hiring Step #13: Assess critically, and raise concerns with the candidate
    2. Hiring Step #14: Background checks and references
    3. Hiring Step #14: Make your hiring decision
    4. Hiring Step #15: Make the offer
  9. Maintain a talent pool
  10. Warning! It doesn’t work to hire friends and family
  11. A consistent process produces consistent results

The creative agency’s checklist for hiring employees

Step to Complete


Stage 1: Preparing and promoting the job description

Hiring Step #1: Prepare the job description

Hiring Step #2: Complete the job posting

Hiring Step #3: Promote the job

Hiring Step #4: Establish a pay rate

Hiring Step #5: Review resumes

Stage 2: The Application Process

Hiring Step #6: Send out applications form

Hiring Step #7: Conduct a phone screen

Hiring Step #8: Request work samples

Hiring Step #9: Test for personality

Stage 3: In-person interviews

Hiring Step #10: Create an interview guide

Hiring Step #11: Follow a proven interview process

Hiring Step #12: If needed, conduct a second interview

Stage 4: Making the hiring decision

Hiring Step #13: Assess critically, and raise concerns with the candidate

Hiring Step #14: Background checks and references

Hiring Step #14: Make your hiring decision

Hiring Step #15: Make the offer

For more information on creating a great hiring checklist see The Foolproof Hiring Checklist.

The cost of a bad hire

It turns out that bad hires are made more often than you might think.

A LeadershipIQ study found that only one in five hires proved to be an unequivocal success, and that half of new recruits fail within 18 months. 

Undercover Recruiter has calculated that a second-level manager earning $62k a year who you terminate after 2.5 years will cost you a colossal $840,000.

How much could a bad hire cost you? You can calculate the costs of by totaling the following:

  • Hiring costs

  • Total compensation

  • Cost of maintaining the employee

  • Disruption costs

  • Severance

  • Mistakes, failures, missed opportunities

Clearly, the strategy of hiring as many people as possible and hoping one fits is catastrophic for a creative agency. It’s a little like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping one strand sticks.

Now, turn this equation on its head. 

How much better could your business be doing if you made great hires every time? 

Is this possible? 

If you could replicate the successful small business hiring practices that deliver the one-in-five total successes, then the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

You need a hiring mindset

Before you get started on hiring the best, you’ve got to put on your hiring manager’s hat. I know that hiring isn’t ‘your job’, but it is your responsibility. Now you have some idea of how much a bad hire could cost you, getting it right becomes even more important.

Sure, you’ll be somewhat scared that you hire the wrong person. Reviewing resumes, conducting interviews, and negotiating salaries take you out of your comfort zone. You’ll be concerned about the whole hiring process, and the time it will take to find someone to do the job. 

All the while you’ll have that nagging feeling that the candidate who looks great on paper and was so personable at the interview won’t be so hot in the role.

There’s another demon you must contend with, too. Time. 

It’s probable that you’ll be doing the work of the person you’re hoping to hire until you hire them. That plays with your mind. 

Often, it leads you to hiring too fast – and that is almost inevitably going to lead to a hiring failure. Instead of a problem solved, your hiring strategy compounds the issue you were trying to solve.

Before getting started on hiring great people, stop focusing on the pain of the hiring process steps. Instead, think about two things:

  1. How hiring the right person the first time will make your job easier. It will make you look good. It will make you more profitable. 

  2. Now consider the flip side of the coin. How much harder will your job be if you hire the wrong person? Will a poor hire free up your time, or cost you time? Will they make you money, or cost you money?

Our checklist for hiring employees makes sure you employ a consistent procedure to capture the best talent.

Will you get it right every time?

Probably not. But you’ll probably flip from one-in-five great hires to four-in-five amazing hires.

Now that your mindset is set to hiring mode, let’s look at the hiring process that I recommend you use.

What are the steps in the hiring process for creative agencies?

You can condense the hiring process into four stages:

  1. Preparing and promoting the job description

  2. The application process

  3. Best practices for interviews

  4. Making the hiring decision

Follow the hiring steps described in this article, and you’ll be following a process I use when helping clients to continuously hire the best people into their creative agencies.

Let’s get started.

Stage 1: Preparing and promoting the job description 

You should aim to speak to a lot of candidates: the hiring process is like a funnel. You want lots pouring in at the top of the funnel to get a few great candidates flowing out at the bottom. 

The more applicants you attract, the greater the variety you will see and the greater the chance of hiring successfully. However, while you want lots of candidates, it is important to make sure that they are right for the role as early as possible.

Quantity is great, but never lose sight of quality. Applicants need the skills to perform their role and they need the personality and professional traits that make them a good fit for your business.

Therefore, you should spend a lot of time on crafting your job description and job posting to attract the candidates you feel would add value to your business.

Hiring Step #1: Prepare the job description

Be clear on the job and the person that is needed to do it. You’ve got to be clear about the role and the candidate you want to attract. Without role clarity, you are setting yourself up for failure. 

There’s an art to writing a great job description. You can use my downloadable job posting template to make this easier. Before you work on the template, write down all you know about the job, such as:

  • Duties and responsibilities

  • Daily tasks

  • Where the role fits in your company

  • Level of seniority

You will need to consider if there is enough work to warrant hiring a new employee and how the role is different from others in your company.

Hiring Step #2: Complete the job posting

With your job description written, compose your job posting. This is the marketing tool to sell the role to potential candidates who are interested in working for you and possess the skills to do the role. It should deter time wasters, leaving you with only relevant resumes to review. In your job posting, you should:

  • Sell your company

  • Sell the job (by focusing on the emotional payback of the role)

  • Unsell the job (describe the primary challenges of the role – this will screen out those who aren’t up to the challenge)

  • Describe the required and nice-to-have skills (be specific here)

  • Specific instructions on how to apply

Notice that I haven’t included salary or compensation. While you may decide to include the job’s financial details, you really want to attract people who buy into the potential, not those who are mostly concerned about the money.

Hiring Step #3: Promote the job

Consider where you should advertise – where your ideal candidates hang out. You may decide to use job boards or professional organizations, or ask for referrals from your current employees. Don’t spread your efforts too wide, though: targeting will attract the best candidates.

At this point, you should request a resume from interested candidates, sent to you with the answers to between four and six accompanying questions (this can be online on your website or completed via a hiring tool). Make two or three of these questions text boxes, so you can check the candidate’s writing ability.

Hiring Step #4: Establish a pay rate

Decide on the pay range before you go further. Do some research to discover what competitors are paying, and search on the websites of professional organizations that often publish average pay rates for their industries.

Hiring Step #5: Review resumes

Reviewing resumes can be a bore and a chore. Plus, many candidates lie on their resumes to get an interview at which they hope to dupe you. Hence the accompanying questions, which should be crafted to help you identify their ability to do the role. Candidates who don’t complete the role-specific questions successfully can be rejected immediately.

Compare the resumes to your job description. Any that fall short of the professional traits you identified can be rejected. 

Pay attention, too, to how detail-oriented the candidate has been. If this is the best the candidate can present of themselves, will they really be a great employee?

Stage 2: The Application Process

You have now reduced your resumes to a list of candidates you might consider interviewing. Yes, it’s like a knockout competition. At each stage, your list of candidates is reduced. You improve the quality of your candidate pool as you proceed.

Hiring Step #6: Send out application forms

Before you invite candidates to interview, email them an application form. Some may not wish to go through this step, eliminating themselves from the hiring process. That’s good news – do you want to employ a person who is unwilling to follow your procedures?

Hiring Step #7: Conduct a phone screen

Before inviting candidates to an in-person (or virtual) interview, carry out a brief phone screen interview. This can be done by someone who understands the role and your culture. They should:

  • Present an overview of the role, focusing on the challenges

  • Ask questions to confirm experience and skills

  • Ask questions that compare the candidate’s character traits with your company culture

My experience has shown that when candidates speak to someone who is not the hiring manager, they present more honestly. (I’ve developed a phone screening script to help with this and ensure consistency. You can download this here.)

You’ll eliminate more candidates during this step.

Hiring Step #8: Request work samples

Would you buy a car without test driving it? Hiring a new person is a far bigger investment, so I recommend asking the remaining candidates to complete a piece of work that replicates what they would be doing in the role. Test their ability with a ‘real-world’ situation that they may find themselves in should you offer them the job.

Any that don’t complete this step, or do so poorly, can be eliminated from the process.

Hiring Step #9: Test for personality

There are some great online personality tests that you can use to get a better idea of a candidate’s nature. This will help you understand their strengths and weaknesses – and will help you to decide on areas to explore in an interview.

Stage 3: In-person interviews

An interview is a crucial step in the hiring process. I advise that you don’t make gut-reaction decisions, and instead follow a specified interview process, designing the interview to discover as much extra information as possible.

Hiring Step #10: Create an interview guide

An interview guide will ensure that you treat all candidates equally and remove unconscious bias from the process. A good interview will not only help to identify a potential hire but also discover how best to manage them when they join your team.

Remember, your instinct is to want the candidate to be ‘the one’. You must resist the temptation to be swept away – don’t be tempted to fall in love at first sight. A long interview combats this. You should also ensure that the candidate knows honesty is expected. Finally, get out of the mindset of ‘I must hire quickly’. Instead, maintain the mindset ‘I must hire right’.

Hiring Step #11: Follow a proven interview process

Here’s how I conduct interviews:

  • Introductions

Break the ice. Offer a glass of water, check how they say their name, and read section 1 of the interview to set the stage for the interview.

  • Discover personal background

Using their resume as a guide, get a little more background knowledge. This is designed to learn who they are as a person and what brought them to where they are today and to also help the candidate relax.

  • Explore work history

Now, ask the candidate about their last three jobs – using the same questions for each. This helps to identify patterns that even the candidate may not have previously realized existed.

  • Ask general questions

The candidate now expects you to dig deeper, but there is time for this later. Instead, ask more general questions, and perhaps one or two that they may not be expecting. This helps you to see their response to unforeseen situations. 

They should be questions for which the candidate probably has not been able to prepare. This will help you uncover natural personality traits (e.g., defensive, push back, logical, etc.).

Ask, too, what the candidate knows about your company – it’s a great way to gauge their real interest in working for you.

  • Role-specific questions

Now, it’s time to pull back to role-specific questions. These are designed to test knowledge, experience, and skills. Never assume the candidate can do the job just because they say so on their resume.

  • Behavioral questions

These are questions that will help you understand the candidate’s cultural fit, and their capability to be successful in the role and your team. Asking situational questions (in this case, ‘What did you do?’) will help you to assess how the candidate may react to similar situations in your business.

  • The future

You must also learn about the candidate’s plans. Are there other roles to which they have applied, and why? What are the candidate’s career objectives? From your discussions, today, does this opportunity look like the one they have applied for?

  • Strengths and weaknesses

Before asking the candidate if they have any questions they wish to ask, throw a final curveball. 

Ask what they consider are their strengths and weaknesses. If a candidate says they have no weaknesses, don’t hire them. If a candidate is more aware of their weaknesses than their strengths, think long and hard before employing them. I’m not saying don’t, but they could end up having a negative effect on your team.

Hiring Step #12: If needed, conduct a second interview

A second interview allows you to interview a candidate and get a different perspective. How? Get someone else involved – a senior member of your team, someone the candidate will work with. Make sure that this second interviewer understands the attributes and traits you are looking for, and follows an interview guide.

Stage 4: Making the hiring decision

By now, you should have only two or three candidates remaining. It is now time to decide who you should hire.

Hiring Step #13: Assess critically, and raise concerns with the candidate

Immediately after the interview, read through your notes and apply critical thinking. Look for patterns in their work experience, how they have described previous working relationships and bosses, and how they have worked best. You are probably going to have mixed feelings about the candidate – no one is perfect.

Note any concerns you have and how these may affect their performance and ability to be successful. Save these notes – and follow up with the candidate to discuss them. A candid conversation will help you to set expectations. It also provides a starting point about future performance and shows that you care about your employees.

Hiring Step #14: Background checks and references

If you are considering making an offer, it is crucial that you conduct background checks – which must be conducted by legally compliant third parties. They will check for judgments, felonies, records from DEA, FBI, and National Sex Offender Registry databases. You may also include education and employment verification, as well as a check on the candidate’s credit background.

You should contact references by phone, and learn to read between the lines. Listen for emotion, the adjectives used, and how specific answers are. If the review is glowing and emphatic, it’s genuine.

Hiring Step #14: Make your hiring decision

Don’t make a hiring decision unless you have interviewed at least three people. Your final choice will be a balance between the person with:

  • The best combination of experience, skills, and cultural fit 

  • Weaknesses that can be managed, overcome, or mitigated

If you are hiring more than one person, consider if a candidate is better than the average person in your existing team – by hiring above average you will improve your team and your business. Never settle for the best of a bad bunch.

Hiring Step #15: Make the offer

Send the successful candidate(s) a written offer detailing the role, compensation package, and start date.

You’re there!

Maintain a talent pool

Hiring talented people should be a continuous process. Instead of lurching from one hiring cycle to another, by maintaining an internal and external talent pool, you will hire better-quality candidates more easily m- and your job offers will be less likely to be rejected.

Constantly monitor your existing people, identifying skills gaps and taking action to upskill where possible. Great business leaders guide and coach their people – it’s in your role description!

Those candidates that were close to being offered a job? Stay in touch. Keep tabs on them. You never know when they will become the very person you need to hire.

Warning! It doesn’t work to hire friends and family

Some business owners will try to fill vacancies from friends and family. It’s quick, easy, and probably helping someone out. Don’t even go there. You’ll find that they expect extra freedom, give you the ‘benefit of their advice’, and probably won’t have the level of commitment you need. Of course, if you need to let them go for any reason, it’s going to be tough. It’s not worth ruining a great relationship for.

A consistent process produces consistent results

As I said earlier in this article, a consistent hiring process will produce consistent results. By following these hiring steps, you should boost your hiring success in giant strides. You’re working on a system that I’ve honed over many years and used with hundreds of clients.

It takes time, energy, and commitment to hiring. It takes even more energy and time if you make bad hires. My eBook ‘Foolproof Steps to Make Your Hiring Process More Successful’ will help you develop your hiring process to be successful. Or you could do what many of our clients do – take advantage of our recruiting services for creative agencies.

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