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Recruiting the best talent for your agency

Agencies rely on their people to succeed. Ultimately, agencies are selling labor hours, no matter how much we may all try to price things to obscure that fact.

Having the best talent helps make the difference between successful client engagements and those that come up short. But how do you get the quality you want and need?

Chip and Gini review the recruiting and hiring process in this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. The pair offer tips on how to find the right prospective hires and how to screen them.


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

CHIP: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

GINI: And I’m Gini Dietrich,

CHIP: and we’re here today to interview you and see if you might be a good candidate. Well, now we’re sorry, we’re not out here to hire you today. We are here to talk about the hiring process and what it takes to recruit the best talent to your agency. Because obviously, agencies are all about the people, any agents will tell you that and if you’re all about the people, how do you get those best people?

GINI: You know, the slogan hire slowly, I almost did that backwards, hire, hire slowly, fire fast, exists for a reason. So I do think there’s some value in having a process that allows you to evaluate somebody over a several week period. So I have a very personal story. My sister got a new job and she, she she got the interview on a Wednesday. on a Thursday she went in at 11 had the interview left They’re like 1215 had a job offer by one o’clock. And I was like, have you had any time to? Like, evaluate them figure out if that’s where you want to work, talk to people you’d work with? No, she just met the CEO. And that’s it. Like she didn’t meet her own. Who is she? She would be a direct reports or anything. And it was just like, I mean, I watched it from, you know, my perspective going, holy cow, I cannot imagine hiring somebody after meeting them for an hour, an hour.

CHIP: So I have two stories in my career that that, that are even faster than that. So the first was my own. The first time that I got a professional job as an intern. I was a student at American University. I went to Capitol Hill, where I would just hang out on my off days or off after hours, you know, I mean, I was I was an 18 year old political geek in Washington and right just wander around the Capitol, particularly, particularly back 1991 when there was not as much security as there is anyway, so I walked into my local member of Congress’s office, I knew nothing about them at all, except I’d seen the name in the press. And I walked in and I said to the receptionist, I said, you know, I’d be interested in some information on your internship program, you know, sort of planning ahead for maybe my junior year or something like that. And the the legislative director came out, he asked me two or three questions, and he said, you know, can you start tomorrow? So, Mike, sure, okay. So, I mean, obviously, less monumental point of my career that ended up being very important and valuable to my career, but right but no consideration whatsoever, really on either side. It was, it was the fastest interview I’ve ever seen. It lasted I think

GINI: they were like, do you breathe? Can you be here tomorrow, your high?

CHIP: Well, what it was was that they were he was a freshman member. They’d only been in office for at that point seven or eight months, and they had just been talking About how they needed to create an internship program. And so this was a way to jumpstart. And interested on the House side, you have very small offices, usually only a half dozen or so folks working in your office in Washington. And so, you know, getting someone in who can even work, you know, 10 or 20 hours a week was a huge increase in manpower, particularly back then, because, you know, there was a lot more manual work to be done. Yeah, yeah. You know, back then, because there was paper mail and a lot of data entry and photocopies that had been made and blah, blah, blah, things that don’t exist, but

GINI: did that did it last? Like how long did you do the internship?

CHIP: Uh, well, I mean, I it was a free internship for about two months, then they started paying me and by the second semester of my freshman year, I was pretty much working for him full time. Wow. And so it worked out. It worked out. Yeah. I have no complaints and it opened a lot of doors for me to have done that. So that so that was one and then the other one, I was actually on the hiring side. And it was it was a little bit different because it was I had a couple of different businesses. One was an agency one was a software company. I wanted to move someone from the software company to the agency. And because we’d gotten a new client that came on and wanted to start immediately, and so I went to one of the employees of the software company and said, so here’s this opportunity. This is what I’d like to do. Here’s, you know what the job would look like. I said, but I need you to start right away. She said, Well, you know, can I please talk to my husband about it? I said, I said, yes, you can go call them, but I need your decision within the hour.

GINI: Yes, yes. You have five minutes ago.

CHIP: I think I gave a whole hour or something like yeah, so look, I mean, I feel like that’s different, too. Because you already knew who are you you’d already worked with? Are you sure but but she didn’t know what she was getting into as much there. Right? Because, you know, she didn’t know.

GINI: There’s a certain level of trust. Like if you came to me and said, like, I trust you, okay. Yeah, I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. But

CHIP: there’s there’s no way you would say yes, if I tried to hire you, I guarantee it.

GINI: Well, no, not now. But if you came to me and proposed something that was a little off The wall, I trust you enough to be able to say, all right, there’s probably

CHIP: something here, I’m so gonna take advantage of that units.

GINI: Take it back.

CHIP: I am thinking of something off the wall for next week. But anyway. Alright, so the point here is that there are a couple of different points are steps in the process to getting the best talent. So part of it is having those initial conversations, in other words, finding the people interview. And then the second piece is how do you go through the interview process? And then the third and final is how do you actually attract them to say yes, because ultimately, if they don’t, the whole process was for nothing. So let’s start with the sort of the top end of that funnel, if you will, which is you know, how do you find the right candidates?

GINI: Well, I think in today’s world, it’s it’s significantly easier, right? I mean, you can post things online, you can post things on your website, there’s the spin sucks community, you know, there are job boards you can do indeed, you can do LinkedIn, you can do Facebook Like there are there’s a pretty big opportunity Today and and I also think it’s hurt the head and space because we have the opportunity to reach a larger audience with the click of a mouse to find the right people. So, you know, certainly depends, which is our mantra here. It depends on if you need somebody at your headquartered office, if you have an office where they need to be, do you have to move somebody like it? All of those things depend, but I think there’s a pretty big opportunity for you to be able to say to your agency owner, friends, you know, I’m looking for this job, this this type of person, do you have any recommendations to your clients? And again, you can post post job descriptions online and lots of different places to be able to find somebody.

CHIP: Yeah. And I think, you know, particularly you know, if you can be thoughtful about your hiring process, which is always best is always best not to hire under pressure. Great, you know, so, you know, hopefully you’re not hiring when you are, you’ve just suddenly increased your client list. You’ve suddenly had someone leave, you know, those those cause you to short circuit some of the decisions all you need to be careful because I would argue that most of the time, it’s probably better to work a little bit short handed than it is to rush a hiring process. Because, yeah, a bad hire is actually very difficult to undo. Yes. Even here in the US where, you know, generally speaking, you can hire and fire it will, as opposed to some overseas nations, which God is brutal. I’ve worked with some organizations where we’ve had to try to terminate employees in foreign countries and Wow, really, wow. There are some countries where it is virtually impossible to fire an employee no matter what they do. But we’ll save those those war stories for another day. There’s some fun, interesting, but I have to share as long as they’re not covered by the legal things anymore. Anyway. So So, so you’ve got a great point that, you know, technology really has made this easier. LinkedIn in particular, I think it has been a helpful tool, both in terms of being a place you can post but also A place that you can, you know, look for what is out there and understand that and you mentioned headhunters. headhunters, I think still have a role to play. I think the biggest time you might think about using a headhunter is when you’re trying to hire someone who is more likely to be in a current job and not looking. So typically in a more senior role. Because a lot of times you don’t post senior roles online because it often signals a bigger structural change within your agency. Yep. And so headhunters give you the ability to have some level of anonymity deniability in the process that can sometimes help, you know, shake the tree loose of things that might not otherwise come to the fore. So I think they still play a role, but it’s not the same as it was, you know, maybe 10 or 20 years. Yeah,

GINI: for sure. Yeah. I think it’s just kind of reduced. I mean, you’re right, it would be at a more senior level, then you’re not going to you’re not going to use a headhunter to find an accountant. coordinator or even as an account supervisor, you’re

CHIP: just not right. Well, let me first of all headhunters are not cheap. So no, that was that was one of my big surprises probably 15 years ago or so when I first hired a headhunter to fill a role for one of my businesses. I was like, you get paid How much?

GINI: Yeah,

CHIP: I started asking around to see if I was just getting robbed. I’m like, nope, that turned out that’s what they actually get paid. Yeah. And it can be substantial. I mean, it can be 2030 40% of an annual salary, depending on what role you’re looking for the level of difficulty and yeah, I’ll specialized a headhunter is so and not a small amount is not a small amount. So you know, something that you want to, you know, use wisely. The other thing that I think that a lot of agencies should probably be doing more of is employee referral programs. for hiring people. I’ve used this effectively in a number of different businesses and the hires almost always turn out to be better than ones that I get through general recruiting. So this is basically where you say to your team, we’re trying to fill this role. If you’re the person who introduces that person to the hiring process, then you’ll get some sort of a bonus 234 thousand dollars depends on the role and the difficulty and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, it can be really helpful because typically, people aren’t going to try to bring their friends in unless it is actually a good fit, right? Because they know it’s going to reflect first of all on them to their boss, and they also don’t want to be working with people who are not good to work with. So yeah, so it’s a it’s a pre screening, if you will, in some cases, and they’ll often, you know, they almost act as headhunters within their own network. So they’ll often talk to someone who may be employed somewhere else and not looking and saying, hey, we’ve gotten this wouldn’t it be cool if we can work together?

GINI: What do you do you have a baseline on on how you do referral bonuses?

CHIP: Yeah, so I mean, so the, you know, there are a couple of tricky things here. So the first is, you have to figure out You know what the rules are going to be really clear about those rules with the employees so that there’s not any confusion or or hurt feelings

GINI: gaming the system or Well,

CHIP: you know, it’s funny, I originally came to it from the gaming the system standpoint and I’ve sort of, I’ve chastised myself for that, because it’s, it’s not so much gaming the system, but it’s it’s an employee sitting there saying, Well, you know, I should have gotten a, you know, the referral bonus for that, that hire, but you so you need to be clear that and I would say typically, you want to look and say, okay, it needs to be someone that is not already, you know, submitted a resume right there. You know, because a lot of times, you may push this sort of thing out after you’ve already done some recruiting, it may be sort of waiting to jumpstart the pool. So it really needs to be that way. And then the second piece that you need to figure out is, you know, if multiple people have referred this person who gets it do split the bonus Do you did you say it’s the first one and only, so just be really clear about the room. up front and try to think through the different scenarios so that you don’t have to figure it out after the fact. The second piece is it needs to be big enough that it’s interesting to the person, you know, you would want to do like a $50 gift card kind of thing. You know, it needs to be something substantial enough that is meaningful to the individual. At the same time, you don’t want to set it so high that it entices someone perhaps to try to game the system. Because there’s there’s probably that tipping point for your organization where you’re offering enough that people are like, oh, okay, well, you know, I don’t like this person. But you know, if I can put an extra 10 k my pocket

I’ll suck it up.

GINI: Oh, and then that only lasts so long.

CHIP: And the lasting piece is the final bit of it, and that is that you should it should only be paid after 60 or 90 days, whatever, whatever your Yes. You know, breaking period is for new employees. Make sure that they actually stuck around. And that’s that’s, again, not because of gaming. system is just to make sure that it actually works out.

GINI: Yeah, absolutely.

CHIP: Yeah. So but I think that’s a really beneficial way. And I think the pre screening aspect of it is particularly helpful. Because it, it helps improve your interviewing process, which is step two, because once you’ve got the pool and you’ve sorted through them, and you figured out who it is that you want to talk to, you need to figure out what is the process going to look like to bring them on. And I think this is where it’s important for agencies to realize that hiring is a two way street. And so you’re evaluating the candidate, but the candidate is also evaluating you. They may not be doing so consciously, but they certainly are subconsciously evaluating you in the process.

GINI: So we actually shifted our interviewing process. I think it’s been three years, maybe four, but you know, a few years ago, and it now and part of it too, is because we spend so much time online and because we’re virtual, but we know how have, we have three steps in our process up front, before you talk to human being. And what that does is it allows us to see your commitment, and also your self motivation and drive to be able to work independently without somebody saying to you, okay, now you’re going to take an hour during this interview process and do this. But we want to see that you have the ability to do that, because we are virtual. And so we need to know that people can be driven enough to do the things that they say that they are going to do. So it’s three steps. And then once you hit that, once you get past that third step, then you go into the funnel where you start to talk to humans. And usually the first person you talk to is our operations manager. And she’s going to kind of look at, look at at as a whole, you know, are you actually qualified? Do you check all the bottom that like technical boxes, and then if you pass that and then you then you start to talk to whoever you know, the account team? What would be And then the last person you talked to is me. So if you get to me, then you know, you’ve made it pretty far. And certainly I am not the last say, but I can go back to my team and say, and make a recommendation, right. And there have been times in the past where I’ve said, I don’t think this person is right. And they’ve come back to me and said, we think she is and or he is, and this is what we’d like to do. And so I go with it. And sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. But um, you know, I try not to just sway that, like, if they really believe that that person is the right person for their team, then I’m not going to say we’re not going to hire that person. What I will say is that one reason I will go back to the team and say, I don’t think this person is the right fit is if it goes back to your two way street. Comment. If If you get into an interview with me, and grant I understand that you’ve been through probably eight or nine steps by Now, if you get into an interview with me and you don’t ask me questions, you’re, I’m not going to recommend that we hire you. I’m just not going to. And I don’t care if it’s the same questions you’ve asked with my team, I don’t care. Because you might get a different answer from me, then you get from them, which is a red flag for you, I would think, right? Or it allows you to see that we’re all a cohesive team, we all have the same values. We all have the same, you know, outlook on the culture and all this like that. Those are the kinds of things that you should be doing. So that for me is a massive red flag. If somebody’s interviewing, and they’ve made it to getting to me, and they don’t have questions to ask, but you’re so scary, Jenny. It’s one of I know,

CHIP: probably

can’t talk to you. Yeah, so I think that’s those are all great points. And I think that, you know, part of it is making sure that you’ve defined your hiring process so that, you know, try not to figure it out on the fly. Try to as you’re hiring for the position know, what are the steps that you’re going to go through, it is not one size fits. Particularly if you’re, you know, if you’re more than just a three or four person agency, you know, it’s likely the larger you get there going to be different ways that you hire at Junior mid and senior level. And it should be different. You should not treat a senior higher interview process the same as you would a junior. Right? But the impact on both sides is much bigger. But also if you’ve got, you know, you’re trying to hire a CFO, and you ask them to do a writing test or something like that, or I guess a math test. Yeah. Good luck actually getting joined. Yeah, right, right. So you need to define that process and think it through and make sure that it fits for the position that you’re filling. It also will need to necessarily adapt based on what the volume that you expect, as far as initial inquiries, resumes that you get, because if you’ve got a role where you know, you get hundreds of resumes, okay, you’ve got to have some sort of screening process before humans get involved. Whereas if you Only got a half dozen submissions, there’s really no point to putting them through some sort of technological process at that point, because you may inadvertently exclude someone that you’d like to actually talk to say, if it’s going to be a small pool, you might as well take Yeah, so the human review, I really like your idea of having someone more operations or HR oriented, having the first conversation. I’m a big believer in using that as an initial screen on a human to human level doing, you know, a 10 to 15 minute phone conversation, it’s a good way just to sort of check in on the person, you know, make sure that, you know, they’re really interested. You know, you really take someone’s temperature pretty quickly. And it’s nice to have that be someone who’s not, you know, directly on their team or in the, you know, the final decision maker or something like that. Just it’s good to have someone like that. And they can often ask questions like, you know, you know, timing and salary range and things like that, that sort of, you know, if you treat them as more of a checklist, kind of This is just a bureaucratic conversation, you’ll often get more out of the prospect than you might otherwise. The other thing that you need to do here is, is you’ve got to have your process, but you need to be clear with your prospects, your prospective hires, what it is that this process is, yeah. And so you need to be transparent with them and communicate throughout the process so that they understand what to expect. I’ve seen cases where someone is brought in for an interview, and oops, they you know, they didn’t tell them in advance that this is actually a an in depth three hour interview or something like that. Oh, geez, seriously, I’ve, I’ve seen I’ve seen that multiple times over the course of my career where someone’s just brought in for an interview not told in advance that this is going to be, you know, a multi round multi conversation thing, or I’ve seen tech people where, you know, they’re, they’re bringing them in and they want to administer like a programming test to them or things. I mean, there’s all sorts of it. You need to be clear, if someone’s going to be coming in for an extended period of time, let them know in advance, give them an itinerary. You know, when you’re when you’re done having a conversation with them. Whoever is having that common We’re needs to let them know, generally, next steps. And that next step may be simply that, you know, our HR department will be in touch, maybe within the next few days to let you know, next steps, you know, so you don’t necessarily have to have an account supervisor sharing exactly what the process is, they can just say this is who will be in touch with the next step. Just be really transparent about that. Because, you know, that mean, you’re, you’re, you’re working with people who are, you know, making big life decisions on where to work. And, you know, you need to treat them respectfully throughout the process, too.

GINI: And I would even add, and I know, this is a big point of debate, but if they’re not going to move on in the process, just tell them Yes. It’s not that hard to send an email and say, Hey, it was really great meeting you or, you know, whatever happens to be, unfortunately, we’ve decided to go a different route or something like but it’s not hard to do that and people appreciate it. But when you’re just ghosted as an as somebody who’s interviewing for a job, that’s it’s not good.

CHIP: No, don’t you Don’t go some don’t put anything into the process that you’re not actually going to use. So so you know, it. It’s often one of these things where you hear Oh, I heard, you know, some employer did this or that. And so, you know, let’s try that. You know what, let’s ask why the interview questions like Google does. And by the way, Google doesn’t even ask those wacky questions anymore, because they found out that they were completely pointless. I could have told them.

GINI: yeah.

CHIP: So So don’t just throw wrenches into the process for the fun of it. I was. I saw someone recently who was saying, you know, well, you know, we text possible hires to see how fast they respond. Why, why, why, first of all, I mean, I guess if you’re hiring young people, maybe texts, I don’t know, but even still, I mean, if they’re gainfully employed, do you really want them responding quickly? Yes, they’re interested in you. But guess what, they’re going to do the same thing when they’re working for you. So

GINI: or maybe there’s an emergency or they’re on vacation. I mean, there’s there’s many things. Yeah,

CHIP: yeah. So, so us Things that are that are going to help you evaluate correctly. And as you say, Jenny, if you’re if you’re sure that this is not going to be a fit, you know, communicate that sooner rather than later. The one thing I will say is, don’t you know, once you’ve extended your offer to your chosen candidate, don’t dismiss finalists that you still might be willing to hire until everything is signed, sealed and delivered, because things go wrong in that hiring process. Yeah, sure. And so my general practice is that I will actually not turn away someone who was a finalist and I think is still viable until the that the new hire has actually started work. And part of this because I got burned one time where I hired someone, and literally on day one, she called up on her way to work and said, Yeah, I can’t do it. She she had just had her first baby and she couldn’t drop the kid off at daycare. And such as I’ve just not, I’m not ready to come back. Yeah, and it’s it is absolutely hard. But you know, as an employer, obviously it puts you in a tough position because In that case, that was that was pretty early in my career. And we had, you know, turned away all of the finalists.

And you really can’t go back to finalists. No, you

can, but it looks really bad. And it puts you there. Yeah. Yeah. I remember when we said we didn’t want to hire you. Well,

you’re our second choice. third choice for you’re still breathing body. So.

Yeah, so so you know.

And so I think, you know, to me that the key point is just to to have a process, be thoughtful about it. Make sure that your that everything that you’re doing is helping you make a decision, but also helping the candidate make a proper decision. So that at the because at the end of the day, what we’re looking for is a good fit. You know, it’s a big deal to hire someone. It’s a big deal to go to a new employer, and it needs to be the right decision for both sides. Amen.

And with that time,

I think the right decision is to bring this episode of the

GINI: podcast it is as it is, yes,

CHIP: indeed. So I am Chip Griffin.

GINI: And I’m Gini Dietrich

CHIP: and it does depend

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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