Teamwork Makes The Dream Work Part 1: Hiring

Holly Firestone
11 min readJul 13, 2020
Image by Free To Use Sounds, provided by Unsplash

This is Part One of a four part series:

Headcount. Glorious, Beautiful Headcount. 👥

So many community professionals have felt the pain (and excitement!) of being a community team of one. When that special day comes, and you hear the words “You’re getting a headcount for the community team!” It just fills you with all of the warm fuzzies. You think about the long list of things you want to be able to do with your programs but haven’t because you’re only one freakin’ person. Hell, even two or three or four freakin’ people — a new member of your team always makes you feel hashtag blessed. It means you’re being recognized as a team worth the expanded resources, and it means that with those expanded resources you can accomplish even more for your community.

At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging (but let’s be honest, I’m totally bragging), I’m REALLY good at hiring. It’s a mix of a few different things — hard work, being thorough, being a good judge of character, thoughtful hiring practices, timing, and sometimes a little luck…but mostly the other stuff.

“Hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard. And yet nothing matters more in winning than getting the right people on the field.”- Jack Welch, former GE CEO

I want to share with y’all an overview of my hiring process to kick off my Teamwork Makes the Dream Work series.

My Hiring Process ✅

No matter where I’ve worked, I’ve kept my hiring process pretty similar. I’ve outlined my process below. Some things differ based on the level of the role. For example, there’s an additional layer of the process if I’m hiring for a people manager. For the purpose of this blog post, I focused on Community Manager level hiring.

REMEMBER: it’s just as important for the folks you’re interviewing to get what they need out of this process as it is for you to get what you need out of this process. You know this role better than they do. Make sure you’re doing your best job to understand everything they need to know about the role, the team, the company, and you as a manager. Be honest, authentic, and transparent.

Level With Me

For the love of donuts 🍩 and puppies 🐶, before you start the hiring process, make sure the leveling for the role makes sense. Do not look for someone with 7–10 years of community experience for a Manager-level role. For some additional resources on hiring and leveling, check out Erica Kuhl and Brian Oblinger’s podcast, In Before the Lock, Episode 1. You can also check out this leveling guide I created at Salesforce.

Carefully Craft A Job Description 📝

The process kicks off with a carefully crafted Job Description. I develop the JD, outlining what the role will look like and everything I’m looking for in our Community hire including the must-haves and the nice-to-haves. For outlining what the role will look like, you don’t need to write a novel. Of course there are going to be things big and small for every role, but focus on the main types of work that they’ll be doing to give them a good understanding. If there’s a lot of admin work, make sure that it’s clear that that’s part of the role. If there’s a lot of travel, be open in your estimate for how much will be required. Must-haves are things like years of experience in a Community role. (Though for some roles I was also open to experience in Customer Service, Customer Success, or other roles with transferable skills. If I’m hiring for a more senior role, I would require direct Community experience.), excellent written and verbal communication skills, fantastic interpersonal skills, being empathetic, ability to prioritize, ability to set goals and track success, experience with community platforms and tools, etc. Some nice-to-haves are things like experience with our company’s products (if they don’t have it, they can learn), experience using Salesforce (or whichever tool we’re using for tracking/analytics), and have experience working with a B2B community.

Reviewing Resumes 👀

Depending on your company, a lot of this will be done by your recruiter first. Make sure to really talk through the role with your recruiter before they do this. There are a lot of transferable skills that could be valuable that they might not recognize. Some of my best hires came in with no community management experience. Another piece of advice — don’t only rely on referrals. Yes, someone at the company’s stamp of approval is a wonderful thing, but make sure that you’re taking some time to look outside of referrals as well. If you only look within the networks of the people that already work there, you’re less likely to hire a diverse team. There are people out there that aren’t already connected to your company that would be absolutely exceptional candidates. They just need a chance to interview.

Phone Screen📱

Before I do any phone screen, I have a standard set of questions prepared. I do this to keep the phone screens as similar as possible for the purposes of comparison. Of course sometimes the conversations go off in another direction and that’s ok, too. I try to not be too rigid. Funnyish story, I do remember one time asking someone the first question and the candidate talked so long that we never got to question two. He literally answered question one for half an hour. I tried to cut in, but it was impossible. Y’all, when you’re interviewing, don’t be that guy.

I usually set phone screens up for half an hour. I always kick things off setting the tone that I’m aiming for a discussion versus an interrogation. Seeing if they are able to have a casual discussion is really important to me. It’s important for anyone that’s going to join my team. Because it’s a casual discussion, there’s time throughout for them to ask questions, and I use my questions to guide the conversation. I also always leave time at the end for questions and I open it up to questions about anything they want, and suggest: me/my management style, the company, the team, the role, etc. In the times that I was going to be a remote manager, I always made sure that was clear to them, that was something they were comfortable with, and offered to answer any questions about how it works.

Screening Questions⁉️

I find the screening questions step in the process extremely valuable. It helps me better understand their communication and writing skills, and also opens things up to some creativity. I would limit it to 3–5 questions max. A couple of the things I’ve done before:

  • Shared a couple real community members emails/messages and asked how they would respond to each of them (Highly recommend this one. Choose ones that helps show their empathy and ability to handle difficult situations)
  • Asked them for creative swag ideas
  • Asked them to share ways they would show appreciation to our community leaders throughout the year
  • Asked them to share links to twitter, blog, or any other writing examples they want to share if they have them

Y’all, please don’t go crazy with the questions, ok? Back in 2012, I applied for a community manager job at a company I won’t name (but it rhymes with shmuber), and their “Creative Exercise” was absurd. My exercise was eleven pages long. Here’s an example of one of the things we were asked to do on that “test”:

Create a laundry list of marketing ideas whether an event/promo/etc. and include a 1–2 sentence description for each topped off with a creative & catchy blog post title for that idea.

I didn’t get the job, but I have seen a couple of my ideas pop up as promos in later years. Makes you wonder… Anyway, don’t do this. Don’t ask for a freakin’ LAUNDRY LIST of something on top of the many other things you’re asking them to do. It’s not nice. Ask for exactly what you need to get an idea of their writing, their creativity, and their empathy. You also still have in-person interviews. Remember, this isn’t just about you learning about them, it’s also about them learning about you and your company. Don’t be a schmuck. You might miss out on that one-in-a-million person.

“In-person” Interviews 🤝

Before a single candidate walks in that door (or signs onto that video call), identify who is going to be on your interview panel. Think about who this new person is going to be working with both on and off of your team. Reach out to everyone on your list well in advance to ask if they will be available to participate. Be clear about the time commitment and expectations. This is important. It’s very hard for someone to participate in some of the interviews, miss some of the other interviews, and still be able to offer a fair perspective on which candidate might be a better fit than another. Of course sometimes it can’t be avoided, but you need to make sure they are treating this as a priority. Also, be ready to say yes when they ask for you to return the favor. 😜

Once you have your interview panel lined up, a few recommendations:

  • Have a plan ready for how they will submit their feedback as soon as possible after the interviews.
  • Create and send a doc (far in advance) that gives an overview of what you’re looking for in the candidate (not just the JD, but a quick, couple line overview that can include more internal jargon and internal info than the JD), some of the focus areas you’d like each of the interviewers to cover (there will be overlap, but this helps ensure there’s not a ton), and anything else relevant to the position or the candidate. If you didn’t get certain info on the call or with the screening questions, make a note of it so the interviewers can try to get the info you’re looking for.
  • After the interviews, make sure you’re following up with your panel to submit feedback while it’s fresh in their minds. Ask if there’s anything specific they want to point out right off the bat if you can catch them right after the interview is over.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a recruiter that can help you with all of the above, but don’t just rely on the recruiter to do all of this. YOU are the hiring manager, YOU will be this person’s manager, YOU are the expert in the role and your team, and ultimately it’s up to YOU to make the best decision. You absolutely need to be invested in the hiring process from beginning to end. It’s a shit ton of work, but it’s worth it, because making the right decision will save you a shit ton more work in the long run.

As for the meat of the in-person interviews, it really depends on what you need to understand about the candidates for this specific role. I’ve done interviews where we’ve asked them to give a presentation (though for one of those, it’s usually for a more senior role), or I’ve gone with standard questions. One of my favorite things to do for my portion of the “in person” interview is a brainstorming/whiteboarding session. Pick a topic and just go after it for a bit. It really shows you how their brain works, their enthusiasm, how they respond to positive and constructive feedback, and how y’all collaborate together. Make sure you’re prepared for this though — have a topic and questions ready and be prepared to give both types of feedback throughout.

The Final Round 🎉

The final round gives you and the candidate(s) a last chance to ask any questions. This is also important if you’re down to the last two and need a little more information to decide. I wouldn’t go into the last round unless you are down to 1–2 candidates. This is also a great chance to bring in someone from your leadership team, like your own manager, to chat with the candidate(s) if they haven’t already. If you’re on the last round and down to the final two candidates, you’ve basically decided that either would be a great candidate at this point. Unfortunately, since you can only hire one, use this time wisely. Your manager’s perspective will be really helpful here as well.

The Finish Line 🏁

Now that you’ve narrowed it down and you’ve got your rockstar new hire picked out, it’s time to make that offer. Hopefully you and/or your recruiter have been able to walk through details with the candidates throughout the process so nobody is surprised by what happens next. If all goes well, CONGRATS! You’ve got an awesome new member of your community team. Next is the fun activity of onboarding your new team member, which you can read all about in Part 3 of this blog series. In my next blog post, which is Part 2 of this series, I’m going to share some stories of my most exceptional hires. I’ll tell you how I knew they were right for the role and where they are now.

TL;DR

This list changes depending on the role. For the purpose of this post, I focused on Community Manager level hiring.

  1. It’s just as important for the folks you’re interviewing to get what they need out of this process as it is for you to get what you need out of this process. Be honest, authentic, and transparent.
  2. Level the role appropriately! The required experience must fit how the role is leveled and titled.
  3. Job Description- Include must-haves and nice-to-haves. Include the an overview of the types of work they’ll be doing, no need to list every single project/task.
  4. Reviewing Resumes- Work with your recruiter to make sure they understand the role and exactly what you’re looking for.
  5. Don’t just rely on internal referrals. Review outside applicants — it’ll help open the pool to a more diverse set of candidates.
  6. Phone Screen- Have a standard set of questions to walk through, but don’t be too rigid. Encourage open discussion and leave time for questions/encourage questions throughout.
  7. Screening Questions- Don’t go overboard. Ask for exactly what you need to get an idea of their writing, their creativity, and their empathy. 3–5 questions.
  8. In-person/Online face to face interview- Pre-select an internal interview panel and prepare them with all of the info they need about the role. Have a follow up plan for feedback from your panel. Do something like a white-boarding activity for your portion of the interview to get an idea of how they think, how y’all collaborate together, and how they react to positive and constructive feedback.
  9. The Final Round- This will be for the final 1–2 candidates MAX. Keep this round to 1–2 interviews — both you, for information you might still be missing, and your manager/another senior leader for their final thumbs up. Also give the candidate another chance to ask questions.
  10. The Offer- This will vary depending on your company, but hopefully this has been part of the conversation starting earlier in the process so there are no surprises or disappointments.

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Holly Firestone

Community Strategist. Currently: CEO, Holly Firestone Consulting. Previously Venafi, Salesforce & Atlassian. Hollyfirestone.com