The Way We Work
January 24, 2012 by Julia Camenisch

“Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”
–Henry David Thoreau

In his recent book, The Rare Find, George Anders details how Facebook discovered that the traditional approach to hiring just was not working. After a bit of head-scratching, they decided to try a different approach: Posting brain-teasing problems that required innovative programming solutions.

These problems were open to anyone, and potential solutions soon began arriving. In a moment of revelation, Facebook discovered that some of the smartest solutions came from people whose resumes would have otherwise appeared underwhelming. A few of those were hired and proved to be more than just good employees – they were superstars.

How can you use a similar approach to find the superstars for your business?

Many organizations, including the U.S. Army, have discovered that in order to find the best candidates, hiring practices must be reinvented. Here is how you can take a page from the likes of Google and Apple to hire better talent.

Look at the whole picture

Academics and job history are important, but they are not the only indicators of success. Dig deeper into the lives of your job applicants – the way they use their free time and the pursuits they find inspiring can indicate volumes about the type of person they are.

If someone is highly motivated and passionate about issues your company deals with, it is likely their drive to succeed will far outweigh any missing academic credentials.

  • Questions to ask: What are your hobbies? What do you like to read?  Where do you volunteer?

Look at personality

When faced with a slate of applicants who have similar skill sets, one way to winnow the list is to look at potential hires' personalities to see who might be a good fit.

One example of this: Google works hard to find recruits who are not just talented but also a good mesh with their corporate culture. One way they accomplish this is by having some of the potential team members interview the applicant.

If you have multiple team members, consider including them as a part of the interview process. Also, decide what personality type would fit best within your business, then try to identify which applicants appear to have those qualities.

  • Questions to ask: What are your faults and how do you compensate for them?  (Also have your other team members propose interview questions they think are important.)

Look at problem-solving capacity

A good team member is one that can adapt when faced with a new challenge. Facebook’s brain teasers were an innovative way to separate the thinkers from the paper-pushers.

You can do this same thing by finding out how applicants approach and deal with problems, especially outside of their core competency. As a side note, also look for people that want to help your business improve – even when that task is not part of their job description.

  • Questions to ask:  How would you deal with [insert hypothetical situation] and why would you approach it that way?

Look at what has worked

Finally, take some time to evaluate your hiring history. Finding good people is not easy. Mistakes are inevitable. No matter how innovative the company, there is usually a learning curve in discovering what types of people are a good fit. So keep track of which hires have worked and which have not – then learn from your mistakes and move on.

When hiring remote workers, it can be difficult to judge personality and work ethic through a simple email exchange. That is why oDesk recommends making use of the test hire before committing your project (and budget) into unproven hands.

What tips do you have for successfully hiring top people? Share your advice in the comments section below.


Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.

  • adeel

    WHAT IF A PERSON PERFORM WORK WITH LOVE/ BUT NEEDS MONEY TOO?

  • Hamid Sheikh

    This article is indeed an eye opener for a Recruitment professional like myself who has struggled recently to get hold of top quality software developers. The practice adopted by Facebook is a great idea but my question is, that someone looking for a job would definitely invest their time in solving a problem for one of the biggest companies in the world like Facebook but would this approach be applicable to small start up companies which hardly have any presence in the market? Plus, is this approach global or america centric?

    None the less, thanks for this article and i would be looking forward to more work from your side.

    • Julia

      Hmmm - that's a good point, Hamid. I think if someone wants a job, as long as they are confident you are a good employer, they'll be willing to solve puzzles to show their skills. And I can't really speak to whether this approach is global or America-centric. Thoughts, anyone else?