Hiring Cheats: 7 Tips for Using Craigslist as Your Hiring Scout

Finding the right candidates requires using the right tools to reach them.
scott-tibbitts

When I first started providing these "hiring cheats," I wrote about using a position description to do the interviewing for you. Write a narrow, passionate description of the role that will only resonate with those that are a great fit. Recently we brought this technique out of the closet, dusted it off and took it out for a fresh spin.

We had an impossible position to fill and had to do it within two weeks. We needed an individual that would be willing to spend hours on end scanning through 10,000-row spreadsheets looking for patterns in the data that computers couldn't parse and find clues that others could not. We were sure it would take weeks to find someone great for the role.

We were wrong. We were basing that expectation on our B.C. experience – Before Craigslist.

Back in the day, we announced job openings by writing classified ads. They were expensive, and you had to figure out how to describe the role in “25 words or less.” If you wanted to be extravagant, $100 might get you a big box with 75 words and a black border.  Your ad was lost in a sea of hundreds of other ads, and readership was limited.

With Craigslist:

  • You are free to write lengthy, detailed descriptions of the opportunity.
  • You reach a wider audience that uses keyword searches to quickly scan positions that might be interesting.
  • Applicants are free to write lengthy, verbose responses.
  • Response time is instantaneous. Post on Monday, read responses on Tuesday, tweak and repeat until it's right.
  • Advertising a position – and editing your post – is free. Be verbose! Experiment! Iterate!

When we blended Craigslist with a crazy-narrow, passionate job description, we were astonished with the response. In two days, we had a half-dozen highly qualified candidates with experience and interest far beyond our expectations: PhD mathematicians that loved puzzles, statisticians that explained that all they wanted to do was put headphones on and stare at data for hours on end, geeks of all types that could think of few better ways to spend time than immerse themselves in zillions of numbers.

Here are the seven keys to using Craigslist for those “I know there is a perfect fit for this unique role, but I have no idea where to find them?” positions. These are the lessons I learned from the process:

  • Write your description as if you were looking through a soda straw at the candidate. Be ridiculously narrow in your description. Set the bar high. Your description will be read by thousands, and there will be those out there that say: “Holy smokes, that’s me!” That’s your audience.
     
  • Include plenty of right-brain, emotionally charged verbiage, such as: “You become so engrossed in data that hours can pass without you knowing it.” Or, “You get great reward in finding the clue to a problem that no-one else could find.” Or, “You thrive in an environment that recognizes expertise independent of experience.” If you’ve done it right, it will look more like a Match.com description of a future soulmate than a classified ad.
     
  • Explain your company mission, values and the job description in a way that is complete and paints an exciting picture. Don't worry about being verbose.
     
  • Use a catchy title that self-selects the top candidates. “Data Guru and Puzzle Solver” narrows the field. “Excel Data Analyst” gets you much chaff amongst the wheat.
     
  • Those “I think I’m a good fit for your opportunity, see the attached resume” responses? Click delete.
     
  • Look for the lengthy, grab you by the ears emails that include phrases such as “I couldn’t believe it; this was written for me,” “You don’t know this yet, but I am perfect for this job,” etc. The spot-on candidates we found were verbose and convincing. Later, when asked, most told us they had spent more than an hour crafting a response.
     
  • You are likely to get more qualified candidates than you have time to interview. Have them do the first round of interviewing themselves. We sent the puzzle solvers a spreadsheet and asked them to look for patterns. Not all did the homework. Those that did were invited in for a formal interview.

Within two weeks, we had three candidates, any one of which would have been a great fit. We selected the cream of the cream of the crop and have two individuals that we can call back if we need more data gurus.

Craigslist may not be the way to fill strategic roles such as manager of operations or director of marketing. But for those roles that require unique, affordable talent, it can be a powerful path to perfectly shaped pegs to fill strangely shaped holes.

Scott Tibbitts is the founder and former CEO of Starsys Research and a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship and legendary corporate cultures. In 1988, he approached NASA with an invention made from hardware store parts. Starsys became a world leader in spacecraft devices, with products on 250 spacecraft and an unprecedented 100% success record. Scott is the co-founder of eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship, the only congressionally funded aerospace incubator. He is currently deeply involved in his latest venture, Katasi; working in partnership with a leading national insurance company and telecom provider to deploy a revolutionary technology to stop texting while driving.

Connect with Scott at scotttibbitts.tumblr.com or on Twitter @scotttibbitts.

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