Your Questions Answered: How Can I Identify Self-Starters In A Sea Of Qualified Candidates?

In this series, we answer questions sent in to Recruiting Hacks by leaders who responded to our 2012 hiring research survey. Do you have a question for the Recruiting Hacks team? Send it in!

If you’ve got a good recruiting strategy, most of the candidates you see are qualified and experienced enough to successfully fulfill the duties of the position you’re hiring for. But that’s not all you’re looking for, is it?

Most leaders are looking for someone who can do the job – and then some. A candidate with the fire and drive to keep asking

candidate resume


questions, keep evolving, and keep pushing your team to do better and better. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious which of three talented candidates is the one who’s going to take charge of a project and make it better, faster, stronger.

How’d they do before? When you’re scanning resumes, look for people who have a history of taking projects from start to finish, and people who have a record of promotion (bonus points if their work history indicates that they took on roles that requires they learn new skills!).

Look for side projects. People who can’t help but pursue their passion – even when they’re not getting paid for it – are generally the kind of self-starters you want on your team. If a candidate has a blog, an open-source project, or an outside activity (like mentoring high schoolers who want to learn to code), that’s a very good sign. Double check the quality of their work whenever you can, of course, but it’s a good indicator in most cases.

Give them opportunities to elaborate in the interview. Strong candidates will seize opportunities to talk about their field. If you push them with increasingly complex questions or leave a little silence between their answer and your next question, an awesome self-starter will be able to back up their responses with more information. Asking them to explain a project they were especially passionate about is a great way to see if they speak passionately about work they loved or just describe past tasks completed.

Get real references. A lot of hiring managers see references as a final box to check off, but if done correctly, they can be extremely revelatory. Asking serious questions [Would you want to work with Candidate again? What is their greatest weakness? Can you remember a time they completely surprised you by going above and beyond?] is how you get a sense of whether this candidate was actually remarkable, or if they just look good on paper.

Of course, finding superstar candidates isn’t easy, but by employing these simple tools strategically, you can dive deep with candidates quickly and hopefully find the awesome self-starter your team needs.

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