Part of the fun of working for a great agency is being encouraged to think. Here are some of the things we’re thinking about.

How to Hire Smart PR & Marketing Pros

November 7, 2014 Jeff Bradford

“Hire Smart People” is the first of the Bradford Group’s three core values. (To learn what the other two are, look at the bottom right corner of this page, or any page on our website.) We have to use our heads a lot, so we want to make sure all of the heads here have big brains inside them.

Why? Because skills can be acquired, knowledge can be learned, experience can be had, but intelligence is pretty much a fixed commodity. It is quite unlikely that we’re going to grow anyone’s IQ here, so we need to start with a high one, so that everyone has the capacity to learn a lot.

large_8376271918Having hired many people in my career, I can tell you that hiring smart people is not easy. More than once, I’ve found that the person who amazed me during a job interview dismays me when he actually starts working. Anyone who hires people has had this experience, but I tired of having it, so we devised a system for identifying and hiring the smart people who make the Bradford Group hum.

First, we care about Grade Point Averages, even if a potential employee has been out of college for years. This kind of goes against conventional wisdom, or at least conventional thinking. USA Today says GPAs don’t matter in the workplace. Google’s SVP of HR says that “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring.” You can find this sentiment all over the Internet. Just search for “does GPA matter?” You’ll find page after page of soothing bromides for C students. Even PR Daily writes about “The 9 things that matter more to employers than grades.”

So, a leading publication in our profession, among others, says that we are wrong to focus on college grades in hiring. Are we wrong? Do we need to look beyond mediocre academic performance to find the real superstar within? Well, I simply do not have the time nor the inclination to open 1,000 clams on the chance of finding one pearl. There are too many pearls in clear sight – the smart, hard-working people who earned strong GPAs of 3.5 or better.

And other discriminating employers, like Fortune 500 companies, agree. According to Forbes, companies like Kellogg, Procter & Gamble, Bank of America and Ernst & Young won’t look at candidates with a GPA below 3.0 – and many won’t go below 3.5, which is the Bradford Group threshold.

We care about GPA because is it a reasonably accurate indicator of traits we care about: intelligence, work ethic, discipline and organizational ability. It is terribly hard to earn good grades without these things, and we’ve found that the academically gifted people we hire have these things in abundance – which is why more than half of our staff graduated magna or summa cum laude. (I’m not among them, by the way. I believe in hiring people who are smarter than I am. My 3.5 GPA barely squeaks by our threshold.)

Of course, through some combination of lax academic standards and cunning, it is possible for someone to graduate college with a GPA that indicates they are more capable than they actually are, which is why this is only one way we screen for great team members. We also test to assure that what is in peoples’ heads matches up with what is on their resumes.

Because writing is central to our profession, we begin with a writing test and a proofreading test, which we send to everyone who applies for a job. We don’t look at anything else – resume, cover letter, references or even GPAs – before we review the results of these tests. If the results are superb, then we look at the other supporting information.

If the writing and proofing tests are great and everything else looks great – strong GPA, pertinent experience, evidence of leadership and initiative – then we invite the candidate in for a personal interview. First, our COO and I interview the candidate for about an hour – a fairly in-depth conversation – then we invite the entire team to interview her. This second interview is important for several reasons: 1) we get to see how the candidate does in a group situation, 2) we get a different perspective on the candidate’s skills and 3) we get to see if the chemistry is right, if this person would work well with the rest of the team. We also give them a personality test to see how they will fit with our team.

If all goes well, there is one final test: an aptitude test that measures general intelligence. It is a 60-minute timed test that measures the candidate’s agility in verbal, mathematical and spatial reasoning. Though it is not an IQ test, which might be a bit creepy, it does tell us how someone ranks compared to the general population. We want people in the upper percentiles.

So, that is our system for finding smart people:

  • Writing test: to gauge facility with the language, not just grammar and syntax, but also general creativity and ability to communicate clearly, logically and succinctly.
  • Proofreading test: for knowledge of grammar, spelling, punctuation and, most importantly, attention to detail.
  • GPA: at least 3.5, preferably graduated with honors.
  • Two intensive in-person interviews, which focus on the candidate telling us exactly how she did the things listed on her resume, why she wants to work for the Bradford Group – and a lot of other topics we’ll not divulge.
  • A personality test: to make sure he fits with the team
  • An aptitude test: to make sure she has the horsepower needed to think clearly, deeply and quickly

And then, of course, we call references. If they are not absolutely glowing, we do not make the hire. You expect everyone to give a good reference – after all, who is going to list someone who will give them a bad reference? A glowing reference confirms what all of our testing and interviewing told us; anything less is a red flag.

It is hard work finding smart people, but it is absolutely essential. Our only product is what comes out of our heads, so the people producing it have to be the very best. And they are.

photo credit: _DJ_ via photopin cc

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