I owe a great deal for writing this blog to an article that Mark shared with me a while back. It’s called Your Company Culture is Who You Hire, Fire, and Promote by Dr Cameron Sepah, and it gives an excellent explanation of several important things managers should remember when hiring people. You should definitely read it.

A lot of the stuff I mention here is drawn directly from our own experience hiring, firing, and promoting people.

I went through this process myself (not the firing part!) back when the company was mainly Mark and I. Since then, we’ve worked with close to 100 people and only a dozen or so have stayed part of our team to this day.

Although it isn’t perfect, this “Hire quick, fire quicker” approach has enabled us to:

  • scale our team in a very short span of time
  • diversify our skill-base and increase capacity
  • work with several talented and dedicated people

1 – Testing for talent

The first thing we do when someone expresses interest in working with us is to assess their ability.

Since we’re dealing with copywriters mainly, you would expect language proficiency to be a top requirement… That’s correct, but only to a certain degree, as we need to see those language skills applied in a marketing context.

What we have done is created a series of speculative tasks for a fictional business or a potential client that that test people’s marketing and copywriting skills in these areas:

  • promoting a brand or a product
  • explaining a technical concept
  • using SEO keywords appropriately

By assigning tasks that involve the creation of landing pages, blog posts, social posts and email newsletter within a limited time frame, we get to see how familiar someone is with writing for these media. At the same time, we also get new writers accustomed to our briefs and the kind of work we do for our clients.

There is no payment linked to these tasks and we don’t make money off people’s creative work either. Their purpose is purely to provide a crash course in online copywriting, as well as an obstacle course that weeds out people who wouldn’t be a good fit in our team.

2 – Friends of friends of…

Everyone who has stuck with our team came to us through personal recommendation from friends, clients, and current or former co-workers.

I’m the exception to that rule, as I joined Systemato after Mark had posted an ad looking for content writers on Facebook.

Putting aside that anomaly, these days we are very strict about only accepting people who have a recommendation from someone we trust before we give them a chance to wow us. We found that when people recommend someone to us, it all just works better right off the bat, because these people already know us and how we work, so they recommend individuals who are a better fit.

This may also sound a bit elitist, but think of it this way:

Most jobs demand newbies to have a ludicrous amount of experience; something recent graduates or school-leavers can never hope to attain. On the other hand, we only expect young ‘uns to make ONE connection in common with anyone in our team who may vouch for their ability and/or ambition.

Other companies bullshit in their job posting about looking for “dynamic and proactive” applicants. We make it an actual requirement to get a foot in our door.

3 – Our “No Assholes” rule

We got the name for this rule from the article I quoted at the beginning of this piece.

The same author also calls it the “One Red Flag Rule”, because it is a deal-breaker under any circumstance.

It’s a principle we have been living by from the very beginning of Systemato.

Simply put, attitude problems are a no-no, especially in our case as a remote-working digital marketing agency. We’ve discovered that any issues in this area tend to show up right away, therefore we act quickly as soon as we spot them.

If you act like a dick from day one, we know you’ll probably stay that way in a year’s time. It’s a risk we’re not willing to take because the repercussions of this behaviour will bring down the rest of the team.

This is do or die. If you’re an asshole, you’ll never work with us.

4 – Onboarding in 3-2-1

The onboarding process for new team members is very straightforward. I’ve touched upon the meaning of “process” in another blog post.

  • 3 platforms: G Suite, Slack and Asana, which everyone can access after getting their Systemato email address.
  • 2 team spaces: We use one for handling tasks and another to facilitate communication among our remote team.
  • 1 team handbook: This contains all the knowledge one needs about how we work as a team, get paid, as well as answers to common questions about content writing.

An anecdote from our team

Once there was a task I was waiting for a writer to submit. It was getting late and I was anxious because we hate sending work after a deadline.

The fact that I trusted the writer and she was very experienced made each passing hour even more unbearable.

Finally, a notification came through. She had uploaded the content and marked the task complete. I asked her what happened.

“Oh, I broke my arm. I’m at the clinic right now.”
“WHAT!?!”
“Just a small accident. Sorry I’m late. I had to type the whole thing on my mobile.”

Despite telling her to rest up and forget about work, she went on to write a second article on her phone while her arm was healing.

Now tell me if that isn’t grit and a hunger to move upward!

Author David Mallia

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Wudlike Tokeepanoninthiscaseplease says:

    Love this post

    When the “speculative tasks” are given, are the persons already onboard? Or is it a case of “perform these tasks well, don’t be an asshole and you’re onboard”?

    In my previous workplace, I was given a project (a real one) – and employed because it was done successfully. It worked well for me, and since I stayed there for 5 years, I guess I didn’t trigger the asshole radar of my back-then employer.

    It didn’t work so well for other candidates, who performed a first project well and behaved like a well-trained golden retriever.

    Once the person was on-board, we started noticing that projects were not being delivered (at all), person came in at 8 am beer in hand citing the benefits of beer in the morning (I will not contest that claim), smelling like cow-dung and 13-day-old corpse piles, rendering our office worse than a pigsty with a stench of necropsy, and I highly suspect that the bathroom towel was used for things that I will not write here, even though you would probably still publish the comment 🙂

    • David Mallia says:

      Ugh, that’s gross. No, we invite people to join the team after they’ve completed the spec tasks and we’re satisfied with their work. Luckily, as a company where everyone works remotely, personal habits don’t concern us directly; there’s a clear distinction between personal and workplace habits in our case. We can judge someone only on the latter: submitting their work late, doing incomplete work, refusing to adapt to critical feedback, communicating in a disrespectful manner with colleagues and clients… People are still being assholes when do all that, but perhaps not in the conventional manner we all think.

      I’m glad you liked this post. Thank you!

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