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Looking For Talent? Here Are Three Steps To Making The Right Hire

Eric Ryan, the cofounder of cleaning-product company Method, discusses his tried-and-true screening process.

Looking For Talent? Here Are Three Steps To Making The Right Hire

The surest way to thwart a fast-growing company is to let the wrong employees on the bus, as Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, would say.


During Method’s explosive growth years, we would hear things like “I just need a warm body to fill the seat” — code for ‘We are about to compromise the talent level.’ No matter how you may rationalize it at the time, simply finding a warm body to fill the seat is never okay. We often talk about “kicking ass at fast,” but when it comes to hiring, we like to take things slow, by adding a number of speed bumps to the process that give us a chance to assess the applicant on a number of levels.

Prospective employees may get all the way to the end of the process, but if no one stands out, we’ll start the selection process all over again with a new group. At Method, we think of an interview as an audition, to borrow from other fields such as the performing arts or sports that are purely talent based. For us, this takes place in three stages: cross-functional interviewing, the homework assignment, and on-boarding, where we place candidates with the people they’ll actually work with.

We add a number of speed bumps to the hiring process.

Cross-Functional Interviewing

Our interview process employs a team of interviewers from around the company, so an applicant for a communications position might wind up discussing the job with an accountant, an industrial designer, a greenskeeper, and a publicist. The message: You’re joining an entire company, not just one department. One of the primary benefits of our interview process is that it allows the hire and the team to really get a sense of the chemistry, and we regularly ask ourselves, “Is this a person that I?m excited to sit next to on a five-hour coast-to-coast plane ride?”


When we have a few candidates whom we love, we invite them back for our homework assignment, which is, in essence, a live audition. It’s an integral part of our hiring process, and the first test is just watching their reaction. If they push back or aren’t genuinely excited to give it a try, it’s a major red flag. We once cut out of the running a CEO candidate who had previously led a billion-dollar consumer brand because this person questioned the validity of doing homework. Yup, we’re that serious about homework. There’s three basic reasons:


Cash money. In some cases, homework assignments have saved us money because we were able to see that a less experienced, less expensive candidate actually had more talent. We always hire for talent over experience, and the homework assignment is the best way to distinguish between the two.

Due diligence. You can customize homework to a candidate’s perceived or rumored weaknesses, allowing you to dig into any problem areas hinted at by interviews or reference checks.

Scare the window shoppers. Let’s face it, a lot of people browse new jobs just to see if they can make more money. We keep them from wasting our time. You want an offer? You better be ready to work for it! In the end, this saves us a lot of time.

Every homework assignment consists of three questions: one strategic question, one tactical question — both customized to the applicant’s experience — and then our favorite question: “How would you keep Method weird?” While it may sound like little more than a fun stunt, the homework assignment is actually a make-or-break rite of passage. It’s a form of prototyping to see how candidates think and approach their work. It’s a peek into their work ethic and a chemistry test for our culture.



Our process has three stages: cross-functional interviewing, homework, and on-boarding.

It raises the bar for everyone. If you’re the hiring manager, and your candidate bombs in front of an audience, ultimately, it makes you look bad. So everyone works harder at recruiting and screening top talent. The result is that it’s harder for people to hire candidates weaker than themselves; because the process is so transparent, nothing slips by. Bad talent can’t hide in the homework. Sometimes the worst employees are the best interviewees. With homework, you can get a better sense of how talented the candidates really are, allowing you to see how they think and problem-solve right in front of you.

Silo busting

Our unusual hiring process ensures that we hire unusual, dynamic people who are at ease outside their traditional comfort zone. These traits have become a pivotal part of what keeps us fresh. After all, once we find our unicorn, we change things regularly, looking for opportunities to move people around the company to broaden their experience. For example, a director may lead the laundry branch of the brand one year and transfer to personal care the next. The process forces employees to think creatively, spreading new strategies and lessons beyond traditional company silos.

I encourage you to try some of these suggestions from us, modify, make it your own, and then share, so we can learn from you. Once you try it, I am confident you will feel like you were just flying blind before adding the live audition to your recruiting approach.

[Top image via El Bibliomata]

About the author

Eric Ryan is co-founder, with Adam Lowry, of Method, a San Francisco based consumer goods company that has reinvented homecare products.