Hire for Traits, Not Experience


Written by Steve Pockross, CEO at Verblio and CultureCon 2022 presenter.

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My number one purpose as a CEO is to focus on the people. One way I do that is by intentionally allocating time to hiring.


At Verblio, hiring is as important as sales and marketing. You have to target the right people who are going to be the right fit, meaning you need a target audience—just like your sales and marketing teams do. You have to message that target audience in a way that appeals to them and that generates a response. And, once you attract them, you have to use a process that wins over the best candidates.


Hiring for Traits

When we’re looking for a new hire, Verblio’s target audience can’t be the most experienced candidates. We can’t afford them. Many startups have massive venture capital backing and can afford to hire at any cost. As a bootstrapped company, we can’t—especially in today’s hiring environment. Instead, we have to find the right people, not the most experienced people.


Which Traits?

Who are the right people? They’re folks who have specific traits, not specific experiences. We’ve identified traits that demonstrate a candidate will most likely be successful at Verblio—and help our clients be most successful. Our target audience is:


  • Curious: They want to learn and figure things out.

  • Quirky: Our team is delightfully weird.

  • People-first: They share our core value that people come first.


Although we hire for these traits first, we don’t completely ignore experience. But it’s the type of experience matters. I’m looking for a candidate who has firsthand experience working with customers “in the trenches,” not a fancy graduate certificate in customer service.


The best part: Hiring for traits turns your culture into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hiring great people attracts more great people.


Energy Matters

The number one thing I look for during an interview with a candidate is energy. Did this person give me more energy by the end of our discussion than they took away? If you’re constantly building a team that gives you more energy, you have a company that progressively gets better—and that has nothing to do with a candidate’s experience. Making a sacrifice on culture by hiring the “experienced” candidate will affect the energy of the entire company.


To be clear, hiring for traits does not mean using a personality test. Paying attention to a person’s energy in an interview and asking questions to learn about their curiosity and people-first mindset is ten times more powerful than any personality assessment.


How to Attract the Right Candidates

Most companies put the head of people ops or HR in charge of the recruiting process. That role requires a diverse skillset, and any HR executive has a lot going on. People ops departments are often tasked with learning and development, culture, benefits, and other projects, in addition to recruiting and hiring.


Marketing teams, on the other hand, are experts at sending messaging to a target audience. To leverage that expertise, Verblio’s marketing team supports our company-wide recruiting work, and our top copywriter personally incorporates our brand messaging into our job descriptions.


My rule of thumb: You should laugh three times by the end of a job description. More importantly, you should want to do this job, no matter what role it is.


This approach may turn off people who are looking for a stodgy corporate environment, but by putting the brand’s voice and tone in our job descriptions, we’re attracting and messaging the people who we think are most likely to have the traits we’re looking for. Other companies may have different voice and tone; the point here is to start filtering for traits in the job description itself.


Our “Meet the team” page follows this rule too. We’re quirky, and we own it. (And yes, my favorite word really is “hootenanny.”)


Hiring for Traits = Better Retention

Hiring for traits helps find the right candidate, but it also improves employee engagement and retention. Because people aren’t here to chase a paycheck, they’re engaged. And because they share traits and values with their teammates, Verblio employees stick around. We often take longer to hire a candidate than other companies of our size, but the benefits speak for themselves. I’ve never regretted investing in our hiring process.


After a new employee has been with the company 90 days, they have a one-on-one with me. I always ask what the most surprising thing has been about joining Verblio. The most common response—and one I love to hear—is that the culture and the people are even better than they expected. That’s the power of hiring for traits over experience.


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About Steve:

Steve Pockross brings more than 25 years of startup, Fortune 500, and nonprofit experience to his role at Verblio. As CEO, he applies leading marketplace and SaaS principles to create an industry-leading content creation platform with 3,000 U.S.-based writers supporting the creation of premium content at scale in every niche. Verblio has been named an Inc 5000 winner 2x, a Mercury growth winner 5x, and was named a Colorado Company to watch in 2020. He also served in marketing, strategy, and operational leadership roles at LiveOps, Tendril, Western Union, Marketing Technologies Group and HSBC.