The “Survivor” Dilemma – The evolution of a hiring framework

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Are you familiar with the reality show genre that “Survivor”, “Alone”, “Naked and Afraid” fall into? In these shows, each contestant is dropped in the middle of nowhere and expected to fend for themselves using their wits and some tools. There always comes a time in which the contestants have to hunt for food. At the start of each season, there is typically this initial dilemma after a successful hunt for a squirrel or other uncommon prey: “Should I eat this or will I regret this?”

My hiring process in the first 12 months in my role felt similar. I turned over my entire team twice as attrition and terminations took hold as I attempted to reset the culture. As the vacancies piled up, my hiring process amounted to little more than a cursory look at resumes, Phone and interview screens with some generic behavioral questions and then finally my gut feel – the primary determinant for who I selected to join the team. Like the survivor contestant, I was basically flipping a coin – does this squirrel have rabies or not? I don’t know. But I have to eat or risk organ failure. 

I got lucky with a few of the hires I made. But many more did not pan out. A quick aside: No hiring process has a perfect batting average.

Every hiring process is about people. People are amazing, frustrating, intelligent, crazy, compassionate, mean and unpredictable and sometimes all these attributes manifest at once. So if you need an argument about why building a business around systems first and people second, this would be it.

The blessing in all of this is that I got to do every single job at my company and was able to build processes from the ground up setting up the next people to fill roles for success. 


I’m not going to bore you with the details of our hiring process, primarily because there are people much smarter than me that you can glean this information from with a quick google search. Rather, I’d thought I’d share a few distinctive features of our process, as I look at it in hindsight that I believe could be helpful in your journey.  

The Criticality/Turnover Framework 

Every organization should have a hiring process. It is also possible that standardizing a hiring process for the entire organization may not make sense. In our case for instance, the hiring process for a technician has some unique features from that of a customer service rep. Faced with a bevy of holes within the organization, I simply couldn’t work on the process for every role, I worked on one role at a time. The framework above helped me illuminate where to start. In my case, our customer service rep roles were high turnover, critical roles. So I started there since that process would be “high use”. Plotting your organization’s roles in a framework similar to this one could be helpful as you attempt to prioritize your hiring needs. I’ve found this to be particularly important in small business as well as in high growth mode.

Experiential vs Scenario Questions

We are all familiar with experiential questions. These are the ones that a candidate can prepare for. They usually sound like “Walk me through your resume”, “Tell me about a time when………”, “Give me an example of……..” These questions are ok. But you are playing on the candidates turf here. They are in control. If a candidate comes into an interview unprepared for these questions, that should make your decision easier as to if they are a fit for your organization or not. 

Scenario questions, on the other hand are questions that we create from actual events that occur in your business. In our process we usually ask 2-3 questions of actual situations that occur. For our dispatcher role for instance, we use case studies of scheduling scenarios that we encounter on a daily basis. An individual’s interaction with these questions gives us great insight into how they may handle similar scenarios. But more importantly, it allows us to pierce through the shell that the candidate came in with. 

A day in the life

Every role in our company has some version of “do the job” as part of the interview process. We do this to varying degrees. For our CSR roles, the vast majority of our in-person interview day is spent with the candidate working side by side with someone who is currently in the role. For our technicians, they are expected to bring the tools they are most comfortable with to provide some samples of their prior work. 

Even with these process features, we still whiff on hires. But we have drastically reduced our turnover in key roles and have vastly improved the effectiveness of those who have chosen to build with us. 

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