Before You Require Poem Writing, Take These 7 Steps to Ensure Your Hiring Matches Your Culture

Screen Shot 2013-05-19 at 10.17.15 PMDuring a trip to a suburban mall near Cleveland, I saw a man wearing a jacket with a logo for Hyland Software, a business-to-business software developer whose global headquarters are located nearby. In the B2B world, Hyland has a reputation of being a stellar employer with a fun streak. As evidence, it has a giant tube slide in the middle of its headquarters and has earned several top workplace awards in recent years.

Hyland also has a quirk in its interview process. Candidates applying online are required to write and submit a poem. Not an essay, not a biography — a poem. How does that strike you?

I’m guessing some percent of people reading this column are thinking that’s ridiculous. And I know from reading message boards about hiring at Hyland that several past candidates frown upon the poem (that’s putting it nicely). I’m sure at least one applicant has written to the company, “Roses are red, violets are blue. This assignment is stupid, and so are you.”

Many recruiters and HR managers would freak out if they got wind that their interview process was causing a negative reaction. Their job is to put fannies in the seats, and angry candidates don’t help achieve the company’s hiring goals.

I don’t sweat when I hear candidates complain about my company’s pre-employment process. I think repelling some applicants is okay, unless your process turns off candidates who fit your culture. If certain people don’t like your process, that’s probably a good indication they wouldn’t like your job either.

My company is a B2B magazine and website publisher who regularly hires account executives, managers, and writers. Our culture embraces and rewards people who are high character, high initiative, hard working, and humble. We seek to attract folks who value constructive criticism and teamwork and are seeking a long-term career, not just their next job.

So, our interview process is thorough and intense with questions that go beyond skills and personality, seeking to fully understand the candidate’s character. We spend 14-16 hours with successful candidates. Our pre-employment steps include an essay, dinner with their significant other, and an aversions interview where we give the candidate an accurate picture of the struggles they will face on the job.

Partway through our process some candidates bail and tell us we are overwhelming and invasive. But others compliment us for our rigorous system, saying it helped them learn more about themselves and our company before making a major life decision. The general reaction by these candidates is, “At first, I didn’t understand why you’d need to spend so much time with me because every other interview process is much shorter. But now I see that you really value people and take hiring seriously.”

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My company’s corporate tagline is “We’re Different By Design,” and I think you’d agree our interview process mirrors that. We would be misleading candidates — and experience high turnover — if we behaved otherwise.

Because that process works for us, does that mean you should copy exactly what my company does? Absolutely not.

These seven actions will ensure your hiring process is effective and in harmony with your culture:

  1. Review a copy of your organization’s guiding principles and see if they are evident on your recruiting website and within your interview process.
  2. Compare your website with websites of companies in your industry and companies with cultures similar to yours.
  3. Call the HR directors and recruiters from those companies to get details on their interview process.
  4. Review sites of “best-places-to-work” companies for ideas on how they communicate their culture and conduct their pre-employment process. At Jameson, we researched companies on the Forbes list “Companies That Give The Toughest Job Interviews.”
  5. Ask your recently hired employees if they felt your interview processes accurately depicted your company culture. Note where they feel differences exist.
  6. Get feedback from “ones that got away” — candidates you wanted to hire but decided to go somewhere else. LinkedIn is a great resource for quickly finding what these folks are up to.
  7. Ask current candidates in your process how they would describe your company from what they’ve been exposed to. Does it match the perspective you want them to have?

Happy hiring!

Jim Roddy is the president of Jameson Publishing and author of the book “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer,” which features hiring lessons, interview best practices, and recruiting strategies for managers through the perspective of a cancer-surviving executive. For more information on the book, go to


9 Comments on “Before You Require Poem Writing, Take These 7 Steps to Ensure Your Hiring Matches Your Culture

  1. I only had one cultural interview experience in my career that made me pull out of consideration. This company requires their recruiters to call candidates up to 20 minutes later than the interview time to verify that they are flexible and customer focused. My issue was that I am an active recruiter, had clients at the time and had made commitments that I couldn’t break, so starting 20 minutes late didn’t make sense to me as a candidate. On the flip (flop) side, if I’d gotten the job of recruiting for them, I would have hated hated hated calling candidates late. I am time bound. I do things when I commit to them and show up early to meetings. I call candidates on time. It’s who I am. Clearly, I’m not weird enough for this company!

    (any guesses what company it was?)

  2. Great story, Stephanie. They will attract the kind of candidate they deserve … and miss out on hiring people who want to make their word good.

  3. Thanks, Jim. “I think repelling some applicants is okay, unless your process turns off candidates who fit your culture.”
    ISTM this suggests a bit of arrogance about the firm and its culture,
    Furthermore, it presumes that your cultural is functional and optimal.
    Applicants are like customers- they talk, for good or for ill.


  4. KH, Hence the issues Abercrombie is having these days? People aren’t proud to be “cool kids” much anymore.

  5. While I’m all for a rigorous process, I don’t believe that always translates to relevant (or objective) steps along the way. I don’t think a thorough process has to take an extensive amount of time to evaluate a mutual fit. Likewise, I don’t necessarily think “tough” interviews produce better hires. But some companies seem intent on selecting/de-selecting based on interview performance and put more emphasis on superficial factors rather than what really counts.

    I too would be turned off by invasive and (seemingly unrelated) projects such as writing a poem or essay just to apply for a job. Though I do appreciate opportunities to provide work samples and/or demonstrations related to the target position if/when initial interest has been established.

    Finally, I’m wondering what a person’s significant other (or perhaps lack of) has to do with YOUR culture and/or that person’s ability to perform well in their job. Not to sound overly cautious, but in the event someone isn’t hired, I’d be concerned that that level of “familiarity” with their personal circumstances and relationship(s) may backfire.

    Otherwise, I agree with the concept of modeling your selection process on cultural factors — as along as that is known in advance and not to put candidates through a test of their endurance, patience and ability to accommodate the 14-16 hour time and logistics commitment.

    KB @TalentTalks

  6. Thanks to everyone for your comments!

    KEITH: Yes, I’m assuming the culture is functional. If you want to upgrade your organization’s culture, an effective way to do that is through hiring. I respectfully disagree with your stance this approach is arrogant. If who you’re hiring is producing amazing outcomes, is it arrogant to hire similar folks?

    KELLY: Rigor for rigor’s sake is foolish — or one could say “rignorant.” 🙂 My company doesn’t choose solely based on interview performance; that’s too surface level. But we and the candidate make our decisions based on the data uncovered during the interviews.

    As far as your being “turned off” by the essay and “seemingly unrelated” projects, the key word in your comment is “seemingly.” The way I’d like a candidate to respond if they have that reaction would not be, “I don’t understand why I’m doing this so I think that’s a dumb idea.” I would prefer they think, “Hmmm — that doesn’t make sense”, then have the fortitude to ask the purpose of the assignment, and additional ask follow-up questions until they got the full data.

    For my company, the essay tests several aspects that are 100% related to job performance including:
    1. Following directions
    2. Meeting a deadline
    3. Asking clarifying questions instead of guessing
    4. Communicating clearly in writing
    5. Desire for the job

    Regarding your skepticism with the dinner interview, the feedback we almost always hear from candidates is (1) their significant other is nervous and doesn’t want to ruin the thing [which we assure them never happens] and (2) they are thrilled to meet someone from the company and have all their questions answered. They appreciate we understand the reality that a new career affects both the candidate and their significant other, and that we take the time to answer any concerns they might have. It is a risk to involve the significant other, but in my experience the benefits far outweigh the risks.

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts. Happy hiring!

  7. @ Jim: Thank you. Assuming your culture is optimal is a dangerous assumption- it probably isn’t: NOBODY’S is for very long, it’s a dynamic thing.

    “If who you’re hiring is producing amazing outcomes, is it arrogant to hire similar folks?” Not at all, but it IS arrogant to assume your company/culture/whatever is special enough to be able to afford not treating EVERY applicant like a valued customer. Many companies think they’re special and entitled to the best- very few of them are. In my book, a TRULY special company is one which is humble and makes me feel like a king, whether or not I get hired.



  8. KEITH: Good thoughts on this — it seems our outcomes are aligned perfectly. We strive to make every candidate feel they were taken care of (get the appropriate emotional outcome) AND be selective to ensure we hire the right folks. Easier said than done, but that’s what we strive for.

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