15 Best Practices for Hiring Top Talent

15 Best Practices for Hiring Top Talent

The people who work for your company are your most important—and costly—asset, and hiring top performers is critical any time you have a job opening or skills gap. However, finding and engaging top performers can be challenging and requires thoughtful planning.

In today’s remote and hybrid work environment, organizations have access to a larger talent pool than ever before. In addition to hiring full-time workers outside their local markets and across the globe, companies are increasingly leveraging independent talent to build more agile teams and reduce operational costs.

Whether you’re engaging full-time workers or independent talent, you’re competing against other companies for top performers. And with so many options to expand your team, determining which individuals are the best fit can be difficult.

To help make that process easier, this article will explore 15 best practices to hire top performers.

  1. Know the talent market by job and skill set
  2. Identify top skills and characteristics needed for the job
  3. Develop a detailed job description targeting top performers
  4. Align on a talent scorecard for the interviewers
  5. Establish standard interview process for all candidates
  6. Request a presentation on given scenarios
  7. Identify strong communication and storytelling
  8. Consider asking analytical questions (based on the job)
  9. Ask about top achievements and accolades
  10. Request examples of top projects and outcomes
  11. Assess for additional credentials and certificates
  12. Ask about the desire of growth in the company
  13. Allow time for candidates to ask questions
  14. Hire the best performing candidate
  15. Establish an onboarding process

1. Know the talent market by job and skill set

No matter the role you’re looking to fill, you’ll want to understand the talent and skills available on the market. A study by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that among HR professionals based in the U.S., 75% of those facing recruiting challenges feel candidates have a shortage of skills.

When assessing the talent market, ask the following questions:

  • Which roles will need to be filled in the near- and long-term?
  • Which skills are required for success in these roles?
  • What does the overall job market and competition look like for similar roles and skills?
  • Can roles be filled by remote workers outside the local market?
  • Are independent professionals the right fit for certain roles or projects?

2. Identify top skills and characteristics needed for the job

Top performers will have the skills and characteristics needed to succeed at your organization. As you think about your hiring needs, a first step is determining any skills gaps you have on your team, as well as characteristics you’d like team members to display. This will help set the stage to develop strong job descriptions and pinpoint the right candidates to interview.

Think about key hard and soft skills needed for each open role. Hard skills are job-specific, technical, measurable competencies gained through education and experience. Soft skills are character traits that show an individual’s ability to work on a team. Soft skills can be more difficult to define and measure than hard skills, but are no less important.

Examples of hard and soft skills include:

  • Hard skills. Email marketing, coding, foreign language proficiency, business analytics, industry-specific knowledge
  • Soft skills. Adaptability, communication, organization, time management, critical thinking

When compiling a list of required skills and characteristics, you’ll want to keep the list short and targeted. If it’s too long, candidates who would otherwise be a fit may self-select out and not apply. Also, differentiate between what is required for the role, such as specific professional certificates, and what is preferred but not absolutely necessary, to avoid limiting your talent pool.

3. Develop a detailed job description targeting top performers

A job description covers a job’s general duties and responsibilities, which helps you evaluate a person for the role, and helps potential candidates better determine whether they’re a fit.

Whether you’re hiring an entry-level worker, a C-suite executive, or anything in between, most job descriptions feature many of the same elements, including:

  • Job title
  • Employment type
  • Brief summary
  • List of responsibilities
  • Overview of required skills, characteristics and qualifications
  • Company culture

Top performers read job descriptions to assess whether their skills and experience match the role, and because they’re interested in learning more about the company culture. In your job descriptions, include a brief “About Us” section to excite individuals about the possibility of joining your team. In this section, highlight information such as your company mission, values, benefits, perks, and high-level business successes—such as recent growth milestones or workplace awards.

A full job description is only needed for employment and not necessary to initiate a project with independent talent. When engaging an independent professional through Upwork, you typically just need a statement of work, job post, or similar document that describes the work to be done.

Related: How to Write a Job Description: 7 Simple Steps to Getting it Right

4. Align on a talent scorecard for the interviewers

During the interview process, some interviewers take detailed notes while others jot down a few bullet points. When interviewing multiple candidates, feedback can get blurred or interviewers might unintentionally insert unconscious biases into their assessment of prospective team members.

An interview scorecard can help diminish bias by scoring interviews on the same scale. With a standardized scorecard, interviewers can also stay focused on the job requirements only, leading to consistent interviews and decision making.

The scorecard doesn’t have to be complicated. Take the skills and characteristics you already identified into consideration and rate each interviewee on a scale from zero to five stars or from fair to excellent. In addition to individual scores throughout the discussion, at the bottom of the scorecard, each interviewer can select whether or not they recommend hiring the candidate.

After you’ve scored all potential team members, you can compare your scores with the rest of the hiring team. If you’re all on the same page about a specific candidate, this saves time and simplifies the hiring decision. And if you notice significant disparities about a specific candidate, your team of interviewers can gather to discuss further.

5. Establish a standard interview process for all candidates

A standard interview process helps your team stay organized, which saves time and resources internally and supports a positive candidate experience. If your interview process is disjointed or it takes too long to move individuals forward in the process, you might lose top performers to other opportunities.

Steps in a standard interview process can include:

  • Initial screening call with a recruiter
  • Interview with the hiring manager for the role
  • Peer interviews
  • Conversations with senior leaders on the team, depending on the role
  • Additional presentations or assessments as required throughout the process

Once you establish an interview process, outline the steps on your careers page, so prospective team members have an understanding of what to expect after they apply for a role.

If you’re hiring independent talent for a short-term project, it won’t necessarily require an extensive interview process. With Upwork, you can access and receive proposals from qualified candidates who already have complete profiles, including an overview of their professional experience, examples of projects, and reviews from past clients, among other information.

6. Request a presentation on given scenarios

Depending on the role you’re looking to fill, you might want to request candidate presentations during the interview process.

For example, if you have an opening on your marketing team, you can ask top candidates to present a mock 90-day strategy or campaign overview. Or, you can request that a prospective sales team member share a high-level demo of your product or overview of how they see the competitive landscape.

Any time you request a presentation from a candidate, provide clear direction. Each candidate for a given role should receive a detailed brief outlining the presentation topic, key expectations, and timing requirements.

Requesting a presentation can help you better understand the following about a candidate:

  • Role or industry-specific knowledge. Are they an expert in their field or the industry in which your organization operates?
  • Research skills. Can they complete sufficient and relevant research on the industry or topic?
  • Ability to follow instructions. Do they stick to the instructions outlined in the presentation brief?
  • Preparation and organization. Is the presentation well planned, articulate, structured, and completed in the allotted time?
  • Confidence level. Does the candidate come across as confident and knowledgeable throughout the presentation, and during any Q&A at the end?

7. Identify strong communication and storytelling

Communication is key no matter the role, especially in today’s remote and hybrid work environment in which you can’t always walk over to a team member’s desk to ask a question.

While an individual’s communication and storytelling skills will stand out across a variety of interview questions and through any email correspondence along the way, you can also ask questions that specifically point to these skills.

Questions include:

  • Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you ended up where you are in your career?
  • Can you share an example of a time when you set a goal and accomplished it?
  • What is your preferred communication style?
  • How do you collaborate with team members in a remote or hybrid work environment?
  • How do you approach asynchronous communication?

8. Consider asking analytical questions (based on the job)

Top performers display strong analytical skills, which help them gather relevant data, identify and overcome challenges, and make logical decisions that help the business. While every position requires analytical skills, they are particularly important for team managers, members of the leadership team, and any individuals responsible for metrics that tie to broader business goals.

Some examples of analytical interview questions include:

  • Which metrics do you track regularly? How do you tie these metrics to broader business goals?
  • Can you describe a time when you discovered a more efficient way to complete a task or manage a process?
  • When you face a challenge, which steps do you take to solve the problem?
  • Share an example of a time you took a risk to achieve a goal. How did it work out?

If potential team members share vague responses to these questions, rather than specific examples, this can be a sign that they don’t possess the analytical skills needed to drive impact on your team.  

9. Ask about top achievements and accolades

Asking candidates about top achievements and accolades helps you gain insight into an individual’s work ethic, what they view as most valuable and important, and how they will drive outcomes if they join your team. It also gives potential team members an opportunity to share what they’ve accomplished while tying it back to the role you’re looking to fill.

Achievements and accolades vary depending on an individual’s background and experience, and top performers likely have many to choose from.

Examples include:

  • A promotion shortly into an individual’s tenure at a previous organization
  • An award from a previous employer for embodying one or more of the company’s core values
  • An industry award for a specific project or campaign
  • Recognition for volunteer or mentorship work

10. Request examples of top projects and outcomes

Top performers understand the importance of preparing for interview questions related to their strongest projects and outcomes. Prospective team members often list their best projects and associated results on their resumes—rather than simply listing responsibilities from their previous roles—while independent professionals feature top projects on their Upwork profiles.

During the interview process, one way top performers stand out when answering questions related to their top projects and outcomes is by using the STAR method:

  • Situation. The situation, setting and premise or goals of the project
  • Task. Specific tasks or duties completed to organize or manage the project
  • Approach. Steps taken and skills displayed to complete the project
  • Results. Measurable results and other tangible outcomes that demonstrate the success of a project

11. Assess for additional credentials and certificates

Credentials and certificates show that candidates are invested in their personal and professional growth. If they join your team, they will likely be motivated to continue building their professional skills.

If you’re looking to fill a role or complete a project and specific skills or certifications are critical to success, consider asking individuals to complete an assessment during the interview process. This can help you gain firsthand insight into their abilities rather than simply seeing them on a resume or professional profile, or hearing about key skills during an interview.

Specific assessments include:

  • Coding test to measure an engineer’s skill level in a specific coding language
  • Writing assignment to see how a marketing professional adapts to your organization’s target audience and writing style
  • Microsoft Excel test to measure knowledge of basic Excel functions and formulas

12. Ask about the desire for growth in the company

The most motivated team members are interested in growing their careers and businesses, not simply accepting a job. Whether you’re engaging a full-time worker or independent talent, you’ll want to look for individuals who will both drive positive outcomes in the near future, and continue to learn and provide value to your organization in the long run.

Many top performers seek new opportunities because they no longer see room for growth with their current team or organization. In fact, 63% of U.S. workers who quit a job in 2021 cited no opportunities for advancement as a top reason.

A few questions that can help you gauge whether candidates are interested in staying and growing with your company long term include:

  • What are your short- and long-term career goals?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • If hired, how will joining this team help you achieve your career goals?
  • How will you balance focusing on your personal career goals and broader company goals?
  • How do you approach continual learning and skill building?

These questions will help you identify individuals who are eager to grow with your organization, and weed out those who aren’t necessarily driven to achieve their career goals on your team.

13. Allow time for candidates to ask questions

The interview process is a two-way street and allowing candidates time to ask questions is just as important as your team asking them questions. Individuals who come prepared with questions for the interview show they are highly engaged and interested in joining your team.

If they don’t ask any questions, this might be a sign that they didn’t do much research on the company or role, and are simply looking for a job rather than specifically motivated to join your team.

On the candidate side, asking questions can help them better gauge whether they’re a fit for your team and the role—and whether your company is the right match for them.

Some examples of strong questions top performers ask during the interview process include:

  • What are the growth opportunities for this role?
  • Why are you looking to fill this role? Did a team member leave or get promoted, or is this a new role because the company is expanding?
  • How do team members communicate and collaborate with one another?
  • What are the top skills you’re looking for in this role?
  • What do you like most about working for this team?

14. Hire the best performing candidate

Once you’ve interviewed top candidates and completed any other steps, such as presentations and assessments, you’ll want to align with your team on a hiring decision. Leverage the interview scorecard established early on in the process and, based on the requirements you outlined up front, extend an offer to the individual who is most likely to be a top performer on your team.

You should move forward with the offer as soon as you make a decision; top talent often have the option of multiple job offers.

Here are some steps you can take for a streamlined offer process to hire top performers:

  • Reach out via email to schedule a time to discuss the offer
  • Extend an offer over a phone or video meeting
  • Allow time for the prospective team members to ask any questions
  • Follow up with a written offer for the candidate to sign or accept

When hiring independent talent on Upwork, the offer process can be completed in a matter of clicks. After you select the ideal talent, simply click “hire” on their proposal. This automatically creates a contract offer and enables you to pay them with a single click.

Related: How Do I Make an Offer on Upwork?

15. Establish an onboarding process

Whether you’re hiring full-time workers or independent talent, an effective onboarding process can help individuals start driving outcomes and feel like part of the team soon after joining. However, for many organizations, onboarding has room for improvement, with only 12% of U.S. employees saying their company does a good job onboarding new team members.

As you establish your onboarding process, leave room to adapt or tailor the steps for different types of professionals—such as full-time workers versus independent professionals or individuals on different teams across the organization.

Onboarding steps can include:

  • Gaining access to systems and equipment from IT
  • Filling out administrative paperwork
  • Attending live, scheduled sessions
  • Completing assignments
  • Setting aside time for self-guided learning

Collectively, structured onboarding steps help new team members learn about your company and set them up for success.

In addition to any formal onboarding, pair each new worker with a team member who has more experience at the organization, and can help answer questions as they get up to speed. These check-ins can also help new team members begin to build relationships in the organization. Nearly 40% of workers report that check-ins help them feel the greatest sense of belonging, and fostering this can be more challenging in today’s remote and hybrid work environment.

Related: Manager’s Guide to Onboarding Remote Workers

Start hiring today

If you’re eager to hire top performers, Upwork is here to help you build a trusted, scalable team. Our work marketplace makes it easy to engage independent professionals from around the globe, improving work quality while reducing costs, and freeing up time for you to work more strategically.

Create an Upwork account today to access top performing independent talent who can help you drive productivity and business results, both now and in the long run.


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Author Spotlight

15 Best Practices for Hiring Top Talent
Beth Kempton
Content Writer

Beth Kempton is a B2B writer with a passion for storytelling and more than a decade of content marketing experience. She specializes in writing engaging long-form content, including blog posts, thought leadership pieces, SEO articles, case studies, ebooks and guides, for HR technology and B2B SaaS companies. In her free time, you can find Beth reading or running.

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