5,118 reasons why our hiring process matters

At Cliniko, we created a custom hiring process to help us make the best selections for our team. We’ve been charting our own path for years, but never has our grand idea been more truly tested than during our most recent hiring campaign when we received 5,118 applications.

Doug Pohl·

An illustration of several people being interviewed via web video

For many of us, buying a home is one of the most important and expensive decisions we can make. And yet, we’ll likely spend less than an hour inside a house before placing an offer to purchase it—what a tiny window of time to contemplate such an impactful choice. It’s not nearly long enough to discover the most crucial information we need to know.

Is the foundation cracking? Are the walls filled with mould? Or, are the neighbours up all night having target practice with a t-shirt cannon and blasting AC/DC from their garage? These essential questions just can't be answered in a couple of quick walkthroughs.

Hiring new team members for your business is no different.

Resumes and generic interview questions can’t tell a person’s full story. There’s so much more to learn about someone and the effect they might have on your team. Each member needs to have adhesive qualities that hold everyone together. But for some reason, most companies gamble a lot of time, energy, and money hiring people without knowing for sure whether they’ll be a good fit with the group.

Why do we continue to use ineffective hiring practices? Is it just because that’s how it's always been done? Or because that’s what the big corporations do? It doesn’t make sense.

At Cliniko, we decided the status quo was no longer good enough. We set out to create a custom hiring process that could show us everything we need to know about each candidate and make the best selections for our team.

We’ve been charting our own path for years, but never has our grand idea been more truly tested than during our most recent hiring campaign when we received 5,118 applications.

I’ve shared our process and story with you here in hopes that you might find it helpful.

Time to grow

We know that growing purely for the sake of growth could have the opposite effect and might wind up slowing us down. So, as a general rule, we delay hiring until it’s absolutely necessary. But, we were beginning to feel the pinch in some key areas and knew we couldn’t put it off any longer.

We needed two support people in U.S. time zones who could help maintain our commitment to exceptional service. We were also looking for a growth marketer who could step in for our talented colleague who was headed off on maternity leave. And we were searching for a full-time writer who could take the reigns of copywriting and content creation, like composing an informative—and probably award-winning—article describing our hiring practices.

Never has our hiring process been more truly tested than during our most recent campaign when we received 5,118 applications.

Illustration of a person sowing seeds

We’ve got to look good

To kick things off, we have to make sure our positions are attractive. That’s only logical, right? We can’t expect top-tier talent to settle for a lacklustre job.

In truth, life sometimes forces people’s hands, and they have to accept positions that are beneath their standards and goals. But they’ll never be content in these roles, and the displeasure will be evident to the rest of the team. The bottom line is that happy people are more productive and operate at a higher level than those who feel underappreciated and overcontrolled.

For these reasons, Cliniko provides each team member with a great deal of freedom and autonomy. Our most significant offering to prospective new hires is the ability to pursue their work in their own way, free from micromanaging and procedural red tape.

Each role is different and has its own characteristics, but here’s a quick rundown of the general offerings we make for every position:

We’re a fully remote team

Work whenever and wherever is most convenient. Our team members can skip the commute and stroll down the hall to their office. Or take the laptop with them as they trot around the globe like a nomad. We’re concerned with the work they do, not the time and place they do it.

30-hour workweek with full-time pay

We want our people to have control of their time. They get the chance to walk their kids to school and hit the gym before sitting down to work. Or they can sign up for those violin lessons they’ve been talking about for years. This extra time provides the opportunity to become the best version of themselves and pursue the things that matter most to them.

Plus, if someone is skilled and productive each day, they shouldn’t need more than 30 hours to get everything finished. All we’ve done is remove the working time that most people spend chatting with friends around the office, or pretending to look busy when the boss walks past their desk. We value the work done, much more than the number of hours spent ‘on the clock’.

Unlimited paid leave

Cliniko team members are encouraged to take time off when they need it. If they’re not feeling well, there’s no pressure to zone out staring at their computer and giving a half-hearted effort. We’d rather they get the rest they need to recover and then come back to work when they’re feeling better.

We also ask folks to take a minimum of 4 weeks vacation time. Our team members are highly driven individuals (and we admire that), but it can lead to burnout if they aren’t careful. Breaks benefit all of us, and it’s incredible to see what a little R&R can do for the mind.

True independence

Our team members can choose the projects they work on and approach them in their own way. We don’t have managers breathing down their necks to follow some annoying procedure that doesn’t fit their working style. Each person is different, and we give them the chance to capitalise on their differences.

Peer review

No matter the position, all work is peer-reviewed. We have a well-established culture of providing constructive feedback and supporting each other’s work, rather than relying on one manager’s limited point of view. This approach allows our talents to grow as a cohesive unit where we all improve together, and it's tough to overstate immeasurable benefits we receive from leveraging such a wide array of backgrounds and perspectives.

Full team meetups

As a remote team, we feel it’s vital to gather face-to-face when we can. Instead of the usual online messages and video chats, each Cliniko meetup gives us the chance to have group conversations while sitting in the same room. Social interaction is by far the biggest advantage of these trips. It’s when we truly get to know one another and form friendships.

Team members have an open invitation to visit Australia whenever they like, at our expense. They’ll usually coordinate these trips with other teammates, creating mini-meetups.

Every two years, though, we come together as a full team. The location changes, but all costs are covered. And because we value the connection between work and family, we encourage spouses and children to attend as well—their expenses are covered too, of course.

Organic fruit deliveries

A healthy body is essential for a strong and active mind. We want everyone’s neurons firing and working hard, so we take on the expense of having organic fruit delivered to each person’s home every week. If this service isn’t available in someone’s area, we ask that they add these items to their grocery list, and we’ll cover the added cost.

This list should give you a good idea of how we approach the relationship between people’s ‘personal lives’ and their ‘work lives’. These aren’t separate entities residing in two neatly divided columns. But rather, they’re swirled and muddled together in a heaping pile of priorities and desires. We do our best to respect that and give our team members the freedom they need to break loose from the shackles of money, time, and stress.

But don’t be mistaken. We’re not offering these benefits just because we’re nice or because we want to seem generous. Our way of working is designed to attract the top talent and to enable them to do their best work.

At the end of the day, it’s good for them, and it’s good for business.

We offer great benefits not just because we’re nice, but to attract the top talent and to enable them to do their best work.

Illustration of a person using a watering can to water the seeds they just planted

We say the right things...

At this point, we know who we’re looking for and how to make the jobs attractive to potential candidates. Now’s the time to put it all together in the—oh so important—job posting.

This is a critical step in the process and can’t be overemphasised.

We’re baffled by the number of listings that seem to intentionally frighten people away from applying. These usually include a long list of required qualifications that preemptively weed out candidates. They are rigid and imply that working in the positions would be equally unforgiving. From the reader’s perspective, it’s proof that the business doesn’t care about the person behind the qualifications.

You’ve seen plenty of examples (and maybe even written a few yourself), so I won’t force you to suffer through another one here. Instead, here’s a taste of the growth marketer posting we created for our recent hiring effort:

The job
We are looking for a Growth Marketer to join our team. We'd love someone that can be up and running very quickly, but that doesn't mean you need 5 years experience in the industry. What we really care about is skill, passion, and integrity. That's much more important than what’s on your CV.

Who you are
You understand how to reach people and let them know about a product that could be useful for them. You're able to do so in a helpful, friendly way, not a hard sales approach. You're very familiar with the options for marketing in the digital world. Not only do you stay up to date with the latest trends and technologies available, you're also creative with your approach.

You either have a very strong knowledge of SEM or, at the very least, a keen interest and the aptitude to learn it very quickly.

You're passionate about helping people find solutions to their problems, and strive to do so at scale with your work. You’d much rather have sustainable long term growth than a fleeting quick win.

You're prepared to roll up your sleeves and get it done. You don't need a team to bring your vision to life—you're very capable with your hands on the tools.

Rather than using the job posting as a filter to reduce the number of applicants, we let the applicants filter themselves. If someone isn’t interested in the position, they won't apply for it. That’s all the weeding out we want to see from our posts. Whether someone was qualified will be determined by their submission. But in the beginning, we just wanted to make sure they were interested in the work and willing to make an effort.

Think of it this way: Our job postings intentionally increase our inbox activity, not the other way around.

...in the right places

Writing a great post doesn't matter much if the right people never see it. We have to be selective on the job boards we choose if we want our listings to be viewed by the most ideal candidates.

Big-name sites like Seek, Monster, or Indeed do one thing really well: They attract a large number of job hunters. So, as a hiring business, it’s pretty easy to get a lot of responses. That seems like a great thing, right?

Well, not always.

In our experience, a staggering number of applicants only make the minimum effort required. They are ill-suited and underprepared for the job. Over the years, we’ve been forced to sift through mountains of one-click submissions with generic wording, and they eat away at our spirit like a plague of locusts. We refer to these applications as ‘noise’, and we do our best to eliminate as much of it as possible.

One of the best ways we’ve found to cut down on the noise is to post our openings on boutique job sites that are specifically geared toward certain fields or position characteristics. We might get fewer submissions, but we’ll wind up with a much higher percentage of quality applicants. Might, of course, is the operative word here. Receiving over 5,100 applications is a towering exception to the rule.

Among others, we’ve had solid success with WeWorkRemotely.com. Jobs posted here are limited exclusively to remote positions and have a substantial audience of software developers, customer support, and designers. That’s perfect for us. These are the primary positions we hire for, and we’ve got a global team that lives all over the world. Working remotely is a must for any of our roles.

By posting on this site, we automatically filter the applicant pool to only those who are seeking remote work. If someone is looking for a location-specific job, they probably won’t see our post (much less respond to it).

There are tons of smaller job sites like this, and they exist for all business types and openings. They might get less site traffic than Seek or Monster, but applicants’ attributes are much more likely to be aligned with the position that’s offered.

It’s also worth noting that some of the best candidates may already be employed. If they’re great at what they do, then they probably aren’t scouring the internet looking for a job. But that doesn't mean they’ll pass up a better opportunity if one comes along.

That’s why we don’t limit ourselves to the job boards. If we find a good way to spread the word, we take it. We always share on our social channels, of course. But, we might also post on Reddit, Dribble, or some other site if it’s relevant to the role. We’ve even advertised an open role on a podcast that had the right audience.

When the postings are listed and shared across all of our favourite sites (including a firm ‘due by’ date), we sit back and let the submissions roll in.

The best candidates may already be employed–which means they probably aren’t scouring job sites.

Illustration of a person tending to a plant that is growing

The overwhelming response

In the past, we've always enjoyed a robust response to our job postings (as in, hundreds of applicants). This time, though, we were shocked and humbled to receive 5,118 submissions.

We never expected such a tidal wave of interest. Maybe the desire for remote work is stronger than it used to be. Or, perhaps people are attracted to Cliniko's culture of autonomy and peer support.

But then again, our founder Joel has a pretty fantastic beard. It was probably the beard.

Regardless, we had the substantial task of finding four needles in an enormous haystack. Things were made especially challenging because we insist that each submission is reviewed one-by-one. It's what we've always done, and we feel it's a sign of respect for the applicants. After all, they've made an effort, and so should we.

How did we do it? What did the process look like? Mostly, we survived on intravenous coffee injections. But, to explain further, here’s a few more details to show you how we work.

This is how we hire

We won't read resumes. In fact, we ask applicants not to send them.

Most resumes only tell you what people want you to see. They are crammed full of nonsense terminology and run-on sentences, cleverly crafted to avoid providing any substantial insight. They usually look something like this:

Highly skilled, multi-tasker with extensive experience in potato wrangling and underwater basket weaving, is seeking employment in a fast-paced environment where my exemplary Sudoku skills will provide value and enable substantial progress toward company goals; also, I can type 23 words per minute.

Obviously, I'm having a bit of a laugh here, but it proves the point. Resume jargon offers no sense of who the applicant is. Are they a good listener? Do they work well with others? Or, are they hot-tempered and misogynistic? No one knows because resumes can't tell you that kind of thing.

If a resume states that a person previously worked for a prestigious company, we might be tempted to think that they are exceptionally talented or accomplished in some way. But the truth is that every company has underwhelming employees, and maybe this person was on the bottom rung of a very tall ladder.

Or, what if an applicant is a gifted resume writer and wisely includes quantifiable evidence to prove some of their achievements? Let’s say they ‘increased revenue by 15%’. Taken out of context, that number means nothing. Fifteen per cent of what? One thousand dollars? One million? Context is everything, and resumes are perfect for blurring facts and figures with limited contextual backing.

So, instead of wasting our time wandering through a haze of half-truths, we’ll catch a glimpse of someone's personality by reading a heartfelt description of the passion they have for their work. That's much more insightful than a resume spelling out their previous ten years of work history. Why should we care about their summer lifeguarding job in college? We don't. It's not relevant.

It's more important to feel their commitment to their craft and shine a light on the quality of their character. That’s easier said than done, of course, but we've developed a system that helps quite a bit.

We thoroughly review submissions, hold video chats, and even ask for sample tasks so we can get an idea of what people’s real-world job skills look like. This process has been painstakingly developed over time, and we’re confident that it provides us with the right people for our team.

1Submissions

We ask candidates to tell us about themselves in their own words and submit an original idea that is specifically related to Cliniko—without using resume jargon.

Here are some word-for-word excerpts from our recent posting for a growth marketer:

You might tell us:
Please tell us about yourself.
Why are you applying?
What do you bring to the party that we shouldn’t miss out on?
Anything else you think we might find interesting.

A few other things to keep in mind:
We get a lot of applications, and we'd appreciate it if it's not too lengthy.
We much prefer friendly over professional.
We will decide who progresses to the next stage based on this form. Only the best will be selected, so please spend some time and give us enough to see who you are.

Example idea
Give us an example of something you’d do to help us grow that you think we may not already be doing.

Something you’ve done before
Tell us something you’ve done before that’s been successful in growing a business—bonus points for something creative and unique.

As you can see, it’s quite a bit different from most job postings out there. The responses require genuine thought and honesty. Some people are taken aback by this. They have no idea how to apply for a job without sounding like a robot.

And, frankly, it shows.

These submissions won’t always tell us if someone is the right fit, but they will almost certainly let us know when someone is not. That’s a crucial distinction, and it proves useful in thinning out the applicant pool.

2Review

Once the due date has arrived and all submissions are in, it’s time for the tough part. A real human being—not an applicant tracking system—must read and consider each application one by one.

This is where Cliniko’s team spirit shines the brightest. Any member can review submissions if they want to, but there is no requirement. There is simply an invitation to participate in the process.

Plenty of folks are eager to help, but Joel handles a significant share of the submissions. Those who lend a hand can make decisions themselves, or they can leave recommendations for Joel and let him decide who proceeds to the next round.

It’s pretty obvious if submissions are under-considered or poorly-worded. If they are, we politely pass and move on to the next one. After all, if someone isn’t able to show substantial promise at this early stage, then we know they won’t be a good fit in the long run.

Each decision is made on a case-by-case basis. We never set an arbitrary limitation on the number of candidates who can move forward. Everyone has a fair chance, no matter how many applications we get. However, receiving thousands of submissions requires us to be understandably picky. In this recent round of hiring, only 110 candidates made it through this stage—less than 3%.

It’s worth noting that having such a quick sense of ‘yes or no’ doesn’t come naturally. We’ve had to work at it. Over the years, we've sifted through tens of thousands of applications, and we've learned to trust our instincts.

3Video chats

Once all the submissions have been reviewed, the remaining applicants will have a brief video chat with Joel—never more than 5 or 10 minutes. Limiting the duration of these chats is not only necessary for Joel’s schedule, but it’s also a respectful gesture to acknowledge that every applicant’s time is valuable.

Also, notice it’s called a chat and not an interview. That's because interviews can feel orchestrated and impersonal. That’s not what we’re looking for.

We just want to have a friendly conversation.

Joel says, 'I don't want to waste anyone’s time by asking about their '5-year plan' or what their greatest weakness is. Those types of questions are pointless. I can learn more by just having an honest chat.'

Are they nice? Are they intelligent? Are they passionate about their work? These are the things that truly matter.

There are tons of rude people with impressive resumes. And, lots of folks come across as passionate on paper. But given a chance to discuss it, their veiled sincerity begins to crumble, and they show no enthusiasm for the daily work involved.

We're not interested in hiring those people.

Be warned: Video chats are difficult. Joel’s had hundreds of these conversations, and he’s learned plenty of tough lessons along the way. The techniques he’s developed are custom-tailored to fit his needs and personality. If anyone ever asks him for advice, he tells them to simply, ‘Go with your gut’.

4Sample tasks

The video chats are intended to drastically reduce the number of applicants who proceed to this fourth stage. Because here, the process requires a more substantial chunk of their time and energy. If someone doesn’t stand a legitimate chance of being selected for the role, we cut them loose before they devote themselves to what will likely be a fruitless effort. At this point in our recent hiring, only 34 candidates remained.

For those who proceed, we ask them to complete a short assignment as a sample of what we could expect from them if hired. We always try to keep this work brief—no more than a few hours—because, once again, everyone's time is valuable.

The writers were given prompts to create original samples of website copy and social media posts. The customer service applicants were asked to tackle an issue from a hypothetical help request. And the growth marketers showcased their prowess with a mock digital ad and announcement.

This is the point where folks can show off their skills and become a frontrunner. But, by design, most people fall short of their goal, and a lot of 'weeding out' happens here. These tasks tell us more than any resume ever could.

5More video chats

Very few candidates make it this far. Out of an original pool of 5,118 applicants, only nine remained.

These surviving candidates have additional video chats with various members of the Cliniko team. Each member tells Joel their thoughts on the conversations, and, once armed with all the input, he makes the final decisions.

Think of it as a ‘peer review’ for the hiring process. There is value in collaboration, and our team would suffer if we didn’t explicitly consider the thoughts and opinions of our colleagues at this stage. We’re always amazed by the insights they uncover and the wide range of impressions they get from the finalists.

6Hiring

When the selections are made, we don’t waste any time contacting people and telling them the good news. The sooner we let them know, the better.

They’ll have an onboarding call with Joel to discuss their new role and how everything works. We always stay flexible on the start date and let them begin working whenever they’re ready. Their introduction to the company starts with a conversation, not a dictation of the rules or some high-intensity salary negotiation. Right off the bat, we’re working together to find the best path for everyone.

This was by far the largest hiring process we've had here at Cliniko, and it was tough for everyone involved. Honestly, it was exhausting. But, every sleep-deprived moment was worth the effort. We have four brilliant additions to our team, and we're already enjoying their valuable contributions.

Why should we care about an applicant's summer lifeguarding job in college? We don't. It's not relevant.

Illustration of a person beckoning to another group of people to help build a tree-house

Who we hired

Michelle – Growth marketer

A US expat living in England, Michelle has yet to be converted to a tea drinker. "Coffee till I die," she says. She also loves classic Hollywood cinema and would jump at the chance to dine with film noir icon, Lauren Bacall.

When asked about her favourite aspect of working remotely, Michelle said, 'I can listen to whatever music I want, and no one will mind except my cat, Fella. He sometimes skulks away if I've been playing too much George Michael.'

In addition to being a passionate marketer, Michelle has taken a deep dive into the rabbit hole of UX design. She's soaking up all she can and applies her new skills toward building a mobile app for people who foster stray animals.

Ramsey – Customer Support

Working from Colorado Springs in the U.S., Ramsey claims that he is a former night owl. Parenthood, it seems, has mutated him into an ‘early bird’, and he embraces the classification proudly. Sluggish mornings need copious amounts of black coffee, of course. And, when time allows, some non-fiction reading pairs nicely with his morning brew.

A couple of months into his new position, Ramsey says his favourite thing about working at Cliniko is the people. 'When I got hired, I was told that my number one function is to do what's right by our customers. Sounds like something every company would say. But, as I’ve learned, it’s absolutely the truth here. I admire that and find it motivating.'

Never one to be predictable, Ramsey is also a veteran stage performer. And, after an extended hiatus, he's anxious to once again flex his creative muscle by joining his local theatre group.

Anya – Customer Support

An aspiring home chef and amateur salsa dancer, Anya represents so much of what we love about our diverse little family here at Cliniko. Born in Russia and raised in Massachusetts (US), she is a prior Argentina resident currently living in Medellin, Colombia. How's that for a global perspective?

Being able to work from home has brought enormous benefits to her daily life. 'I really appreciate peaceful mornings with my daughter instead of having to rush and commute. Plus, I have total control over my working environment. No fluorescent lights or freezing AC!’

Always eager for the chance to smile, Anya loves to laugh. Tina Fey and David Sedaris are among her favourite funny people. And while she loves her life in South America, she still gets nostalgic for the New England seasons and tries to visit Boston during the fall and winter months as often as she can.

Doug – Writer

A prolific creator, Doug is hands down the greatest writer of all time. Shakespeare? Dickinson? Hemingway? They’re all chumps compared to this guy. He also wrote this article and expects a Pulitzer Prize will be forthcoming soon. Plus, he has the greatest humility ever. He makes Gandhi look like a braggart. (If needed, please see ‘tongue-in-cheek’.)

He says the best part about his new position is two-fold: 'I love the autonomy to do things my own way without being micromanaged. And, when I'm ready, I also have the support of my colleagues to help make my work the best it can be.'

Walt Whitman, Shell Silverstein, and Willie Nelson are some of Doug's most prominent influences. And, he's a firm believer that 'Love Actually' is a brilliant film that should be enjoyed all year long—not just at Christmas.

An evolving process

When it comes to applying these ideas to your own hiring process, keep in mind that every business is different. The needs of your personality and team culture are unique to your situation. It would be ill-advised to blindly apply our process to your company.

Plus, the system is always evolving. We’ve been continually adapting our practices for years. And, each round of hiring brings additional iterations to fit our ever-changing needs. Whenever it’s time to bring in new folks, we begin by taking a long, hard look at who we are and what we need. Honesty and transparency—both with ourselves and with others—are the most important tools we have to find the right candidates for our team.

A group of people relaxing in the tree-house they just built

Author information

Doug is our in-house writer and one of the newest members of the Cliniko team. When he's not writing for Cliniko, you'll probably find him chasing chipmunks on a mountain trail somewhere.

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