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It Works for Sales. How to Set Up a Funnel for Hiring. Setting up this structure helps you sort through job candidates quickly and efficiently so that you can focus your attention on the most promising applicants.

By Eric Siu

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When set up correctly, sales funnels help move prospects efficiently through the different stages of the buying process, turning them into valuable leads or conversions with as little effort on your part as possible. Why not do the same for job candidates?

As entrepreneurs or marketers, you should take what you already know about sales funnels and apply this knowledge to the way you recruit new talent. If you think about it, the two have some surprising similarities:

  • Initial attraction. Your sales funnel begins with materials that appeal to a broad base of users, in the same way that your job postings attract candidates from far and wide.

  • Deeper engagement. Website visitors who wind up interested in pursuing further information about your company can move down your sales funnel by engaging with deeper level content -- maybe even gated pieces that require them to give up their personal and/or contact information. Similarly, candidates who are interested in your company can submit an application, though you'll find just as many tire kickers and mass appliers as you'll find poorly-qualified prospects in the top levels of your sales funnel.

  • Final qualification. Depending on the product you sell and the audience you serve, you likely have some sort of process for transitioning your marketing qualified leads (MQLs) into sales qualified leads (SQLs) and eventual customers that ensures you only invest effort into courting those who are most likely to convert. In the same way, you identify the best candidates available in your hiring process and move them through increasingly-rigorous stages of interview rounds, test projects and reference checks before making a job offer.

Related: 3 Crazy Interview Questions to Help Identify Top Sales Talent

You wouldn't stick your best salesperson on a lead that isn't likely to wind up as a closed-won opportunity, just as you shouldn't invest time or effort on job candidates that aren't likely to be a good fit for your company. Building a hiring funnel that mimics the structure of your business's sales funnel helps you sort through job candidates quickly and efficiently so that you can focus your attention on the most promising applicants.

Building a hiring funnel isn't just important when it comes to saving your time and energy. It can also save your company money.

According to a Mellon Financial Corp. study, the average new hire takes between eight to 26 weeks to get up to speed in a new position, and the lost productivity associated with this wind-up time costs companies 1 to 2.5 percent of their total revenues. Without a solid hiring funnel, you risk making the wrong decision with your eventual hire, putting your bottom line at risk if you have to go through this costly onboarding process twice.

Here's how to build a hiring funnel that'll ensure you get the decision right the first time around:

1. Make candidates qualify themselves.

In the sales and marketing world, prospects typically must take some sort of trigger action or accumulate a predetermined score to make the leap from MQL to SQL and earn the attention of a sales rep. Apply this logic to your hiring process by making candidates qualify themselves.

One way I like to do this is to include a specific, non-job-related instruction in my job listing. For example, I might end my hiring notices with something as simple as, "In addition to your resume and references, please include the funniest joke you know with your application." Then, when I'm reviewing the applications I've received, all I have to do is look and see if the candidate included a joke. No joke, no moving on to the next stage of my hiring funnel.

Related: How to Find Your Next Marketing Rock Star (Infographic)

It sounds simple, but you won't believe how many unqualified candidates this process weeds out!

2. Ramp up the level of commitment.

Just as a sales funnel should involve an increasingly high level of commitment on the part of your prospective customers, your hiring funnel should demand more and more out of candidates as they progress through its different stages. Here's how I have mine set up:

  • Start with phone interviews: A simple 10 to 15 minute chat should be enough to tell you who to move forward with and who to drop.

  • Conduct multiple interview rounds: After phone interviews, bring promising candidates in for a one-on-one interview. Then, bring those that impress you in for a team interview with relevant stakeholders on your staff. Saving staff interviews for your true finalists prevents everybody's time from being wasted on poor fitting candidates and enables you to ask better questions than you did in your first-round meetings.

  • Add final qualification layers: As you go about the interview process, add in steps such as checking references, completing test assignments or getting a second opinion. Every step you can add to qualify candidates increases the likelihood that you'll wind up with the right person.

3. Apply your sales funnel consistently.

I'll be honest. In the past, I've made the mistake of hiring a candidate simply because he came from a major company I admired. Ultimately, he didn't wind up being a good fit, which I would have known if I had put him through the hiring funnel I use know.

It doesn't matter if a candidate has great references or a stellar employment history, and it doesn't matter if you're a Fortune 500 hiring a new vice president or a solopreneur bringing on your first contractor. Develop a hiring funnel and stick to it every time. Doing so is the only way to ensure you've put your best effort into finding the candidates that will make the biggest difference in your business's overall success.

How do you qualify job candidates when hiring at your company? Share any other recommendations you have by leaving a comment below!

Related: 8 Revealing Interview Questions to Hire Standout Staff

Eric Siu

CEO, Single Grain. Founder, Growth Everywhere.

Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency Single Grain. Single Grain has worked with companies such as Amazon, Uber and Salesforce to help them acquire more customers. He also hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere, an entrepreneurial podcast where he dissects growth levers that help businesses scale. 


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