Jason Fried

May 8, 2023

On hiring, rehiring, and one question to answer them all

Out of all things I’m asked about, hiring tops the list. From the actual hiring process, to reviews, to motivation and retention strategies, curiosity about hiring is on full charge.

There’s a lot to cover, but I’d like to share some thoughts about a moment that doesn’t get enough attention: The end of the first year and the beginning of the second.

Hiring is typically thought of as something you do once per person. Once someone’s hired, training, growing, and retaining are the next things you do. You may keep training someone, you may keep growing someone, you may keep promoting someone, but you surely don’t keep hiring someone.

It’s on that point I disagree.

I’ve found that, actually, you hire someone at least twice. You hire someone initially, and then, if all goes well, you hire them again 12 months later. That second hire is the crucial hire, even though it wouldn’t be a stretch to say you continually hire someone throughout their career.

Framing it like this simplifies a lot. And the simplification isn’t for convenience, it’s for clarity. Deep, cutting, crystal clarity.

Yes, managers and team leads here check in with people as they get going, 90 days in, 6 months in, and as-needed 1:1s along the way. And since leadership here is very hands on, everyone collides with each other’s work. At 37signals, it’s actually easier to know how someone’s doing than not.

And it’s in that first year — really those first few months — where you can tell if someone’s going to work out, or we’re just not right for them.

This is where the magic of the second hire framing comes in.

Rather than go through an extensive, artificial 12-month performance analysis process to statistically determine how someone’s doing at the end of that crucial first year, we blow all that abstract blurriness away with one simple clarifying question.

The manager simply asks themselves: “With a full year behind me, knowing what I know now, would I hire this person again?”

Because that’s essentially exactly what you’re doing. If you keep the person on, you’re re-hiring them. Because the alternative is letting them go and hiring someone else to replace them. So you are hiring either way. So just get real about it and dive into the deliberation head first.

I can’t stress enough how clarifying this is. With a single insight you’ve answered a dozen questions and eliminated a dozen more. Plus it annihilates all sorts of procedural acrobatics companies typically use to measure someone’s performance. Instead the question is simple, and the answer is pure and true. Yes I would hire them again. Or no I would not. That is everything. A year is enough time to know. And if you don’t know, the answer is almost certainly no.

None of this is to say someone needs to be perfect. Few rarely are at one year, or ten! And perfection or perfect fit isn’t what you’re after anyway. It’s someone’s trajectory that’s important.

Great managers responsible for great teams know who’d they hire again and who they wouldn’t. It’s in that knowing where you’ll find the serenity of decision. And the 12-month mark is the perfect moment to have that second chance to make that crucial call.

It’s through this direct method we’ve hired, re-hired, and retained some of the best people in the business for years. We’ve celebrated more 5, 10, and 15+ year anniversaries over our 24 years than I can remember. When the average tenure in our industry barely stretches 2 years, we’re enormously proud of our record here. The results are real.

And, BTW, if you’re on the other side of the equation, ask yourself the same question in reverse. “Knowing what I know now, would I take this job again?” Because sticking around is doing exactly that — accepting the job again.

I hope you find this method useful.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.