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How to Hire Humans – not Resources

21. Sep 2022

What happens if you remove power from the recruitment process and replace it with mutual curiosity? We recently explored this and just hired our two newest colleagues with a recruitment process based on our human values as an organization rather than on the classic, narrow “fit” for the job

Quick insight

By Sara Gry Striegler, Sidsel Winther and Christian Bason


The three of us find a quiet nook in the corner of the cafe, from which the view of Copenhagen’s canals lights up through the large glass windows. We sit down on the couch. Coffee is put on the table, and we have time to reflect on whether our guest will feel as relaxed as we are.

The arms rest calmly on her knees, and the gaze is curious. Exactly as her response to our job posting. We are excited to get to know her better. We want to hear her explain why we are sitting here together and what collaboration she envisions.

The conversation flows from the beginning, and we wonder whether we have succeeded in setting the stage for the informal dialogue we want to create. Then we begin with the following statement: 

“We deliberately want to start this conversation in a completely different place than we usually do, namely by sharing what we are passionate about. I would like to go first…”

A new management tool calls for a new hiring process

At DDC – Danish Design Center, we hired our latest two colleagues based on a recruitment process where we wanted to do things radically differently. We wanted to see the colleague and the person rather than the “candidate.” We wanted to investigate how a mutually valuable collaboration could arise, rather than whether there was a narrow “fit” for the job.

The process is based on the human perspective we have defined as our primary management tool. Trust and recognition are some of the crucial elements for us.

The purpose of the process was to remove power from the process and replace it with genuine, mutual curiosity. Instead of a strict interview format, we wanted an honest conversation about who we are at DDC and who the person – the whole person – who might become our new colleague is. No glossy images.

Specifically, this meant we did not have paper or computers with resumes and applications in the room during the talks. We had a dialogue as people, exchanging ambitions, personal dreams, and ideas about job satisfaction.

We also removed the personal profile tests and the case interview, which we have previously used to decode the candidate. Instead, we held a development meeting where we tried to imagine the future collaboration: What could we investigate, develop and conclude together about a real, hands-on problem in DDC?

Recruitment as an exercise of the future

Overall, we have rethought our traditional employment process on four key points:

Instead of listing stringent requirements for skills and background, we have emphasized ambitions, job satisfaction, worldview, and personal match. That resulted in a more robust and diverse field of applicants than before and fewer applicants who were not relevant. Those who spent time and energy approaching us with an application have almost all been relevant.

We have not used resumes, applications, and references during the actual interview process, only to screen in the very first selection.

We have not had any simulated case presentations but sought an immediate understanding of how we could work together and how a potential new colleague thinks and wants to approach working together in practice. We created real work situations where the candidate collaborated with a team to solve a current problem. We have, so to speak, practiced a potential future as colleagues.

We tried to remove power and performance from the conversation, despite the built-in bias of having a job on our hands. We left out questions like: “What’s your strong suit? What challenges you the most? When do you perform best?”

We divided the recruitment process into three phases: 

  1. The first dialogue: A mutual match? A personal dialogue and examination of whether we have shared ambitions; what we are passionate about in our professional and private lives, and in which settings we are most comfortable.
  2. Development session: Do we work well together, and do we make each other stronger? Based on a real, specific work task at DDC, we got together to solve a current problem in an equal collaboration.
  3. A broader look at the organization: In the last phase, we met again with the candidate and a new circle of colleagues who would not be their primary colleagues. The purpose was partly to get more eyes on the person who might be our colleague, and somewhat to give the candidate an even better impression of who we are as an organization and what concerns us.

After both saying yes to each other, we had a final conversation about salary and work conditions.

Good management is about finding the best colleague

A central task for every manager is finding the organization’s best future colleagues. The human approach to the recruitment process has given us value in several ways:

 We succeeded in getting a more motivated and settled candidate compared to previous recruitments. We are also convinced that we have a much better impression of how our new colleague will enter into a working relationship with us and how we can create a good working environment for him and her. We thus have a far more transparent decision-making basis from which to start a collaboration.

Secondly, we have received very positive feedback from the other applicants – even if we rejected them. They say they felt seen as a potential colleague from the start and thereby entered into a more equal relationship in the process, rather than feeling exposed and “on trial.” That resulted in several good conversations after rejection and an expanded network for both them and us. Several have emphasized that we have created an honest and trusting space.

The most challenging part of the process has been the responsibility of giving an honest refusal. Here, the justification is usually based on how good the personal match is and whether there has been an overlap between the candidates’ and our ambitions and personal development dreams. In practice, it is also more sensitive to give a refusal, as it is clearly based on something else and more than professional competencies and achievements.

We have used time and resources in a new way, but overall the process has not been more time-consuming. We have invited more people to “coffee talks” than previously, thereby spending more time in a broader circle from the start. Those selected for the second interview we spent more time building relations with, too.

On the contrary, we have refrained from spending time on external test situations and feedback, so overall the process has not required more resources from our side, and the time we have spent has felt meaningful. It is our experience that the candidates agree.

Tips to get started yourself

  • Put down pen, paper, and computer and listen to what the candidates are passionate about and dream of realizing on a larger scale. Show what you are passionate about and explain why you have chosen to be in this working community. Let the conversation develop organically – prioritize the dialogue and the feeling of the personal meeting over governing agenda items.
  • Replace the meeting room with an informal room and think about how you place yourself in the room if there are more than two from your organization represented. Create a comfortable atmosphere for the prospective colleague – you are responsible for the candidate being able to relax and show an honest picture of who they are.
  • Try to work together as you would in an actual work relation. Make sure that it is not a performance situation but an interaction between everyone in the room, where you jointly contribute to the value being created.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk openly and honestly about who you are, and ask whether the candidate will be comfortable in that setting. It is vulnerable, and many doubts can arise along the way, but it also helps to shape and ensure trust in the relationship and a good experience for the candidate.

This article was first published in Mandag Morgen on September 14, 2022. Read the article in Danish here.

Sara Gry Striegler

Director of Social Transition

Phone +45 6110 4778
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