How can you spot a great new hire? Read their emails

It’s not as creepy as it sounds. According to this study from Stanford, changes in a new starter’s emails over their first six months could help you tell whether they’ll make the grade. Okay, it is a bit creepy.

Specifically, the study measures how quickly new hires start using the same language as their colleagues – and whether they use it instinctively (unprompted, when they start an email chain), or whether they only use it in replies to mirror others.

It turns out the people that adapt ‘instinctively’ generally stay in their roles for longer, while many of the ‘mirroring’ group ultimately leave ‘involuntarily.’

We all know that hiring the wrong people is expensive. It can cost businesses as much as £30k a time. It’s also notoriously difficult to make good decisions in traditional face-to-face interviews where so many unconscious biases are at play.

So how can recruiters choose candidates with a better cultural fit first time around?

Make a writing test part of your recruitment process

Your candidates shouldn’t need to resit their English Lit GCSE to join you. But they should be able to write a short team email, respond to a brief or summarise a report.

If you’ve got a tone of voice, ask candidates to use it in your test. Although we can’t guarantee it, there’s a good chance the people who come back with the highest scores will also have the most instinctive ‘feel’ for your tone

Pay attention to the pronouns people use, too. The Stanford researchers found most new joiners started out using lots of ‘I’ and gradually moved towards ‘we’ once they felt more at home. So if someone’s using ‘we’ in your test, it’s a good sign that they’re already picturing themselves as one of the team.

And if you really want to cut unconscious bias, get someone who hasn’t met your candidates to mark the tests. Whenever we’re marking for clients, we only ask to see the candidates’ actual writing – not their names, ages, photos or gender. So we’re only focusing on how well they communicate.

Of course, getting clear communicators on your team isn’t just good for your culture, it’s good for business full stop. Or, as entrepreneur Jason Fried once said,

“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn't matter if the person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever, their writing skills will pay off. That's because clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.”

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