At the top of your hiring funnel is the job description. Qualifying candidates will trickle down from there through the rest of the process.

Put another way, just as retention begins with fitting sources of acquisition, hiring begins with attracting the best-fitting prospects.

When hiring for support, be sure to pay special attention to every single line of copy you write for available jobs. This is especially true for support positions because many people view “soft skill” roles like these as entry points into a startup, even if they aren’t passionate about the role (which makes them the wrong fit).

How to begin? Start with identifying what sort of person will succeed in helping your customers succeed.

What Does the Perfect Person Look Like?

Most companies spend an ample amount of time creating detailed personas for their ideal customers in each vertical that they operate in.

The thinking is that if you can identify who you want as customers, it will be easier to go out and find them—but how many apply this to searching for potential employees?

Knowing what you are looking for (and what you’d like to avoid) makes the search more targeted and the filtering process more streamlined. For support, there are a few specific areas I would put at the top of the list:

A fitting personality

Can you identify important quality traits of your desired employee in a few concise phrases? For example, we’d classify our perfect content marketer as a “voracious reader”—I actually wrote that out when outlining our description for said position.

Starting here, it becomes easier to write a job description that hits key points and will make a good fit say, “That’s me!” Pick a few phrases and write them out in a list; make sure they appear in some form in your job posting.

Culture fit

In defining who you are, it’s often best to begin with who you are not. Have you created your company culture, or are you going to let it happen at random?

Buffer publicly outlines the traits that work successfully with their team, including uncompromising habits like “default to transparency” and “be a no-ego doer.” What sort of culture are you looking to build? It begins with who you seek to hire. When writing a job description, you needn’t list your full cultural ideals, but some mention of your team’s culture is relevant and would help weed out those who might not fit within that desired culture.

Job skills

Obviously job skills are important, but let me offer a bit of slightly odd advice: any job posting you write should strategically intimidate those interested in applying.

That’s correct: intimidation seems like a negative stance to take, but I’ll explain below how it can be useful to both you and the potential employee.

Intimidate in the Right Areas

Although the “cop show” stereotype of a dingy interrogation room with a too-bright overhead light might be funny to think about, intimidation in a job posting has a much more practical utility.

The idea is that nearly every set of job skills operates on a sliding scale of importance—by listing them all, or by treating them all equally, you’ll miss out on candidates who specialize in what you really need.

Consider the advice of Zapier CEO Wade Foster, who explains why seeking a “renaissance” woman/man for a position that benefits from a focused skill set can lead to hiring the wrong person:

“A lot of descriptions list every skill set that could possibly be required. Instead, focus on what is actually needed to do the job. List the skills that will be used often, and let them know that there are skills that may only be used occasionally.”

Those big skills? Highlight those and elaborate on how important and demanding they might be; people who are confident in their abilities for these specific tasks will step forward because they know they have what it takes.

For support, you might pick skills based on which tasks are most difficult; the more you can drill down, the better.

If your support person will be responsible for elements of customer success, such as walking big customers through setup, highlight this fact. This helps avoid generic “be okay at customer service” verbiage in favor of a more specific skillset that motivated people will gravitate towards.

For instance, if you placed this on your job description:

About you:

  • You love working one-on-one with customers in helping them succeed with their shiny new toy (our software!).
  • You have rare people skills which allow you to get out in front of problems and proactively help customers with potential troubles.
  • You’ll be responsible for “concierge onboarding” of new customers, which means setting up times to talk with them on the phone and walking them through the setup process so their business (and their team) can get up and running with our software with minimal hassles.

This would actively intimidate anyone who’s looking to work on the back end handling technical support via email alone, but it would encourage outgoing people who love taking customer calls to apply, because it appeals to their abilities and is honest about what they’ll be responsible for.

Consider it the Pareto principle approach to hiring: you want to highlight the 20% of skills that produce 80% of the results.

Remember the “No Fun Zone”

The idea that your company should appear “fun” is not a bad one in itself. After all, engaged employees are those who actually enjoy moving the needle forward at work.

The problem is that some companies have begun placing too much emphasis on their ping-pong culture, rather than a culture built around doing work you love.

Attracting people around perks is not a smart hiring strategy. The situation unravels even more if your team never really connects on any meaningful level.

When I think “ideal team member”—someone who’s going to have my back, be a pleasure to work with, and encourage me to improve in my craft—I’m definitely not thinking of the girl/guy whose eye was immediately drawn to the vacation days policy; hey, I love traveling too, but we still need to emphasize doing great work.

A way to attract the right people is to focus on giving applicants a genuine inside look at your company that goes beyond “we have hammock in the break room” (okay, now that’s a sweet perk).

Hungry candidates with an interest in contributing to something meaningful will care, "spray and pray" job scanners will not.

What could you highlight about working in support?

How about…

  • What's management like?
  • Do you practice Whole Company Support?
  • Are you a “minimum meetings” culture that prefers to skip the fluff?
  • Why does your team support remote work?
  • How do you ditch the red tape to allow the support team to help customers in meaningful ways?

That’s in addition to the fact that people looking for support jobs need to be reminded of a very specific benefit that they get from working in this industry—the “warm fuzzies,” as Carolyn Kopprasch calls it.

In other words, it’s important to highlight the interactive benefit of working in support; being able to do a job you love that involves helping other people succeed. Here’s Caryolyn on why this feeling matters:

In most industries, including the tech world, “support” is a piteous word.

Posts like this one, while written in jest, enforce the stereotype that working in support essentially sucks. We are known for getting abused by ranting, angry customers. Well, I’d like to offer a slightly different view into the world of customer service.

While we do occasionally bear the brunt of unhappy customers and receive unkind words, those experiences are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the patient, smart, grateful and human emails that usually flow in. I recognize that I’m spoiled by my Buffer users, but I’ve experienced this same trend in all previous customer service jobs."

It’s important to be honest (hey, support is tough) but to neglect calling out this aspect of the job is a huge mistake, since there are people out there who genuinely enjoy helping customers “untangle” their situations, and they will want to know that your job allows them to do that.

Make it An Audition

Even if you aren’t able to have a “bootcamp” period or have a live audition, any job posting should encourage some sort of audition process, either in the listing itself or after the applicant has taken the next step.

I asked Unbounce’s Director of Marketing, Georgiana Laudi, about what hiring is like at Unbounce, and she noted the following:

One of the things we do differently at Unbounce is that we don’t accept resumes.

In order to apply for a job you have to build a landing page. This helps the evaluation process in a big way. It takes a little longer to receive and analyze applications, but those we do get are of much higher quality.

If all that is gold then I do an interview and gauge if the candidate shares similar core values with the Unbounce team."

Unbounce offers landing page software, so this process is certainly specific to them, but the takeaway is that you can use a similar technique in hiring for support.

For example, a company looking for a customer service rep could ask applicants to write a quick summary outlining a few challenging support situations they handled successfully, or, to avoid the “previous experience” distinction, you can present a few tough theoretical scenarios and ask how they would handle those.

We’ve talked about the Disney Institute’s 3 o’clock parade question a few times, but you should craft a “support test’” based on what is most likely to trip your reps up.

For instance, what’s a common, FAQ-type question that might lend someone to give a really basic, nearly effort-free response? A question that might generate a “technically correct” answer that consists of nothing more than a knowledgebase link?

That might be the perfect question to ask when hiring.

Why? Because you’ll be able to see how the candidate handles a mundane question and whether or not they know how to add those frugal wows that turn the commonplace into the memorable. Having this ability from the outset isn’t a guarantee, but it is a fantastic start.

Gregory Ciotti
Gregory Ciotti

Greg is a writer, marketing strategist and alum of Help Scout. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.