Using the ‘Sleeves Up’ Hiring Method to Instill a Solid Company Culture

It helps determine who is and isn’t a good fit for your organization

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For years, pundits have blamed millennials for the demise of everything from music to mayo, but this diverse group of young adults is more than just a mindless demographic. They’re founding companies, creating new industries and leading the charge on innovation by coming to the table with a unique mindset.

Studies show that millennials are 22 times more likely to build long-term careers at companies they believe have a high-trust culture. If you want to attract top talent and drive your business toward long-term success, you need to prioritize building a great company culture.

One of the most effective ways to get the right people in the door is the “sleeves up method” of hiring. It’s an effective way to determine if prospective team members will be a great fit for your company culture and its core values. This method has transformed how I hire and is the ultimate way to build a great team with a foundational culture that transcends surface-level perks like ping-pong and free lunches.

The sleeves up method can help to evaluate candidates based on the following four key characteristics.

Company culture fit

Ask references for specific anecdotes about how the interviewee embodies your culture and relates to your company’s core values and beliefs. Make sure to reference those core values and beliefs when speaking with the candidate. Recruiting candidates based on who they are as an individual rather than their job descriptions allows you to cut through the game of recruiting and get straight to the core of who they are. A candidate’s past performance and behavior are indicative of their future performance at your company.


Ask the candidate what their prior manager would say is their strength and weakness.
You can learn a lot about a candidate’s transparency and willingness to grow by asking what their past manager will say are their areas of improvement. Candidates tend to be more honest about their prior roles if framed in a way that lets them know you will be reaching out to gain direct insights from their former boss. Hiring open and authentic team members will create a transparent work environment where everyone is held accountable.

Get to the truth

Speaking with blind references helps you learn if a candidate can own up to their mistakes and what kind of peer, manager and team member they will be. Reed Hastings credits this as one of Netflix’s most important recruiting tactics that is currently underutilized in the hiring process. When blind references are used correctly, it is the most effective way to weed out 10% to 25% of candidates who are not a fit for the company. Be tenacious and utilize your network to find true blind references.

Building consensus

One key way I’ve implemented the sleeves up method is by creating an anonymous consensus-driven approach to selecting final candidates for hire. We bring our interview panel to a private setting and have them close their eyes to provide feedback on candidates via thumbs up, thumbs middle or thumbs down. This format keeps the interview feedback unbiased by reducing the ability to be influenced by other team members. We then create an open dialogue for the panel to present the rationale behind their vote as well as to give broader insight or share surprising learnings about the candidate. Ensure you have a set quota for what scores move to the next round and what is an automatic no. A good system typically has a candidate with 75% or more of the thumbs up vote move forward to the next round. If a candidate has 10% or more thumbs down, that is an automatic pass.

When I first founded my company, I made the mistake of not focusing on how an effective hiring practice can influence company culture. Once we started to focus on our culture and how to hire for success, we catapulted our growth. Culture is a powerful commodity in today’s workplace and will ultimately position you for long-term success.