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Smart Brevity in Hiring


My latest professional crush is Jim VandeHei, journalist, founder of Politico and Axios and brilliant mind behind the concept of Smart Brevity. Smart Brevity is a guide to writing stuff that people will actually read. 

VandeHei pioneered the idea in 2007 and launched Axios to cover the news in smart sound bites for busy people. It was so successful that companies wanted to be trained on Smart Brevity so they could be more effective in their internal and external communications, and public schools followed suit. Makes me want to live in Austin, where they apply Smart Brevity to all school communications.

If you’re writing anything that you want people to read, then you know Smart Brevity. And if you consume your news on Axios, you’ll be familiar with the prompts below. 

Why Smart Brevity matters [to anyone hiring]: In modern day talent acquisition, an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) moves candidates through the interview process, which means that they can ride for long stretches without an actual human driver. The concepts of Smart Brevity are absent, namely, candidate experience and context. You open a door (or a Teams window) and talk to the person inside, without the benefit of an introduction. And this is a turnoff.

We owe it to ourselves to fight this trend, 1984 sledgehammer style, and put the tenets of Smart Brevity to work. So instead of teeing up multiple rounds of interviews, 

“Tell people [candidates] what they need to know right away, tell them why they should care about it, give them the option of going deeper without making it mandatory and move on with life.”

Go deeper (2-minute read) >>>

Let’s begin with the opposite of smart brevity, which ChatGPT so nicely summed up as:

“It refers to the use of excessive or unnecessary words to convey a message or idea. When someone is being verbose, they tend to use more words than necessary, often resulting in a lengthy, convoluted, and confusing communication.”

Does this feel like an interview you’ve been on/your interview process? A big wind-up with lots of redundant, unproductive meetings? (See our last post on the over-interviewing trend.) It’s okay, no judgment. We’re here to fix things.

Here’s the 5 tips from VandeHei’s Smart Brevity TED Talk and how to apply them to your hiring process.

  1. Stop being selfish. Audience first. Job descriptions say what WE want to hire. Lead with what’s important to candidates. 
  2. Grab me. First interviews should be with the hiring managers that do the best job of romancing the company and opportunity. Before you ask candidates to commit to screening interviews, sell the opportunity.
  3. Keep it simple. Agree on the message to candidates and get your whole interview team onboard.
  4. Be human. Transparency, timely feedback and consideration.
  5. Just stop. What is the quickest thruline to a decision? Only involve those decisionmakers.

Like how all this sounds? We like working this way. Let’s talk about how we can hire together. Reach me at

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