Top tips for startup interviews — not for the candidate, for you!

Ahead of an interview with your company, candidates will more than likely spend hours (if not days) preparing responses to potential questions. They’ll have frantically researched everything they may need to know on your business, your team, your products and/or services, your key audiences, territories, and more. They may have spent days perfecting their presentations and plans, written an encyclopedia worth of notes, and all you have to do is have a quick glance through their CV and LinkedIn profile before strolling into the interview room, right? Wrong.

As the interviewer, you have to put in a lot of preparation too. Carrying out a professional interview needs planning, research and practice. Simply trying to wing it will result in wasted time and money — and a terrible experience for the interviewee. Here are my top tips on the interviewing process and making sure that you and the candidate get the most out of it:

  1. Train your team (and yourself) to interview — No one is born a great interviewer. Recruiting is one of the most important things any business does, yet many interviewers start interviewing with little training or preparation. When I worked at McKinsey — a company built on people — I had to go through a full day’s training before I could interview anyone. When I did start interviewing, I was initially shadowed by my colleagues so they could provide additional feedback on me and my interview style rather than the candidate. Before you start the interview process at your company, make sure everyone is clear on what you’re looking for in a candidate, where you set the bar, and what role they’re playing in the interview process.
  2. Make sure every candidate has a great interview experience — Even if they’re not the right person for the role, everyone you interview should enjoy the process overall and get something out of it. The startup community is smaller and more connected than you think. Details of a candidate’s bad experience with your company can spread like wildfire and easily put off other people from applying. Also don’t forget that candidates may well end up being a potential customer, partner or option for another role in the future. A good interview experience means avoiding reschedules, making sure interviewers turn up on time (if not early) and that everyone’s attention is fully focussed on the candidate rather than laptops or phones. There should also be timely communication as to their progress and constructive feedback provided if the person didn’t get the job.
  3. Don’t over-promise — It can be all too tempting to paint the rosiest of pictures to close a great candidate. Before you know it, you can find yourself overpromising on things like future compensation or promotions only to causes challenges later. In a startup environment, it’s incredibly difficult to predict what the demands of the business will be in a year or two. Over-promising on something that you might not be able to deliver on leads to a lack of trust and low morale that’s hard to recover from.
  4. Hire people better than you are (and make sure your team does the same) — There’s a fairly well-documented phenomena that “As hire As, Bs hire Cs”. Make sure you build a leadership team of ‘As’, and relentlessly uphold that standard throughout the organisation. Don’t settle on a mediocre candidate because you’re in a hurry and you need someone now. In my experience, it’s always worth waiting for the right person to walk through your door.
  5. Consciously build a team, not a group of individuals — How does each individual’s skills, experiences and ways of thinking complement the rest of the team? Make sure you ask this question and that you’re not sub-consciously falling into the trap of hiring people like yourself. Think about diversity from day one because it’s the right thing for the business. Be careful that “cultural fit” considerations are not abused to mean “isn’t like me”.

Following these tips will help to ensure the interview process doesn’t just help you find the perfect team member, but that everyone interacting with your company has a great experience.