Talent 102: Interviewing
Suggestions for Your Interview Process
Note that first and foremost, people should be asked very specific questions: not “what do you value” but “can you give me an experience where your personal values were attacked and how did you deal with that”? Do not ask “what do you like about welding” but “what’s an interesting thing you welded and why did you enjoy that”?
Also, everyone needs background checks and reference checks. The recruiting manager (role defined below) should do this.
Depending on role, there should usually be some sample project or work to assess. Ideally, they come in for several hours to create something of value in-person and they also do an independent project.
All of this is not meant to slow you down, it’s supposed to help you go really fast and cover your bases. A thorough yet expedient interview process could take as few as 10 days. A longer minimum time indicates too much process is in the way of making good decisions quickly.
Point of Contact
This is the person who refers the candidate, or works with the recruiter to refer the candidate and is usually the Hiring Manager or Team Lead. In essence, this person was the reason the candidate got in your talent pipeline. The point of contact is useful for getting basic context and being a friendly known face during the interview process (and to do some digging). The point of contact should make sure the candidate is worth interviewing (in which case pass them to the recruiting manager). The point of contact should also make sure that candidates see your 1-paragraph summary and know the basics on your company before introducing them to the recruiting manager (so your team can count on very basic context).
Recruiting Project Manager
The recruiting project manager will ultimately be a full-time in-house recruiter to manage a candidate’s recruiting schedule for onsite interviews, reference calls, answer general questions along the way, help coordinate the interviewee’s travel and accommodations if not local, etc… Until that time, the recruiting manager will typically be whoever the candidate would report to or their assistant. The recruiting project manager should coordinate, organize and manage the candidate’s entire onsite interview process (making sure that interviewers know about what has and has not been asked, making sure the candidate is greeted, ensuring teammates are familiar with the role and expectations prior to the interview day, etc….). The Point of Contact should coordinate all initial phone screens, project challenges and coordinate with the Recruiting Project Manager when the onsite interview needs to be scheduled.
All candidate information should be tracked in your applicant tracking system (ATS).
Everyone who would be on the immediate team with the candidate should talk to the candidate with one or two conducting more serious interviews. These people should evaluate ability to do the work and cultural fit (e.g. do they want to be working side by side with the candidate for years to come).
Other teammates who would not work directly with the candidate should meet the candidate to evaluate cultural fit, desirability for team events and lunches, etc.
Every co-founder should interview every one of at least the first 100 hires (or at least the CEO in cases of more than three co-founders). Co-founders should agree that a new team member should join.
In advance of inviting a candidate in for an onsite interview the candidate should speak with the Hiring Manager, CEO, Recruiting Project Manager, and if interviewing for a technical role the candidate should have completed a project challenge live with the Hiring Manager or Team Lead to assess their skills, approach and co-working abilities.
When reading resumes, start with the education section. How far out of college are they? What other degrees did they complete? How did college flow into early professional growth? What did they do in college to lay the foundation? If they are relatively junior, how did they do in college (since this is most of the resume)?
It should be a red flag on a resume if someone has bounced around a lot not staying anywhere more than two years.
Always ask why someone has left if they haven’t been there for 3+ years. Are they easily bored? Is it the jobs they are choosing? Why are they not selecting long-term growth opportunities for them to stick with for a while?
Do positions not flow upwards? Has someone seemingly moved down the food chain? If so, why? What made it so they couldn’t keep the higher level job? Were they not qualified? Was it a downturn in the economy?
Why was the person unemployed for a long period of time? What did they do? Was it unintentional or intentional? How did they get back on their feet?
The first 10 minutes of a phone screen should be bringing the resume to life with questions about causes of transitions, the quality of work at each place, and the pros/cons at each job (to understand how the candidate thinks).
The second 10 minutes of a phone screen should be about pitching your company and the role to the candidate. Recruiting is a huge marketing channel for you. Even if after the first 10 minutes you may not want the person — you must make a great impression in the second 10 minutes so they walk away excited about how awesome you are.
This is the single most important marketing opportunity you may have as a company because growing to 500 people you will likely interview 10,000+ people and this pitch will be the primary way that potential talent knows about you.
This pitch needs to be originated with the company’s leadership and everyone should have it down so it comes out energetic and excited. No one should ever leave a screen without being excited.
The last 10 minutes should be for them to ask questions. If they don’t have 10 minutes of questions, that is a bad sign. They should be interviewing you and actively taking an interest in their potential professional growth. You may have a few additional questions for this segment, but this is the part where they get to drive the conversation and shine as an inquisitive intelligent candidate.
Most people should not get to this stage. Likely, only a small fraction of phone screens will warrant an in-person meeting. After a phone screen, four things could happen:
- If the recruiting manager screens and really believes in the candidate, you expedite the process and schedule three 45 min face-to-face interviews with the recruiting manager, a team peer, and either a general peer or a co-founder or invite them in for a casual team lunch to interact with the 3 aforementioned or other key stakeholders for the role.
- If the recruiting manager likes the candidate, the default is a 45 min — 1hr face-to-face interview with the recruiting manager to dig into skills and values.
- If there is some interest but timing isn’t right, you should tell the candidate that you think they could be a good fit but the timing isn’t right (and record that in your ATS).
- If the recruiting manager is not interested, you pass with a standard note and Archive them in your ATS, stating the reason why and adding any helpful notes on the candidate’s profile before Archiving.
A great interview begins with a pleasant greeting, a beverage, and a tour.
A person should feel welcome and relaxed upon entering your office. From the moment a person arrives they should be evaluated on a number of criteria:
- Basic human competency skills: arrival time, dress, any offensiveness.
- The recruiting manager’s job is also to tell them how awesome you are, your story and pitch, and set expectations on compensation/culture. You should then be evaluating their excitement about your team, values and mission.
- You need to understand their experience and context including past things they have done, what they like, what they have learned, and how they want to grow.
If multiple interviews are happening the same day, try to combine some to save time and to avoid overlap. For example, multiple team peers could interview the candidate together to focus on skills. Multiple general peers could have lunch with the candidate to determine fit. After an interview or phone screen, all notes should be recorded in your ATS (fit on culture, skills pros and cons, overall likeability, any red flags). Your ATS is the source of truth on what has been asked and what everyone thinks. All concerns, positives, and notes should be made there to keep you organized. It comes across poorly to recruits when they keep getting asked the same things.
You need to judge if they are a cultural fit, i.e. do you want to hang out with them outside of work, share stories at lunch and travel on team trips. Is this a person you want in the room at the wee hours of the night telling jokes and having a great time building stuff? Note that you must also gauge fit for a fast-paced start-up environment given their current life goals and work-life balance. This often should include getting to know a person’s family to get their buy-in and make sure they support the candidate taking on the challenge of working at a start-up with all of its intensity.