I can’t remember when Angela Baldonero joined Return Path, but she’s been there for as long as I can remember. I invested in Return Path eleven years ago at the very beginning of its life. Today it is a profitable, 250 person company that is growing quickly, dominates its market segment, and is an awesome place to work. Angela has been a big part of both hiring many of the people and orchestrating the culture of the company so I very much value her point of view on interviewing. I hope you do also.
Everything is data. The candidate’s responsiveness during the interview process, how the candidate treats the admin staff, and the candidate’s ability to communicate is data. Are you interviewing someone for a tech leadership role who doesn’t have a skype account? Data point. Do you fly a candidate out for interviews who then nickels and dimes you on expenses? Data point. Does your candidate send a thank you note? Data point. Is it well written and specific or a lame generic note? Data point.
Give the candidate feedback and see what she does with it. People are wiggy about feedback. Someone who is self-aware and mature will take it in and own it, then makes sense of how she had that impact. An immature person will get defensive or refute it.
Never sacrifice your culture. Highly qualified yet bad attitude hires wreak havoc with your culture, suck up a ton of management bandwidth and ultimately don’t get anything done. It doesn’t matter if the candidate has cured cancer or invented Jell-o. An asshole is an asshole. Fiercely protect your culture.
People can’t help but be themselves. The interview process is flawed. People are “acting” in order to get a job. You want to know how this person really is to see if they’re a good fit at your company. Interviews take time and people can only fake it for so long. If they’re “putting on a show” in the interview process, that will eventually be revealed.
Give you candidate something to do. This creates a bit of productive stress and shows you what they’re made of. For example, ask a sales person to do a presentation. We’ve axed many sales people because they fell apart during the presentation.
Many of the companies I’m an investor in are hiring a lot of people right now. For a current view, take a look at the Foundry Group jobs page. I’ve interviewed and hired a lot of people over the year and I’ve developed my own perspective and philosophy on the best way to do this. However, I don’t feel like I have all the answers so I asked a few people that I respect a lot (and fit in my definition of VP of People) to weigh in with their thoughts.
Ring Nishioka from BigDoor is up first. I’ve loved working with Ring over the past year as he’s helped grow the BigDoor team from five people when I first invested to the 20 or so people it is today. Ring totally gets it, has a great interviewing philosophy, and also has a fun blog called HRNasty. Enjoy.
Interviewing sets the tone of the culture to everyone that comes into the company. This is the very first exposure to the company. It can be an effective tool to use to not only set the culture with new hires but to reinforce the culture to existing hires involved during interviews. If you want a culture of teamwork, reinforce that during the interview process. If you want a culture of “always closing” reinforce that. Ring the bell during an interview and let the candidate know you celebrate closers.
I believe that everyone who comes into contact with a candidate should go through interview training. Even if the person doing the interviewing is a senior person, they should hear from the HR department what the company’s interviewing philosophy is. Just because they understand the Microsoft interviewing philosophy and conducted interviews there for 10 years doesn’t mean they know how to interview at a small startup, or what that start up is looking for. Interviewers should understand exactly what the company is looking for in the position, what specific questions need to be asked and how to represent the culture. If your company uses Behavioral Interviewing, that should be shared.
The candidate should have a consistent experience between interviews. Interviews hopefully consist of the following:
When I worked in Corporate America, we would dedicate an entire day to interview training through an interviewing class. A long time you think? This is the vehicle that will vet out the folks that you are going to pay 1000’s of dollars a year, maybe 100’s of thousands. Why wouldn’t you invest a little time into interview training? This will be way too long for most startups, but again, interview training can reinforce the culture. We had a lot of exercises including mock interviews in this class. We wanted folks to complete six mock interviews before letting them loose on our next potential candidate and chasing them to the competition. At BigDoor, I spend about one hour explaining our philosophy and then follow up with candidate specific training.
Even if the candidate is not qualified, you don’t want the candidate walking out of the interview feeling crushed, dumb, or stupid. Even if they are dumb or stupid you want them to walk out of the interview wanting to work with your company. Sometimes, when folks are not able to answer an interview question, the person doing the interview feels like they are wasting their time and body language conveys this. There is nothing worse than feeling put out while going through an interview process.
If the candidate isn’t a fit now, they may be a fit for another position in six months or two years. You want the candidate feeling like your company is a great place to work and remembering the experience as one of the best, especially if they made it through a few rounds. You want them telling their friends and family about your company, your openings, your products and especially your team. Just like we all share are car buying stories, we all share our interview stories. This is free advertising and the person that you are interviewing probably has friends with similar interests.
Most of our initial interviews are at a local coffee shop. I am trying to create a situation where the candidate is a little less nervous, and it is a more of a personal atmosphere. I want to create a personal connection between our company and the candidate. This isn’t something that most recruiters at the larger companies will do, and can set us apart. I want to see the best in a candidate; I don’t want to see their “nervous worst.” Some folks will feel like if they aren’t able to perform in a job interview, they won’t perform in the work environment. I believe that if you have the support of your peers, you know what is expected of you, you will perform better. You don’t have either of these in a sterile interview room.