Like many entrepreneurs and executives, I smile and nod appreciatively at the old adage that a business's most important asset is its people. It's 100% true. But knee-deep in the muck of hitting our growth targets, I tend to find myself so busy conducting interviews that I don't take enough time to think about our interview process. As Stephen Covey famously says, sometimes we're too busy "cutting" to realize that we'd benefit from stopping, stepping back, and taking time to "sharpen the saw".
In that spirit, here are three hard-won interviewing process hacks that have helped my team interview "smarter, not harder".
1. Fit Testing
We've all made hires that looked perfect on paper. Right attitude, right aptitude, and right bag 'o skills. And then, lo and behold, they just don't pan out. At my old management consulting firm, we called these folks PUREs: Previously Undetected Recruiting Errors. Now that I'm an entrepreneur, I just call them a waste of time and money.
In my experience, the best way to test drive a new hire is to dare to include them in your actual work. Not a behavioral interview. Not a case study or a business simulation. Your actual work.
Sure, you want to be mindful of giving away any material information, but much of the time, 75% of your folks are probably working on pretty pedestrian stuff.
The benefits are two-fold. One: You're able to see how quickly a candidate can come up to speed and deal with real-deal personalities, decisions, and responsibilities in your company. Two: You don't burn cycles creating "mock trials" for your candidates.
When people prove themselves a fit against your actual work, you know it immediately: The team feels stronger for them being there, and both parties come away feeling that they've co-created something "meant to be". If they don't, it's still "time well-wasted": Your company not only avoids a PURE, but has re-baptised itself in the shared mojo that the newcomer, alas, didn't exhibit. In all cases, you've pulled fresh thinking and perspectives into your challenge du jour.
2. Values Testing
In a recent conversation with Ocient founder and CEO Chris Gladwin, I learned this gem: Chris told me a story about Cleversafe, the data storage company he founded and sold to IBM for $1.3 Billion. When hiring engineers, he wouldn't just make his technical interviews challenging. He's make them long. Like: 5-8 hours long.
Why? Because Cleversafe, a company with products steeped in hard science and new-to-world engineering, relied on gritty, patient souls who thrived on heady, hefty, multi-year problems. By baking this sort of "Grit-Test" (my word, not Chris's) into their interview process, Chris protected his organization from the kind of short-attention-span, instant-gratification mercenaries who might be prove better suited to build the next "What's For Lunch" app.
In my own work, these sorts of attitudinal tests have proven extremely valuable, and happily, rather easily conducted. Perhaps you value observational skills. Hide a message on your wall and note those candidates who recognize it. Value well-read polymaths? Have your classics on the shelf, and let those renaissance men and women strut their stuff. Value conscientiousness? Leave a piece of trash next to your wastebasket and see if they intervene. Or perhaps your culture calls for warmth: Make sure you ask your receptionist how the candidate greeted them upon arrival. Or better still, take them to lunch. As humorist Dave Barry says: "If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person."
3. Time Shifting
Any hire you make ought to be carefully considered, and made on the basis of meaningful, sustained interactions with your candidates. Time intensive office visits (see #1. above) and meals (see #2. above) are most certainly worthwhile exercises for those who are far enough along in your process to warrant your scarce attention.
The efficiency disaster, in my experience, comes earlier on. At the dreaded "screen interview" stage; The part when you're trying to figure out which of your 42 initial applicants are worth bringing into the office for that critical quality time in the first place.
For the past 75 years or so, the answer was plain:
You read (or let's be honest, skimmed) their resumes.
This has gradually become a fool's errand for 3 reasons.
1. Resumes tend to be bloated bags of words that highlight the applicants' skills and experiences. Problem is, savvy entrepreneurs and execs have begun to realize what Y Combinator president Sam Altman argues so succinctly: That a great company should consider values first, aptitude second, and skills/experience dead last.
2. Resumes are "supply side", not "demand driven". They lead with the applicant's one-size-fits-all story at the expense of their potentially unique ability to address your company's unique needs.
3. Finally, the resume-industrial-complex has refined most resumes down to indistinguishably smooth pablum. Perfectly prosaic professional pamphlets praising "passionate, high-performance practitioners". For the love of authenticity, make it stop!
Given the low signal-to-noise ratio in resumes, we found ourselves burning entire days conducting rapid-fire screen interviews with those 42 applicants until we caught on to time-shifted interviewing.
In our case, we use (and, full disclaimer, invested in) software called RIVS that lets us record one batch of meaningful interview questions via video, and lets interested candidates record their own video answers at a time and place of their choosing.
The gale-force efficiency of recording 3 screen interview questions *once*, only to wake up to 42 applicants' relevant answers the next morning: Priceless. A handful of "swipe rights" over a cup of coffee later, we're able to move quickly to Fit and Values with the 2 or 3 candidates that look to be most worthy of each others' time.