5 Tips to Improve Your Interviewing Skills and Hire Better Talent
Hiring is a critical part of being a founder or an early-stage employee. If you don’t have experience interviewing candidates, winging it isn’t the answer, because you’ll end up with less-than-amazing hires. WeWork Labs asked Ben Jackson, Labs mentor and founder of For the Win, a consulting firm specializing in recruitment, onboarding, and talent retention for early-stage startups, to share his tips on how to improve your interview process and skills so you can bring in great talent early on.
Watch a video version of this article at the end of the post.
1. Create a consistent experience with a script
In order to accurately evaluate your candidates, you need to an interview process that’s consistent from candidate to candidate. And what you say to them and the questions you ask them during the interview are a critical part of that. Without a script, “You’re saying different things to different people. Even if the banter is different, you’re giving them a different setup for the interview,” Jackson says. “That leads to inconsistent data from the interviews, because you haven't done the necessary prep to make sure you’re running these interviews consistently for everybody.” Think of it like product research—“you ask people the same questions and go through the same setup and say we want your true opinions, so having that script ready is super important.” From how you greet them when they walk in the door to your exact questions and parting words, script it out before you bring anyone in.
2. Prep for candidate interviews like you prep for investor meetings
“Don’t overestimate your skills,” Jackson says. “A lot of people put in the minimum amount of prep. Don’t be one of those founders who thinks I've got a lot of things to work on so I’ll spend five minutes before the call or interview prepping for it. You wouldn't do that before a call with an investor and this person is potentially going to invest many years of their life and their paycheck in your company.” Plus, early hires set the cultural tone for your company. So treat your candidate interviews with the same level of importance you treat investor meetings—research the candidate online, review their resume, think of the questions you want to ask them. Come prepared and you’ll avoid a subpar interview with a subpar result. (Learn more about to how prep for interviews.)
3. Thoroughly research the role
“If you do not understand the position you're hiring for, you're not going to be able to interview people for it,” Jackson says. “I remember the first time I had to hire for Android back at Vice. I basically spent a month learning everything I could about Android OS and different methodologies and ways of developing so candidates would take me seriously and I’d be able to separate the good from the bad.”
You need to take a similar approach to any position you’re hiring for that’s outside of your expertise, so do your research. “Once you’ve done your homework and you know what a highly qualified candidate looks like, think about the behaviors you’re looking for, the qualifications on the job description, and the type of person who’ll thrive in the job. If you're hiring for a technical product manager who’ll work with executives who aren’t the most technical or the best communicators, then you want a product manager who has a high level of experience in executive communication, and you may be able to make some trade-offs. You might not need someone who’s built products at scale for Facebook if your real priority is communicating with leadership.”
4. Leave a few seconds of silence after answers
“People are naturally uncomfortable with silence, so oftentimes when you get an answer from someone during an interview, the initial answer will be the first thing that comes to mind for them,” Jackson says. “If you take that answer and run with it and go on to the next question, you’ll get a very different set of answers than if you give them a couple of beats after they answer and just run out the clock until they say something else. This is something I’ve pulled from interviewing users for design researchers—you’ll get more valuable data from the second answer someone gives you.” So even though it may feel a little awkward not to say anything for a few seconds after a candidate finishes answering a question, do it anyway. It’ll yield a better result for both of you.
5. Look for reasons to rule people out instead of in
“The goal of interviewing first and foremost is to find reasons to say no to a candidate,” Jackson says. “That’s something a lot of people get wrong.” When you focus on reasons to hire someone instead of reasons to rule them out, “you end up trying to pull a ‘yes’ from the ‘maybe’ pile, and that leads to confirmation bias because when you’re looking for reasons to say yes, you’ll always find them,” Jackson says. This usually happens when companies feel like they’re in a bind and need bodies in seats fast, but you have to avoid rushing the process.
Instead, only interview people who are clearly stellar candidates. “This changes two things,” Jackson says. “One is that you’re no longer looking for yes’s which means you’re actually looking to disprove the conclusion that you’ve already made about the candidates. You’re taking the most skeptical approach possible and that's a gate they have to pass over—if they can’t climb the wall they don’t get the job. The other thing is it’s a very different way of recruiting when people move asynchronously through the pipeline. Rather than bringing 10 ‘maybe’ candidates over the space of two or three weeks and then deciding who’s the best of that bunch, everytime you find someone great, they move through your pipeline as quickly as possible. It’s set up in a manner where you're seriously looking for no’s but by the time they make it to the end, they’ve passed through the gauntlet. There’s no question they’re your top candidate.”
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