Article

Flip the script - being a human in interviews

How to discover talented people and make an impression on candidates

Posted by Jenna Bachrouche

Interviews are a marathon for both companies and candidates. If you are a new company, finding and convincing the talents who can help build your company is a mountain to climb. The work to find the right person amongst hundreds of applications for a position is no less challenging for a global company. Even though it’s a challenge for everyone to find the right fit, it doesn’t mean the process has to be painful. Every candidate you encounter as an in-house recruiter is an opportunity to build a new relationship. Having worked for companies such as Yelp and Disney prior to joining Passbase, I’m building on my thoughts on diversity and conducting better interviews to share how we have created a more human-centric interview process to build a long-term talent pipeline based on human relationships.

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Through 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic, Passbase has doubled is team and brought on experienced hires and industry veterans by creating a hiring process that asks if a candidate is:

Below, I will use Passbase’s interview process to illustrate how I approach recruitment.

Search for the right puzzle pieces

As an in-house recruiter for a young company, I need to be proactive in outreach to people with interesting CVs. Obviously, this is dependent on what role you’re hiring for but there are many ways to go about targeting your search. Sometimes you have to start broad and get more targeted as you go. Or, if you know exactly where you want to start (e.g., looking at candidates coming from specific companies) feel free to start super specific. Keep in mind many of the great candidates are likely not actively looking for new roles, this is why it’s so important to be as targeted as possible through this process.

For people looking for new positions, sprucing up your LinkedIn profile is one of the best ways to get noticed by in-house recruiters. Below are some of the ways I filter-search to discover people:

  1. Start by filtering by job title and location
  2. Add keyword filters for specific skills or backgrounds (e.g. specific techstacks, specific industry experience, or ‘B2B’ specialty for marketing)
  3. Explore companies with products you admire
  4. Play around with the graduation date filter if experience is a must (would encourage recruiters to not have a degree emphasis)
  5. Evaluate profiles for puzzle pieces, not perfect credentials. Look for clues such as volunteering experience, promotions, tenure in the last two roles -- longevity is important!

Of course it’s important for the candidate to have the necessary skills, but be sure to take a step back and look at the entire profile to consider transferable and intangible skills. Before you do any outreach you need to establish a baseline of the puzzle pieces that make sense to you. If I see enough puzzle pieces, even though it may not be my “ideal profile,” I will usually err on the side of reaching out.

Nail your outreach message

Since your outreach message is a first impression, spend time to refine it. Track the messages you send out to learn what style speaks to candidates. Modify them based on the roles you are hiring for, such as engineering or sales. I use a similar message for LinkedIn Mail and e-mail, providing enough information on the company and role so that an interested candidate can respond quickly. Below are two message templates I have used in the past:

Passbase template Linkedin message to candidate

Passbase template email message to candidate I start with a clear title that makes the role and opportunity known to a candidate. A candidate’s online profile is not their whole story, so keeping the message personable and human is important. The first call is meant to be a relaxed way for both sides to get to know each other with no strings attached. In the best case scenario, people respond within a few days and you can schedule a call immediately and preferably as soon as possible to be respectful of their time.

Make your introductory call a coffee chat

In your first call, focus on getting to know the candidate as a person and learn more about the puzzle pieces that were not in their CV. To be respectful of a person’s time and fit a realistic set of discussion points within your allotted time, which is usually around thirty minutes. I also put some buffer after my calls if possible so that I do not have to cut a meaningful avenue of conversation short. A few extra minutes to comfortably wrap up a conversation can go a long way.

I typically start by thanking the person for taking the time and flipping the interview script. Instead of giving them what might be another company overview if they are conducting multiple interviews, I give them the floor to start with any questions or curiosities about the role or company. Of course, some people prefer the traditional format, so I also say that I am happy to take the questions in the end.

During the conversation, be transparent about factors that are important to them, whether it is the salary range or the interview timeline. Understanding a candidate’s priorities and addressing them in your follow-ups is a way to build trust and your company’s reputation. Even if you may not continue the conversation this time, the professional relationship you have established is valuable.

Turn skill assessment into an opportunity to inform

Skill assessment is often a stressful stage for a candidate because assessments can vary widely. This stage is for the department or team lead to find out if someone has the skills for the role, but is an informal assessment of intangible skills. How a candidate completes the task is often just as important as the contents of the task. Helping your hiring colleague be mindful of their interview preferences and biases can diversify the pool of qualified candidates who may have different working and communication styles.

At the time of writing, Passbase does not pay candidates for assignments, but we continue to refine our skill assessment stage. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, candidates who interviewed at the office would receive gift cards. Currently, we aim to design assignments to be completed within 4 hours (half a workday) to be respectful of a candidate’s time dedicated to unpaid work. It should go without saying that the material that a candidate provides should never be used by the company. At the same time, the assignment should give the candidate further context on the business, the market, and the product or service so that it is educational.

Have colleagues assess for culture add

Instead of checking for culture fit, Passbase arranges for conversations that assess for culture add. The first is an interview with one of our team members who is not from the team the candidate would be joining and the second is currently with one of our co-founders.

Founders who are intentional about the companies they build make time for interviews in their weekly schedules. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky interviewed the first 200 employees and Silicon Valley founders like Jeff Bezos and Larry Page remained personally involved in early hires to raise the bar for a company’s talent with each hire. A founder needs to assess whether an individual takes the team to the next level with their role-specific skills, intangible skills, and values. Does the person fit the needs of the company as a whole? You can also find out how one of our co-founders, Mathias, approaches hiring and what he asks candidates here.

At the same time, to make sure that we are growing more diverse with every new team member, we want to have someone who thinks about how a candidate could add perspectives to the company. For example, can someone entering a leadership role bring more balanced perspectives to a white or male-led company? What is their understanding of privileges and how are they expressing views about social values? This second conversation is more freeflow, although you should provide some questions and guidance on what your colleague should look out for. Through the informal chat, your colleague should be able to sense check for shared baseline company values to create a safe work environment for everyone. If your colleague has moments of discomfort, they also need to be equipped to consider the source, be it cultural differences, inappropriate conduct, or their own privileges.

Bring the data points together in a workshop

Before pandemic times, many companies bring in a candidate for a final-round workshop interview. This round is meant to bring together all the data points that our team members have gathered and see if they are consistent with how a candidate behaves in person. Ideally, this stage is a litmus test to answer the question: “Can we all work together?”

Like most companies, Passbase has adapted to remote-only final round interviews during the Covid-19 pandemic and the last round has become an applied skills assessment. Depending on the role, this can last for one to two hours. Where possible, we offer some format flexibility (take-home versus fully in-person) and I make it clear to the candidate that we acknowledge not everyone operates the same way, that we care about them as an individual. For example, an on-the-spot coding assessment can be overwhelming for some people, so teams can explore designing a take-home component. A sales position can have a 30-45 minute presentation call and follow-up discussion that is typically over two hours.

Consider that video exhaustion during Covid-19 is a real issue, so do not shy away from checkin-in with your candidate on what their schedule is like.  Offering flexibility as well as making myself available for any prep or debriefing calls creates a positive candidate experience.

Designing a workshop to assess a person’s technical and collaboration skills, as well as chemistry with our team, will always be a challenge. Time pressure and workshop format can impact a person’s performance and can never be 100% fair. Acknowledging that is essential for the ongoing process of refining the interview process

I think of every of recruitment stage as both an opportunity for us to interviewing a candidate, and them to interview us. In addition to answering questions about Passbase, I use every in-person call and e-mail exchange to demonstrate how the company operates and values people.

Ultimately, both your colleagues and the candidate are trying to find out whether working together is mutually beneficial. Provide a candidate with context to make an informed decision, even if it might ultimately lead  to a “no”. How a company treats people reflects on a company’s values. At Passbase, we’ve talked to many candidates who are talented people, but might not be the right fit for a variety of reasons: experience or seniority, specific skillset, values, work arrangement requirements, and of course compensation. As an in-house recruiter, make sure that every conversation is a good one, even if the person may not be the right one -- for now.

We are hiring in our New York and Berlin offices! Check out our latest open positions here.

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