Article

Best practices for interviews

How to bring on top-tier talent to your growing startup

Posted by Jenna Bachrouche

Before I became Head of People at Passbase to double the team in 2020, I've been an interviewee countless times for the past few years. To this day, some stand out, both for how inspired I felt as well as uncomfortable I was sometimes made to feel. When Passbase began to grow at a speed that needed a full-time recruiter like me, I had a list of positive experiences I wanted to replicate as well as negative ones I would never want to to put anyone through.

If you are recruiting for your company, here are ways you can make the interview process more pleasant for interviewees, as well as yourself! If you're looking for a job, you can also take this list to better understand what are green lights and red flags when you are assessing whether to join a company. The more empathetic interviews are, the more likely you will find better candidates who are a fit for your needs.

Have a conversation, not a Q&A session

When we are crafting a JD for a role, usually all the involved parties draw up their own wishlist. This usually starts with skills and work experience, but also usually includes factors like "character fit" or "values". Ideally, this is a conversation between whomever is doing the recruiting, whether you are the founder or the Head of HR, and the people who would be working with this person. By the end of it, you probably have a list of questions, ideal answers to them, and maybe even a scoring system (depending on your approach to hiring).

At this point, you are in danger of being too prepared. As a recruiter, you head into your interview with a list of questions you need to zoom through to get as many data points about your candidate as possible so that you can report back to the team.

Take a deep breath. Make yourself a coffee. Get your notebook or open a new file in your note taking app. Put your questions to the side as you think about the big picture things you want to hit. Remind yourself: you are meeting someone for the first time. How would you greet them and introduce yourself? If they were someone you met at a social, how would you learn about their background, their story, and the things they're passionate about? An interview is a slightly more structured first conversation. You've got this.

Be transparent

After you've done your initial introductions, you should have learned some of key pieces of information from an interesting candidate. Now, it's your turn to also share.

When sharing, you might want to think of yourself as an ambassador for your company. While you will probably be selling the company's culture and perks, as well as the opportunities in the role, it is just as important to be as transparent as possible to help your counterpart also decide if the company is a good fit. For example, if the candidate has made it clear they are eager to join a fast-growing company with upcoming leadership opportunities, you need to address that need. Perhaps your company wants to grow the team more slowly or prefers keeping a flat structure.

Transparency is an attitude and commitment to sharing as much information as possible that can help someone make a more informed decision. Sometimes in the interview process, it is easy to forget to share information that is crucial to a candidate. As a start, be transparent about the interview process. How many stages is it? What is the timeline? What is the salary range or compensation arrangement? If your company does not have certain policies that a candidate has asked about, acknowledge that and consider addressing it. Also do not shy away from acknowledging that you do not know the answer and following up with an e-mail response.

Show interest in the whole person, not just their skills

Recruitment is time consuming. There is always the tick of the clock against all the things you need to learn about someone. But that's the thing: you are learning about *a person*. A person needs to be able to bring their whole self to the company, so it is important to find out about who they are in addition to their coding or sales skills.

In addition to their work history, you might have learned they are a single parent or care about certain causes they volunteer for. Personal or family factors are important because it may affect work scheduling arrangements. You may also learn their opinions about about gender, immigration and race, or same-sex marriage and you need to assess whether these match with your company's bottom-line values. Every person you bring into the company is not only contributing their skills, but to a safe and respectful workplace for *everyone*, so your interest in them as a person will help you assess this.

Ask personal questions -- the right ones. Some questions are asked with good intentions, but may actually be invasive or discriminatory. Some that I use for our remote interviews given Covid-19 restrictions are:

  • Where in the world am I finding you today?
  • Do you have a favorite Netflix show you’re binging right now?
  • What have you been doing to keep yourself sane during the pandemic?
  • Have you had a chance to adventure anywhere during the pandemic?

Also trust your gut. If you do not find yourself excited by this person, ask yourself why. It *could* be that they do not have the "right cultural fit". However, in order to avoid hiring too similarly, *why* you may not be clicking is also a starting point to reflect. Does it have to do with language abilities or different styles of communication? Though it may be difficult to adjust immediately in the conversation, being aware can help you become more empathetic for a candidate and hire a more diverse team in the long-run.

Look for culture add not culture fit

Passbase has been moving away from the “culture fit” terminology to focus on whether someone will add to the company’s existing culture. Culture fit implies that people need to mold into a fixed framework, whereas a company is more a puzzle that needs new pieces to be expanded.

At Passbase, we try to tap someone outside the hiring department to join the interview process as soon as possible to have a more informal conversation. This conversation is meant to have someone who is not invested in the candidate’s technical skill consider whether the candidate can, and seems willing, to bring something to the culture of the company. The Passbase team member can take the conversation in any direction they’d like, but I have provided some guiding questions for the conversation. Example questions include:

  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • Who or what inspires you in your life/career?
  • How would you describe your working style?
  • What makes an inclusive workplace?
  • What excites you about coming to work?
  • What motivates you to do your best work?

No matter how talented a candidate is, they ultimately have to be able to work with their team, and contribute to a safe and respectful environment. This part of the interview is meant to consider whether an individual can add depth to a company. While every person taking part in the interview process will be considering whether someone “could fit in” at the back of their mind, reframing this question as “How can they add to our culture?” pushes our own company to be more cognizant of the areas we need to grow as well.

Leave them excited to continue conversations

Finally, you're nearing the end of your conversation (or your allotted call time). Now is not the time to just wrap up because you have gotten the information you want. Use these last few minutes to keep the conversation open. Just as we began, you want to leave a good conversation by looking forward to the next one.

Getting a candidate, who might be interviewing with several companies or happy in their existing job, to be excited can sometimes require some selling skills. At this point, your non-Q&A call should be leaving them just wanting to continue the conversation. I always finish by giving the candidate a time estimate that they should be hearing from me by - ideally no longer than a week. Even if you don’t have a status update, a check-in email is nice! Nobody likes to feel ghosted. I always make sure to emphasize that they can always reach out with questions or concerns, and that I am always available to hop on a call if necessary.

Your interviews are not where you need to find out everything about a candidate. You need to develop the confidence that they will add value to your company and bring them onboard. Bringing the right people on board will elevate the company in directions that you may not even have anticipated.

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