The Interview

If you sit down with a number of HR executives and ask each of them which questions companies should ask candidates during the interview process to ensure they select the “best fit” person, you will likely hear a spectrum of answers.

Over time, companies tend to develop their own processes and/or techniques (e.g. psychographic testing) to suss out whether or not a candidate will succeed in their organizations. Even technology is beginning to play a role. A new company has emerged – AIngel spun out of NYU – that is using AI to assess candidates, even entire management teams, based upon their social media posts, LinkedIn profiles, and any other digital “exhaust” to predict their ultimate success. No permission is required by the candidates/teams nor do they need to know they are being profiled. AIngel uses its ML-based algorithms tp compare an individual’s traits against others known to be successful in similar roles to determine the likelihood of the candidate’s (or an entire management team’s) success — with surprising accuracy.

Beyond ensuring no employment laws are violated, companies of any size must develop a talent recruitment and hiring process that enables them to quickly and accurately identify which candidates are the most likely to be successful in their company. 

The dilemma is that interviewers are typically required to reach a conclusion in a 60-90 minute span of time and decide whether or not the candidate is capable and best suited to perform the role. This is truly a difficult task. The industry statistics suggest many don’t get it right.

Glassdoor commissioned research with Brandon-Hall which discovered that 95 percent of employers surveyed admitted to making hiring mistakes each year. Dice, a talent company, reported that “a study by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), [determined that a bad hire] could cost up to five times a bad hire’s annual salary.”According to the Harvard Business Review as much as 80% of employee turnover stems from bad hiring decisions. 

This may be costly for larger companies but it could be devastating for early stage startups that teeter on the brink of viability from quarter to quarter. So, what can companies do to have a relatively straightforward and accurate way of determining if a candidate will be successful in their organization?

After 25 years of hiring people as an operating exec and investor, I believe there are really only 2 lines of questioning you can reliably pursue to determine whether a candidate will be successful in a job.

  1. Are they truly skilled in the function for which they are interviewing?
  2. Will they fit into the culture of the company?

Other questions are ‘nice’ but in my experience are superfluous vis a vis predicting the success of a particular candidate. So, how to proceed? 

The company/hiring group should develop a set of questions that will test the candidate for expertise in the slot the candidate is competing for — engineering, sales, marketing, finance, etc. Only the best employees in those roles should create the skills-based questions and perform the interviews.

Beyond being competent in their field, in order for a candidate to remain with the company as a long term employee, the candidate must not only be competent in their role they must fit in culturally. To assess this, the company and group needs to have a very well understood set of ‘core values’ it lives by — not just some pablum written on some company “Our Values” document everyone posts on their wall to show they are ‘bought in’.

For example, if the team believes coming in early and working late is a “core value” then the interviewers should ask whether the candidate is willing to do this. The candidate should meet with a number of members of the group and company to test for culture fit, not job competence. Only the hiring team should interview for job competence.

The company should then do follow on reference checks that are designed to substantiate or refute the competence claims of the candidate. 3 of them should be references the candidates provides. 3 should be done with people not on the candidate’s reference list but recommended by the references provided by the candidate. No reference can tell you whether the candidate will be a cultural fit — only the members of the hiring company can get a feel for this because only they know the culture of their company.

The company should also include at least 2 people in the interview process who are not there to interview per se. Instead, they are there to sell the candidate on why they should join the company. These might be senior executives, board members or other company employees who are good at f2f communications.

I don’t believe this is a panacea but if you follow this simple process, I believe you will help reduce the  “bad” hires percentage rate.

A final word…

Who Should Not “Interview” Candidates

I would like to make a comment specifically oriented toward early stage startup teams and venture capitalists. If you have not personally held the role for which you are interviewing a candidate – at the stage the startup is currently operating – do yourself and the company a favor and be a “cheerleader”; do not pretend to be a role-based interviewer.

Instead, recruit 2-3 people who have successfully held those positions at that stage and have them perform a skills-based “interview” to determine if the candidate’s skills are sufficient. When other members of the startup’s management team meet with the candidate, they should evaluate the candidate for cultural fit, not job competence. Board members/investors should express the reasons they made the investment and why they are excited about the company’s prospects. 

Too many times I have seen startup executives and venture investors let their egos get in the way and want to “interview” candidates for positions they have never personally held. Really? If you aren’t a skilled auto mechanic, would you work on your own car? Wouldn’t you prefer that professionals perform the task? So, please do your startup a favor and recruit a “skilled mechanic” — someone with the specific skills for the roles you need filled — to do the interviewing for your startup. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you have an employment misfire.