First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Traditional interviews don’t actually predict performance. Rather, the best way to predict performance is to test job-related skills in context. Nevertheless, there is a place for interviews in the hiring process. Interviews are a useful tool to build rapport, and even start a relationship, with candidates after their skills have been validated. They can, and should, also be used to answer unanswered questions from the hiring process.
Interviewing is often used as a synonym for candidate selection, but it shouldn’t. Interviews should only comprise a small part of the candidate selection process. In fact, if an “interview process”, a.k.a. a selection process, is designed properly then traditional interviews only need to play a minor role.
Rather than dealing with hypothetical situations, I’m going to share a real blow-by-blow story about a recent hire we made. The process included a recruitment agency, marketing, online skills assessment using our own platform, interviews and reference checks. I’ll explain how each step worked and why we did things in a very deliberate order.
This is arguably the most important step. If you don’t define the role correctly the entire process will be flawed because nobody will have clarity about the kind of person you’re looking for.
A helpful starting place is thinking about the purpose of the role. Why does it exist? We wanted to hire someone who could help our largest customers get maximum value from their investment in the company. That was our “why” for this role.
Recruitment Agency Appointment
We don’t usually use agencies and I’m not advocating for, or against, the use of agencies. It depends on the situation. In this case we were looking for a candidate with a very specific skill set and we were almost certain that we needed to attract passive candidates. The people who met our criteria weren’t necessarily looking and, more importantly, they were probably working with a big company and therefore not looking for roles with startups.
So we wanted an agency to help with candidate sourcing, particularly market mapping ad outreach. In other words, we wanted the agency to find people and convince them it was an exciting opportunity.
This fact we were tapping passive candidates on the shoulder influenced the rest of the process. We had to convince candidates to talk to us rather than the other way around. So throwing them into an assessment wasn’t going to work. We had to sell to them.
So the agency approached them and had an informal conversation. After that the hiring manager met the candidates. Is this the most efficient use of time? No. But it was necessary given the caliber of people we were trying to attract. This wasn’t a high volume situation.
After speaking to the hiring manager candidates were invited to complete an online skills assessment, known as a Talent Trial. They had to opt into this stage.
We positioned the skills assessment stage as a two-way street. An opportunity for us to see how they perform job-related tasks, and an opportunity for them to get a realistic feel for the role and the product they’ll be working on.
It made sense. Every single candidate we invited to this stage successfully completed their skills assessment.
Then came the interview. It was a discussion with me and I only interviewed one person, whom we ultimately hired.
I didn’t focus on skills because I already had evidence the preferred candidate could do the job. She performed very well in the skills assessment, which was carefully crafted to reflect the role.
We discussed how we’d work together, including her preferred working style, how we can invest in her, some of the quirks of our team and what she can expect if she joins. It was lighthearted and fun, at least for me.
I’m a big believer in reference checking, but not for the reasons you might expect. References are almost always positive. It’s a rigged game. But, if done correctly, reference checks can be very effective in setting candidates up for success. They help understand what it would be like to work with the candidate, how we can support them and how we can get the best out of them.
They’re an employee onboarding tool of sorts.
We asked the recruitment agency to conduct two reference checks and send us detailed notes.
Meeting the Team
We wanted one more conversation with the hiring manager and the team. At a startup it’s really important to bring existing team members into the process. In fact, I believe it’s important in any company. It increases the chance that existing team members will welcome the new hire, and gives the preferred candidate an opportunity to see who they’ll be working with. It reduces the risk for everybody.
A quick offer is a good offer. We didn’t make the offer after the final discussion with the hiring manager and team. We made it during that discussion. After meeting the team, and after everyone gave the thumbs up, the candidate spoke to the hiring manager privately and got the good news. She accepted.