When you’re a startup. You don’t have the luxury of time. You can’t wait for 7 months to conduct interviews and choose by committee and then have 10 people weigh in. It might be the best way to minimise risk but it doesn’t work in a time line.
So how do you hire at startups? What do you look for? I go into a bunch of tips I have gathered out of my own experience and also watching a few of my colleagues take a stab at it. Here are a few things we do at Deskera that’s really helped.
Tip 0. Communication ability is make or break.
It is vital if you don’t have someone in HR or recruiting that you get someone (not the direct hiring manager to do a 5-10 min screen call). You can ask questions like what’s your passion, why do you like that field, why us? What do you want to do? Why do you want to leave?
You can repeat these questions again with the hiring manager but don’t share the answers just yet. You can then compare notes to see if the candidate is consistent. It also helps you avoid the ones you’d know wouldn’t fit in. Because communication (outside of pure engineering roles) is a very strong factor. If the person can’t put together a sentence (in whichever language is used in the office) then you’re going to be spending a lot of time bringing them up to speed. The question is how much time can you afford?
Tip 1. Scan the resume and the projects. Aka doing homework.
Whatever is put into your resume is what you want people to read about you. There’s a fine balance between showing 4 pages for your resume listing everything from the day you walked in to the time you spent arguing with your boss about an implementation.
2 things are wrong with that. 1. Don’t argue with your boss. 2.Don’t list everything you have ever done. 1 page for 1 decade of experience. If Steve Jobs can do it then so can you. Elon Musk and Steve Jobs interviews.
If the interviewee has grammatical mistakes in their resume. They are sloppy or unprofessional. You don’t have to be pedantic but if the resume is not in the primary language and edited for grammar then they don’t know how to use the free tools available or they are sloppy and don’t care to comb through their best work. Usually a warning sign.
Tip 2. Be respectful of people’s time.
First of all if you are interviewing don’t show up 1 hour earlier. It’s difficult to accommodate you without feeling bad and going out of the way to make sure everything is fine. It also is not always feasible. You might be interrupting lunch or a number of things. So show up 10 mins before. BUT don’t be late.
For the hiring manager, be punctual. Don’t show up late if you knew you were going to be late. In that case drop in a note to the candidate. Be ready to re-schedule if needed. DO NOT tell someone 5 mins before taking the interview that you cannot make it and ignore their calls. That is being a dick. No one likes to interact with one outside of the bed.
Also if you need to call someone else in to interview the person, give them some time to know who they are going to talk to and what the credentials are. It’s important for the interviewee to do some research about who they are talking to and adjust their frame of talking. But sometimes doing that abruptly tells you how quickly they can think on their feet. Most interviewees are nervous not everybody has no fucks to give. But the best ones can move quick. You want those people in.
Tip 3. Taking a gut call during the interview.
This is usually a gut call. But you know within 10 mins (I take that long personally) but some of my super star colleagues do it in 3 whether or not you think the person is a fit. This requires listening to your gut and the signs. Sometimes its the way the candidate presents themselves but there’s always an underlying vibe sign. Once you get past how well they dress themselves and the like you’ll have a meter tending to yes or no. The rest of the time is spent pushing the meter to the No side or the Yes side. So you ask questions to confirm or negate biases you might have and factor in their work.
If it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere it’s okay to say no. But don’t be a dick about it. You say, “I value your time, I don’t think we are a good fit for you”. Be prepared to answer questions post that about why you made that call. I have noticed that in the US, most people are extremely politically correct because they get sued left and right. That is one way of going about it but that’s a disrespectful way. Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes people don’t work out. That’s fine. It’s better than being forced into something one side doesn’t want.
Tip 4. Type of questions to ask
Everyone begins with the where do you see yourself in 5 years? I think that question is weird to ask. Where is the company In 5 years? Do you know the revenue growth you are projecting? What new jobs will take over? No one predicted gaming and escorts would be coming mainstream. What would AI do? How is the company positioned against that? So don’t ask random questions that you won’t have the answers to or the judgement to decide if that’s a good question or not. Ask questions about culture, give examples of something you are facing and ask them how they would face that. See how they reply, listen to the clarity of their tone. You cannot expect them to always answer exactly without context so let them ask questions. Conversely if you are asked such a question always go with the “wow that’s hard to say with so many things changing but if I were to guess..”
Tip 5. Learn to negotiate.