Intelligent hiring means more than an interview / Founders’ Network Knowledge Series

Matt Johnson, August 19, 2016 3 min read

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

So you’re getting your business off the ground and are bringing new people into your team. If you were to ask a mentor who has trodden the path of building a few companies before you, the biggest hiring disaster stories they’ll share with you won’t be to do with that person’s technical abilities.

The real horror stories are all to do with getting in someone who proved to be the absolute wrong cultural fit for the organisation and/or very difficult to work with personally.

That’s why I always talk about hiring for character AND competence.

It’s difficult when you’re growing fast, you’ve got a million and one things that you need to do – the last thing you want to do is add more effort and more time into the hiring process.

But, as any founder who’s long-in-the-tooth will tell you… the time you take in getting the key appointments right are some of the most valuable hours you’ll invest in your company.

In our work at Form, Sean and I spend a lot of time working with leaders across the sector helping them make better choices in terms of how they grow their companies. Often a piece of advice that we find ourselves giving out is to add different elements into a hiring process.

What does that mean?

Well, most people default to a process of reading someone’s CV and sitting down for an interview with a few questions they’ve thought about beforehand. Which is fine, except that they could have had a lot of help with their CV and be rehearsed in carrying out interviews, and it tells you very little about what they’re actually going to be like to work with.

Think of it like this – someone can make all the effort to come across really well on a first date, but you probably wouldn’t marry them after just that one interaction. Seeing as sometimes we can spend more time with our colleagues than with our spouses (!) we’d do well to apply a bit of the same rationale as to how we make those commitment decisions.

Here are five options that you have to build on to a standard interview to get more data on whether someone is going to fit the organisation you’re looking to build.

Portfolio: “Show me what you’ve done”

If you’re hiring a programmer, ask if they can show you their work in Github. If you’re after a marketing manager, ask them to bring in their last campaign and talk you through what they did.

Scenario: “How would you solve this problem?”

A couple of days in advance of meeting, why not send the candidate a ‘semi-hypothetical’ scenario of a typical problem they’ll need to solve in their new role and ask them to come prepared to discuss their thoughts on how they’d tackle the problem.

Presentation: “Teach me something”

When hiring for client-facing or sales roles, I usually give candidates a topic to present ten minutes on. Something like “What are the main opportunities in our industry?” or “The three big lessons all web agencies should have learned by now” – that kind of thing. Ask them to use slides, handouts, or whatever seems appropriate, and look for not only the quality of their ideas but also their style and confidence in communicating them.

Live task: “Show us what you’ve got”

Lots of organisations ask candidates to come in for half a day and do real work in the business. If they’re a coder – get them dual coding for a component. Project manager – give them a workstream to plan.

Personality and working style questionnaires

For senior roles, or when you’re starting to build a substantial team and want to strengthen a particular part of your culture – not just acquire a specific skill set – personality questionnaires are a good way to go.

Some folk are sceptical and if you’ve never done one of these yourself then it’ll be harder to digest the results of someone else’s. But if you’re familiar with the format and what the outputs of a given survey mean then it’s perfectly valid to ask someone to fill out the survey and then play back the results with them when you meet. Belbin, Strengthsfinders, LifeLanguages, Sales Personality and Predictive Index all have their strengths and weaknesses.

So why not pick one or two of these to work into your next hiring process?

Form at Founders’ Network

We cover lots more on the people equation at the Founders’ Network workshop on ‘Building Your Team’, where we also give away free resources to members of the programme. If you’re not signed up already then have a look on the Founders’ Network web page for details, dates and how to apply.

Next workshop: Tuesday 23 August 2016 – apply now

Read more in the Founders’ Network Knowledge Series:

3 ways founders can avoid writing a hiring horror story

The biggest mistake of your first funding round

How much are you raising and what’s it for?

Hiring, How to, talent, Founders' Network