5 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong as an Interviewer (and What to Do to Get It Right)

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Since starting at Work-Bench 3 months ago, I’ve had the unique opportunity of seeing how our 40+ member & portfolio companies engage with candidates and generally approach the end-to-end hiring and recruiting process. While most of our companies are able to offer amazing interview and candidate experiences, I’ve also seen a few (all too familiar) mistakes from my 2 and ½ years being on the talent acquisition team at AppNexus as we grew the company from 300 to 1100 people.

Given that most startups aren’t fortunate enough to have full-time recruiters running the end-to-end production of interviews, I know first-hand how difficult it can be for early-stage teams to nail the hiring process. Although you might think a lot of this goes without saying, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I’ve seen go wrong during my time as a recruiter at AppNexus and the time I’ve spent working with our member & portfolio companies at Work-Bench.

1. A Lack of Communication Before an Interview

The problem: Candidates don’t receive all the information they need prior to the interview. It’s helpful for candidates to know the interview location, when and how long they need to be there, who they are meeting with, and (optionally) what the dress code is.

Your solution: Create a basic, reusable template to send to all candidates. While not specifying a dress code can be a great basic competency test for client-facing or account roles, for some entry-level, engineering, or developer positions, it can be a great way to level set and relieve some pressure off of already stressed candidates. Same goes for sending over prep material. It never hurts to send a document over on your culture (even if you think the candidate should be doing this research themself), and it can even be an opportunity to help sell a candidate on your company if you have a recent TechCrunch or Wired profile. Something as simple as this would work:

Dear Candidate,

We’re excited to have you in for an interview on date starting at time. We are located at address on the n floor. Please arrive 5 minutes early to ensure we start on time.

Your interview schedule is as follows:

        •   10am-11am      Interviewer 1, Head of Engineering
        •   11am-12pm      Interviewer 2, Director of Data Science
        •   12pm-1pm        Interviewer 3, CEO
        •   1pm-2pm          Interviewer 4, VP of Business Development

To help you prepare, you can browse our website and some of these articles (optional):

        •   Article 1 (company, culture, or market overview)
        •   Article 2 (recent piece of press)

We all dress casual for work so no need to dress up; business casual is fine (optional).

Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions between now and interview date.

2. Using a Computer or Phone (for Something Other than Note-taking)

The Problem: You’re on your computer checking unread emails, Slack notifications, and the occasional Facebook post or Reddit thread. Even though you swear it’s just for emergencies and very important emails, every time you get a Slack notification or unread email, you become distracted. This problem is twofold. First, you may miss something important that the candidate is saying and even worse, the candidate will most likely sense your distraction and interpret it as disinterest.

Your Solution: There are a few. If you are actually using a computer or phone to take notes, it is important to communicate your intent and tell the candidate. This will help level set, and they won’t be concerned with your furious typing while they answer your questions. For another, consider taking a 1-hour break from your email and phone. Period. To ease your anxiety, you can even set up an away message or automatic reply such as “I am in important meetings until X time. If this is an emergency, please contact colleague@email.com. Otherwise, I look forward to replying to you later today.” Ask your colleague to handle all incoming requests and communication (in the unlikely event that there any), and to only get you if there is a true emergency.

3. Not Using an Assigned Competency, Structured Interview Process

The Problem: This is one we see often. You have a candidate in for 30 minutes to an hour for a four on one interview with the CEO, the two other co-founders, and the would-be direct manager. While unanimity is important when it comes to hiring, this is not the way to do it. Having a four on one interview may intimidate the candidate, and it creates unconscious biases. If one interviewer seems unhappy with certain answers or continues to critique a candidate’s responses, everyone in the room may internalize that negativity and walk away thinking the candidate is not a good fit. Also, all too often, teams do not determine beforehand what each person should be interviewing for or assessing. Is everyone interviewing for team fit or is someone else in the room paying attention to technical skills while another for customer service? It’s difficult to interview for multiple competencies concurrently.

Your Solution: Break your interviews into multiple 30, 45, or 60 minute 2-on-1, or 1-on-1 sessions, with each interviewer assigned a different core competency to evaluate. The candidate should meet with their future manager, teammates they would work with on a day to day, and any cross-functional stakeholders. As your startup grows, it’s okay that a candidate doesn’t meet with everyone; just be thoughtful about the most important decision makers for each role. Each interview should cover a different competency, and interviewers should be responsible for scoring the candidate based solely on that competency. After the interview, all interviewers should share their scores and thoughts during a debrief or team meeting.

4. Showing Up to an Interview Late

The Problem: Coming from the woman who shows up 3 hours early for domestic flights and adds 7 minutes to Google Maps estimates, I may be a bit sensitive to this. Nevertheless, being more than 10 minutes late to an interview is extremely disrespectful to your candidate. He or she most likely took a day off of work, or came up with a super creative doctor’s appointment last minute to be there on time and ready. As much as they are there to impress you, you are also there to impress and sell them.

Your solution: Don’t be late. Easier said than done. You’re running from meeting to meeting, closing POCs, and generally ignoring your calendar reminders. Then you realize you are late to greet a candidate and get the interview going. One trick is to block 15 minutes before each interview as buffer time. You can send emails, make a short phone call or work on a deck during this time but try not to book a meeting back to back or get into a discussion about pricing models with your head of sales within that 15-minute block. Not possible to be anything but back-to-back? Here’s a pro tip: if you know you are going to be more than 10 minutes late, send a Slack message or text to someone on your team asking them to notify the candidate.

5. Forgetting to Leave Room for the Candidate to Ask Questions

The Problem: A lot of this stems from having more than two interviewers in the room at once. Once all three or four interviewers are finished throwing their questions at the candidate, you are already 10 minutes over and are about to be 15 minutes late to your next meeting. Not only are you going to be late, but the candidate doesn’t get to ask questions, which is a critical and important piece of the interview (for both the candidate and interviewer).

Your Solution: Watch the clock. Make sure you spend 5-10 minutes on introductions, 25-40 minutes on interview questions, and save 15 minutes for candidate questions. Remember, sometimes a person’s questions are more telling than their answers. It also helps to give the candidate a high level overview of what the interview will entail. This helps to keep both parties on track. For example, it’s fine to say something along the lines of, “we’re going to spend the next hour together. I’d like to start with introductions and give you some background on me, my role and the company, then I’d like to spend the bulk of the time discussing you, your qualifications and past experiences. Lastly, we can wrap up with any questions you may have for me. If I’m looking at the clock, it’s because I’d like to ensure we have time for all of that.”

So, any questions? In all seriousness though, if this piece resonated with you or if you are looking to join one of New York’s top enterprise tech startups, drop us a line.

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