Hiring is a challenge, especially in a smaller company. Bringing on a new employee, particularly at a business with a strong culture, is like adding a new member into the family. But in the startup world, you often don’t have the luxury of conducting several interviews. You’re trying to hire quickly because you have stuff to get done. That said, there are ways to effectively evaluate candidates both personally and professionally:
Evaluate cultural fit
Understand your business’s purpose and look for signs of alignment in the people you interview. The way we test for this at Ceros is by having candidates present on a topic they’re passionate about for 10 to 15 minutes. This exercise helps you dig deep into candidates’ personalities and find out what they care about.
Check against cultural values. Often times, cultural values are just some words on a wall that don’t really mean anything. If you’re going to use them as a way to test whether a candidate is a good fit, they have to be tangible and they have to be meaningful. If your values meet this criteria, you can then use them as a scoring matrix for candidates.
This last tactic may be unconventional, but for candidates interviewing for executive roles, I go drinking with them. What’s the point of socializing with a potential hire outside of the office? You see that person unguarded. It’s difficult for people to put up a facade in a casual setting, so they’re more likely to say what they really think and feel. Group settings are also great for seeing how the person will interact with others.
Evaluate skills and experience
Be as clear as possible on what the role is and what responsibilities it entails. Use a framework to help you assess each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
Ask difficult questions about real-world challenges you think they might get wrong. It’s also wise to get someone in a similar role to ask the same questions in a more granular way.
Involve a wide range of employees. At Ceros, we tend to keep our interviews pretty freeform. We sometimes have people in the office for three to four hours to meet with additional team members, or we’ll invite candidates to have a drink at the office pub to get to know them better.
Have them do a test project. If it’s a content role, ask for a writing sample; if it’s a developer, give them something to code; if it’s a sales person, ask them to sell you a pencil. If they’re not willing to do it, or they do it without much enthusiasm, you know they’re probably not going to be a good fit.
Identify and address bad hires
If you’re unsure whether someone is going to work out, here’s a non-emotional way to evaluate the situation. Ask yourself and others how you would rate the employee on this scale:
You want to work with people who are exceptional and very good. If someone falls into the “good” bucket, they can potentially become very good with time and training, but people are unlikely to jump more than one tier, especially in a timeframe that works for startups. So if someone appears to be in the average, poor, or possibly even the good tier, you should pass.
Ultimately, no matter how great your hiring process is, you’re going to make mistakes. You’ll end up with a few people who aren’t a good fit and have to be let go. When this is the case, it’s best to part ways quickly. If you see early on that it’s not going to work, deal with the situation early on. Trust me, it’ll get much harder to let them go the longer you wait.
Simon Berg is CEO of Ceros.