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So your business is growing, and you’re conducting interviews, big congrats. Here are some tips to improve the job interview process over the standard “so tell me about yourself” line of questions. Following these tips should help you hire the best candidate and avoid resentment from all the candidates who don’t get an offer letter.

Founder’s of anything from, a cafe to crypto exchange are typically protective of their venture, and they want the best people in pivotal roles. The search tactics from the job listing to the interview are often counter productive to the goal of hiring the best people for the venture.

Treat People Like Their Time Has Value

The question “so tell me about yourself” is asked way too often in situations where it hurts the company asking. It’s often asked because the interviewer didn’t look at the candidate’s resume before the interview. If you’re interviewing for entry-level or associate positions, this can be okay, but for more senior roles, it’s not doing anyone, including your firm, any favors.

With cattle call interviews for positions that are not pivotal to a company, you may not have the capacity to review every resume. You’re probably also batch-interviewing candidates with similar summaries, “I did X, went to law school, and here I am”.

As you interview for senior roles, this approach to questioning signals to candidates that your organization is chaotic or does not value the function of the position for which you’re hiring. Interviews work both ways, and most startups lack the reputational currency needed to attract top talent. Don’t run candidates away by coming across like they will not be valued during the hiring process.

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Ask Questions Like You’re Interviewing For An Audience

A far better job interviewing approach is treating each one like a radio interview. Start the interview with a short bio, such as, “You’re [person], I see you worked at [job] and [job]. In your resume, I see you have accomplished [one notable or unbelievable thing]. Tell me how you came to do that?”

You can extract a three-sentence bio from each candidate’s resume in a few minutes, but it makes you look incredibly prepared. It also focuses the conversation straight out the gate (to quote Tech N9ne). I recommend starting with anything in the resume that comes across as hard to believe but harder to verify elsewhere.

I know someone whose resume states that he’s created $6 billion in economic value. The claim sounds untrue, but he came from the banking sector and can explain the claim fairly clearly. People who work in finance tend to believe the claim, but it sounds like a lie to those in other industries. Take advantage of a chance to clarify a claim you don’t believe to avoid making a hiring decision from a gut feeling.

As the interview continues, ask free-form questions based on the candidate’s responses. But avoid asking questions without clear answers or where yes/no answers are most appropriate. Think to yourself, how would American journalist Terry Gross ask this question?

“Do you have experience working with sales teams?” Or “What is your experience working with sales teams?” Which would Terry Gross ask?

Similarly, don’t ask questions that require a candidate to ask follow-up questions to answer. My digi-pal, Oliver Bateman, a well-established writer, pointed out he’s frequently asked to describe his writing process. That question has no answer, as it will depend on the project’s scope.

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I’m frequently asked, “What do you normally do when you first bring on a client at Push ROI?” — The answer is we execute the scope of work that we spent (typically) 30-90 days negotiating with the client. Questions about the services we provide or the costs are variable by the project. The only real answers are general capability and minimum project size.

Questions along these lines waste time. Terry Gross would keep them from going to air and if your goal is hiring the best candidate for a job, keep them out of the interview.

If your reason for opening with the question “tell me about yourself” is to let candidates frame their story, you can do this more effectively towards the end of the interview by asking, “Anything about yourself you’d like to add.” That gives everyone a chance to frame themselves now with established context.

Bad Questions Can Cost You

Since interviews work both ways, you should also be careful as the interviewer not to give incorrect answers to candidates. One of the most beautiful phrases in English is a sincere “I don’t know off the top of my head.”. No company should want a candidate to leave a job interview with a worse impression of a company than when they applied. Candidates should not leave the interview laughing that an executive answered a question about the number of RPCs an app makes when the app doesn’t use RPCs (sorry, that was Elon Musk).

All of this should be more true for startups. A reasonably funded a-round startup with moderate growth can easily interview 300 candidates over their first year after funding. If those 300 interviews result in 25 new hires, it means 275 rejections. How you approach the hiring process, specifically the interviews, determines if 275 people feel rejected because they weren’t the right fit for the job or if they believe your organization is chaotic and they didn’t get a fair shot.

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Even if better interviews didn’t lead to better hires, think about reputation. The people your startup interviews have personal and professional contacts likely to include investors, reporters, and talented individuals with the potential to be a fit for your company as it scales. Do you want 275 people to remember you for a bad hiring process?

Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in on January 5, 2023. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash