A big concern for every founder of a startup is making a bad hire. In fact, according to Neil Patel’s survey many experienced entrepreneurs cite bad hires their biggest mistake. I think there is a lot of emphasis placed on asking the right kinds of questions during the actual interview to avoid this situation, and insufficient time on streamlining the post-interview debrief to arrive at an accurate and unanimous decision. One of the unique hiring traits at Jambool was the process of arriving at a hire/no-hire decision.
The debrief largely counts on first impressions, not unlike like Malcom Gladwell’s principles in his book Blink. When a candidate leaves the building after their interview, we conducted the post-interview debrief as soon as possible. We usually didn’t even wait until the following day, so that our impressions and memories are freshest.
The debrief ritual goes like this:
- Stand Up: Similar to the purpose of stand up meetings in Agile, we make interviewers stand to force them to pay attention and to keep it short. Most debriefs take less than 30 minutes, on average 15 minutes and in extreme cases, up to an hour.
- The Thumb Vote: On the count of three, everyone simultaneously flips out their thumb indicating their vote. The angle of the thumb can be in 4 positions: fully down, fully up, slightly down and slightly up. Nobody can remain neutral and must pick a side. This solidifies the position of the interviewer based on his or her impression only. For added drama, we would hide our fist behind our backs and flip it out much like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
- Give Feedback: Next, we go around the room having the interviewers explain
- What questions they asked
- How the candidate solved it
- Why they picked their thumb position
Other interviewers start probing and asking the interviewer more detail on his impression if necessary. Opinions may start to form, but interviewers are forbidden from trying to sway a vote at this time. This part is much like a regular standard debrief.
- The Thumb Re-Vote: After all interviewers have given feedback, we go around the room again and ask interviewers if they would like to change the angle of their thumb. Usually there will be one or two folks who switch their angle. Lobbying and swaying may take place, but by this time most interviewers would have formed an unified opinion. The hiring executive makes a decision based on this outcome and seeks to get everyone to a unanimous decision.
- Hire/No-Hire Statement: The final step is to affirm the hiring decision. The hiring executive makes a hire/no-hire statement and goes around the room and gets every interview to agree to the decision. Getting 100% buy in from the team was important as this showed this was a team decision and not any single person.
This technique worked very well and very efficiently, allowing the team to arrive at a decision almost before the candidate has had a chance to reach home. It focuses on the decision making and not on the content of the interview.
Debriefs can be done remotely
It’s preferable if all the interviewers were present in the same room, but we were also to do a debrief over a phone / conference call as long as we stayed with the preceding steps. At Jambool, we emphasized transparency and often conducted the debrief in the big team room where non-interviewers could listen in. Non-interviewers could only observe and interject when they felt we were going off on a tangent or straying from the rules above, but they weren’t allowed to be have a vote.
Limit the stand up to an hour
In very, very few instances were we unable to reach a decision after an hour. In one particular case we were debriefing on a candidate who had a similar but slightly different background. After an hour of heated debate, we postponed any decision making. The next day, after a good night’s sleep, the team met again and repeated step (4) again. Much to my surprise everyone was more positively inclined now even though there was uncertainty the day before. We made that hire.
It works for every role
Our first few hires using this method were software engineers, but we found that the same debrief process worked for every role we hired, regardless of full-time, part-time or contract positions.
A fast decision will impress the candidate
Once a Hire decision has been made, call the candidate that same day. We found the speed at which you can give positive acknowledgment that you are interested will bowl the candidate over. Most companies, especially the larger ones, take a long time to reach a Hire decision. This is where the agility of being able to present an immediate offer is to your advantage. Almost all of the hires at Jambool accepted were hired this way, and accepted on the spot or within a day.
Reference checks won’t change a positive decision
In almost all cases, references didn’t fundamentally change the Hire decision. Candidates are inclined to provide only positive references anyway. We went through the reference checks as a formality, and usually found out more about the referee and made mental notes to recruit them in the future. After all, a stellar candidate will have provide references whom they respect and are likely as good as themselves.
This quick decision making still depends on having a skilled team that understands their role in the interview process and having the proper skill to interview others in the first place. I’ll cover the actual interview process in another post.