Friday, June 13, 2008

Calibrate Your Interview "Gut"

One of the reasons I went to business school is that after working at a few startups I realized that those so-called "soft skills" around choosing people, managing people, and building a positive culture were really as important as people said. (You'll find this a common theme in that generally I don't believe much of what people tell me unless I can prove it for myself - not a particularly scaleable way of learning but it has proven to me over the years that a lot of the people who consider themselves experts know less than you think) At business school I tried to focus a bit more on learning some framework or ways to think about organizational behavior. What I learned, unfortunately, is that it is very, very hard to put a formula around cultural success. Not surprisingly, I also saw clear evidence that those companies that successfully figured out how to build a culture unlocked tremendous positive energy and created that virtuous loop of "good people bringing in better people". Building a positive culture is hard because so many unmeasurable factor contribute to the culture including the way the company messages internally, externally, how the CEO and leadership team conducts day-to-day business, etc... One key component though is always around hiring good people.

One thing each of us can do in terms of hiring good people is to spend the time to take in depth notes on your interviews and calibrate your interview "Gut". Now, I'm not talking about the specifics of how to conduct an interview, there are plenty of books around that talk about how to do interviews in a way that gets you what you want. I'm talking about that sixth sense that folks get when they conduct an interview that tells them "Yea" or "Nay" on the candidate. By all accounts, the interview process is one of the most imperfect hiring tools but its one that we all need to learn how to leverage. Here's the short take on how to calibrate your "Gut".

1. Take detailed notes on the interview
These notes should not only involve the standard notes around what the candidate is saying, but should also contain notes on your own impressions. Don't expect to remember how you felt about a candidate two months down the road after you have worked with them for two months.

2. Track and review notes on those individuals that are hired
After someone has joined the company for some time and you have formed an opinion as to whether or not they are good or bad, go back and check your notes.

3. Keep score
Keep an aggregate account of how many folks you have interviewed and where they ended up relative to your initial impressions.

4. Adapt
After doing this for three or four times (depending on your hiring you may only get three or four chances) you will have an anecdotal feel for how good you are doing as a interviewer and what type of person/personality/background you seem to have a natural affinity towards. Sometimes those natural affinities are useful, but sometimes they are not. Get self-aware about your interview tendencies and adapt

All of this stuff is, of course, common sense. But, that's not an excuse not to do it :)