Friday, May 19, 2006

Applied Interviewing

Interviewing candidates is an art and a challenging one. Hiring the best and brightest, establishing competency, qualifying cultural fit, and making interviewing productive are critical to the success of early stage companies. In order to avoid superficial discourse and backing-in to a process that rewards conversational skills rather than material functional skills, it is helpful to train people in structured, applied interviewing.

Too often, people walk into interviews armed with little more than a resume and ask, “so tell me about yourself.” There is an awkward dynamic where the candidate is eager to convey their strengths and the interviewer wants to qualify the “fit” of the applicant. And yet, far too often, the output of the interview is , “I liked them,” or,
“I don’t think they are a fit.”

Given the massive importance of hiring the right people, screening for the right skills, and making the best use of the time consuming interview process it really pays think about how best to evaluate talent. Structured, applied interviewing moves the interview away from conversational skills and the serial recounting of someone’s background to a focus on the specific skills that are relevant to the hire in question.

For each department, I encourage start-up teams to jointly develop a set of questions, case studies, and applied examples of the skills in question. Then train each interviewer in how to best ask the questions and use the structured material. Group evaluations can then center on a common framework and a targeted output. For example, for engineers the interview could center of logic and coding tests, for VP sales on forecasting methodologies, CRM systems of choice, pipeline and sales force management…In my case here at Hummer Winblad, the team asked me to present my thoughts on the future of the software industry, in a one hour presentation, to the full partnership. My ability to present, articulate a thesis, and provide a framework for analysis were made transparent and the final evaluation allowed for skills and cultural fit to be taken into account.

After interview-day dinners can help with the cultural fit questions, however, for the scheduled interviews I suggest avoiding the conversational approach for a vetted, structured approach that helps make the interviewing process more productive in terms of both time and results.

People, after all, are the most input into any growing business.


  1. Will:
    I think it is also temendously important to put as much emphasis on following up thoroughly with references as it is to have a structured approach to the inveterview. Also, LinkedIn has now created a wonderful resource for performing back channel references on candidates because the Valley is such a small place and LinkedIn makes it so easy to see who you may know in common.

  2. You could reward the interviewer with a gift or bonus after a year. It should be tied somehow to the new hires performance evaluation. It is one way to solve principal-agent problem in the interview process.