Like almost every startup, we had very little, if any, formal process around interviewing in our early days as Sendwithus. Hiring was based on personal interactions, how interviewers felt about interviewees, and answers to the often different questions that were asked of different candidates applying for the same role. And the process was fairly drawn out.
TLDR; the process changed every time we interviewed someone.
When I joined the company, I went through what was probably a familiar experience for anyone who has joined an early-stage startup. I participated in multiple rounds of interviews, I spoke to almost everyone currently employed with the company, and I had no idea what to expect at any given time during my interview process. I think my interviewers probably felt the same way because the role I was interviewing for had not been fully defined. This lack of interview structure is all too common for fast-growing startups where the main focus is on building the product, not on defining processes around support services.
I’m happy to say we now have a well-defined and structured interview process that requires team members to do interview training before interviewing candidates. To get where we are took multiple iterations, a great deal of feedback from candidates and team members, and a lot of research around best practices from some great companies across the world. This is a process that is constantly being evaluated, refined, and tweaked as we grow.
Here is a quick, step-by-step guide to how we structure our interview process to streamline the flow of candidates, keep them up to date, and ensure they have an awesome experience.
Step 1: Build Your Process
It’s important to figure out ahead of time who will be responsible for each stage of the candidate’s journey through your interview process, what touchpoints will happen (and when), and who will own each of them. Most of this will be owned by someone in HR, Recruiting, or by the Hiring Manager, depending on your internal structure, but it is important to have it defined and documented, so everyone understands their responsibilities. There is nothing worse than having a great candidate left in limbo because no one knows who is responsible for the next step. To combat this, we created a Job Post Outline template and a Job Post Checklist that the Hiring Manager and someone on the Operations team builds together, ensuring everything is set up before a job post goes live.
Step 2: Define Your Values
Every company should have a set of values or company-wide principles that they use to define what is important to their office environment and team dynamics. It’s important that these are reflected in some way during the interview process. We have a Hiring Principles questionnaire that all interviewers must complete, along with a role specific form (see below). The Hiring Principles form looks at qualities that are important to our company, like strong communication skills, the ability to learn from failure, and a pool of diverse experiences. This form is standardized which helps combat any interviewer tendency to make decisions based on “gut” reactions.
Step 3: Create Consistency
I know a lot of founders and senior managers who all think they know how to interview because they interview with their “gut”. Stop it. Research shows that interviewers who rely on gut instinct are more likely to hire candidates who are good interviewers but who are not necessarily the best person for the role. To minimize this, create a Role Specific questionnaire that all interviewers are required to complete. This form must focus on questions specific to the role and the candidate’s experience, not “culture” questions. This creates a focal point for your interviewers to build their questions around. We’ve found it helpful for members of the interview panel to have their questions created and divided up in a shared Google doc, so each person knows what they need to focus on.
Creating consistency will also help control interview bias, something we all have and need to constantly battle against. When you have specific questions and structures in place, it is much more difficult for interviewers to exercise their own bias, because they’re forced to think critically about the questions being asked and their answers. Just talking about what biases people need to be aware of helps your team consciously assess their own bias when interviewing candidates.
Step 4: Follow Up
This step may seem like a no brainer but too often I hear from candidates that they either don’t hear back at all after an application or are given an answer weeks after their initial interaction. Candidates deserve to have timely communication from your company regardless of whether they make it to the next stage of your interview process. We aim to respond to all candidates within 48 hours of application or interview. Sometimes this is as simple as an email explaining that we’re still deliberating and will get back with an answer by a specific date.
Building an interview process doesn’t require an Applicant Tracking System or HRIS. We initially built out our process using Google forms and sheets before we decided to invest in an Applicant Tracking System. It was a bit cumbersome and required some effort on my part, but our interview process was streamlined, efficient, and we could move candidates through multiple stages of interviews in a matter of days, where it previously took weeks (even months sometimes).
This final point isn’t really a step but it is something to be aware of: do not hire for cultural fit, hire for cultural add. If your team is all the same, then they will think the same and solve problems the same way. But if they have different experiences, educational backgrounds, and skill sets, then you will solve problems more creatively and often faster.
If you want a diverse team of imaginative and efficient problem solvers who create amazing products for your clients, the first thing you need to do is build structure around your interview process. Without structure, your process is bound to eventually fail, negatively impacting your workplace culture and contributing to employee turnover.