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Why your small business needs an interview process

Rob Long
Rob Long

Rob Long is CRO at Workable. He's a former recruiter who writes mostly about hiring best practices.

One of the biggest mistakes made when hiring for a startup is to think that just because you’re small you don’t need a process. If you think “process” means doing things slowly then think again. Get the right tools, remember to hire as a team and you will stay on track. The hiring process is a funnel — you get a lot of applicants, you speak with some of them, you meet a few of them, you hire the one you like best. An efficient filtering process will save you and your candidates time.

Read on for more tips or download the complete startup hiring guide eBook for free.

Pre-Interview Questions

This all starts with the pre-interview questions, the questions you ask a candidate when they apply that will help you decide whether to progress with an applicant. Make sure candidates can sensibly weigh themselves against the requirements. Do you know anyone who will say “no” to the requirement “must be hard working”? Neither do we.

PRO TIP: Get candidates to do an assignment or task related to the job as part of the pre-interview.

Pre-interview questions can only get you so far. They weed out the most inappropriate candidates and give you an insight beyond a basic CV. However, a major factor in your hiring decision will be how well a candidate will fit in with your business. It’s personal and you need to get to know the candidates.

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Screening Assignments / Testing

Ever walked into an interview and known within 30 seconds that the candidate you’re meeting is never going to work out? Sure, most people have been there. The worst thing is that it wastes your time. You can’t just stop the interview after half a minute so you go through the routine and waste an hour of your time. It doesn’t have be that way. An initial phone call or Skype screening conversation will prevent that scenario nine times out of ten.

CVs, pre-screening questions, phone screens, interviews – we use these techniques to use past performance as an indicator of future success. But what if you want to better understand how candidates will actually perform in the job you’re hiring them for? One way of finding out is to get candidates to do an assignment or task related to the job.

Hiring for a customer support associate? Why not test candidates by getting them to answer some hypothetical customer queries.

If you are hiring developers there are online tools, like Codility, which can put developers through their paces so you can see exactly how they code.


Have a plan, don’t just ask the same questions over and over. Take the time to know who you are meeting before you walk in. Not just their name and not just the job title of the role they’re interviewing for. Get to know them a little, check their CV and note some questions in advance.

Interviews shouldn’t slavishly follow a script. There are probably some standard questions you want to ask all candidates, such as whether they’re eligible to work in your territory. But these are just hygiene questions, you have to go further. Ask open questions that encourage a discussion, engage with the candidates’ responses and consider follow up questions you want to ask. If it’s boring it’s not working. There’s nothing worse than the candidate twigging that the interviewer hasn’t read their CV and is just going through the motions: “Tell me about this job, now this job, and now this job…” No-one gets much out of this kind of interview.

Interviews Work Both Ways

When you leave an interview you should have a much better understanding of the candidate’s credentials and suitability. Equally, they should leave knowing a lot more about the role and the company. If you’ve screened your shortlist properly then everyone you interview should be a real contender. Which means it’s worth selling to candidates in interviews. Chances are you’re going to offer them below market rate if you’re an early stage startup. Generally people don’t like getting paid less so you better give them a good reason to be excited.

PRO TIP: Note down personalised questions for candidates before the interview but don’t stick slavishly to the script.

RelatedBest job posting sites to use when hiring for startups

Take A Deep Breath

If you have a niggling feeling that something isn’t right when you’re making an offer don’t rush. Take your time to identify where that niggle comes from. Talk it through with a colleague. Don’t be afraid to ask a candidate to come for another meeting. Chances are if you have a concern, the candidate will be feeling the same and a quick conversation will iron out any problems. In the long term a bit of caution will pay off.

When you’re hiring for a function that you have little or no personal experience of it can be very hard to assess resumes or know what to ask during interviews. You might want to consider bring- ing in some outside help. This doesn’t need to be paid help, it could just be a friend or ex-colleague who can help you out with the skills-based aspects of the hiring process.

Keep It Challenging

This is where you set the bar and show your rigour and ambition. A challenging interview process is a signal to candidates that your company doesn’t do average. This doesn’t have to mean a drawn-out 15-phase interview, even Google are moving away from the huge number of interviews they put candidates through.

PRO TIP: Level the playing field by posing customer support queries for a tool most people are familiar with or can access easily e.g. Facebook.

Taking References

Not everyone believes references from previous employers are useful way in determining future performance. Candidates are unlikely to provide a reference whom they expect to say negative things about them. And many people don’t want to talk badly about someone so even if your candidate was terrible in a past job their reference won’t tell you.

This is not a reason to ignore references, it’s a reason to work harder at getting them right. Get more references. Successful entre- preneur turned VC, Mark Suster, recommends getting at least five including people the candidate didn’t propose. If we assume people are smart enough to gather good references ask yourself “are they glowing?” If not, why not? Ask candidates why they chose the referees they did.

PRO TIP: Get at least 5 references and make sure some of them come from people the candidate hasn’t put forward. Read this

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