The Only 3 Answers You Need When Interviewing A Potential Hire

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Searching for a new approach to hire people that are the right fit for the job and your startup? You've just found it! Find out what questions to ask potential hires to pick the one you're looking for.

If you’re preparing to interview someone who wants to join your startup you can find lots of helpful advice on what questions to ask them. Just google “questions to ask an employee in an interview” – and you’ll get loads of options: “top 25 questions to ask a potential hire”, “10 crucial questions” – even “14 ways to identify a toxic employee!”

One thing is certain – hire a great person and your startup accelerates.
Hire the wrong person and your life gets a whole lot more complicated.

There are obviously lots of questions you can ask – but really you only need three answers. So every question you do choose to ask should help you move closer to one of these three answers. If not then you haven’t structured your interview and you’re wasting everybody’s time.

So what are the answers you’re looking for – and how do you get to them?

#1: Does this person want the job?

Sounds so obvious of course. But if you ask them the question directly you’ll only get one answer.
So construct open ended questions that help you get a feel for how much the person you are talking to is driven by what you are doing.

Why are you here?” is a good open ended one. If your interviewee starts by telling you how bad their current employer is, or how bored they are in their role, how they should have been promoted before – well maybe they just want another job. Not necessarily your job.

What do you know about us?” is another. If they just repeat what they’ve read on the website – well that’s good. Not great. If they tell you that they’ve spoken to one of your customers, or asked one of your colleagues for some information, or signed up for one of your products – well there’s some evidence of initiative and desire. If they haven’t even looked at your website by the way…keep the interview very short.

#2: Can they do the job?

Again it sounds so obvious. But lots of hiring managers look at a person’s CV and company background and start to make assumptions – based on what they want to hear. Here specific questions are what is needed. Often a person will have been part of a big project – you need to understand what they did themselves. What were they actually responsible for and how they managed it and what skills they learnt.

One method is SOARA – which stands for Situation, Opportunity, Analysis, Results and Achievement. Pick a specific event from their CV and ask them to go through these areas – as far as they were concerned individually (what was their individual situation at the beginning of the project, what was the opportunity they could influence, what was the analysis they made of the situation, what results were they personally responsible for etc.). Often the person you are talking to will start saying “we” did this and “we” did that. What matters here is their individual involvement – so keep on drilling until you know what they personally contributed and learnt.

#3: Will they fit in?

This isn’t about age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality or anything like that. This answer is all about the mindset of the person you are talking to. A startup is a fragile animal. It thrives on enthusiasm and shared goals and values. Your team needs to work.

You may well find someone who has years of exactly the right experience (answer 2). They could definitely do the job. But if they need three people to support them (because that’s what they had in their previous company) or if they are not used to remote working like the rest of your team, or if they only work to one process and sometimes your team has to improvise…then they’re not the right hire for you. Again open questions really help here with understanding better who that person is. I have two favourites that I always save until the end of an interview:

  • What’s the hardest thing that you’ve ever had to do?
  • What is the thing you are most proud of?

Both of them really help you in understanding what things matter to that person. Where they place their values and what drives them. There are no right or wrong answers here – just indications on how that person might work with the rest of your team. It matters.

One last thing. Of all three answers – the one that matters the most is the first one. You can have the right fit and the right experience – but if the person you hire doesn’t want your job then you don’t want them.



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Photo credit: floodllama via Visual Hunt / CC BY