Ask another founder to join the interview. That’s the punchline because when you start hiring in a startup, there are two factors you can count on. It will be done in a bubble, and there will be a time constraint.
These two factors have a strange way of reinforcing each other. As a consequence, additional and unnecessary pressure is put on the founders making the hiring decision.
I think there’s a way to short circuit this issue. And I’ve been working with some founder friends to test the hypothesis that experienced founders can help hiring founders to identify and prevent a bad hiring decision by being part of the hiring process.
Practically this means joining late-stage interviews to ask one or two different questions and add a different perspective on the candidate. More on that later.
Hiring plans are considered best practice in startups. In fact, they are a requirement for most seasoned early stage investors. Unfortunately, most hiring processes start after founders realise they need a skillset.
A short time later the role description is drafted by the founder(s). And if the role is new to the business, there is a good chance the role description is copied and evolved from one they found online.
Job board listings return a mixed bag of candidates, but like most things in a startup, the founder believes they are running out of time, so they create a shortlist and soon after the interview process starts.
This is relatively typical in startup hiring.
And even if the founder involves other team members in the interviews, the process remains nonetheless insular. The factor that compounds this issue is the desire for the decision to be made quickly and efficiently.
Talent makes or breaks companies.
This ‘heads down and get it done’ approach has catastrophic potential. One bad hire can bring a company to its knees. I’ve been there, and it’s an episode I wouldn’t wish on any entrepreneur.
Increasing your interview luck surface area
When a candidate looks great on paper, it’s difficult not to think (or hope) that they might be the one. But this bias can result in founders looking for what they want to see when it comes to the interview process.
Speaking from experience, I used to overlook or trade-off qualities that were previously non-negotiable in favour of making a quick hire and hoping they would work out.
Increasing your interview luck surface area means finding ways to ensure you arrive a high-quality YES or NO.
First-time founders or those with small teams may not have the depth of experience needed to help identify and hire quality candidates. Similarly, they might not have board members that they can introduce into the hiring process to get a second opinion.
I have an experienced team and a board who I can ask to join the hiring process yet I still apply the following advice: Ask another founder to enter the interview process.
This means asking a friend who is also a founder to join late stage interviews with you. Ask them to act as a colleague. Give them a title if need be for the purposes of the call with a prospective hire.
They inevitably ask different questions, pick up on different cues and have a different set of biases. These are good things. But possibly the most important benefit is that as a friend who wants to see you succeed and as a founder who has been there before, they are very likely to speak truth to power.
They will tell you point blank if they see a red flag in the candidate. They will also call you out if they see you turning a blind eye or trading off value or quality that they know will cause grief.
And this can only increase the likelihood or you arriving a high-quality YES or NO.
The quid pro quo
Ask a founder friend to sign up to doing three late-stage interviews with you. And offer to do the same in return.
It is a simple trade and each amount of time provided should be valued. That means that the founder friend is only called into late-stage interviews, not the first one.
It also means scheduling the meetings, so it’s convenient for the founder friend to attend. Having them dial in is ideal. It’s an interesting test to see how well they handle a mix of in person and online conversations.
One last thing…
No one has a perfect hiring record, and the cost of getting hiring wrong can be immense. Increase your interview luck surface area by introducing a founder friend into the late stage interview mix. They don’t necessarily need to be a seasoned entrepreneur, but they do need to be outside of your business.
Using this process has already saved me from making one hiring mistake, and I hope it helps you too.
And if you don’t have any founder friends, get networking. A strong community of founders is worth its weight in gold.