Interviewing Part 2: The Interviewer

After looking at the interview process from the perspective of the interviewee, this post is going to look at things from the other side. Essentially, if you have a position you need to hire for, know that this decision comes with great responsibility. You’re bringing a new a human into the fold of your company (or bringing someone from a different part of the company onto your team), and this often has long-term, meaningful consequences.

First, let me note that when I first get into a managing role, I typically hire people I’ve worked with in the past. It’s the safest way to do things: you have a history with this person, and you already know how they work. So I do my best to bring along my usual crew of contractors: my graphics designer, web developer, booth designer, copy editor/writer, Layer Media, Massive Black, as well as a handful of advertising/branding houses that I rotate through, depending on the project. These are my homies—the people that know how I think when I try to solve marketing problems. If you’re familiar with my past work, you can see that there’s a common thread with the projects I’ve done, and in large part, that’s because I bring along people that work well and can adapt to new situations.

In my experience over recent years, however, I’ve been noticing that some of my longtime team members that have followed me throughout my career might not be the right fit; either their skills have surpassed the needs of the job, or perhaps they’re not particularly excited about the thing I’m working on—or, in some cases, they plateaued, or got too comfortable working with me and expect an easy ride.

This presents an opportunity to find new people with fresh eyes and new ideas about planning and executing, regardless of whether it’s marketing, programming, or creating art and design. But it’s also a bit scary to bring new people into your circle, which is why the interview process is so critical, along with the first three months of work.

I’ve been through a ton of interviews, and I’ve interviewed a lot of people. Every company I’ve worked for had a different process, but the one I’m going to suggest is something I cobbled together that works best for me. It’s perhaps a bit extreme, and might not be the perfect solution for your particular needs, but hear me out!

One of my most important principles in running a project is team cohesion. I can’t overstate how important it is for my employees to get along professionally and work together in a simpatico relationship. (While working for Amazon, I actually got accused of having a “gang mentality” because my team was so closely knitted together… but that’s another story.) I always tell my teams that no job is too small for any of us—if someone is lost in the weeds, we all drop what we’re doing to help that person out. If our assistant needs help stuffing goodie bags for an event, we help them catch up. If the event manager’s travel schedule is crazy, we help hold down the fort for that person in the office, or send out extra help at an event. If the demo team is in need of help to present our ideas to senior staff, we all formulate a plan that no one can poke holes in. Basically, we must have each other’s backs; I can’t stand people playing politics, or people throwing others under the bus to climb their way to the top. I want my team to truly understand what we’re doing, and for each of us to execute our part of the plan and work together with our internal devs to get it done in a timely, high-quality manner.

My interview process involves all of my team members and key people outside my team that this particular position will be working closely with; mostly with the internal devs, sometimes with sales, accounting, or admins. We all take time to meet with the people interviewing for the position, and ask pertinent questions about how they view the industry, product, target customers—and my favorite questions, about how they face challenges and deal with failures. I think you can always tell a person’s grit and gusto by how they failed at something, and what they did with that experience.

After each of us getting time with the interviewee, we gather the data from our cohorts outside the team, and then the whole team sits together and discusses our thoughts both objectively and subjectively. If anyone on the immediate team has a big red flag, it’s an automatic “no”. If anyone on the team has worked with the candidate previously and has negative feedback, we don’t even bring that person in for an interview. We consider whether a person is most qualified, or most passionate, but lacking experience; depending on the situation, budget, and time people have to mentor, we typically choose the person that’s more passionate over the person that has more experience, but is perhaps a bit too jaded.

I’m also a big fan of reference checking. I think it’s important to get the opinions of people’s ex-bosses, but even more so, their ex-teammates, which helps balance out the data we get from the interviewee. That said, I’ve also taken plenty of people onto my team who got bad recs from others; with some digging, you can find out if it was a bad fit either in terms of skills or personality, or if there was some weird political situation. A year back, a project manager I was considering to get transferred to my team at the company was about to get PiPed (Performance Improvement Plan) by her manager so she could be fired. The two most vocal people complaining about her used descriptions like, “too aggressive,” “abrasive,” and “relentless,” but I observed that she conducted herself professionally and felt she performed as well as, if not better than her male counterparts—the gender bias was obvious. I approved her transfer over despite the negative comments, and she did an amazing job with us and flourished—without getting that PiP. So my advice is not to shy away from people who have received negative feedback until you’ve really looked into the why of the situation.

Like I said earlier, it’s often easiest to just keep hiring the same people. And hey—if it works, go for it. But I’ve realized it might be time to look for new perspectives to bring into the mix. When building a team, as a leader it’s your job to inspire loyalty as well—not just for the product and the community, but for you and your team. And it all starts with how you treat the interviewees.

Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t Be a Grumpy Asshole. I know that might be obvious, but when I was very young, I interviewed a young man named Travis Baldree. I was in a bad, bad mood because no one had prepped me for the interview, and generally having a bad day. The first thing I said was, “Why are you here?” SO LAME. I caught myself midway through, but that look on his face is one I’ll never forget! We ended becoming great colleagues and friends, but it was a lifelong lesson about the importance being kind from the start. Which leads to my next tip…

  • Be Prepared. If you’re the person that’s managing this position, make sure you’re involved in writing the job description, and working with your recruiter towards finding the type of person you’re looking for. Make sure the people you pick to help interview for this position know what you’re looking for, and go over key questions before you start bringing people in.

  • Be Kind and Professional. You’re about to meet another human being and ask questions about their work experience. Be empathetic about the plights they’ve been through—especially if they’re harrowing. If they’re being open and honest, they’re telling you these things because they don’t want to repeat the experience.

  • Ask About Their Failures. How did things go wrong? What was the prognosis? What did they do to handle it? How did they take that experience and learn from it?

  • Show Them What They’re Going to Work On. NDA your candidates so you can see how they react to your product/game/tech/thing.

  • Have Them Meet the Team. See how your team members handle each person’s personality, and how the team fits together. Get your coworkers involved in determining their own fates!

  • Be Open. Let candidates know your managing style, how you feel about sick days, vacations, reporting, accountability—all of that. Let them talk to your boss if you have one.

  • Consider Their Careers. Talk to these prospective hires about how you’re going to grow their career within the organization.

  • Be Clear About the Process. End things with information about how the interview/hiring process works, and for the love of Buddha get back to all of your candidates in a timely manner to let them know if they made it to the next steps or not. It is super messed up if you don’t let people know where they stand, and ghosting on candidates is the absolute worst! People are depending on you whether they get the job or not.

  • Give Constructive Feedback. When asked, I always find it valuable to concisely explain why someone didn’t get the job. “We found someone more qualified” is a bit of a cop out answer, so I try to give two examples of why we hired someone else. Sometimes I get a lot of good people, but only one position to fill; in that case I let them know that if another position opens up, I’ll contact them again.

Finding the right fit can be difficult. It’s a blessing to have the budget and resources to build out your team, but it’s also super nerve-racking, time consuming, and sometimes frustrating! So remember to stay positive when going through this process—after all, we’re all just human beings trying to find our fit in this world.

Nice to meet you!