The Person Inside

Hiring, for some of us, is the single hardest and most difficult thing that we’ve ever been asked and/or required to do. The feelings of anxiety can be overwhelming—where does one really start?

Most pressing is the weight and pressure of making the right (or wrong!) hire and possibly making things worse within the current team, business, and culture. Peter Thiel’s memorable words ring strongly in my head every single time I think of hiring:

Don’t fuck the culture.

Peter Thiel

He’s right—every single person that you add to the early-stage team will fundamentally alter and evolve your culture towards one of two (and only two) possible outcomes: Net-positive alignment or net-negative.

You see, when it comes down to it, every person that says “Yes” to the opportunity will bring an assortment of baggage with them that includes past experiences (both positive and negative) as well as their own personality and principles that guide them.

A few of these “elements” will be, if we’re to be honest, generally disagreeable (for whatever reason) but finding someone who you have zero problems with is not only illogical, it’s impossible.

As our parents told us 1,000,000 times: “No one is perfect.” They were so wise.

Rather, the goal is to find someone that, when all is said and done, adds more positive energy to the culture than negative.

These people will naturally create “lift” instead of “drag” for the organization and the ultimately outcause is that they fundamentally raise the bar for everyone and are flexible, malleable, and agreeable enough to align:

via Elon Musk

[At the risk of representing real human beings as arrows, the goal of any company, regardless of size, is to make sure to only add folks to the team who can, with a little bit of coaching and work, find alignment that works.]

And, the only way that I know how to figure that out, especially in the early-stages of interviewing, is to discover the real person inside by simply showing up, asking important and sometimes challenging questions that can reveal how a person really thinks, believes, and behaves.

If you’re able to do this then you and the candidate will leave the conversation feeling like we’ve built the first building blocks of trust that enables the continued growth of our newfound relational equity.

Sometimes I even get encouraging (and much-needed!) feedback that gives me more useful data I need to modify, adapt, and iterate my approach for an even better interview experience with even better results.

Here’s some feedback that I received from one of the candidates from last week’s deluge of interviews:

My hope is that most of my intro calls end up like this! More thoughts via the vlog.

When you sit down and chat with someone new it’s hard to uncover the real person behind the temporary mask, a person with real needs and desires, with real hopes, goals, and dreams.

Job interviews don’t have to feel like job interviews, especially if you intentionally decide to not make them feel that way. And the first chat should definitely index high on emotional engagement, active listening, and a good deal of questions and answers!

Finally, a few personal and internal barometers for success for the first-pass, introductory call:

  1. Did I lose track time when chatting with this candidate? If so, then that’s a very positive sign.
  2. How relaxed am I with this person? Is this requiring more energy than absolutely necessary? Am I literally hot after talking with them (e.g. sweaty palms, wet armpits, etc.) for all the wrong reasons?
  3. Do I want to spend more than the allotted time with them when we hit the agreed upon end time?
  4. Do I get the sense that they like me? Do I like them? Do I feel like they respect me? Do they think that I (can) respect them?
  5. Was there anything obvious offended me or required clarification? Why and what was the resolution(s)?
  6. Was I anxious, at any point in time, when asking specific questions? How open did I feel?
  7. How “cagey” were they with their answers? How vulnerable were they with their responses and did they volunteer more information without prompting?

Admittedly, most of these are hard to pin down and/or qualify, but, in most initial phone calls or screenings you’re not going to have much more information than what they’ve provided you, what you’ve independently “googled,” and then you’re own first-pass experience with them on the call.

At least these are my starting points and I do my best to fill-in the gaps that I identify in my reviews and interview retrospectives.

I want to know the real person inside, just as much as I want each candidate to get a real, authentic taste of who I am too.

And, as far as I can tell, the quicker we can get to this shared understanding and baseline, the better.