How to Narrow Down Your Job Candidates

December 13, 2012

3:00 pm

This is the second part in a two-part series on hiring. Read the first part here: “Hiring is a Dog from Hell.” 

Having a huge pipeline of candidates can almost be as bad as having little to no pipeline. Interviews can be a massive time-suck to you and your team. The secret to filtering down your pipeline is to move quickly and efficiently and to not rope in other members of the team until you feel pretty good about someone.

Also remember that, in our current talent climate, you need to sell candidates on your startup just as hard as they need to sell you on their mad skills.

For example, here is the sequence of events I followed in whittling down my developer pipeline:

1. Quick Glance. Take a very quick look at their LinkedIn, GitHub, or (if absolutely necessary) resume. Look for relevant projects, languages, technologies. Make sure they haven’t spent their entire career in corporate or government hell. (Quick side note: resumes are outdated. Especially when it comes to developers. LinkedIn profiles, GitHub profiles, and/or websites and portfolios are where it’s at. If a developer led with her or his resume, I tended to think less of them. I also don’t think I ended up hiring any of the candidates whose resumes I did look at.)

2. Email Screen. For anyone who makes it past the quick glance, shoot them an email asking for URLs to apps they have built and/or GitHub projects they have participated in. Also ask about hackathons and the resulting apps or projects; hackathon participation is a very, very, very good sign. You are looking for a good mix of devices, technologies, languages, or all of the above. Review what they send you.

3. Phone Interview. Talk to them on the phone for no longer than 15 minutes. Be very disciplined about the stop time. Your goal here is to a) sell them on your startup (or they will bow out of the process); b) gauge their personality; and c) ascertain whether they were completely full of shit in #1 or #2 above. If you can, challenge them on something during the phone interview. Even if you aren’t sure or think you may be wrong, take a stance. See how they react. This is a good way to smoke out the assholes and the prima donnas. The phone interview is also a good place to broach the subject of compensation. Better to find out now whether they’re willing to defer some of their salary or stock.

4. Face-to-Face Interviews. Be very, very, very strict about who makes it through to this. At Speek, we block off an hour or more for you and some key people from the team, to spend 15-30 minutes one-on-one with the candidate. My interviewers were me, Virginia Lee (from the community team – focused on personality), Jeff Ritenburg (developer – technical deep dive), and John Bracken (CEO – Speek business model, roadmap, our general level of awesomeness).

Conclusion

You need to approach hiring the same way you approach sales, business development, and fundraising. It’s a numbers game. You’re going to have to kiss a bunch of toads. The secret is to build yourself a solid pipeline and quickly get to the point where you’re spending your time on the truly promising leads.

Startups live or die based on the level of talent they hire. If you’re a startup founder, or aspiring startup founder, you’re probably great at a few things already. It may be sales, it may be business development, it may be coding. No matter what it is, you’ll have to get great fast at hiring talent. I hope my advice above helps you on your way.

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Danny Boice is the CTO of Speek - a 500 Startups-funded startup that lets users do conference calls with a simple link (speek.com/YourName) rather than using phone numbers and PINs. A serial startup/technology entrepreneur and executive, Danny started his career as a software engineer working for startups like Network Solutions and MusicMaker.com in the 90′s. You can find Danny on Twitter @DannyBoice.

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