95% of conversations between founders and managers in Tech revolve around how hard it is for them to attract and retain top talent.¹ It is fashionable to commiserate about the tussle for talent. Plus it is objectively hard to hire 10x people and keep them happily engaged for the long haul.
But all hope is not lost. During my tenure at great companies like Google, Facebook, Intuit & Aleph, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews.² I’m here to tell you about a hack that will give you an unfair advantage and help you hire high output people better and faster than your opponents can hire them away.
The trick is to be so good at interviewing that you out-hire the chumps at Amazon and Facebook³. But to fully explain, I’m going to have to ask you to connect with your inner-MBA and picture a 2-by-2: on the X axis is plotted how good a person is at Interviewing (which is a skill, and a game-able skill at that). On the Y axis is how good they are at actually working, doing whatever it is you’re hiring them to do. I’ve plotted this 2 by 2 for you above.
To make sure we understand — the up-and-to-the-right of this quadrant is people who are good at both working and interviewing (of course they are good at it to different extends — there can be many dots scattered there).
Now that we have the lay of the land straight, let’s look at the four quadrants. If you interview often enough, you are bound to run into all four types.⁴
The Quadrant of Disaster (Good at Interviewing, Bad at Working)
People who are good at interviewing but bad at the actual work are an unmitigated disaster. Google can afford to hire them (just) and offload them later. You can’t. You have to be super vigilant about keeping them away. The more you make the interview practical and hands-on, by working on a micro-problem that represents the real work the candidate will have to excel at, the better. I’m also a big fan of trial periods, and references. Some combinations of these can help you avoid disaster, which you *must* do.
On to the next group:
The Quadrant of Irrelevance (Bad at both)
Now this one’s easy. These are the interviews you will cut short, going directly to the cubicle of whoever did the screening for that candidate. They really shouldn’t have gotten as far as an interview in the first place.
On the plus side, there is little chance you’ll hire them, so all you’ve lost is how long it took you to place this person squarely in the bottom left quadrant.
The Quadrant of Value (Bad at Interviewing, Good at Working)
This group is the point of the whole exercise.
Here you’ll find an extraordinary software engineer who is just not that adept at answering situational questions, or simply didn’t take the time to prepare in a very systematic way.
Now you may be tempted to raise all kinds of objections: shouldn’t we worry that they didn’t prepare? or will their poor communications skills at the interview hamper their work in the collaborative environment we all surely encourage in our teams? and so on and so on.
Yes. OK. Maybe. That’s not the point. These candidates can do well in the role. You can think of them as value stocks. It’s not about finding their faults. It’s about the kernel of ability that you can recognise in them. They may not have everything but that’s not a bad thing. If they had everything — they’d be in the next quadrant.
The Quadrant of Entitlement (Good at both)
Here we find superstars who are supremely skilled. They are very good at their job, and they are very good at communicating about it and answering questions that start with: “Tell me about a time when…”.
You want to hire them. But so does everyone else. They found time to interview with you wedged between getting offers from two or three strategic over-payers. If you can get them and keep them, say because they fell in love with your earth-shattering mission — great! But if not, they’ll just take the offer you can’t possibly match.
So now you understand why you’re better off hunting for talent in the quadrant of value, if you can. Let’s talk about how you do that.
How to Interview for Value
In order to hack the system, you must become exceptionally good at interviewing, good enough to tell the difference between someone who just interviews poorly, and someone who is not good enough. There are several tricks to do that: Ask smarter questions. Beat the “Tell me about a time when” crowd. Follow up well if the first answer is not satisfactory. Draw out introverts. Find a way to talk to the person their way.
Unfortunately there is no magic trick to becoming a sufficiently penetrating interviewer to be able to tell. But the same techniques you need anyway to filter out Disaster quadrant candidates, will also come in handy here. Have them do an exercise and sit with them while they do it. Put them on trial. Give them a project as a contractor. See what happens.
Above all, when you exit an interview, picture the 2-by-2. Try to place the candidate in the right quadrant, and if they are in the quadrant of value, pounce to hire them. In all likelihood you will win yourself a long-term high performer.
1. Also, 95% of confidently quotes statistics are made up on the spot.
2. Mostly for product manager, but also many engineers, tech leads, managers, data scientist and even the odd biz dev.
3. They are of course not chumps. They just don’t have to hustle like you do.
4. Although not in equal amounts — any decent screening process will filter out most people from the bottom left side.
This article originally appeared on Hackernoon.
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