How to interview and evaluate candidates for startup jobs

How to interview and evaluate candidates for startup jobs

The ultimate guide to interviews and candidate evaluations for growing startups.

November 4, 2021
 Min Read

It was about 60 minutes before my first phone interview. My life was becoming increasingly crazy because, well, startups are crazy, and our startup was doing well, which meant it was becoming crazier. More customers, more money, more problems. We needed an ops person badly because I didn’t have enough time, and we needed more structure and support if we wanted to keep growing. Okay, one hour until showtime; thank god for the internet. I read five blog posts about what makes a great ops manager, visited a half dozen sites looking for interview questions, and 10 minutes before my first call had a semblance of a plan, if you can even call it that. “I’ll just talk to them. Tell them about our company, ask about their background, and maybe ask a couple of these questions if we can’t keep a good conversation going.”

So what happened? I had some conversations. Some were good, some were bad, some were awkward. Some people made it to the next interview round, where I went through a similar exercise: procrastinated, came up with a marginal plan, and just shuffled on through. Eventually, we hired someone that we really liked and thought could do the job well. And, a month later, it was Groundhog Day for another position.

I’ve talked with many managers, founders, and even recruiters, and I know my story is not unique. If you’ve hired or even helped out by being an interviewer, I’m guessing you can recall a similar story or at least similar feelings. Until recently, despite knowing how important it was, I rarely felt confident about what our hiring process should look like, how I could get the most out of my time with candidates, or if the interviews we were running led to the best hires. Now, looking back, I know I could have done better. I could have designed an objectively better hiring process that led to better hires. Interviews should have been more candidate-friendly and could have given me more insight and data to make good decisions. We might have reduced the unintentional biases that can creep into a hiring process if you’re not careful. I could have, but it would have been hard. Hard because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and hard because I was swamped, startups are crazy, and hiring is tough.

I wrote this guide as a sort of Cliff Notes for interviewing and evaluating candidates for startup jobs. It’s what I wish I had known going in. It would have saved me a ton of time, turned haphazard planning into good plans, and yielded better hiring decisions. It would have been more fair, equitable, and friendly to the candidates who invested their time interviewing with my company. For this guide, I assume that you’re hiring for a startup job, you have interested candidates, and you want to run a great interview process — one that keeps candidates engaged, helps you vet candidates and helps them vet you, and gives you your best shot at making a great hire.

Some great resources have covered this or similar topics (like hiring at big companies) that I’ll include throughout the guide. Still, I wanted to mention a couple of great resources in case you’re interested:

This guide ended up being quite lengthy, and I ended up re-writing it a couple of times to make it a bit easier to jump around and find the specific information you might be seeking. It may make sense to give the whole guide a read and then dive back into the areas that will serve you best. The reality is that every startup and job is unique (a snowflake). You should tailor your interviews to understand how effective and successful a candidate will be in that job. So, it follows that every interview process should be a little different. I hope that this guide can help hiring managers and interviewers create a great hiring process or tweak an existing plan to take it to the next level. Here’s a quick rundown of the areas I’ll cover:

Before you start interviewing

  1. Why is hiring at startups hard? How is hiring at startups different?
  2. What skills are must-haves, important, or bonuses?
  3. What’s a hiring plan? Do I need a hiring plan? How do I build a hiring plan?
  4. What’s a hiring rubric? Do I need a hiring rubric?
  5. Who should participate in our interview and why?
  6. What’s a screening interview, and how is it different from a regular interview?
  7. Outside of interviews, what else should I have candidates do? An exercise, homework, tests?
  8. Should I tell candidates the questions I’m planning to ask in the interview?

During interviews

  1. How do I run an effective interview?
  2. What should I ask in my interview?
  3. What questions should I avoid when interviewing candidates?
  4. How can I make sure candidates have a good experience when they interview with me?
  5. How do I reduce bias when interviewing candidates?
  6. What makes a good remote job interview?

After interviews

  1. How do I evaluate a candidate after an interview?
  2. How should I compare multiple candidates?
  3. How do I know if I should move a candidate to the next round?
  4. What’s an interview debrief, and when should I do it?
  5. The end game: how do I make an offer and seal the deal with a candidate?

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Before you start interviewing

Why is hiring at startups hard? How is hiring at startups different?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that make hiring at startups challenging, but knowing what these things are can make them a bit easier to overcome and can help you tweak how you hire based on where you are as a company.

So, why is hiring at startups hard? How much time do you have?

  • Startups aren’t well-known brands. That means you can’t just post a job and expect people to find it and apply. You need to pitch your company and sell the job in a way a more established company doesn’t need to. You’ll likely need to post your jobs in places where “startup people“ hang out, like Angelist, and need to engage in directly reaching out to passive candidates, people who may not be looking for a job.
  • Startups are resource-constrained. That ends up meaning a few things. For one, if you are the hiring manager, you can expect to be doing most of the work involved in hiring yourself while you do whatever your full-time job is. There may not be an HR person or internal recruiter to help you or even policies that say what you should or shouldn’t do. Second, cash is often a scarce resource. The less funding your startup has, the more likely compensation packages will have less cash (lower salary and low or no bonus) and more equity (potentially valuable or worthless ownership stakes in the company). Finally, anyone you hire will be resource-constrained, so when creating your candidate profile, it’s typically worth looking for self-starters and problem solvers who won’t be held back by a lack of tools, systems, or processes.
  • Startups are chaotic and quickly changing. Sometimes this can make pitching a company to prospective candidates even harder or make a job less attractive to candidates seeking stability. Therefore, it’s often beneficial to seek candidates that over-index on open-mindedness and adaptability. Some people shun the chaos, while others thrive in it.
  • Startups are small. That means that each hire can conceivably change your culture, especially in the early days, making each hire high-stakes. You’ll want to be especially careful about who you hire to ensure that you create the culture you want and that you don’t accidentally make hiring even harder down the road. One big pitfall startups often make is not thinking about diversity early enough or only thinking about diversity and not acting on diversity goals. Holding yourself accountable to diversity goals early on will make your company much more attractive to people of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and gender identities as you grow.

It’s not all bad news, though! Startups also offer an amazing opportunity to grow. A massive draw for candidates is that with the chaos, uncertainty and under-resourcing comes the chance to take on more significant responsibilities and learn and grow with your company. That’s huge. Make sure you’re clear in your job descriptions not just what candidates will do but what they’ll learn and what unique opportunities they’ll have that they likely wouldn’t at a larger, more bureaucratic company.

What skills are must-haves, important, or bonuses?

Understanding what skills a person will need to succeed in a job is the first and maybe most important thing you need to figure out before jumping into an interview (or even writing a job description). When you’re thinking about the skills your hire will need, it’s helpful to peer through the lenses of the job, the team, and the company. Skills like initiative, open-mindedness, and grit might be critical because you’re a startup (these may not be typical for the same job at a larger company). You’ll also want to consider that skills come in many different flavors: personal skills, technical skills, and other skill-like things (knowledge, abilities, values, etc.). Personal skills tend to be foundational and transferable. Technical skills tend to be nuanced and learnable. You’ll probably need a combination of skill types, but note that the more technical skills you require, the smaller your candidate pool will be. Don’t unnecessarily constrain your candidate pool by including skills that an otherwise capable candidate could quickly learn on the job.

To that end, it helps to think about skills in three categories: must-have skills, important skills, or bonus skills. Simply put, must-have skills are skills that a candidate must have to succeed in the job. Important skills will make a candidate more likely to succeed in the job, but you could also do without them, compensate with other skills, or train for them. Bonus skills aren’t required but could give the candidate a leg up or help you or your team in other ways. Your must-have skills should appear prominently in your job description and be the main subject of your interviews (by asking questions geared at assessing these skills). Your hiring process should identify people who have your must-have skills and qualify those skills through your interviews (or other assessments).

Although getting signal on a candidate’s skills is critical, hiring is about alignment at multiple levels. That’s why growing startups like Gusto evaluate candidates on traits beyond functional skills, such as motivation and values. Exploring these traits will provide better signal around how a candidate matches up with the company’s mission and culture.

What’s a hiring plan? Do I need a hiring plan? How do I build a hiring plan?

A hiring plan is the set of steps that an interview team will go through (such as recruiter screen, interviews, coding test, etc.) to vet candidates and ultimately make a hiring decision. It typically starts with an application and ends with an accepted offer but the full process can take many forms depending on the job and company. A hiring plan gives structure and consistency to the hiring process, keeping interviewers organized, evaluation fair, and candidates informed and prepared—helpful for busy leaders of startups!

hiring plan

A typical startup hiring plan might include:

  • A simple application asking for the candidate’s resume and contact information
  • Application review by the hiring manager, someone currently holding the position, an HR rep, and/or a recruiter
  • A screening interview to quickly vet the candidate's background and interest, better understand what the candidate is looking for, and answer burning questions that the candidate might have.
  • An interview or set of interviews assessing the most critical job-related skills and value alignment
  • A verbal offer, followed by a written offer, followed by a celebration

The hiring plan above might look overwhelming if you've never written it all out or might look overly simplistic if you're hiring for a highly technical role. However, keep in mind:

  • At each stage, you will have candidates exiting your hiring process, either because they don’t meet your qualifications or because your job doesn’t meet their needs;
  • Each step of the hiring plan should give you more signal on the candidate and whether their skills, values, and needs line up with your job; and
  • Once you have a basic structure, you can reuse it as a starting point for future hiring plans for similar roles.

What’s a hiring rubric? Do I need a hiring rubric?

A hiring rubric is a set of criteria that you’ll use to evaluate potential hires and make a hiring decision. A hiring rubric typically includes a combination of skills and values that you’d like your candidates to possess. Your hiring rubric should also have a scale with meaningful, defined anchors that will help you rate candidates for each skill. A hiring rubric may also include a scoring system that allows you to calculate a total score for each candidate. This could simply be adding up the ratings for each skill or a more complex formula that gives more weight to essential attributes. Ideally, you validate that your scores relate to job performance across a set of hires.

Creating a hiring rubric is a great exercise to help you organize your thoughts around what matters before evaluating candidates. Doing so helps to ensure you and your hiring team stay objective, unemotional, and unbiased through a hiring process.

Whatever you call it, having a well-thought-out and fair process to evaluate candidates is critical to making good hiring decisions. So, do you need a hiring rubric? Yes, you probably do! If you're working with WhoCo's recruiting team, we'll help you create a hiring rubric behind the scenes and go a step further by helping you create a purpose-built interview plan.

Who should participate in your interview and why?

It’s crucial to involve your team in the hiring process to drive good hiring decisions, give candidates a realistic preview of their future team, and gain buy-in before a new employee starts. Here are some tips for who to include:

  • Include people who are well suited to evaluate the most critical skills for the job.
  • Include people who will represent your company well and be able to answer candidates’ questions.
  • Include people who will work with the new hire — this allows candidates to meet their future colleagues and helps the team buy-in early on hiring decisions.
  • Include a diverse group of people to make sure your hiring process is as inclusive as possible—vital if you are trying to increase diversity and inclusion across your company or team.
  • To keep evaluation consistent, be consistent with who you include in each interview step: the same interviewer or interviewers should conduct a given interview.

What’s a screening interview, and how is it different from a regular interview?

A screening interview is typically the first interview a candidate has with a company. It quickly qualifies the candidate for or eliminates them from further evaluation so that no one is wasting their time. Here are some key things to know about screening interviews:

  • Screening interviews are typically done over the phone by the hiring manager or a recruiter and last 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Especially for startups, but even for larger companies, the screener will typically spend some time selling the candidate on the company or role.
  • It’s common for the screeners to ask candidates to walk through their background to get a more detailed view of their experience and skills. If specific experiences are more relevant, it may make sense to focus the candidate's attention there.
  • While you don’t have a ton of time, if there are mission-critical skills, certification, or education requirements, it’s worth verifying required qualifications or posing a question or two to get an early read on the candidate’s skills or experience in these areas.
  • Use the time to get signal on the candidate’s 1) interest in the job, including its responsibilities or objectives, and 2) expectations about compensation. If you don’t disclose compensation in your job description, this is a good time to align with candidates.

A screening interview is still a structured interview, but they’re usually relatively short, broad, and shallow. Later interviews should go deeper into the essential skills needed for the job. While a later-stage interview might have several specific questions geared at understanding the candidates’ proficiency or even an exercise that has candidates demonstrate their skills, you can ask one such question in a screening interview.

Outside of interviews, what else should I have candidates do? An exercise, homework, tests?

Interviews are one type of assessment—a way to learn more about your candidates. However, there are many other types of assessments that you can use to understand your candidate’s skills and aptitude for your job, and you might be tempted to run the gamut. Don’t overdo it here, choose assessments that make sense to candidates (they should be able to understand why they’re doing it and how it’s relevant to the job) and don’t overreach—asking candidates to do too much may prompt them to bail altogether. For example, if you ask a candidate to do homework as part of your hiring process, try to confine their work to 2-3 hours at most.

Homework, exercises, and a hybrid of both are increasingly common in startup interviews. Asking candidates to do part of the job helps you see and evaluate their work. The right homework assignment or exercise can even get candidates excited about the job and give you a sample of what they can do that you can objectively evaluate. Homework, in particular, can also allow them to show off what they can do without the added pressure of being in an interview. However, you need to be careful with homework assignments: you will lose candidates if you ask them to do too much. And not having clear evaluation criteria (how you’ll grade the homework) can make the whole exercise a colossal waste of time.

Homework and exercises are part of a bigger family of assessments called “work samples,” literally a sample of someone's work that you can objectively assess as part of your hiring process. In some professions (think designer or open-source developer), candidates will even be able to point you to publicly available samples of their work. In this win-win scenario, candidates don’t need to do extra work and you still get a feel for what they can do.

There are many other types of tests out there, including many skill-specific exercises that may be suitable for your hiring process. But always bear in mind what you ask candidates to do and how it might be perceived. Cognitive tests, which measure a candidate’s cognitive capabilities, such as memory, language, object, and pattern recognition, are a great example. Even though they correlate well with job performance, they often leave candidates with a bad taste in their mouth because they don’t see how those questions are relevant.

Should I tell candidates the questions I’m planning to ask in the interview?

Simply put, yes. We think you should be transparent with candidates about what you plan to ask them in the interview. Why? Glad you asked.

  • It will set you apart from 99.99% of other startups and companies (in a good way).
  • Candidates will love you for allowing them to prepare.
  • Competent candidates will prepare, and they will put their best foot forward.
  • You’ll reduce anxiety for both you and the candidate.
  • Most jobs allow people time and space to think, so letting candidates prepare gives a more realistic picture of what you could expect from the candidate if hired.

During the interview

How do I run an effective interview?

Getting good at running interviews is a skill you cultivate with experience and time, but it’s still helpful to start with a solid model. Here are my top tips for running an effective interview:

  • Carefully budget your time. Dedicate 10 minutes to introductions at the beginning and 10 minutes for candidate questions at the end. The middle chunk is your interview: 10 minutes if you schedule a half hour or 40 for an hour.
  • Go into the interview with a plan of what you will ask. Ideally, you’ve been assigned several skills by the hiring manager that you feel capable of assessing and have questions related to these skills that you will ask each candidate you interview.
  • During the interview, be a good listener and keep the conversation moving. Don’t worry about assessing the candidate until the interview is over. Also—and I hope this goes without saying—eliminate distractions. Close Slack, Messenger, email, and other things that might divert your attention. Maintain eye contact with the candidate, ask thoughtful follow-up questions, and stay engaged with the candidate to help put them at ease and ensure you get the most out of the conversation.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask,“what do you mean?” or “can you explain that in more detail?” Especially when they’re answering critical questions, you must understand their answers and the depth of their knowledge or skills.
  • Taking notes is a great idea to help you remember the key points of a candidate's answers. Even if it seems obvious, it’s nice to let candidates know that you’ll be taking notes so that they know you’re paying attention and not sending emails.
  • Don’t forget that you’re selling the job, too, especially if you’re at a startup or trying to fill a competitive role (like Senior Software Engineer). Candidates look for signals that your startup is doing something exciting, that it’s on a good trajectory, that the team will be fun and interesting to work with, that they’ll learn new skills, take on important responsibilities, and much more.

What should I ask in my interview?

The interview is your opportunity to understand if a candidate has the skills and values to succeed in the job, so ask questions that help you assess that. Since each job and company is different, what you ask will depend on the job and the company you’re hiring for.

Interview question

Questions about a candidate's background help you sketch in their experience. And a candidate's questions to you help them decide whether or not to stay in the process. But the most critical interview questions will be geared toward the skills needed to do the job. Three types of questions will help you here:

  • Behavioral questions ask candidates to describe how they employed their skills to address a situation. These are a great way to understand how a candidate has previously used a skill.
  • Situational or hypothetical questions can show a candidate's thought process and how they would approach a specific situation. For example, for a given scenario, how would you do ____?
  • A simple exercise mirrors work they would do if hired and requires them to flex some of the job’s critical skills. This is essentially integrating a work sample into a standard interview.

What questions should I avoid when interviewing candidates?

Almost as important as what you should ask is what interview questions you should avoid like the plague. Here’s a quick rundown/checklist.

  • Avoid brainteasers and other questions that generally aren’t related to the job.
  • Avoid trick questions—remember you’re not trying to dupe candidates; you’re trying to understand their skills.
  • Avoid questions that are limited in scope.
  • Avoid questions that may be inadvertently discriminatory (the EEOC provides guidance for you on this one here).

How can I make sure candidates have a good experience when they interview with me?

Interviews naturally make people nervous. To ensure a good interview experience, you can make a conscious effort to reduce candidates’ anxiety—this can and should start well before the actual interview and continue after.

  • Make sure the candidate knows what to expect and can prepare. Feeling prepared is one of the best ways to reduce interview anxiety. Enable that by being transparent with your interview process and interview questions and generally over-communicating. Also, the more prepared candidates are, the more likely they are to feel that the interview is fair and that they can be successful.
  • Be positive, welcoming, and empathic. Remember, interviewing is generally NOT fun for candidates. However, being polite, warm, and understanding, can ensure that candidates’ time with you is positive.
  • Make an effort to connect with the candidate right away. If this is your first meeting, introducing yourself is a great place to start, followed by asking the candidate about their background.
  • Be respectful and thankful for the candidate’s time. Candidates who elect to interview with you invest their time and energy—you should be grateful for that. You can thank candidates at the start of the interview, at the end, or both, and if candidates send you a thank you email, be sure to reciprocate.

How do I reduce bias when interviewing candidates?

Bias is human, but it still sucks, and it’s no excuse for running a biased interview process. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure you address some of the most common sources of bias in interviews:

  • Give every candidate the same information and the same opportunity to prepare.
  • Stick to a structured interview focused on job related-skills, asking each candidate the same set of questions.
  • Keep an open mind during the interview—during the interview, your role is to collect information. Only afterward should you assess the candidate.
  • Acknowledge your biases (there are plenty to consider)! Bringing awareness to your own biases can help you view candidates more objectively.
  • Include more than one person in your interview and, ideally, people who are different from you. That allows the candidate to meet more people but also provides another perspective when assessing the candidate.
  • Avoid inadvertently asking discriminatory questions (step one: knowing what these are).

Keep in mind that how and where you market your job opening and how you choose who to invite to interviews can often be an even more significant source of bias, and there is much you can and should do to address bias in sourcing and selection.

What makes a good remote job interview?

Remote interviews are the new normal. If your company is hiring remote workers, or even if you’re just trying to cut down on travel and scheduling logistics, you’re likely running interviews remotely. While much of the advice on running a good interview also applies to running a good remote interview, remote interviewing is a different beast. With in-person interviews, the candidate gets to see and experience your office, meet other teammates in passing, and have an interview filled with eye contact and devoid of unfortunate audio issues. These things help you and the candidate connect and give the candidate a richer sense of what it’d be like to work at your company. While a remote interview may lack these soft elements, there are several things you can do to make sure your remote interviews still go off without a hitch and give candidates a flavor for life at your company:

Get the basics right

  • Make it clear when you set up the interview if it’ll be by phone, audio only, or video. It can be awkward if some people are on video and others are not. That goes for the candidate and any team members in the interview.
  • If it’s a video interview, especially if you use an uncommon video conferencing software, give candidates a heads-up and encourage them to make sure they’ve downloaded the software and tested it before the call.
  • Make sure you’ve dressed appropriately and are in a comfortable and quiet spot. Even though you’re not in person, you’ll want to look professional and try to represent the vibe of your company.
  • While you’re probably a video conferencing pro at this point, slowing down your speech, speaking clearly, and pausing more between comments makes it easier to have a more natural conversation—you’ll avoid talking over each other and minimize audio issues.

Level up your remote game

  • Just like in person, a little small talk can help you connect with the candidate and shake out some awkwardness and anxiety before the actual interview begins.
  • Let candidates know you’ll be taking notes. In person, taking paper notes can minimize distractions from your phone or laptop. However, in a video interview, you want to make sure you look at your camera and screen and not down at your notes. If you can manage the delicate balance of eye contact and note taking, physical notes can still work, but if you don’t have a noisy keyboard, consider dedicating a sliver of screen space to your notes app.
  • If technical issues arise, be patient but don’t pretend they don’t exist. Acknowledge if there’s a video or audio lag or a bad connection, and adapt if necessary. Maybe everyone turns their video off if it’s impacting the quality of the audio connection; perhaps you switch to the phone. Be ready to make these decisions if you’re leading the interview, and remember, it’s not a big deal! The key thing is that you have a substantive conversation and get your interview questions answered.
  • Even if your entire interview process is remote or the candidate will be working remotely, it’s still important to give the candidate a strong sense of your company’s culture, habits, and rituals. Be proactive in talking about culture and working habits and if the candidate doesn’t meet their teammates in interviews, consider setting up a quick team meet-and-greet later in the process.

After the interview

How do I evaluate a candidate after an interview?

First, try to evaluate the candidate right away. That is to say, do your assessment immediately after the interview. Consider blocking time right after your interview to get it done. By completing your assessment right away, you ensure that the interview and the candidate's performance are still fresh in your mind. Having notes will help, but the sooner you evaluate the candidate, the more accurate your evaluation will be.

Next, ideally, you were responsible for assessing the candidate on one or more job-related skills. If that’s the case, your goal is to objectively evaluate their skill level. Having predefined skill-level anchors is ideal for objectivity and for normalizing across candidates and interviewers. Having a numeric scale is great, so long as the points on the scale are adequately defined and you and other interviewers use them consistently.

Last, leave any additional comments or thoughts if you have them. If your assessment will be reviewed by the hiring manager, a recruiter, or reviewed as part of a debrief, extra commentary can help qualify your answers, spark further discussions, or identify patterns across interviewers.

How should I compare multiple candidates?

Interview Scorecard

There are likely many people out there that you’d be excited to hire. Being flexible and open-minded as a hiring manager is critical to quickly filling job openings at startups. Looking at multiple viable candidates for your job opening is a great problem to have, but you’ll want to be thoughtful in the process.

  • If you can, try to have multiple candidates advancing through your hiring process at the same time. You want to avoid comparing applicants you know very little about to vetted candidates who have advanced through several rounds.
  • Measure each candidate based on their own merits. Measuring each candidate against your target or ideal candidate allows you to be consistent without pitting people against each other.
  • Before starting your interview process, develop a hiring rubric and a scoring methodology that you can use to objectively assess multiple candidates as your hiring process progresses.

How do I know if I should move a candidate to the next round?

In an ideal world, you would have multiple candidates at the same stage in your interview process. This makes it easier to advance all the strong candidates without worrying if someone better will come along. In the absence of having a group of candidates to choose from, you should advance a candidate if they meet or exceed your expectations, leaning on your job description, hiring rubric, and scorecard as an objective measure. While it can make sense to speed up or slow down a candidate in the process to have multiple candidates to choose from, make sure you are respectful of candidates in the process. Expect to lose candidates if you delay too long or push to move too quickly.

What’s an interview debrief, and when should I do it?

An interview debrief is when interviewers and decision-makers meet to determine whether to advance a candidate to the next round. They are most useful after a candidate completes multiple interviews or other assessments. In a debrief, interviewers share individual assessments and perspectives to help the group develop a more complete picture of the candidate. When does an interview debrief make sense?

  • When you have a panel interviewing the same candidate, a debrief can help you understand the interviewers’ assessments and come to a consensus view.
  • When you have multiple interviews with the same candidate in succession, a debrief can help you quickly gather and process input from all interviewers.
  • Generally, a scheduled debrief will act as a reminder and catalyst for interviewers to provide their assessment or feedback on the candidate. A best practice is not to let interviewers participate in the debrief unless they’ve already submitted feedback. At startups, people are generally very busy, so this alone can make debriefs a great call.
  • Interview debriefs are also a forcing function for making a go/no-go decision on whether the candidate should advance in your process.

The end game: how do I make an offer and seal the deal with a candidate?

You’re not done with your hiring process until a candidate has accepted your offer and is ready to start working. Making a job offer is a critical part of the hiring process, and how you do it can impact how likely the candidate is to accept. Here is what you can do to increase your chances of the candidate accepting your offer:

  • Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss dealbreaker details with candidates. Talking about salary expectations upfront (like in the screening interview) is a good idea, as is directly asking candidates what they’re looking for and if they have any dealbreakers.
  • Your offer should include the official job title, starting salary, bonus (if applicable), and equity (if applicable). You should also be prepared to discuss health benefits, vacation policy, 401K, etc. if they haven’t been covered already or aren’t publicly available on your career page.
  • It’s best to start with a verbal offer of the key terms before putting it in writing. Providing a verbal offer is a great opportunity to sell the role one last time and get the candidate excited.
  • Make it fun and exciting. When making the verbal offer, consider sharing some of the most positive feedback from the interview process or mentioning the impact you think the candidate will make. Especially at a startup, consider having the CEO, a founder, or a leader who was involved in the interview join you for the call.
  • Give the candidate space to ask questions and even negotiate if you have flexibility. Conscientious candidates won’t accept until they have all the information they need.
  • Once the verbal offer is accepted, assuming you have a good offer letter (no landmines!), getting the written offer signed tends to be a formality. However, be prepared to field questions or quickly loop in people about the offer or accompanying documents (e.g., the invention assignment or confidentiality agreement).

Closing thoughts

If you’ve read through this guide, hopefully, you have a great sense of what you should do when planning and running interviews and when evaluating candidates for startup jobs.

So, what shouldn’t you do?

What shouldn’t you do to interview and evaluate candidates, and why?

Please don’t do what I did when I started my journey as a hiring manager. Don’t treat interviews simply as “a conversation.” Don’t go into them without a plan or preparation. Don’t evaluate the candidate based on good or easy conversation. As humans, our social tendencies and, indeed, our biases can quickly lead us down the wrong path—instead of finding the best person for the job we find a person that we like or think we’ll get along with instead. Don’t do that. You’ll regret it later when the person can’t effectively do the job, is underperforming and unhappy, and you are stuck in an uncomfortable position. Hiring mistakes can significantly impact company culture and team dynamics, especially at quickly growing startups and companies. With a more thoughtful, research- and science-backed interviewing process, you’ll make fewer mistakes and set your team and company up for success.

Hopefully, this guide has been helpful! If you’ve got comments or questions I didn’t cover here, you can send us a tweet @thewhocompany or find us on LinkedIn (WhoCo). We’d love to hear from you and continue to make this guide better.

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