Ring Nishioka’s Philosophy On Interviewing

Many of the companies I’m an investor in are hiring a lot of people right now. For a current view, take a look at the Foundry Group jobs page. I’ve interviewed and hired a lot of people over the year and I’ve developed my own perspective and philosophy on the best way to do this. However, I don’t feel like I have all the answers so I asked a few people that I respect a lot (and fit in my definition of VP of People) to weigh in with their thoughts.

Ring Nishioka from BigDoor is up first. I’ve loved working with Ring over the past year as he’s helped grow the BigDoor team from five people when I first invested to the 20 or so people it is today. Ring totally gets it, has a great interviewing philosophy, and also has a fun blog called HRNasty. Enjoy.

Interviewing sets the tone of the culture to everyone that comes into the company.  This is the very first exposure to the company. It can be an effective tool to use to not only set the culture with new hires but to reinforce the culture to existing hires involved during interviews.  If you want a culture of teamwork, reinforce that during the interview process.  If you want a culture of “always closing” reinforce that.  Ring the bell during an interview and let the candidate know you celebrate closers.

I believe that everyone who comes into contact with a candidate should go through interview training.  Even if the person doing the interviewing is a senior person, they should hear from the HR department what the company’s interviewing philosophy is.  Just because they understand the Microsoft interviewing philosophy and conducted interviews there for 10 years doesn’t mean they know how to interview at a small startup, or what that start up is looking for.  Interviewers should understand exactly what the company is looking for in the position, what specific questions need to be asked and how to represent the culture.  If your company uses Behavioral Interviewing, that should be shared.

The candidate should have a consistent experience between interviews.  Interviews hopefully consist of the following:

  • Introduction from the person doing the interview including name, role, and tenure, and what they like about working with the company.
  • Offer of a beverage and the opportunity to use the restroom.
  • Explanation of what will happen during the interview.  (We have some questions for you, I’d like to be able to answer any questions you have at the end, HR will tell you what your next steps are)

When I worked in Corporate America, we would dedicate an entire day to interview training through an interviewing class.  A long time you think?  This is the vehicle that will vet out the folks that you are going to pay 1000’s of dollars a year, maybe 100’s of thousands.  Why wouldn’t you invest a little time into interview training?  This will be way too long for most startups, but again, interview training can reinforce the culture.  We had a lot of exercises including mock interviews in this class.  We wanted folks to complete six mock interviews before letting them loose on our next potential candidate and chasing them to the competition. At BigDoor, I spend about one hour explaining our philosophy and then follow up with candidate specific training.

Even if the candidate is not qualified, you don’t want the candidate walking out of the interview feeling crushed, dumb, or stupid.  Even if they are dumb or stupid you want them to walk out of the interview wanting to work with your company.  Sometimes, when folks are not able to answer an interview question, the person doing the interview feels like they are wasting their time and body language conveys this.  There is nothing worse than feeling put out while going through an interview process.

If the candidate isn’t a fit now, they may be a fit for another position in six months or two years.  You want the candidate feeling like your company is a great place to work and remembering the experience as one of the best, especially if they made it through a few rounds.  You want them telling their friends and family about your company, your openings, your products and especially your team.  Just like we all share are car buying stories, we all share our interview stories.  This is free advertising and the person that you are interviewing probably has friends with similar interests.

Most of our initial interviews are at a local coffee shop.  I am trying to create a situation where the candidate is a little less nervous, and it is a more of a personal atmosphere.  I want to create a personal connection between our company and the candidate.  This isn’t something that most recruiters at the larger companies will do, and can set us apart.  I want to see the best in a candidate; I don’t want to see their “nervous worst.” Some folks will feel like if they aren’t able to perform in a job interview, they won’t perform in the work environment.  I believe that if you have the support of your peers, you know what is expected of you, you will perform better.  You don’t have either of these in a sterile interview room.

  • http://david-noel.com David Noël

    Thanks for sharing this by way of Brad’s blog, Ring! Very insightful.

    We currently conduct a lot of first screens and interviews via Skype (we’re located in Berlin but recruiting globally). Do you have any experience to share to make the experience of a Skype/phone interview as pleasant as possible?

    • http://hrnasty.com HRNasty

      David,
      Thanks for the support.  I like that you conduct a lot of your first interviews via Skype.  I think this is much more personal than over the phone.  I like Skype a lot, I think what can make Skype difficult at times is that the connection can take a few minutes to set up in some cases, and bandwidth can cause connectivity hassles.  I think that most people understand and live with this.  Providing a few extra minutes to trouble shoot the connection can help avoid cutting into the meeting time.  

      The other thing I try to do is just make what the person on the other end is looking at as easy on the eyes as possible.  (yes, I have a face for radio).  A couple of things I try to be aware of when I am on Skype.

      – Shift between looking directly into the camera and looking at the person on the other end will help the person on the other end see you looking at them, vs looking slightly away from them.

      -Position the camera so that it is at the same level as your eyes.  Otherwise the camera is looking “up at your face” vs. directly looking at you.    What the person on the other end sees when the camera is looking up at you is a distorted view.

      -Backing the camera away a bit so that the person on the other end can see more of you than just your face filling up the screen, maybe from the desk height up will help.  It is what you would see if you were sitting in the same room with them and it gives the person on the other end more access to body language which is 60-80% of our communication.

      Hope this helps!

      Ring Nishioka aka HRNasty      

      • http://david-noel.com David Noël

        Thanks for taking the time for such a great and extensive reply, Ring. Very useful (and simple yet valuable) tips. 

  • http://twitter.com/sboldog Sandor Boldog

    Great tips.  It’s nice to see companies work to make the interview process a little less intimidating in order to better see a candidate’s full potential rather than just how they perform under pressure.  One theme I continue to hear though is frustration from a lack of follow-up after the interview.  Many say it’s very difficult to get someone from HR to follow-up, much less provide critique/suggestions so they can improve their chances on future interviews.  As far as company image goes, this may be the most critical step as it is the last impression many candidates are left with.

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree more about the points you make here Ring, specifically the need for interview training.  Amazed at how diverse a position’s role and responsibility is interpreted by different people at the same company.  Everyone should be on the same page in order to make an honest evaluation.  This need is just as important at a startup as it is at the big company.  Difference is amount of time it might take to perform.

    If a little time is spent up front it makes the process easier on both sides of the table and you’re more apt to find the correct candidate efficiently.  One of my best interviewing experiences bears this out – http://bit.ly/gYh8QZ.  This experience continues to be my personal bar for how to do it right.

  • joshua forman

    Thanks for sharing. I have a question. We at Symplified have had what I thought was a good interview process, though a bit time consuming. To hire someone on the professional services team, I would get resumes from many sources (postings, recruiters, and connections). I would then have an initial 1-hour phone call with possible candidates. A lot of our work is done with customers remotely and I felt a phone call was a good way to vet out their phone-ability. There was then a 30-minute technical screen with a technical member of my team (also over the phone). And last a 2.5 hour on-site visit meeting with me, then the team, and then wrap-up with me.

    We have recently contracted with an outside recruiter and I’m trying her process. Which is she does the initial phone interview, and that includes some basic interview questions and the technical screen. She then sends a transcription of that to me. I then decide whether or not to bring them for an in-person interview. And that interview will be a one-hour meeting with the whole team. We will then make a decision from there.

    We’ve been trying this for about 6 weeks, and so far I haven’t seen anyone worth bringing in in person. However, the position is difficult to fill, requiring the right mix of multiple technologies and people presence. My standard process could take 3-4 months to hire the right person.

    The recruiters philosophy is to make the right impression, you want to take as little of the candidate’s time as possible. That an hour in person is all you need to to know whether you want to hire the person, and why use more of your and more importantly their time to figure it out. I like the idea of having to do less, but I question whether we get a good enough feel for the candidate and whether they get a good enough feel for us. And it seems to go against your suggestion of creating a personal connection between the candidate and the company.

    I would appreciate your thoughts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708577 Nathan Artz

      From my personal experience interviewing with companies (i’m a software dev) as well as doing the interviewing, I have a few thoughts, but they are personal opinion so take them for what you will. 

      1. What should the First Conversation Look Like?

       I always appreciate when I can have an intelligent conversation with another technical person, or at least someone I’m going to be working with. I stress that the initial conversation should be with someone who the candidate will work directly with ( a teammate, or a manager). Doing a technical phone screen with a recruiter or a business person is almost an insult, as it is very likely the person has never actually implemented any of the technical things he/she would ask, and is most likely unqualified to evaluate many of the answers, even if he/she has them written down on a sheet.

      2. Is Less More When it Comes to the Candidates Time? 

      Honestly, from a personal perspective I appreciate when a company can promptly schedule me to talk with more people from their company, rather than less. The difference is the nature of the conversations — if I have to interview a couple times on the phone, thats fine, but any more than about 2 phone interviews gets to be a lot (thats my threshold). However, casual conversations after that point whose purpose is to help me to learn more and connect with more people at the company and answer any questions I have are greatly appreciated. Again, people going out of their way to schedule time for me to ask questions is a great thing, and it begins to demonstrate a culture of team and helping that I am super impressed by. I think a lot of people appreciate talking with someone face-to-face, so the faster you can get there, the better, as you can form a much better bond and evaluate the candidate quicker with more information. 

      As far as the time constraint, I agree sometimes it can seem like there is no immediate ROI when you are interviewing lots of candidates and hiring none, and that your opportunity cost of working instead of interviewing is much higher. However, hiring a single candidate will help immensely, so its important just not to lose perspective. Similarly, just practicing, using the right tools (disclaimer, my startup: http://www.robotrecruit.com ), and establishing a process that you stick to will cut down the amount of time you have to spend per candidate.

      Good luck!

    • http://hrnasty.com HRNasty

      Joshua,

      Great question and one that all companies struggle with
      which I think boils down to “how much time should we invest?” 

      Brad just posted ReturnPaths,
      Angela Baldonero’s philosophy
      and I completely agree with her take.  I
      love what she writes on “people can’t help but be themselves.” Interviews take
      time and people can only fake it for so long. 
      Anyone can fake it for an hour or two, but over 3 or 4 visits with
      multiple people and you are increasing your odds.   We have folks interview with multiple
      people.  7 or 8 interviews over 2-3
      visits is our norm for any hire that will go the distance.  A lot of folks will only receive 1 or 2
      interviews because the fit wasn’t there. 
      Taking them to lunch or coffee can be considered an “interview.” We want
      the candidate to have the BEST understanding of what they are getting into and I
      don’t believe that can be accomplished in 1 hour.  We also let the candidates know up front that
      we are picky, and folks that are working here have gone through 7-8 interviews.  We decline a lot of folks and when folks join
      our team I think they are REALLY PROUD to make the cut.  We don’t want the candidate thinking it was
      “so easy to get a job here” because there is a chance that they will come in
      with the wrong attitude. 
         

      Couple of thoughts come to mind:

      -I like that you are using the recruiter to save time.  We use recruiters as well, but it isn’t to do
      our hiring, as much as it is to source us candidates.  Whether we source the candidate or the
      recruiter does, candidates still go through the 7 or 8 interviews.  We want buy-in and as many people in the
      company excited about this new hire as possible.   8 interviews isn’t for every company, but it
      works for us. 

      -I am sure you were already doing this when you met
      candidates, but if you don’t feel the candidate is the right person, cut the
      interview after 30 minutes.  Don’t feel
      you need to give everyone the full hour.

      – Listen to your gut. 
      If you feel like you and the candidate aren’t getting enough time, then
      give more.  You know your culture and
      what it takes to be successful better than anyone. 

      -adding another recruiter with a different network may
      increase your reach. 

      -Your recruiter isn’t going to like this, but I am making
      the large assumption that she is paid for “putting butts in seats,” not for the
      candidate’s long term performance.  Of
      course she wants to take as little time as possible.  She probably isn’t paid by the hour.  Just because the process is long doesn’t mean
      it has to be a burden on the candidate. 
      It can still be very conversational vs. a grilling session.  Make sure you get a 4 to 6 month guarantee on
      all your candidates.  Maybe you can meet
      them somewhere in the middle.  She still
      does the initial screening, but your team still spends time with the
      candidate. 

      -Some will argue that 4 people on a gang interview for 1 hour
      is equal to 4 hours of interviewing, but you can only ask “X” amount of
      questions in 1 hour.  You do not get the opportunity to ask “4X” the number of questions.    

      Hope his helps a little,

      Ring aka HRNasty

      There are a lot of unknown factors here, and I would love
      the opportunity to colleague with you on this. 
      Please feel free to contact me at Ring@BigDoor.com.

  • joshua forman

    Thanks for sharing. I have a question. We at Symplified have had what I thought was a good interview process, though a bit time consuming. To hire someone on the professional services team, I would get resumes from many sources (postings, recruiters, and connections). I would then have an initial 1-hour phone call with possible candidates. A lot of our work is done with customers remotely and I felt a phone call was a good way to vet out their phone-ability. There was then a 30-minute technical screen with a technical member of my team (also over the phone). And last a 2.5 hour on-site visit meeting with me, then the team, and then wrap-up with me.

    We have recently contracted with an outside recruiter and I’m trying her process. Which is she does the initial phone interview, and that includes some basic interview questions and the technical screen. She then sends a transcription of that to me. I then decide whether or not to bring them for an in-person interview. And that interview will be a one-hour meeting with the whole team. We will then make a decision from there.

    We’ve been trying this for about 6 weeks, and so far I haven’t seen anyone worth bringing in in person. However, the position is difficult to fill, requiring the right mix of multiple technologies and people presence. My standard process could take 3-4 months to hire the right person.

    The recruiters philosophy is to make the right impression, you want to take as little of the candidate’s time as possible. That an hour in person is all you need to to know whether you want to hire the person, and why use more of your and more importantly their time to figure it out. I like the idea of having to do less, but I question whether we get a good enough feel for the candidate and whether they get a good enough feel for us. And it seems to go against your suggestion of creating a personal connection between the candidate and the company.

    I would appreciate your thoughts.

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