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Chris Dixon has a good short post up titled What the smartest people do on the weekend is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years. He wrote it on Saturday so it’s got a delightful self-referential twist to it now that he’s a partner at A16Z.
I’ve always thought this was a great interview question. I’ve used it with founders of companies I’m looking at investing in, TechStars founders, and execs for early stage companies. Basically, anyone who I’m trying to understand what they are thinking about long term. The variety of answers is fascinating, often deeply personal, and occasionally very confusing to me. But they are always enlightening.
My answer for a long time has been “write, read, spend time with Amy, run long distances, catch up on what just happened the previous week, and recharge myself to go back into the fray on Monday morning.” Amy likes to look at me on Sunday night and assess whether I’m patched up and ready to go again for another week. Unfortunately, there have recently been too many Sunday’s where her assessment is that I’m not and need another day, which I rarely have.
The idea, and execution, for all of the Startup Revolution stuff came out of what I do on the weekend. A lot of thinking about it rolled around in the back of my brain during long runs. While I wrote Startup Communities during two months last summer, most of my work on Startup Life was done between 5am and 9am during the weekend and over the weekends during September and October. And Startup Boards seems to be following the same pattern for me.
Chris Moody, president and COO of Gnip, is back with a guest post in his Moody on Management series. Following are Chris’ thoughts on negotiating compensation with a prospective employee. Enjoy and comment freely!
In my last post, I provided a few tips for job candidates when interviewing at a startup. This week I wanted to cover a simple process for hiring managers to follow when communicating with candidates about salary requirements.
There is the old saying that people spend more time planning their vacation than they spend planning their retirement. I’ve found the same concept sometimes applies to job candidates when thinking about their compensation requirements. As the hiring manager, you need to ensure that a candidate has fully considered their compensation needs before you make an offer. Over the years, I’ve refined a simple and effective approach to facilitating this discussion. I’ve used this technique countless times with great results. The process starts with an email to the candidate:
From a skills and values standpoint, it seems like we are both excited about the possibility of you joining our company. If you agree, the next step in the process from my perspective is to determine if we are aligned from a compensation standpoint. As such, it would be helpful to get the following information from you:
- Current compensation. Please breakout your base salary from any variable compensation if applicable.
- Your view of your current compensation as it relates to your next opportunity. It is particularly helpful if you provide this feedback by selecting from either
a) I believe I’m fairly compensated and would anticipate making the same salary at my next opportunity
b) I’d be willing to take less for the right opportunity
c) I feel I’m currently under valued and looking for an increase of $x in order to be excited about my next opportunity.
If it works for you, I’d prefer to have this communication via email. Over time I’ve found that putting this stuff in writing helps people think about it more before responding.
Of course there are no right or wrong answers. The goal here is simply to get a clear understanding of how the candidate is thinking about their future compensation by using their current compensation as a frame of reference. Best case, the candidate’s expectations align with yours and the offer moves forward with a high probability of success. Worst case your expectations don’t align but you now have a thoughtful starting point for negotiations if you still want to move forward with an offer.
A couple of additional points:
1) Even if the candidate has expressed salary requirements during the screening process or during your discussions, I strongly recommend you have this written conversation as the final step before you make an offer. For example, perhaps your conversations along the way changed their perspective on salary requirements for the position.
2) The key to this approach is to do this communication in writing. I know it can seem silly or impersonal, but it makes a huge difference in terms of requiring people to give thoughtful answers instead of answering on the spot.
Before using this approach I had more than a few occasions where candidates indicated verbally that they wanted $x, we offered $x, and then they responded with “I was thinking about it more and I really need $y to feel good about joining”. Once you hit this situation, it puts both parties in an awkward position and it can be hard to recover. You can avoid this potential pitfall with one simple email.
Oh, by the way, Gnip is hiring!
My long time friend Chris Moody, president and COO of Gnip, has offered to write some guest posts on management – we’ll call the series Moody on Management. In addition to being an outstanding early stage / high growth executive, Chris has made a study of management in startups and is extremely thoughtful about what does and doesn’t work.
His first post is aimed at anyone looking to get a job in a startup and talks about how to be effective at interviewing for a job. Feel free to weigh in if you have other “Stop, Don’t, Nevers” or “Pleases”
I love interviewing people to work at Gnip. Unless I’m having a really crappy day, I enter each interview full of hope and optimism. I’ve done countless interviews in the last 20+ years and I can easily slip into autopilot mode if I’m not careful. In order to avoid this trap, I mentally prepare by reminding myself “today could be the day I’ll meet the next great team member.” I’ve found this mental pep talk helps remind me that there is no better use of my time than investing in the interviewing process. In other words, the next interview could be a company game changer and I need to be 100% engaged.
Most interviews don’t directly lead to someone joining our company. Often the person doesn’t have the right skills or experience. There are plenty of cases where it becomes clear to the candidate that we can’t provide them an opportunity that meets their interest/needs. Both of these outcomes are normal and healthy. Unfortunately, I often find another outcome can occur which is frustrating and deflating. This situation occurs all too often when a person is so poor at interviewing that we’re unable to determine if there is a potential match. I’ll invest up to an hour in an interview trying to peel back the layers. However, I’m frequently unable to get to a substantive layer of discussion that will help both parties determine if there is a potential match. I’ll leave these interviews thinking, “Maybe that person was great, I’ll never know”. Over time, I’ve started to referring to these as the “who knows?” interviews.
The good news is that I think job candidates can follow some simple guidelines when interviewing at a startup that will help avoid the “who knows?”
Stop, Don’t, Never
- Stop selling and start engaging. In order for this to work, we both have to determine if there is a match. The best way for us to determine the match is to have a thoughtful/engaging discussion. If the interview process only involves me asking questions and you giving answers that you think will impress me, we’re going to waste a perfectly good hour.
- Don’t talk in sound bites and buzz words. You might think they make you sound smart, but they don’t because they lack substance. We need to have a real discussion. If you find yourself rehearsing answers before the interview even starts, we’re almost certainly going to have an unproductive meeting. Speak from your heart and your experience not from a script.
- Don’t agree with everything I say. I’m wrong… A LOT. I once went on an all beer and water diet for a week. Challenge me. Startups thrive when each person hired is smarter than the person hiring them. If you agree with everything I say in the interview, I’m left wondering how are you going to contribute when we are working together trying to solve tough problems.
- Avoid talking about past individual results. I know this sounds unconventional, but as the interviewer is often very hard to contextualize how these results might translate to our business. I’m much more interested in discovering what you learned in your last job that we might leverage at our company. For example, telling me you increased sales by 300% isn’t that helpful. Telling me how you learned to handle customer objections around price could prove to be very useful.
- Be honest
- Ask lots of questions about stuff that matters to you. Reviewing a company’s web site before the interview will give you some reasonable background. But, I can assure you that no company web site answers all the questions about a business. It is often the case that an interviewer can learn more about the way someone thinks from the questions they ask than from the answers they give.
- Ask tough questions. You are considering investing a huge portion of your waking hours at our company. Think about the risks and the downsides of the company or the role and freely express any concerns.
- Figure out if our company is a good culture and values fit for you by asking tough situational questions based upon your past experiences. Questions like “Can you give me an example of how the company handled a situation where a customer had a bad experience with the product?” can be very revealing about how the company acts/thinks.
Ask CEOs of successful startups about their biggest challenge and they’ll often cite the inability to hire great people. My theory is there are plenty of great people, but many are just terrible at interviewing. Hopefully these few tips help lead to more great matches down the road. By the way, Gnip is hiring!
I can’t remember when Angela Baldonero joined Return Path, but she’s been there for as long as I can remember. I invested in Return Path eleven years ago at the very beginning of its life. Today it is a profitable, 250 person company that is growing quickly, dominates its market segment, and is an awesome place to work. Angela has been a big part of both hiring many of the people and orchestrating the culture of the company so I very much value her point of view on interviewing. I hope you do also.
Everything is data. The candidate’s responsiveness during the interview process, how the candidate treats the admin staff, and the candidate’s ability to communicate is data. Are you interviewing someone for a tech leadership role who doesn’t have a skype account? Data point. Do you fly a candidate out for interviews who then nickels and dimes you on expenses? Data point. Does your candidate send a thank you note? Data point. Is it well written and specific or a lame generic note? Data point.
Give the candidate feedback and see what she does with it. People are wiggy about feedback. Someone who is self-aware and mature will take it in and own it, then makes sense of how she had that impact. An immature person will get defensive or refute it.
Never sacrifice your culture. Highly qualified yet bad attitude hires wreak havoc with your culture, suck up a ton of management bandwidth and ultimately don’t get anything done. It doesn’t matter if the candidate has cured cancer or invented Jell-o. An asshole is an asshole. Fiercely protect your culture.
People can’t help but be themselves. The interview process is flawed. People are “acting” in order to get a job. You want to know how this person really is to see if they’re a good fit at your company. Interviews take time and people can only fake it for so long. If they’re “putting on a show” in the interview process, that will eventually be revealed.
Give you candidate something to do. This creates a bit of productive stress and shows you what they’re made of. For example, ask a sales person to do a presentation. We’ve axed many sales people because they fell apart during the presentation.
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.