Interviewing sucks. Let’s make it awesome.

You’ve probably experienced this before.

Robert (recruiter) greets Cynthia (candidate) in the lobby, exchanges small talk, and escorts her into a florescent-lit, white-walled interior conference room.

“Wait here,” says Robert. “Frank will be in shortly.”

Frank (first interviewer) strolls in, briskly shakes her hand, sits down, and proceeds to ask the standard battery of questions (e.g., experience probing, behavioral situations, and “any questions?” in the last five minutes). The entire time he appears distracted, thinking about an upcoming meeting.

This repeats five times over six hours (one hour for lunch, if she’s lucky).

She is exhausted, but not the good kind of exhausted. She feels like her strengths were in no way represented. And everyone who interviewed her felt like an hour of their day was whisked away into oblivion.

This is just how it goes, so they all accept it, even though one simple fact is readily apparent:

Both the content and the context of the interview process is broken.
It doesn’t have to be this way.

They’re all crying inside.

We all have techniques to unearth key characteristics for what makes a successful hire, and some certainly do it better than others (Google is the poster-child, specifically Laszlo Bock’s targeted questions aimed at discerning learning ability, emergent leadership, humility and ownership).

While some may be proud of their interviewing outcomes, it’s safe to say that few are exceedingly proud of their interview process — typically standardized, time-consuming, and anxiety-inducing.

It’s important to note that there are more outcomes to consider than (1) who gets hired and (2) how successful they are at the company.

A better interviewing experience can enable you to attract higher quality candidates, as well as creating a better work environment for your people.

Here are a few experiments we’re trying out at Medium to improve the experience for everyone:

Teach Us Something // That’s it. We want candidates to teach us something — anything. They show us their taste (compelling topic selection?), dynamism (presentation skills + question response?), and influence (did people stay after to speak with her/him?). And, we all learn something new regardless.

15-Minute Interviews // Interviews typically take too much time, and according to Malcolm Gladwell, we make up our minds instantly anyway. So why not try out 15-minute interviews to start (or finish)? Six people in 90 minutes, rather than six over six hours. This is respectful of everyone’s time, on both sides of the table.

You Interview Us // We’re learning that there’s a tremendous amount to learn about candidates based on the questions they ask us, how well they listen to our responses, and guide the conversation from there. So we’re letting them write the script, and we’re learning from questions rather than just answers.

Come Work With Us // Different from the contract-to-hire, we’re looking for small (yet relevant) projects for candidates. Not like we’re looking for free work, because we’ll pay for it. But we want to know how they work (team fit?), how passionate they are about our product as well as their work ethic (finish on time, or at all?), and their technical skills (do they meet the standard?). [Recent HBR piece on the practice of “auditioning” to build better teams here at Automattic.]

ABC (Anything But the Conference Room) // More a technique than a type, we just want to get candidates out of the same conference room all day. If we need a whiteboard for an engineering exercise, all good. But the next interview will be a walk along Market Street or latte-making in the cafe.

Choose Your Own Adventure // We are hiring for strength, not lack of weakness at Medium (thank you Peter Drucker), so let’s help candidates exhibit that strength. We’re giving some interviewees the choice of how they want to show up — Teach Us Something? 15-Minute Interviews? You Interview Us? Just go with the standard? It’s up to them.

Truth be told, we just started this a few weeks ago.
Qualitatively, we’re getting some great feedback so far.

Teach Us Something = Awesome for All. Our people love the format. We need tighter briefs for candidates, and need to continue to make the environment less ‘formal presentation’, and more ‘fireside chatty’. Overall, we’re trying more of these out.

15-Minute Interviews = Lame for All. Not enough time to dig into topics, it feels rushed, candidates are having to ask the same question repeatedly in search of a thorough answer — the list goes on. Most importantly, it hasn’t created an environment in which we enable candidates to effectively exhibit strengths.

You Interview Us has worked well, and we’re using it more as a technique in the process than an explicit “form.” So instead of leaving that part of the interview for the end, we’re simply moving it up to the start and evaluating them on how they guide us.

We’re just at the beginning, and just beginning to learn.

Regardless, it sure beats the same old process.



father of daughters. at @obviousvc, backing transformative companies and their leaders

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Gabe Kleinman

Gabe Kleinman


father of daughters. at @obviousvc, backing transformative companies and their leaders