Conducting Successful Interviews for Founders: Cheat Sheet

Janet Van Huysse - 22 Jan 2021
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Conducting Successful Interviews for Founders: Cheat Sheet

Written by Janet Van Huysse, Head of People at Cloudflare and former VP HR at Twitter

Janet - who, as Twitter's first VP of HR, grew the team from 90 to 4000 people.

Think about the process

First, think about the thought process. Ask yourself, “What is the premise of the interview?”

Figure out:

  • What the person knows and can do,
  • What the person doesn’t know and can’t do,
  • How your company could benefit from what this person brings.

Here are my top three questions to help you get started:

1. Describe a project or accomplishment

The first question is:

“Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career to date.”

Pay attention to the candidates’ answer, do they get their work across the finish line? Do they describe the team? Do they describe what they learned through this process?

2. Explain a failure

The second question is:

“Tell me about a time you failed or failed to accomplish a project.”

Asking a candidate to explain a failed project is not only a great way to see how they cope when things don't go as planned, but it's also an opportunity to see whether or not they feel comfortable taking full responsibility for their actions.

Ask for a candidate who can straightforwardly describe a recent failure without shirking the bulk of the blame on other parties or unfortunate circumstances.

Even if some external factors played a hand in the mishap, you want a candidate who is comfortable being held fully accountable and can discuss even the nitty-gritty details of a failed project with fair-minded focus.

Does the candidate seem like they were able to fully bounce back from the issue without getting defensive? Emotionally intelligent individuals possess an inherent self-confidence that can get them through setbacks and lets them assess troubling situations objectively, without harsh self-judgment or resorting to outward frustration.

Be wary of candidates who fixate too much on who or what they blame for the failure. When a project doesn't work out, the key takeaway shouldn't be based on blame.

Emotionally intelligent people know how to move on and examine a situation without bitterness or resentment clouding their judgment.

3. What do your co-workers say about you?

The third question is:

“What would your co-workers and managers say is the most rewarding thing about working with you? What about the most challenging thing?”

It takes a deep, well-developed sense of self-awareness - and humility - to recognize what really makes you tick. To gauge how well candidates understand their own strengths and limitations in the workplace, ask them to explain how they think others perceive their positive and not-so-positive qualities.

The question is likely to catch some people off guard, but look for candidates who appear comfortable offering up frank commentary without making excuses or immediately invaliding their co-workers' perceived criticisms.

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