Of all of the mistakes companies make in their hiring processes (startups in particular), there is one so simple and fundamental that it boggles the mind. The mistake is...failing to interview the candidate at all. And it happens far more often than you’d think.
Let’s say you’re the CEO of a promising technology startup that recently secured its Series A. You are desperate to hire a new VP Engineering to take the reins of the development team and deliver on your ambitious product roadmap. One of your new investors is able to convince an experienced and well-known techincal lead from a top-tier software company to grab lunch with you. You review her LinkedIn profile, and it is...spot on! You meet with her, and immediately she is peppering you with questions about you, your business model, your competitors and your technology—impressive questions across the board. You deliver your responses in rapid succession, addressing every subtlety, and you come away with an agreement that she will drop by your offices to meet more of the team.
You spend the next day envisioning her on board. You imagine making the introduction to the rest of the team on her first day, her decisive voice and vision in your weekly product sync meetings, and the new inspiration in every face you see in the office. When you talk to your management team members about her upcoming visit, you find yourself spending most of that time prepping them for questions they should expect rather than questions they should ask. She comes onsite, and you and your team NAIL it. The rapport was right, the energy was high, and your team’s answers were consistent and compelling. And then, three days later...she calls to let you know she's taking another opportunity. What happened?
Star performers are turned off by an overly salesy process. They actually want to be vetted, and vetted thoroughly. Why? Because they want to work with other star performers—people who were rigorously evaluated on the way in. They don't want to waste valuable years of their careers working with average colleagues who were arm-twisted into joining a mediocre organization.
There is a surprisingly simple way to avoid this pitfall. When your hot prospect expresses interest in the opportunity, simply...ask them if they would like to interview for the job! It’s absolutely fine—in fact, it’s best practice—to sell like crazy when you are first engaging with a strong prospect. But at some point, you need to convert this lead into a candidate. Phrase it however you like, but in essence, you are saying: “I think you might be an excellent fit for this role, and it sounds like you share our excitement for the opportunity ahead of us. Would you like to start the interview process?”
If they say yes, put them through your process. Ask them the tough questions! Push them, dive deep, showcase the depth of diligence you and your team are committed to delivering with every candidate. If they say anything other than yes, ask what they would need to get to that point. Follow through on whatever they ask, and then ask them again. If they stay in this half-in "limbo zone," walk away—it's much better to chalk it up as a missed opportunity than to try to bring in someone who isn't willing to be interviewed.
There is another benefit of taking this approach, one that plays on a deeper psychological mechanism called cognitive dissonance. Let's say I'm a top-performing candidate and you are interviewing me for your relatively unknown organization. You begin asking me direct questions about my capabilities and performance, and I respond. The moment I answer you I have to justify to myself why I am doing so. I have to come up with an explanation of why you are worthy of engaging me in this activity, which compels me to elevate your importance and attractiveness in my own mind. My (subconscious) thought process: "Wow, here I am, selling my skills and capabilities to this person. Why am I doing this? It must be because he is impressive, his company is highly selective, and this opportunity doesn't come around every day!"
So the next time you find yourself in front of a superstar prospect you want to attract to your company, remember they have two decisions to make—the first is to apply for the job, and the second (should they prove worthy) is to accept your offer. And in between those decisions is a rigorous and engaging interview process that EVERYONE goes through.
Remember—NOBODY gets into your company without being interviewed. Your superstar team will thank you for it!