Hiring // Featured

The Manager's Guide to Great First Round Interviews

According to hiring managers, 1 in 5 hires are “bad hires" or are "regretted decisions" - which is a staggering 20% of total hires. Regardless of your company size, growth, industry, skill needs, or products,  talent is the most important, sustainable, competitive asset in any business.

However, many interviewers & hiring managers over-think & over-engineer the interview process leading to poor quality of hire & poor decision making. In a recent post, 9 Tips for Recruiting Sales Teams FAST, I've included best practices for recruiting at speed, scale, and accuracy.

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Whether you replicate the entire process below or just use a few nuggets, this guide below will help increase your hiring accuracy, solidify interview structure, & simplify your process. Here is your 8 Step Manager Guide to First Round Interviews.


Step 1: Know Your Evaluation Criteria (before the interview)

Great entrepreneurs & investors are masterful at calculated decision-making - weighing the potential size of an opportunity against the potential risks involved. Great interviewers & talent assessors are no different. An interviewer should always have evaluation criteria to assess the size of opportunity for hiring this candidate vs. risks involved in hiring this candidate. Typically these evaluation criteria fall into 4 critical question buckets:

  1. Is this candidate a fit for our company?
  2. Is this candidate a fit for my team?
  3. Is this candidate a fit for this role?
  4. Is this candidate a fit right now?

Here is my recommended evaluation criteria & example questions for evaluation:

Culture + Team Fit: If someone does not fit your company culture, your evaluation is complete. It's not a question of "if" this hiring risk would come back to bite you, it's a question of "when" and how much. A risky hire on culture-fit criteria has the highest negative impact potential for a business.

  • Would other's be proud to sit next to this person every day?
  • Will this person's personality & working style fit with my team?
  • Does this person personify what our business stands for?
  • Would I be proud to have this person represent our company to customers, prospects, investors, etc?

Aptitude or "Intellectual Horse Power": Natural intelligence can replace experience & skill quite often - especially in junior & mid-level roles.

  • What is the natural intelligence level of this candidate?
  • Will this person learn our products, industry, tools, etc. quickly?
  • Does the person pick-up on complex ideas and articulate them back to you with ease?
  • If I teach this candidate something 1 time, will it stick?

Attitude: Attitude is infectious, & stands the test of time. It will have immediate & lasting positive/negative impact on teams.

  • Does this person have a positive attitude?
  • Do they blame others and/or circumstances for poor performance?
  • If this person is not attaining the level or speed of success they desire, will they have a positive or negative attitude during this time?
  • Would you like your team's attitude to be more like this candidate?

Skills: Quite simply, does this candidate have the complete skill set necessary to be a high performer? 

  • What are the skill gaps for this person to be a top performer right away?
  • Can their skill gaps be closed quickly?
  • How would their skills compliment the skills of my current team?

Time Investment & Hand-Holding: Based on this specific candidate's skill & knowledge gaps, you need to assess the level of time investment & hand-holding necessary (from you & the team) to train, teach, and develop this candidate to be a top performer. Every extra hour you need to give to this person is an hour you can't have with your team, stakeholders, customers, etc. It's very much a possibility that this candidate is the right fit for your company, the team, and the role, but you don't have the amount of time necessary to invest in this candidate.

  • How much hand-holding will they need from me? The team?
  • Given my current team's situation, can I afford to give this person the amount of time & energy they need to be set up for success?

Step 2: Goal of the Interview = Mutual Assessment

Companies have talent options. Candidates have employment choices. The candidate & company are making a mutual assessment together as to whether or not they can help each other accomplish their goals. When articulating the goal of the interview to the candidate, it may sound like this:

The goal of this interview process is to make a mutual assessment together on whether or not we can help you accomplish your goals, and you can help us accomplish ours...

Step 3: Interview Dr. Jekyll, not Mr. Hyde

Make the candidate feel comfortable. Interviews are an awkward scenario for candidates.  Comfortability is the best way to ensure you're evaluating the potential of the actual candidate (Dr. Jekyll) vs. a "nervous candidate" (Mr. Hyde). Simply saying, "I just want you to be yourself during this process..." can go a long way.

Step 4: Establish The Honesty Rule:

Establishing the honesty rule opens the door for the candidate to ask you worthy, honest questions during the interview. It also allows you to give the candidate direct feedback at the end of the interview in an open, honest environment.

I’ll be honest with you and you be honest with me during this conversation. Then at the end of our conversation, I can give you some honest feedback so you know where we stand..." 

Step 5: Where You Have Been, Where You Are & Where You Want to Go

Where You Have Been:

I'd like to understand where you've been, where are you right now, and where you want to go in your career...Let's start with where you've been. Can you chronologically walk me through your professional experiences to date, including each role, your main responsibilities, and any KPI's or measurements you had?

This is where the experience & skills assessment starts. Let the candidate know that you'll interrupt them periodically to ask questions. Ask the candidate to chronologically walk you through their professional experience to date. Asking for previous roles, responsibilities, and KPI's keeps solid structure to their answer. This also gives you a fairly accurate idea of how their skills, KPI's, and prior work environment will translate to your company, your team, and this role. 

Where You Are:, why are we here today? Why are you looking for a change from your current situation & what kind of change are you looking for?

Whether you're talking to passive candidates or active candidates, they've accepted this interview for a reason. This section allows you to understand their motivations & reasons behind making the choice to be in this interview today.

Where You Want to Go

We've talked about where you've been, where you are right now and the reasons we're having this conversation. Where do you want to go - What are your career goals for the next 3-5 years and what's the plan to get there?

This section is one of the most important in the interview process. Not all candidates will know their exact 3-5 year plan and career goals - that's fine. However, you will get a sense for their ambitions, their motivations, their drive, their passions, and how realistically they have thought about accomplishing their goals - all extremely & equally valuable for your evaluation. This will also give you an idea of how likely the candidate is to set a goal, make a plan to achieve it, and execute.

Step 6: Perception vs. Reality

Perception: Ask the candidate to articulate:

  • What Your Company Does: High level overview & understanding of the mission, vision, and potential at your company
  • How Your Company Does It: Revenue streams, business lines, product knowledge, customer knowledge, industry knowledge, etc.
  • What This Role Entails: How this role fits into your company structure, daily/weekly/monthly responsibilities, the ultimate goal of this role
  • How They Would Execute: Their plan for the next 3-6 months to execute in this role, including: goal, timelines, milestones, actions, stakeholders/internal partnerships, and skills they need to get there.

This information gives you a comprehensive view on the candidate's perception of the company, the role, and how they would execute in the first 3-6 months with their current knowledge & skills. You will be able to assess the time investment & hand-holding needed from you and the team to develop this candidate into a high performer.

Reality: Fill in the gaps for the candidate. Briefly, correct and properly articulate what your company does, how they do it, what the role entails, and a typical 3-6 month plan for new hires. Also include details about the structure of the team and your style as a manager. Spending time to fill in these gaps and give details to the candidate is valuable for 3 reasons:

  1. This helps the candidate get clarity on this information for the remainder of the interview process. 
  2. Establishes you as an expert. This is particularly helpful to take the 1st step in a healthy "executive coaching" dynamic between you & your potential new team member.
  3. It motivates, inspires and sells the opportunity. Your articulation of these details about the company, role, team, and your style should inspire the candidate. Be sure to include selling points on the company, the job, the team, & yourself so the candidate is excited about the opportunity!

Step 7: Candidate Questions

After you've filled in the gaps for the candidate about the company, the role, the team, and your style - they will have plenty of questions. Let the candidate know how much time they have to ask questions. Save yourself at least 3-5 minutes to discuss your feedback, any next steps, and finalise the interview.

Step 8: Honest, Direct Feedback

As you may have heard before, "Feedback is a gift." Giving candidates direct feedback allows you to do 2 things:

  1. Tell them what they did well. The positive signs you see about their fit for the role, company, team, etc. They've shared their professional (maybe even personal) self with you. They deserve your feedback.
  2. Tell them gaps you see in their fit for the company, team, role, etc. This helps them understand what to address in future conversations, and/or gives them an understanding of why they will not progress. Either way, they hear it from you first-hand while it's fresh.

Step 9: Clear Next Steps

Candidates often talk about their interview & recruitment experiences with other professionals in their network - likely with some talent you'd like to recruit. Ensure all candidates' experiences are positive. The best candidate experience comes with transparency & appropriate expectation setting.

Leave your candidate with clear next steps at the end of each interview. At a minimum, this should include a timeline for when they should receive feedback & know next steps in the process.

*This post was originally published on Linkedin.


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Brandon Naber

Brandon Naber

On a lifelong mission to break down the boundaries of growth potential for hard-working, ambitious people & organisations around the world. An experienced consultant with experience working within 5 of the fastest growing businesses of all time - LinkedIn, Dropbox, Twitter, SurveyMonkey & CEB - as well as many ambitious startups.