New ways startup founders are interviewing (Part 2)

Pre interview questionnaire –- a 15-20 minute set of questions (via a google form or something similar) to help understand motivations, expectations and some important admin (notice period, salary expectation, preferences like working from home)

Pros: This avoids you realising after 5 minutes a candidate is not right for the role and then having to spend 30 minutes with them

Cons: I don’t think there are any. Some senior candidates may refuse to do it - that’s probably your first sign they are not a good fit.

Job Spec 2.0 – This is based on the book “Who: The A method for hiring” where you write the 5 outcomes the candidate should have achieved at the end of year one e.g For a Product Manager - Increase engagement on the B2C product by a % agreed at the beginning of each quarter  You also set out which skills or character traits are vital or nice to have’s e.g Product Manager - is UX experience vital for this role?

Pros: By focusing on outcomes rather than just finding someone who “feels right” it stops people being distracted by other factors than is the person in front of me an A player who can execute the outcomes we need. I think every startup should be using this method

Cons: This process involves more time input upfront by members of the team. Keeping on the Product Manager example - the CEO, Founders, CTO should all give input on the scorecard and keep referring to it during the interview process

Case Studies – asking candidates to create a case study as part of interviewing works especially well for marketing roles. We suggest not asking candidates to do it before the first call or interview as candidates are suspicious of doing too much work before they know all parties are serious about the opportunity.  Ask candidates to prepare a one- or two-page document which should take more than an hour but less than a day to complete.  We find the process helps candidates focus and prepare their thoughts before the interview and the quality of interviews are higher as you can discuss strategic approaches.

Pros:  A good test of candidates commitment and knowledge as well as spelling and grammar which is not normally tested.

Cons:  The case study is one part of the equation, but remember they’ve probably had outside help, so don't base your decision solely on the case study.

The Culture Test - one of our clients invites candidates to their Friday show and tell and drinks at 5pm on a Friday.  Having a few drinks in a social setting is a good thing to do but don’t turn this into a drinking test.

Pros: it’s a great way to show transparency and the candidate will see your team all in great form.

Cons: The importance of culture-fit varies depending on the role (I think some people would disagree) but as a startup gets past 50+ people founders have to accept more diversity in character types, especially in engineering roles.

The Alternative Venue – we are big fans of interviews held outside the office. Personally I like walking with a candidate – get some fresh air and I think you get more candid answers.  I know some LA startups go surfing with candidates but a coffee shop will also do just fine. My dad always interviewed candidates at restaurants and watched how they interacted with the waiters and how they chose their food.  Anyone who was indecisive or didn't look the waiter in the eye would be rejected.  This has been drummed into me so much that whenever I see a menu I pick the first thing I see which leads to frequent food envy.

The theme you may be picking up on nearly of these approaches is that they involve a great commitment of time. There is no shortcut. Mistakes are more likely when you hire quickly.  The process needs time put aside, careful management and schedule into make sure you get the best outcomes. In the long term, your investment will be returned manifold.

Some of our clients include:

Houzz, Global App Testing, Wercker, Stuart, Splittable, City Pantry

New ways startup founders are interviewing (Part 1)

At Kandidate we get to learn a lot of different interview techniques and processes from our company clients, and we hear how candidates react to the process.  Here are a few methods that we think get the best outcomes (none of these are revolutionary, but it’s too easy to shortcut the process when deadlines are looming or you think you have found “the one” – so sticking to your hiring process is crucial).

Group interviews – the kind where you have 5 or 6 candidates for a 2 hour period. The GM starts by making the candidates tea and gives them a 20-minute presentation.  It’s such a nice way to promote the company and see how the candidates react in a group setting.  The candidates then have 3 separate 10-minute interviews with the GM, Head of Sales and VP International.  While the other candidates are waiting, they can ask a current team member (someone in the role or team they are applying for) questions.  We think that interaction is probably one of the most effective for telling if a candidate is suited to the company.  Afterwards, the hiring team comes together (including the team member who sat with the candidates) and compares notes to see if they agree on certain things.  Successful candidates are asked back for a “role play” where they are given 30 minutes to prepare with a sales deck.

Pros: Time efficient and naturally includes team members as well as senior management.
Cons: This works especially well for junior sales roles but probably wouldn’t work well for more senior roles.

Multiple interviews – with different team members on different days. This may seem like the norm, but some companies do multiple interviews on the same day. Spreading the interviews over multiple weeks is time consuming for both candidate and client but we think it tests the commitment of the candidate. As you get to see the candidate on different days you will notice patterns and changes.  For senior roles, we are seeing an increase towards group interviews with 3 or 4 senior management which can happen multiple times.  Having one session where the candidate is presenting or running a session, seems to be the most productive as its engaged and full of fast interaction where both sides get to see each other in full flow.

Pros: Thorough and if there are any red flags they are more likely get caughtCons:Time consuming, and top candidates may take other offers as the process can take weeks.  The Head of Talent or recruiter needs to take charge of the process and keeping the candidate warm as there is a high chance the candidate loses interest


Curve ball questions - a few recent ones we have heard of “What do you not like about my colleague who just interviewed you?” or “Have you ever committed a crime?” is a cracker and leaves room for some compelling answers.

Pros: You get to see how the candidate thinks on their feet.  For sales related jobs this can be crucial.
Cons: We are not a fan of the gotcha question as we think a good or bad answer can carry too much weight in your assessment of the candidate.

I’ll post Part 2 later this week….

Our clients include: 

Houzz, Global App Testing, Wercker, Stuart, Deliveroo, Patrick Mavros,, Splittable, City Pantry


10 (unexpected) things you should do before interviewing with a startup founder

If you’re good enough to get the job you’ll already have the expected preparation done, naturally. This not-so-expected prep, deployed deftly and gracefully during your interview, will give you an advantage over the competition.

***disclaimer*** It’s going to feel more-than-a-little-bit like stalking. If you find yourself rooting through bins, you’ve gone too far. Way too far.

The research should take you 1-2 hours: write notes. The aim is not to show off how much research you’ve done, it’s to give you ways to connect in the 7 minutes the founder is listening (the other 53 minutes he or she will be transfixed by the typo in your CV, or running over the Series B strategy) Keep it natural – bring up things you have in common in your answers, where appropriate.

  1. What have they last posted on Quora?  Their answers will tell you a lot about them.
  2. How do they comes across on their Facebook / Instagram profile? (Don’t friend them yet, duh.)
  3. Look through their past 12 months of Tweets (any political, causes, bugbears, humour?)
  4. Have you read their Linkedin profile and learnt it backwards? (What university were they at? Sidenote: if they don't have 200+ contacts, that’s a red flag.)
  5. Which shared contacts / mutual friends do you have on Linkedin or Facebook?
  6. Are they on Airbnb, Strava or Couchsurfer* (*Credit: Willem Wijnans at Couchsurfer gives you an indication they are community minded
    [Use a boolean search string e.g  “founder name”]
  7. Download (Chrome extension) and discover what type of character you are meeting
  8. Have they been to Burning Man? (Clue: Facebook photos or Instagram) Not a bad topic to get onto, but only bring it up if you have actually been.
  9. What sport and activities are they into?
  10. Understand the metrics / KPI’s and drivers of the business – if you can’t clearly define these, find out beforehand by asking someone closer to the business.

And a few bonus ones….

  1. Be able to elevator pitch the company and the products
  2. Check if the founder has done any interviews on Youtube or podcasts.  Emulate the language and phrases they use e.g “We see ourselves as…”  - that’s how the founders want you to communicate the company and if you get the job after 2 months you will be communicating in these phrases
  3. Find someone who has done the interview process and ask them what their experience is – post in a few startup forums – if the founder sees he will be impressed you are preparing

Why it’s hard to interview American candidates for UK roles

I recently did a search for a Head of Marketing role for a London-based startup.  When screening the candidates, one shone through above everyone else, although his CV was not as strong as some of the others.  I was just about to put him forward on a shortlist when I caught myself and realised I had fallen for a superb sales pitch – I needed to go back and do more research.  Gauging how good US candidates are is hard. Why? Because they are so damn good at selling themselves.

I heard Greg Marsh, CEO of onefinestay, speak on this subject once at Imperial College when he was describing hiring for his US offices.  American candidates vs British are much better communicators.  Their sentences are high energy, clipped and punchy, and they have an amazing ability to find the right expression to bring their point home.  Brits can sometimes suffer from rambling oxbridge stammer (or a real one in my case) which impedes the tight, shotgun delivery of facts that our US friends can articulate.

I worked in New York for 8 years across 3 startups (and hired over 30 people) and I’ve developed a theory – Americans are naturally media trained from a young age to articulate points succinctly and with maximum effect.  Blame cable news  (compare Fox News to Channel 4 News for example) or infomercials.  Americans intrinsically understand that communication is the essence of selling and, without even realising, they sell all the time in their everyday conversations. Want to test the theory? Ask any US friend to describe their apartment and you will see what I mean – you’ll get a neat overview, drilling into bullet-point  features, and a close at the end.  And crucially, the elevator pitch, or spoken slack message, is now the norm for communicating in tech.

My advice to any startup founder is to spend more time with the candidate than you otherwise would.  If your process is a screening call and an in-depth interview, add another 2 interviews with other team members and test them live. Do a working, live case study and try and dig deeper into specifics.  If you hire from skype conversations or ask them to do a pre-prepared presentation I fear you may fall for the sales pitch and not have the right information to compare against your other candidates.

Having American entrepreneurs / tech professionals from any of the US tech hubs is a very positive thing for the UK tech scene, and I hope it increases.  I just don't want you to make the wrong hire because you listened to the pitch rather than gauge the person.

Have you had any similar experiences with US candidates?  get in touch @alexvank