Updated: Mar 18
During COVID-19 we have been able to successfully set up our HR (see blog post 1) whilst recruiting talent remotely (see blog post 2), and you can too. As we’ve highlighted previously in our HR startup series; recruiting and interviewing potential hires is one of the most important brand-building exercises because it may be the first proper engagement your company will have with a larger audience - here’s how to get it right!
1. Structure & Organisation is Key
The whole hiring process can be extremely time-consuming, so for early-stage startups, we recommend having no more than 2-3 rounds of interviews. To keep the process as fast and efficient as possible, stay organised; draft email templates for each stage and store them in your canned responses - we use Gmail. This saves time and ensures you’re taking care of candidates who took the time to apply in the first place.
The structure of our hiring process:
Screening the Applications - Application Answers, CV's & Cover Letters
Stage 1 Interview - Phone Screenings
Stage 2 Interview - Meet the Management Team
The Hiring Decision
Excellent communication is imperative, and a reflection of great company culture is one that makes the interview process as straightforward as possible for candidates. Try to turn around application updates within 5 working days. If you cannot carry this out - communicate this.
Don’t leave people in the dark, or else they may choose to accept other opportunities over you. You must avoid getting a bad reputation for ignoring your applicants; these people have expressed interest in joining your company - the least you can do is keep them up to date!
2. Screening Applications
Before you embark on screening, a useful tool I recommend is Harvard’s Unconscious Bias Test. You can take these tests for free, making you aware of your unconscious biases regarding race, gender, age, religion, obesity and sexuality. Through highlighting these biases, you can improve your ethical decision-making by seeking to allow everyone an equal opportunity.
When screening the application questions & answers, detailed responses often illustrate the candidate’s effort and enthusiasm. But don’t let this fool you - check whether they have successfully answered your question and if their points are actually relevant.
Consider these questions; do they pay close attention to detail? Do they provide concise, well-researched, structured answers?
3. How to review a CV & Cover letter
Great CVs tend to be no longer than a page, presented in a clear format with organised sections: Education, Work Experience, Awards & Achievements and Hobbies. Do they outline the skills gained through their experience? Have they made their skill set relevant to the role? Are they personable and well rounded?
Usually, cover letters should have a traditional letterhead format, and essentially bring their CV to life - watch out for waffle! A candidate illustrating their ability to be concise translates into efficient workplace communication skills.
However, do not base your first perception of a candidate entirely off what is presented on paper. A less memorable application that’s perhaps more modest may pleasantly surprise you! If you’re not too sure - all the more reason to evaluate them in the next stage.
4. Interview 1 - Phone Screenings
We conducted one on one phone screenings for an informal 20-30 minute chat using Google Meet. This made the first meeting more personal by being able to see one another. The main focus of this round is to put a face to an application and for the candidate to be introduced to the company.
You can use this screening to evaluate; their voice, body language, culture fit, finding out their motivations and expectations of the role, and for them to ask any questions about the company.
5. Interview 2 - Meet the Management Team
This was the partners’ chance to chat and introduce themselves, that way everyone could meet the applicant before hiring. Remember, interviews are a two-way street, use your introduction as a pitch opportunity; why should they choose you?
Our interviews were a maximum of 45 minutes; an all-round assessment of the candidate and to check there’s a click. We conducted structured interviews which keeps it fair and ensures all applicants are asked the same set of questions. We also split our questions into relevant genres; Work, Drive & Fit:
Work is to check they’re capable of the job, assessing their knowledge and expertise
Drive is to assess their ambition
Fit is to see if they match your team and culture
Pointer: Interviews are nerve-wracking! Start the interview off with quick introductions and easy questions to ease the candidate in, followed by challenging questions later on.
Ask them for an example of where they’ve gone wrong - this will highlight personal development skills, whether they’re reflective and work with self-awareness. Ultimately it will encourage you that they can identify errors and seek improvement.
Pointer: Don’t let candidates catch you out when they answer “tell us about your weaknesses” questions with their strengths such as “I’m a perfectionist” - no one likes a humblebrag, leave that to the Twittersphere (see here for some amusing shout-outs to Founders & VCs).
How would you motivate a colleague? This will uncover their personal motivations and how they drive themselves.
Describe the working environment where you are most productive and happy? Assess whether their answer correlates with your culture - would they fit?
6. Hiring Decision
We make sure the whole team is together to discuss the hiring decision and to air out any concerns. We recommend scoring candidates on a scale from 1 to 3 for Work, Drive and Fit.
1 = Poor
2 = Acceptable
3 = Good
After each Work, Drive, Fit rating we discuss our reasons behind our scores. This helps to reduce bias and influencing one another. If it’s a yes, be sure to follow up with their references!
Naturally, you'll be hiring fewer than your total number of applicants, making rejection an inevitable part of the recruitment process. The way you say no to people speaks volumes of your company culture and values. After reviewing their application or informal phone screening, we suggest sending an email outlining that you cannot proceed with their application, and giving a sensible reason. If an applicant reached the final interview stage and met all the founders, give them a phone call. This is more personable and shows that you valued their efforts. During the call outline the areas they did well in during the interview followed by constructive feedback, and round off with how much you appreciated their time and interest in your company.
If you’re still conducting interviews and want to hold off making a final decision until you’ve assessed all candidates, communicate this with them. Send a holding note which is a follow-up email outlining interviews are still in progress and that they should expect to hear from you within X number of days. This is something that we found difficult to keep on top of with the number of candidates and something we will endeavour to improve on next time!
If you'd like to discuss the article in more detail please contact me, Sophie, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'd be more than happy to chat through it with you.
Useful Reads & Recommendations:
Draw Inspiration from Blundle’s Candidate Rating Guide here
Notion - A brilliant tool we used to set up a clear guide for following our hiring process; recording applications and tracking applicants throughout their interview stage progression up until hiring