The Secret To An Effective Recruiting Process: The Phone Screen

03 November 2016

Hiring the right people into the right roles for your company is essential to successful execution at scale. Once you are in growth mode and start increasing hiring across the company, this can become a dangerously time consuming activity if you don’t have the right process in place. At Node, we’re constantly looking at how we can improve our hiring process and what we’ve realised is that it starts from asking the right questions in the very first phone screen.

The biggest reasons why candidates don’t work out during the hiring process fall into the following four buckets:

1) Lack of alignment on salary expectations

It’s always a disappointment if you don’t have this discussion up front and realise by the end of a recruiting cycle that there is too big of a spread around salary expectations. Especially if you’re cash strapped, you have to be very up front about the realities of working at a startup and discuss their expectations in the first call.

2) Lack of alignment on vision or problem space

Especially in the earliest stages, you need to bring people on board that have passion for the vision of the company and/or problem space. This is even more important than skill set or domain expertise. Startups have many ups and downs and there will be tough situations — you want people on board that are so passionate about the company that they can carry enthusiasm and dedication in during even the hardest times.

3) Lack of alignment on deal breakers

Understanding whether someone has deal breakers is crucial. A great example of this is commuting, working from home, wanting a 9 to 5. Especially if these candidates haven’t worked in the startup world, understanding their expectations of what it would be like to work at an early stage company is essential.

4) Timeline

So much in life is about timing and hiring is no exception. Asking a candidate’s timeline is necessary to prioritise candidates accordingly. If you don’t ask this question up front you will lose great candidates period. This is especially crucial for candidates who are about to get a company bonus.

I now qualify and set expectations for all of the above in the first meeting for every role which helps filter candidates immediately and shorten the time to hire.

Questions you can ask to qualify the above accordingly:

Qualifying Salary

If the candidate is at big company or interviewing at big company you can say “We can’t pay you what you pay there, have you thought about whether you have the financial appetite to afford a startup? How much do you make now and what’s the minimum you need?”

At our company, we have a number of people who have left money on the table leaving their big companies to join Node, and we openly share these sacrifices everyone has made as a testament to what may be required. Don’t be shy to ask directly what their comp package is today and what the minimum is they need. Especially if these candidates are making an excessive amount of money, it’s important to really ask them whether they’ve thought through what it would be like to make 25% of that, and whether they’re ready to actually take that risk as it will be a change in lifestyle.

Qualifying interest in Vision and Problem space

I qualify this by sharing two to three articles and/or press discussing the problem space, the vision prior to the first call. If the candidate isn’t interested then it won’t work for obvious reasons and you’ll know this up front. Now be careful as you don’t want to paint a picture that it’s going to be all about the vision, also be honest about the realities of what it takes to serve customers/users as it won’t be all glamorous work.

Qualifying Deal breakers

There is no better way to ask this question than to be very direct. I ask “what are your deal breakers for your next company” and provide examples which can include commute, cultural elements, work hours, working from home, etc.

If a candidate hasn’t worked at startup or at a company as small as our company size, it’s crucial to ask expectations up front so you have an opportunity to reality check. For example if the smallest company they have worked at is 100 people, I’ll ask them how they think working at 15 person startup would be different. This is where education and reality checking is key so you don’t waste time and offer the candidate the chance to digest and be proactive about whether they want to move forward. If it’s obvious they haven’t really thought through this I’ll educate and walk them through the rest of the hiring process and say why don’t you sleep on it and let me know if you want to move forward by eod the next day.

Timeline/Urgency

Timing is everything! Always ask: “what’s the timeline for making a move?” or “Let’s say we both move forward and we extend the offer tomorrow, when is the first day you could start?”

If it’s a candidate I’m very interested in, I may even ask if they are evaluating other opportunities and ask them more around problem space or company size to better understand if they are very dedicated to working at small company or within a particular industry space. Also getting this intel will give you the ammo you need so you can compete and fastrack a great candidate through the process.

Falon Fatemi - Forbes