Traditional hiring is typically conducted in a Cartesian way: interviewer vs. interviewee. The interviewer evaluates the interviewee for skills and experience, and finds the best possible fit given the job requirements. While Cartesian hiring is effective in terms of filling job positions with the appropriate people, it can flatten out people and extricate the more elusive human and cultural components from the hiring process.
We need to look at hiring in a different light. Hiring isn’t about evaluating candidates. It’s about trying to establish whether or not fundamentally there is a cultural and behavioral fit. We should also consider past experience and skills, but as secondary to the decision-making process. The primary driver is the fit.
When I began my company, I was obsessed about ways of seeing past the people who were great at being interviewed. That’s what the traditional hiring process tests for — not how they’ll flow with the team and company culture. So I would invite dozens of candidates to a company presentation. While my people would conduct the presentation, I was disguised as a janitor, cleaning the room, trying to remove dirt from underneath candidate’s chairs. I would carefully observe those who were solicitous, indifferent or even hostile towards me. I would eventually disclose that I was the CEO, and that would stir up shock, pleasant surprise and indignation. Those who had been hostile toward me were the ones who were more prone to feeling indignant about the deception.
While I loved the experience, it was deceptive, and it generated negative feelings. I discontinued the practice after a few sessions, realizing that it wasn’t sustainable. But I didn’t give up on the idea of using the interview process to see past the facade that most people bring to an interview.
Throughout the past 15 years, I have explored dozens of other methodologies. Some were formal and structured, others more relaxed. I’ve done it myself, and had other people do it. But today my focus in interviewing is summed up by a few key guidelines:
Get out of the evaluator chair. Be normal, be human and make others feel comfortable. This gives people the chance to disarm, and forget about having to prove themselves. We want to see people in their natural state, because you can’t work in interview mode all the time. It’s not sustainable. Work is stressful and the hours are long. We want people who feel naturally comfortable in our culture.
Look at the behavioral aspects. We tend to be very impressed with big names and big titles on people’s resumes. But we’re not hiring their education or their work experience; we’re hiring a person. And that’s who we want to get to know. How do they react when feeling examined? How do they feel when we are smiling? How do they feel about being confronted? How do they deal with pressure? You don’t find out these behavioral trends from asking about them. You find out by getting to know a candidate.
We strongly advise candidates not to work with us. Why should we try to pretend that it’s great working here? It’s not. It’s work. Most people wouldn’t choose to work here if they had $50bn in the bank. That’s just a fact of life. We don’t want people choosing us for the wrong reasons. Paying bills, needing a job, wanting to advance a career: those are all legitimate pursuits that most of us share. But we want to hire people based on the deeper drivers. We want to find people who want to be a part of something bigger than their own selves, who don’t mind getting into constructive conflicts, and will stand by their opinion. We understand that people whom we bring into the company are the very fabric of the company’s soul, which most of us refer to as culture.
So we deconstruct the traditional hiring paradigm by forgetting about skills, and focusing on the person. We deconstruct the interview paradigm by not positioning ourselves as interviewers, but as partners who are working together to find out whether or not this is indeed a good fit for all of us. We find out more about people when they get a chance to speak more honestly, and when we truly hear what’s being said. We forget about the labels and the brands that are pegged to resumes, and we look at the intersection of values and goals. Those are the pillars for a solid and prosperous relationship. And that’s what hiring is in the end: a relationship.
Gabriel Fairman is CEO of Bureau Works.