If I had to give one piece of advice to recent grads out of college it would be this: get on the interview panel for as many roles as possible.
I’ve conducted interviews for over 300 candidates ranging across all different types of positions: sales, operations, engineering, marketing, finance, business development, product, analysts, and various subdomains within. They have ranged from the first year out of college to seasoned VPs with twenty years under their belt. 99% of these candidates were lateral positions that would never even report to me.
But no matter what, I always asked the hiring manager to be on the interview panel. Even though we would pass on 90% of the candidates, participating in the interview process from the other side of the table was a free education I was not about to pass up.
Being on the interview panel challenges you to think about the hiring process in a new way.
Participating in an interview from the panel perspective is an entirely different game. Getting good at identifying candidates that aren’t the right fit is just as critical as identifying ones that are. When you are asked to be the judge of hiring someone, you are posed with three critical questions:
- Why are we hiring for this position?
- What does success look like for someone in this position?
- What qualities/experience does the candidate need to possess to meet question #2?
The mental exercise of answering questions #1 and #2 has given me a greater sense of business savviness than any book I’ve read or class I’ve ever taken. All too often interviews are conducted without a formal definition for either of these questions. You should never step into an interview unless you can answer them. It will force you to think strategically of company level goals and why hiring for this particular role justifies the cost. It will force you to have a vision for the future and identify what is broken today and how this position will fix it.
If you ever want to build a company one day, why not simulate these questions with a few hundred candidates you aren’t officially responsible for? There’s that free education.
Assessing a candidate will make you more intuitive and help you to focus on the big picture.
The hardest question to answer over the course of an interview is #3. You only get thirty minutes of chatting with someone you’ve never met before to make that ‘yes/no’ decision. For ten years I felt I had no confidence in making this decision, even for my direct reports. Candidates I thought were good fits turned out to be disasters. Candidates I thought would perform one way did quite the opposite. Countless times I’d walk out of interviews really having no idea if they’d be good or bad. I’d come to the conclusion that I needed six months working side-by-side with candidates to fully evaluate them. Unfortunately, this was hardly practical for people on either side of the hiring process.
Despite this uncertainty, in a single year I’d managed to interview about 100 people over a wide range of business units. I started noticing details others had missed. I began to focus on how this potential hire would affect our business goals instead of getting caught up with thoughts like “I liked him/her, they were cool.” I was digging deeper into relevant skills by ignoring the non-essential ones.
In short, I’d become an excellent interviewer.
Being good at interviewing and hiring is like compound interest– you suck 99% of the way there but make huge strides in the last 1%. It is pure volume, which is why it only makes sense to start as young as possible. You’ll become a better judgment of character and gain an understanding of how people, teams, and organization structure can be built to help achieve your business goals. A business’s most important asset is its people. Hiring the right people, on the right teams, with the right goals is crucial to your company’s success. Being a part of that process is crucial for your own.
So start interviewing. And start young.