How to Interview Candidates and Get Real Results

Interview candidate

As a busy agency owner, the idea of scaling your team is both exciting and daunting. Your business is growing! You need more people to meet demand and continue to scale upwards. But finding someone who fits is challenging—they need to not only meet your business’s needs, but also fit and enhance your existing team.

This is an issue we discussed at Unite 2018, our annual partner and developer conference. In a track session called Designing High Impact Teams for Scale, host Anna Lambert, Director of Talent Acquisition here at Shopify, gave some thought-provoking pointers for scaling your team. Anna’s whole talk, and the panel with three of our partners that followed, was really valuable, and deserves a full watch.

And while there’s loads of actionable advice in Anna’s talk, there’s one aspect in particular I want to focus on, because it’s one of the hardest to get right—interviewing candidates.

Everyone who’s ever interviewed for a job knows how stressful interviews can be—you’re trying to sound smart, but also like you’re calm and collected, and not too desperate. The reality is that interviews are just as weird for the interviewer, who is trying to find the employee of their dreams—someone who will settle in quickly, get along with everyone, and make a great impact. Not an easy task.

In this article, I’ll break down some of Anna’s advice, based on her experience helping grow Shopify from 40 employees to the over 3,000 that we are today. We’ll deep dive into her advice, and look at strategies to implement better interviewing processes at your business. Let’s get started.

You may also like: 10 Pieces of Advice for Scaling Your Web Design Business.

1. Find a lot of people to interview

Find interview candidates

Anna’s first piece of advice isn’t about the interview itself, but is something important to bear in mind—you should be interviewing as many people as possible.

Yes, you’re busy. Yes, interviewing is time consuming. Yes, it’s no one’s idea of a party (although it should be fun—more on that below). But getting to talk with as many candidates as possible is a very important part of the hiring process, and something you shouldn’t skip.

It’s simple math—the more people you talk to, the more likely you are to find the ideal candidate. But there’s something else here, too. If you don’t talk to a lot of people, you’re more likely to settle on the best of the few you did interview, but not necessarily the best of the people you could have found.

Furthermore, you’re limiting your exposure to different perspectives. Diversity isn’t about checklists—it’s about ensuring that you have a variety of perspectives, life experiences, and viewpoints that inform your business’s decisions, and help you better shape products that serve your audience in their real life. If you’ve limited your candidate pool to only people who look, act, sound, talk, dress, and think like you, you’re cutting your business off from the whole spectrum of human experience.

"If you’ve limited your candidate pool to only people who look, act, sound, talk, dress, and think like you, you’re cutting your business off from the whole spectrum of human experience."

So interview and hire widely and diversely—not only because it’s the right thing to do, which it is, but also because it will help your business be as a adaptable, resilient, and forward-thinking as possible.

You may also like: Starting Your Own Web Design Company: How to Freelance, Find Clients, and Grow Your Business.

2. Get real answers in your interview

Interview candidate tips

I mentioned earlier that job interviews should be fun, which could be considered a misnomer—interviews aren’t really anyone’s idea of a good time. But to identify the best candidate, and get real insights about their views and outlooks on work, you should strive to make your interview at least comfortable for the interviewee.

Why? In addition to allowing the candidate to relax and give well thought-out answers to your questions, making them feel comfortable will reflect positively on you and your organization. Even if the candidate doesn’t end up being your final choice, they will have had a positive interaction with your business. That means a growing reputation for your organization, and better applicants in the future.

Below are some steps to help your candidate feel comfortable during their interview.

1. Start general

“Tell me a little about yourself.”

It’s the stereotypical opening question to a job interview, and it’s one that’s often mocked. But there’s value to this kind of question—it allows the candidate to begin the interview on their own terms.

Starting with general questions about the candidate also serves another purpose—it allows you to identify what the candidate values and what interests them. At Shopify, all candidates begin the interview process with something called the Life Story, an interview in which the candidate sits down and discusses their work history, passions, and aspirations. The goal isn’t to identify if they’re technically proficient for the job—instead, it helps both the interviewer and candidate assess if the candidate fits the company culture.

You can incorporate aspects of the Life Story in your own interview process. Encourage candidates to talk about their work history at the start. Ask about their hobbies and interests outside of work, and let them direct the conversation based on what their passions are. Candidates get to start the interview talking about something they know well—themselves—and you get to see a bit of their real personality. It’s a win-win.

2. Do job-related tasks

When it comes time to start gauging a candidate’s technical proficiency, you should strive to get specific. Instead of asking hypothetical questions about their abilities, have your candidate do tasks related to the job they’re interviewing for. As Anna says in her talk, this could look like:

  • Asking a developer to review some public code
  • Having a designer create some designs, or show you their existing designs
  • Getting a writer to write a proposed post for your blog

Have candidates dig into some real, hands-on work will benefit both of you. They’ll have an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities, and you’ll get an idea of how they’d really work in your business.

3. Ask behavioral questions

Depending on the environment of your workplace, things can sometimes get stressful or busy. You may have a self-starting team, or you may follow precise procedures. Finding candidates that fit into your specific framework can be tricky, which is why behavioral questions are so popular in interviews.

You’ve likely heard these kinds of questions before. They’re the ones that go, “In this hypothetical situation, what would you do?” There’s nothing wrong with that kind of question, except that you’re probably not going to get a good, indicative answer from your candidate.

Instead, when asking behavioral questions, ask for examples from the candidate’s past work experiences. Pay attention for these three features:

  • What the situation or difficulty was
  • How the candidate approached the problem
  • What the outcome was

How a candidate frames the problem, how they dealt with it, and how they perceive the outcome are all key tells—they indicate how the candidate is likely to face situations in the future. Attitude, reactions to stressful situations, and ability to collaborate all become apparent through this kind of interviewing.

"How a candidate frames the problem, how they dealt with it, and how they perceive the outcome are all key tells—they indicate how the candidate is likely to face situations in the future."

You may also like: Finding Technical Talent: Candidate Experience and Interviews.

3. Assess the candidates fairly

interview candidate assessment

Once you’ve held the interview, or series of interviews, it’s time for the hardest part—making your decision.

Evaluating candidates can be challenging. It’s important to do it fairly, so that you’re sure you’re getting the best fit for your work. While you might have a gut feeling about who you want to hire, it’s important to ask yourself some questions about all your candidates. These include:

  • Did you have a good experience with them? Ask yourself how you felt after the interview. Did conversation flow smoothly? Did it feel like you were meeting a peer? Is this someone you could really envision working with long-term?
  • What are the trends in their work history? Look for the themes in what the candidate told you. Were they the common denominator in problems? As Anna says in her talk, great candidates will have had negative experiences, too—it’s how they reflect on those experiences that shows how they learn from the past.
  • Did they match your organization’s core tenets? Did the candidate indicate that they have the characteristics you’re looking for? For example, at Shopify, we look for people who are impact-driven, authentic, and self-aware. Questions like those asked in our Life Story interview help highlight if candidates possess these qualities.

Use these questions to help guide you into choosing a candidate that will shine.

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Make hiring easier

Scaling your team is a big, exciting undertaking. To find someone who fits, focus on finding lots of people to interview, asking questions that get you real answers, and assessing your candidates fairly. You’ll meet lots of great people, and hopefully start a working relationship that will take your business to bigger and better things.

How do you prepare for interviews with candidates? Let us know in the comments below!

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