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The Startup Guide to Solve for Hiring Part 3: From Screening to Offers

March 23, 2023
Amrutash Misra (Amrut)
Co-founder at CoreVoice | Serial entrepreneur with successful exit | Start-up marketing expert

From Screening to Offers

Set up a clear process that is easy for you to manage and simple for the candidate to understand.

At CoreVoice, we recommend a simple 5-step process that any startup can implement to improve their hiring. The first two steps are: (a) Write better role descriptions and (b) Get the JD out there - read that earlier article here.

In this article, we discuss the subsequent three steps.

Step 3: The pre-interview test

At CoreVoice, we get hundreds of applications every time we put out a job on LinkedIn; it is physically impossible to sift through all applications. Some numbers: In the first two days of putting out a JD for “Junior Graphic Designer,” we received over 600 applications on LinkedIn, and 1200 within a week.

We use a pre-interview test to sift through a very high volume of applicants:

  • Can we quickly disqualify the candidates who haven’t bothered to read the JD or visited our website? 
  • Can we disqualify those candidates who apply to hundreds of jobs simultaneously? 
  • Can we offer an opportunity for a creative candidate to shine through? 

The JD for our “Graphic Designer” position had three pre-interview questions in the “How to Apply” section. Of the 600 applicants, only about 5 answered them. We have seen this kind of drop-off very often. The highest percentage of emails/applicants CoreVoice has ever received was for “Writer (SaaS)” - 10% of applicants completed their pre-interview test.

Here is a sample pre-interview question for a marketing manager:

  1. A client is asking us to implement programmatic SEO. What are the top 3 questions you’d like to ask the client to understand whether it is suited for them?
  2. Please read the CoreVoice case study on our work with XYZ. What are the parts that stood out for you?

What do we ask graphic designers? Last month we asked:

  1. A new company called India Chip Makers has approached us for a branding exercise. Can you look up chip design companies and make a simple mood board?
  2. What is your opinion on the use of the Golden Ratio in logo design?

A great pair of questions to ask a writer:

  1. What’s your take on the Oxford Comma?
  2. Please explain to us why it’s impossible to square a circle.

Take a look at this submission we got from a prospect - link. Would you not want to interview this candidate?

When we design these tests, we keep the following in mind:

  1. It should take 30-90 minutes to fill. But if the candidate wishes to do better, there is scope to spend a few hours.
  2. Some questions are Googleable and intentionally so. We check for plagiarism and identify copy-paste gurus immediately!

Through this pre-interview test, we can filter out those candidates who applied without thought. For candidates who can’t spend an hour with their application: it’s a clear no, thank you very much.

Step 4: From the first call to the offer

At CoreVoice, we recommend the book “Who: The A Method for Hiring” to our clients. Written by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, the book is a must-read for founders, hiring managers, and TA teams.

The Who Book says hiring managers - even the best - have “voodoo” hiring practices. They believe that their questions separate the cream from the milk. For example, a strategy guru may ask, “How many balloons can fit in an Airbus?” A programming leader may ask about different data structures. A sales guru might ask, “Can you sell me this pen?”

Let us be brutally honest: All these thoughtful questions have answers on the internet. So all you are testing is the candidate’s ability to research online and to articulate themselves. We may believe we’re learning about a candidate’s “thinking ability,” but we’re not.

Other senior leaders rely on their “gut” to make hiring decisions. Perhaps the candidate has matched the hiring manager’s mental model of an ideal employee. Whatever may be driving the leader’s “gut,” it is not likely to have a very high success rate. 

“Who: The A Method for Hiring,” asks why is it that we follow frameworks for sales, products, and supply chain management but rely on our gut when it comes to hiring?

Using the ideas described in this book, at CoreVoice, for those candidates who have submitted an excellent pre-interview test, we follow a simple 3-step interview process - (a) The First Call, (b) The Evaluation, and (c) The Final Interview.

The first call

The first call is usually a 15-30 minute phone call where we listen to the candidate explain their work experience. We also ask them to talk about their educational background. 

As they speak, we make notes on the work they did, the challenges they faced, and their achievements and failures. We also nudge them to tell us where they felt most joyful - and why. We listen to them as they share their attitudes to various things.

In the first call, we are looking for major red flags. Does this candidate’s experience match what is needed? Does the candidate have a positive attitude? Did they do any research about our company? If there are significant red flags, we do not continue.

Setting up an honest conversation

Truthbomb: most people exaggerate or lie in their resumes and during interviews. For example, we found a candidate taking credit for 400 customer interviews. During the interview, we realised that the candidate had done two of them; her team had done the rest.

How does one set up the conversation so that it is honest? Here’s what we do: we inform the candidate that we will be doing a detailed reference check - most times, this is sufficient to force honesty. The Who Book explains a great way to do this without appearing aggressive or untrusting.

The skill evaluation

Whether for coding, creative, or business roles, skill testing is crucial and forms the backbone of the evaluation phase.

A good starting point in making an effective testing and interview process is to write down a set of parameters to evaluate the candidate for both hard and soft skills. Once the evaluation parameters are clear, tests and interview questions must be designed accordingly.

Let me share a few examples from our hiring practices: 

  • For marketing managers who will lead teams - one of the parameters we test is collaboration skills. We use a 1-hr task where the candidate has to solve a problem collaboratively with an employee of ours. Our employee is secretly asked to challenge the candidate’s ideas and disagree often. The hiring manager evaluates the candidate on various collaboration-related parameters at the end of the hour. For example, the candidate is rated on how well they took criticism and whether they were defensive.
  • For design roles, we wish to test originality. For context, it is far too easy for a designer to “get inspired” from an existing design on the internet, modify it and share it as original. We give designers a 1-hr task and ask them to share their screens as they complete it. At the end of the hour, we know exactly how to rate the candidate’s original design skills.

These are just examples. The core idea is for the hiring manager to decide what skills they require from their candidate and devise assignments and questions to test exactly that. 

Communicating clearly with the candidate

An interview process has an explicit power equation: the company has a job, and the candidate wants it. 

Don't misuse the power you have as a recruiter / hiring manager.

Abusing this power equation by withholding information or restricting communication is poor practice. If a company wants to hire A-listers, they must be clear about their process and set the bar for high honesty and transparency. The best candidates will return the favour.

In the collaboration test example above, we mention to candidates that we want to see how well they can work with our team. And that if their collaboration skills are poor, then it’s a no-go.

As a policy, we also communicate clearly with applicants on the status of their candidature. We give approximate timelines for each step of the process. From these good practices, high-skilled candidates may infer that the company is run in a well-structured way and not on the whims and fancies of the loudest voice in the room.

The final interview and reference call

Candidates who make it to the final interview deserve applause. By now, they have crossed three hurdles - the pre-interview, the first call, and the skill evaluation. Not just that, we have judged them to be honest and found no red flags worth rejecting them over.

But, for notes on the final interview and the post-interview reference call, we shall guide you to The Who Book again! 

Step 5: Closing the deal

Unfortunately, we do not have any new insights to share here. However, here are a few crucial practices we follow:

  • We clarify the budget for the role during the first call so that there are no surprises during closing.
  • Wherever possible, we make a 3-month gig offer first. This practice allows for both parties to get to know each other. Of course, only a tiny percentage of candidates prefer this.
  • We ensure constant communication from the time the offer is made to the date of joining - this allows for a higher joining rate.

Talent Branding

Suppose you follow everything in this article and the framework given in The Who Book. Would you succeed in hiring the best people? Mostly, yes. But. There are a lot of companies hunting the same talent.

How will your company stand out, be visible, and attract talent? Your company needs a talent brand.

Read about Employer branding (i.e. talent branding) in the following article.