Hiring is the most important process in a company. Everything else stems from the ability to hire and retain the right people. In fact, we think that 80% of good management is in making the right hires upfront, and only 20% is in the actual management of those people.
However, if you look across a typical company you'll notice a strange thing: hiring is completely unstandardized. And this is the case not just between teams, but also between candidates! Different candidates interviewing for the same role get evaluated in different ways, and then compared in a most unscientific manner.
This lack of rigor around hiring not only results in bad hires being made, but also in good people being passed over for unsubstantiated reasons. We call this voodoo hiring, a term from the book Who: The A Method for Hiring.
"In an age in which every other management process has been studied and codified, we find it amazing that people still view hiring, the process where building an organization begins, as something that resists an orderly approach. Yet managers cling to their favorite methods even when evidence suggests they don’t work." — Geoff Smart, Who: The A Method for Hiring
Imagine trying to submit a scientific paper to a journal describing a trial where you randomized the criteria for every evaluation—you'd be laughed out of the building! You can't measure variables unless you standardize and track them over time.
So why hasn't hiring been standardized? For two reasons:
- Like the hovering art director, everyone has their own opinions around hiring. And, more often than not, these opinions are a mixture of subjective principles that are not based in logic.
- People and departments don't like stepping on each other's toes by pointing out inadequacies in the other's hiring processes.
If you don't give people direction, what do they use to evaluate candidates? Themselves, of course. Ask the average person to describe the ideal hiring process and, more often than not, you'll get a process that spits out a 10/10 score for that person. Everyone likes to hire themselves.
As soon as you start standardizing your hiring process, you will find that critics, fearful of encroachment into their territory, will point out specific inadequacies and use that as evidence that the whole system is a dud.
By all means, listen to them and make any improvements needed. But then point out that an imperfect standardized system is better than no system at all, because the results will be consistent, and therefore can be evaluated against one another. It's important to be quantitative when hiring; it makes the system fairer and helps reduce bias.
So what does a standardized hiring system look like? Well, it involves the following things:
- Role proposal focused on outcomes
- Score card used for standardized evaluations
- Standardized screenings
- Standardized interviews: We’re going to ask the same questions at the same times in the same order to as many candidates as possible because question consistency enables us to get better insights to more accurately evaluate, compare, and contrast candidates.
- Standardized closing process so that we can iterate on and improve our close rate
It turns out there's an excellent book on this titled Who: The A Method for Hiring, that pioneered the concepts of voodoo hiring and standardized evaluation. It is required reading for any hiring manager at Clearbit.
Hiring A players
Hiring also has a huge knock-on effect. You may have heard the Steve Jobs quote:
“A players hire A players, but B players hire C players and C players hire D players. It doesn’t take long to get to Z players. The trickle-down effect causes bozo explosions in companies.”
So how exactly do we define an “A player”? Here's the definition we use from Who:
“We define an A player this way: a candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.”
Note: Hiring for A players doesn't mean hiring for the kitchen sink—they can be A players without being talented in every dimension. Talent teams call this looking for “purple squirrels,” or perfect candidates who don't actually exist. You need to have a deep understanding of what you need today, and which things can wait until the future.
Consider leverage when adding to your team
- individually so productive that they raise the average productivity of your team?
- acting as a multiplier to everyone else on the team?
If the answer is no to both questions, don’t add them to your team. In either case, make sure your overall productivity increase covers the cost of bringing them on.
This prevents leaders from arbitrarily hiring into their team for the sake of building up a fiefdom. Want to add someone? Sure, go ahead, but remember that it raises the bar on expected total per person output.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Throughout this chapter, we reference our golden example: a position we opened for a Head of Revenue Ops. We recommend using the documents we created for that role as a template for your own roles.
Mastering hiring is a superpower
The rest of this chapter will detail how to write a good role proposal; how to source, interview and close incredible candidates; and lastly, how to onboard and align that hire with jobs to be done.
This is a long, multi-year muscle to build, but an incredible superpower once mastered. It's no coincidence that the founders of Benchmark, one of the most successful venture capital firms in all history, were a bunch of recruiters.
So you want to hire someone? Well, you had better have a good reason for it. You are asking for a $100k–$200k cash investment at the very minimum, not to mention all the hidden costs associated with adding headcount, like ops and communication overhead.
Because of these costs, hiring should be your last resort. At the same time, you need to ensure your team is not understaffed, or else you may find yourself getting pulled into IC work in addition to your managerial and recruiting duties.
Your managerial leverage is your team's output divided by your team's size. In other words, how much are you able to do with as few people as possible? Great managers understand that by hiring the right people you can have a force multiplier effect on the output of your team. And conversely, that by hiring the wrong people (or over-hiring), you reduce your managerial leverage.
A key part of making the right hiring decisions comes from a process of inquiry that helps them justify the hire: a role proposal that explores alternate options, models the ideal candidate, and defines success.
As with asking for any investment, you first start out with a proposal—a pitch deck justifying the expense. This should be submitted to both your manager and our People team.
The first failure point of hiring is not being crystal clear about what you really want the person you hire to accomplish. A good proposal will cover that.
For a good example of a role proposal, see the one we created for our Head of Rev Ops position.
External-facing job description
This is a public-facing job description to be posted on our website and on other job sites. This description should include a list of key responsibilities, a list of need-to-haves, and a list of nice-to-haves. This description should take you thirty minutes to one hour to write.
Most companies' job descriptions are relatively boring; don't make that mistake. Write a dynamic and entertaining proposal really selling the company and the position. Remember, you're trying to influence someone to make a fundamental change to their lives, it had better be worth it for them!
Furthermore, A players will already be gainfully employed and performing well. You're pulling them away from comfortable success, so you need to highlight growth opportunities, a culture of success, and the other things that make working here so special.
We recommend including a series of questions at the end of this job description for the candidate to answer when applying. This will let you quickly filter out candidates who are applying to jobs en masse and focus on those who specifically want to work here.
We recommend using this description for our Rev Ops position as an example.
Internal facing role scorecard
This should detail how we actually measure what we want this person to accomplish in the first 6–12 months and what attributes they should possess in order to accomplish this. Here is a good example: Scorecard for Head of Revenue Operations.
From the book Who, a scorecard should consist of the following things:
Mission. Develop a short statement of one to five sentences that describes why a role exists. For example, “The mission for the customer service representative is to help customers resolve their questions and complaints with the highest level of courtesy possible.”
Outcomes. Develop three to eight specific, objective outcomes that a person must accomplish to achieve an A performance. For example, “Improve customer satisfaction on a ten-point scale from 7.1 to 9.0 by December 31st.”
Competencies. Identify as many role-based competencies as you think appropriate to describe the behaviors someone must demonstrate to achieve the outcomes. Next, identify five to eight competencies that describe your culture, and place those on every scorecard. For example, “Competencies include efficiency, honesty, high standards, and a customer service mentality.”
Ensure alignment and communicate. Pressure-test your scorecard by comparing it with the business plan and scorecards of the people who will interface with the role. Ensure that there is consistency and alignment. Then share the scorecard with relevant parties, including peers and recruiters.
While typical job descriptions break down because they focus on activities, or a list of things a person will be doing (e.g., calling customers, selling), scorecards succeed because they focus on outcomes, or what a person must get done (e.g., grow revenue from $10 million to $15 million in the third quarter).
Level & reporting
We have standardized levels for every role at Clearbit to fairly calculate compensation. Talk to our People team if you're unfamiliar with the different bands.
In this section of your role proposal, also include who the person is reporting to (probably you) and their title.
Use our leveling system to find estimated salary ranges.
Metrics to improve
These are metrics that you would expect to improve if we successfully hired for this role.
Alternatives to hiring this person
Give a list of alternatives to hiring this person. This is an important part of the process because it indicates to whoever is approving the role that you have really considered every other option. You might think hiring someone for the position is obvious, but entertain alternatives. Being able to explore the opposite is the mark of an enlightened mind (see Exploring the opposite).
If it's clear you haven't spent much time thinking about alternatives, then prepare for your request to be denied.
What happens if we wait too long to make this hire?
This section should indicate the urgency of the hire. Can we push this hire out for three months, or should we have made it yesterday?
Again, make a real effort to give this an honest answer. A good tactic in startups is to mortgage the future, that is, to punt problems into the future when you will have more time and resources to deal with them. Is this one of those cases?
Once your proposal is approved, it's time to publish your job description on our site, and start Sourcing your candidates.
Sourcing good candidates is the hardest part of the recruiting process to make time for, and the easiest part of the process to procrastinate on. It requires a good network, a lot of grunt work sifting through that network, and a lot of rejection. Quite frankly, if you allow it, the process can be really dull.
However, there is no alternative. Clearbit's success hinges on our ability to source great candidates. A good rule of thumb is that every offer requires 10–15 candidates, which requires contacting 100 quality candidates.
When you do not have a lot of quality candidates at the top of the funnel, you compromise further down the funnel. You say to yourself, "while this candidate isn't a great fit, we really need to fill this position," and then you make a bad hire.
But I have other things to do
New managers at Clearbit are sometimes surprised that, after submitting a role proposal, potential candidates don't magically appear waiting to be interviewed. That is not how things work here. You are responsible for sourcing and nurturing your own candidates.
The reason we do this is because it results in higher quality candidates. You are the best person to source candidates because you know better than anyone else exactly what kind of person is needed for the position.
It's also because, given that they will probably work directly for you, you're an integral part of this process. When candidates are evaluating the position, they are just as much evaluating you as they are the company.
Having a diverse workforce is an important part of building a healthy company. Diversity in background brings diversity of thought, which brings better ideas to the table. Additionally, candidates are increasingly looking at an organization's diversity when evaluating places to work.
In full transparency, we are still figuring out how to do this really well at Clearbit. We recognize that one of our most successful hiring channels (referrals through our network) can also lead to hiring more people from the same background. Improving our overall diversity is one of our 2020 goals.
Ensuring that you have a diverse top-of-funnel (i.e., in the sourcing stage) is an important part of achieving diversity in hiring.
Of all the ways to source candidates, the number one method is via referrals.
Source-a-thons are the secret to Clearbit's hiring success. They achieve two things: making sourcing less of a slog, and leveraging the full power of Clearbit's network to find employee referrals.
Clearbit is now at the size that we can source for most roles in our immediate network of employees. Source-a-thons simply gather the most relevant individuals (based on their role and network) in a room for an hour, and dedicate that time to scouring through their networks.
Once you have an approved role proposal in hand, schedule some time with people at the company who have networks related to the role. For example, if you were looking for an engineer, schedule some time with our CTO, Head of Engineering, and a few engineers you know have large networks.
At the start of the meeting, ensure that everyone has read the role proposal. We suggest listing a few sample candidates to help your sourcing group calibrate. Then we're off to the races! Get everyone to scour through their networks (using the tools listed further below), and add the results to a spreadsheet looking like this.
For candidates that your sourcing group can intro, ask for an intro right then and there (double-opt-in of course). For the others, either find mutual contacts, or cold-email them after the meeting.
We suggest gamifying the process by giving whoever refers the best candidates a voucher for a fancy dinner. Bringing snacks doesn't hurt either. Speak to our recruiting team to help organize this.
Start by putting together a Google Sheet dedicated to listing candidates for the role. Once the Source-a-thon is over, import this sheet into Lever (our candidate CRM) and put them in a nurture sequence.
Referrals via your own friends and network
When sourcing from your own network, simply sit down and sift through your own Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook for good candidates. We recommend using one of the tools we list below to do this. Often a quick text or Twitter DM will get a much better response rate than an email.
For those of you who use Twitter, we have seen success by going through your Twitter followers, filtering by role, and then reaching out over Twitter DM. If you have a large Twitter following, tweeting out links to open positions also works.
Sourcing session with new employees
Schedule an hour sourcing session with new employees after they have been at the company for a couple of months. Sit next to them, and comb through their network for open roles. This includes going through their Covey (see the tools list below), their previous colleagues, and whoever they follow on GitHub, Dribble, etc.
We suggest doing prework for this by creating a list of all their old companies, and then pulling up a list of people who work at those companies via Prospector. Then, during the sourcing session, go through the list one by one and ask whether the employee recommends them.
Sourcing session with your ATS
It's also a good idea to source directly from your application tracking system (ATS), in our case Lever. If you have spent time creating a great candidate experience, then you can use your past efforts by reengaging candidates you have already invested time in. It is critical to have detailed reasons for archiving candidates. "Candidate withdrew, not the right time, waiting for promotion."
Use Lever's snooze feature to prompt you to follow up with candidates at a later time. Often candidates are interested in a position, but the timing isn't good. Ask them when it would be a good time to re-engage.
Sourcing Session with friends of Clearbit
We have had a lot of success with sitting down with friends who are experts in a field and running a sourcing session with them. Often industry experts will have a good idea of up-and-comers in their field.
Once you have a list of candidates, get a warm intro through that friend; their introduction will carry some social proof.
Note down particularly interesting interactions with customers who are clearly very sharp—they may turn out to be great candidates. They already know you and the company, which is a huge shortcut.
You can search our internal customer database for people (via SQL on our Analytics DB) whose roles and seniority matches your requirements and start there.
AngelList & AList (engineer-specific)
AngelList and AList are both tools you can use to drum up some engineering candidates, although often of varying quality. AngelList is inbound and AList outbound. We recommend starting with AList.
The key to using these tools is to do some aggressive filtering to limit yourself to a manageable number of candidates. For example, exclude engineers without an avatar, a GitHub account, or a personal website and blog. In the engineering world, the latter represents a good signal. Writing about your craft is a good indication that you have passion for it.
Then send a customized, targeted message to a candidate. For example, compliment them on a particularly interesting GitHub repo they worked on.
Outbound is the most grueling way to source, but it can work. Again, the key is aggressive filtering and customized messages.
Make a list of companies who are well known for hiring great people in the role you're trying to fill. Go through Prospector or LinkedIn Recruiter to find a list of their employees.
Lead with a standout subject line that will make candidates want to open the email. "Hello" works surprisingly well, or "I would love to work with you." Additionally, emails that end with "Thanks in advance" get a better response rate.
As a hiring manager, you can also leverage your CEO and executive team for outbound! A short note from the CEO will often get a more positive response than one from your recruiting team. Using Lever, you can send nurture sequences from whomever you'd like without bothering them.
"It's hard to get enough info about people to write great personalized messages, but when it's possible, it's SO much better. I'd even venture to say that for every 100 impersonal, automated messages you send (unless you're a household name like Google), you're better off spending like 30 minutes stalking someone and writing something about how their past work resonates with what you're doing."
— Aline Lerner
Ask for feedback / to learn
Following the if you want money, ask for feedback model, this technique involves asking the people you might want to hire for feedback on your job description.
Once you've written a compelling job description and gotten some real feedback from your team, create a simple email like this:
Your name came up when I was chatting with Ashley Taylor, and she mentioned that you were an incredibly talented Product Marketer and someone she looked up to while at Yext.
I'm starting to build out our PMM team here at Clearbit, and I'd love to chat for a few minutes if you're willing.
Mostly I would love advice on how to think about the first 2–4 PMM hires and how you would structure that org if you were starting over.
Would also really appreciate any feedback you have for me on the early job description I've put together.
Let me know if you'd be willing to grab a quick call sometime next week!
Remember, if they're not interested, it's possible that they know of other good candidates. Ask them.
Recruiters should often be the last resort, since the pool of candidates they send through typically aren't of the same quality as you’d find when sourcing through your own network. However, recruiters excel at filling certain types of roles such as go-to-market roles (e.g., CSMs), since these are evergreen roles with typically a high volume of candidates.
We have also found a difference between recruiting companies and recruiting freelancers in that the latter tend to bring in higher quality candidates.
Here is a list of sourcing and recruiting tools we recommend:
- Vettery - Job marketplace
- Teamable - Search your network
- Covey - Search your network
- AngelList - Job postings & candidates
- AList - List of vetted candidates
- Underdog - Job marketplace
- LinkedIn Recruiter - Search for candidates
- Interviewing.io - Pre-vetted engineers
So you've got your proposal approved and you’ve screened some candidates who are interested; you're making progress—great work! The next step is interviewing and evaluating candidates. The good news is that this is easier than sourcing because it's a process that's entirely within your control.
As we explained in Hiring 101, we have a standardized interview process at Clearbit to ensure consistency and rigor.
The five types of interviews are:
- Screening interviews
- Top-grading interviews
- Focused interviews
- Values interviews
- Reference interviews
Every candidate goes through all five types. Focused interviews and values interviews are best done in person onsite, and preferably back-to-back on the same day. The others (Screening, Top-grading) can be done prior to the onsite interview via Zoom/phone calls (to save time).
Our recruiting team will coordinate the day onsite, but it is your responsibility to determine who's going to interview the candidate and the different areas they should each cover. It's a waste of time (and boring for the candidate) if there's too much overlap in questions.
Fairly often, candidates won't be able to dedicate a full day onsite for interviews. In these cases, we'll split out interviews over two days.
Sample interview schedule
- 9:00am: Candidate arrives and is greeted by the hiring manager (you) and a member of our recruiting team.
- 9:00 - 11:00am: Focussed interviews
- 11:00am - 12:00pm: Culture interview
- 12:00pm - 12:45pm: Lunch with hiring manager
- 1:00pm - 4:00pm: Focused interviews
- 4:00pm: Recruiter thanks the candidate and explains next steps
- 4:15pm (or immediately next day): Huddle to determine a yes/no decision to move forward and conduct reference calls
The screening interview is a short phone call designed to weed out candidates quickly. Since interviews are incredibly expensive in terms of opportunity cost, we want to ensure that time is only spent on A players.
As with all our interviews, we run screen checks in a structured manner to ensure consistency and rigor.
Four essential questions
We recommend scheduling the screening call for 30 minutes.
Open the call by setting the context: “I’m really looking forward to our time together. Here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to spend the first twenty minutes of our call getting to know you. You may hear me making some notes. After that, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have so you can get to know us. Sound good?”
Most candidates who are interested in the job will happily agree. Then, progress with the following four questions, writing notes along the way.
What are your career goals? Here we are trying to determine whether there is intention to a candidate's career, or if it's an aimless wandering. The best candidates know what they want to do and speak with passion and energy; filter all others out.
What are you really good at professionally? Please give me some examples. Here we are trying to determine 5–10 areas that the candidate considers themselves really good at. Don't accept one-word answers; press for examples. If these strengths don't align with the scorecard, filter the candidate out.
What is your greatest accomplishment professionally? What are you most proud of?
This should be a shining example of what the candidate is capable of, one that is backed by real numbers. You may find that you don't need to use this question if it's already clear what the candidate's strengths are.
What are you not good at or not interested in? Please give me some examples.
This is better than asking “what are your weaknesses,” as it often yields more insightful responses. If you're getting cookie-cutter responses, say, “That sounds like a strength to me. What are you really not good at or not interested in doing?”
This question is often hard for folks. One tactic is to wait until they've given some answers and then say, "Well, what if we asked your current boss? What would they say you're not good at or not interested in?"
Once you have an answer to that, ask about their peers' feedback: "Well, what if we asked your team? What would they say you're not good at or not interested in?"
"I sometimes ask this question by qualifying it with, "We all have parts of the job that we don't love, that don't give us energy, and we find ourselves procrastinating to complete. For me, I don't love X, so I wait for the end of the day to do it. What would you say is that part of the job that you don't love, but you know you have to do?" This approach might be a little too soft, but I always get honest answers."
– Brianna Byun, Recruiting at Clearbit
Who were your last three managers, and how will they each rate your performance on a scale of 1–10 when we talk with them? Why?
Notice we say when rather than if; we are trying to provoke some honesty. Get full names of the managers, not titles. Ask the candidate to spell their full names clearly for you. This sends the message you're recording this information to use it later. When a candidate is uncomfortable with a manager or situation, they will call it out specifically, which is helpful.
Lots of 8/9/10 is good. 7 is neutral. 1–6 is bad. If there are too many 6s, screen out. But listen carefully—the best candidates may be diamonds in the rough.
Getting curious to know more
Rather than trying to come up with clever questions, there is a much easier way of teasing the information you need out of candidates. Simply prompt them to continue down their train of thought. You can accomplish this by saying, "oh? tell me more," or by repeating the last few words they've said.
If by twenty minutes in you think they are an A player, move into sell mode. Interviews are a big commitment for candidates, and the best candidates will be getting hounded by other companies, so they need to know it's worth their time.
First, ask if it's possible to extend the call by 15 minutes. Then start pitching.
Selling works best when you let them ask questions. Rather than telling them how great we are, let them ask you questions, which gives you more info on what they care about and then allows you to tailor your selling answers to the questions they are asking.
We recommend you start by saying something like "okay, so you've been under the microscope a bit and now it’s my turn. I'm happy to talk about whatever is helpful. What can I tell you about Clearbit, the team, myself, or the role?"
Different candidates require different pitches. Ideally, the first part of the interview should give you an indication of where to focus your efforts.
Ask them what they're interested in next. Are they interested in smaller companies? Focus on our values of autonomy and iteration speed. Are they interested in a big win on their CV? Focus on our progress to date and ambitions. Are they going to be remote? Focus on how flexible our remote culture is.
If they're going to be reporting to you, speak to yourself and the rest of the team you've built. Talk about how much we value management at Clearbit, and the attributes of great management that are important to you.
Ask the candidate questions to learn about their lives and what they want to optimize for next. Is it great management, an inspiring mission, or financial compensation? It's important to note these down in Lever, because this information will be useful during the closing process.
Make sure to leave time for them to ask you questions. They are interviewing us as well.
At the end of the phone interview, let the candidate know that you would like to immediately schedule the next interview (which is usually a remote top-grading interview). We suggest giving a brief overview of our interview process so they know what to expect (our recruiting team will reiterate this too).
Top grading interviews
The goal of this interview is to understand the candidate’s story and patterns. These stories and patterns are predictive of the candidate’s future performance.
With a top-grading interview, you are working through the candidate’s last five positions (in chronological order), asking a set of questions to determine how successful they were. It's important that the hiring manager responsible for the role is the one who conducts this interview.
Our top-grading interview is inspired by the Who interview in *Who: The A Method for Hiring.* This style of interviewing is the most valid and reliable predictor of performance, according to a half-century’s worth of thousands of research studies in the field of industrial psychology.
Opening the interview
It can be an intense interview, so open it by preparing the candidate for what's ahead:
“Thank you for taking the time to visit with us today. As we have already discussed, we are doing to do a chronological interview to walk through each job you have held. For each job, I am going to ask you five core questions: What were you hired to do? What accomplishments are you most proud of? What were some low points during that job? Who were the people you worked with? Why did you leave that job?
“I'll be making notes live throughout the interview. At the end of the interview, you will have a chance to ask me questions.
“Finally, while this sounds like a lengthy interview, it will go remarkably fast. I want to make sure you have the opportunity to share your full story, so it is my job to guide the pace of discussion. Sometimes, we’ll go into more depth into a period of your career. Other times, I will ask that we move on to the next topic. I’ll try to make sure we leave plenty of time to cover your most recent and, frankly, most relevant jobs.
“Does that make sense?”
The questions are as follows. Make notes throughout the interview, because you will not remember enough afterward. You should ask these questions for each job the candidate has held over the last five years, starting at their earliest job.
What were you hired to do? Here you are trying to discover the scorecard for the candidate's job, had they written one. What were the missions and key outcomes? What competencies might have mattered? A players should know this like the back of their hand.
What were your priorities? What did your accomplish, and how? A players talk about outcomes linked to expectations; they talk about concrete results. B and C players talk about events and people; aspects but not results. Ideally these accomplishments should match up with the position's scorecard.
What were some low points during that job? These can be difficult to tease out of candidates, but don't stop until you have something of substance. Keep reframing the question; for example, “What was your biggest mistake?” “What was your biggest lesson learned?” “What would you have done differently?”
Who was on your team? How were those relationships? You want a list of names you can potentially reference check, particularly if the relationship wasn't good.
What was your primary manager's name? Ask for the spelling because it shows the candidate that you're going to reference check them directly, and thus inspires honesty in the next question.
How did your manager rate your performance on a scale of one to ten? Asking for a score will help make the answer more concrete. Once you have a score, ask the candidate to elaborate. For example, what strengths will your manager mention? What weaknesses?
What were your reasons for leaving? This final question will give you an insight into what motives the candidate and how they think about their career. Was the candidate promoted, recruited, or fired from each job along their career progression? Keep digging; don't accept vague answers.
- Use the candidate's answers as a tool to dig in more by asking “What,” “How,” & “Tell me more” questions.
- You have to interrupt the candidate. It’s more rude to let them ramble or waste time. Show enthusiasm about the story they are telling and guide them back online with a targeted question.
- Consider their accomplishments and outcomes in context with the three Ps. Compare to previous? Compare to plan? Compare to peers?
- Put yourself in their shoes—get specific information rather than general. Facts are king!
- Look for stop signs (inconsistencies in body or language) and dig in and ask for more info.
This is the part of the interview that will differ depending on what kind of role you're hiring for. For engineers, you may want to do a pair-programming session; for sales, you might want a mock sales call. It should cover what their work will look like day-to-day (i.e., no writing code on whiteboards).
The golden rule is to ensure that these focused interviews are standardized; each candidate for the role should be asked the same questions. Otherwise, how are you to evaluate them against one another?
Make sure these interviews are focused on the outcomes and competencies of the scorecard, not some vaguely defined job description or manager’s intuition. Leave 10 minutes at the end for questions (and make sure any questions asked are included with the rest of the interview feedback—they're a valuable insight into what the candidate cares about).
Every department has a page in the wiki indicating how they do their focused interviews. For example, here's what a technical interview might look like. Each topic has standardized questions, which are detailed in our wiki.
"Recruiting isn’t about vetting as much as it is about selling...being a good interviewer takes time and effort and a fundamental willingness to get out of autopilot and engage meaningfully with the other person." - Aline Lerner in What do the best interviewers have in common?
An example of a tech focussed interview scheduled might be:
- Product / Process - 30 minutes - Run by someone on our product team.
- Pair programming - 2 hours - This is either backend or frontend focused.
- Algorithm / System Design - 30-60 mins - Run by a senior engineer.
Splitting up responsibilities
Take the scorecard and group the outcomes and responsibilities it lists. Then divvy up each group to your interviewers, ensuring that they're all covered. You want to avoid having different interviewers asking the same questions to the candidate; it's both a waste of time and boring to the candidate.
Example from Who
Who has a good example of how to run a focused sales interview, reprinted below:
For example, let’s say you are hiring a VP of sales. The scorecard you created has four outcomes on it:
- Grow domestic sales from $500 million to $600 million by December 31, and continue growing them by 20 percent per year for the next five years.
- Maintain at least a 45 percent gross margin across the portfolio of products annually.
- "Who" the sales organization, ensuring that 90 percent or more of all new hires are A Players as defined by the sales scorecards. Achieve a 90 percent or better ratio of A Players across the team within three years through hiring and coaching. Remove all chronic C Players within ninety days of identification.
- Create a sales strategy that the CEO approves during the annual planning cycle.
In addition, let’s say you have identified six competencies that define success in the job:
- Hires A Players
- Holds people accountable
- Follows through on commitments
- Open to criticism and feedback
Try assigning three members of your team to perform focused interviews based on this scorecard. The first interviewer takes the first two outcomes and the first two competencies because they all have to do with growing sales and managing costs and the behaviors that support both. The second interviewer has the responsibility for the outcome related to Who and the two competencies having to do with how the candidate builds the team. That leaves everything else for the third interviewer.
Each interview should take forty-five minutes to one hour, depending on how many outcomes and competencies you assign to each interviewer. Regardless of the time spent, each interviewer will bring supplemental data to your decision-making process.
At Clearbit, we place a particular emphasis on building a close-knit team. We want to work with people whom we also enjoy spending time with. It’s one of the things that makes this place so fun. Therefore, we look to hire people who are aligned with our core values and will add to the culture we’ve created. The Values interview is designed to determine this.
Using Clearbit's hiring rubric
Our hiring rubric is a tool designed to assist hiring managers and interviewers with making better hiring decisions. It determines the character traits we think our candidates need in order to be successful within Clearbit’s culture.
By externalizing the subjective portion of the hiring process that often takes place in our heads, we can be more objective and scale our character evaluation abilities. Below are our values; each candidate gets a score of zero to four by each value.
- Self sufficient - Candidate is a self-starter, and once given a general direction or problem-set they will run with it.
- Trust - Candidate only has to be told something once, and you can be confident it will get done.
- Conviction - Candidate is willing to disagree (playfully) and fight for what they believe in.
- Loves their craft - Candidate has genuine curiosity and love for their craft - it’s not just another job for them.
- Integrity - Candidate is honest and truthful.
- Sense of humour - Candidate is quick to laugh and doesn't take themselves or life too seriously.
- Team - Candidate works well with others and believes there’s no such thing as “it’s not my job.”
Now, you may be thinking that testing for these values could be quite arbitrary. You would be right, were it not for our hiring rubric, which details how to test against each value.
Our full rubric can be found in the wiki under the Recruiting section, but we've reprinted a portion of it below as an example:
Sample rubric: testing for craft
At Clearbit, we take pride in what we do, and we’re always looking for ways that we can improve. Mastering our craft and bettering ourselves should be an end unto itself. We want to add people to the team who take a similar joy in their work.
Some ideas for testing:
- Does the candidate have a blog (doesn’t need to be up to date)?
- Has the candidate published any works, written any books, or given any presentations?
- Does the candidate know any experts in their field well?
- Has the candidate shown clear progression in their field over the last few years?
- Is the candidate aware of recent news/research/articles that you haven’t even heard of?
- Does the candidate have any side hobbies related to the field?
- Has the candidate purposely chosen this career or just slipped into it?
- Do other people/companies seek their advice?
- If they're an engineer, do they develop or maintain any open source projects?
- Are they part of the community for their specialty; e.g., do they attend meetups, conferences, etc.?
How to score
- A zero would be someone whose knowledge has remained static for the last few years, takes no pleasure in their work, and clocks out at 5 p.m.
- A four would be someone who’s taught themselves their field from scratch, is constantly reading and looking to improve, and has lots of coffees with people looking for their advice.
Reference interviews are to double-check the accuracy of what candidates have told us, to uncover any issues before we potentially make a bad hire, to address any red/yellow flags that were raised during the interview process, and lastly to help the hiring manager best work with the candidate once we've hired them.
There are two types of reference interviews:
- Direct references - interviews with people that the candidate has directly referred to us.
- Indirect references - interviews with people that the candidate hasn't referred to us. These people are found through our network, cold emailing, etc.
You should try and do at least three of each.
These are still useful to do, but know that 99% of the time direct references offered unprompted by the candidate will be positively glowing. Why else would the candidate have referred you to these people if otherwise? So you have to become an expert in teasing out the real juicy details.
Listen for red flags like hesitations and intentional omissions. Ask for facts and not anecdotes. Exactly which parts of their team's success were they responsible for?
Picking the references based on screening and top-grading (e.g., their last five managers), you will get usually get less gushy answers. However, sometimes this just isn't possible for all the references you'd like; for example, if they're still working at another company.
Ask for a twenty-minute reference call (preferably a video call over Zoom). As with every part of our interview process, the process is standardized. Here's the script we use:
In what context did you work with the person? Discount references who only know the candidate's work by hearsay.
What were the person’s biggest strengths?
What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then? It is very important to say “back then.” This liberates people to talk about real weaknesses, assuming that the candidate has improved them by now. (In reality, past performance is an indicator of future performance.)
How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a scale of 1-10? What about his/her performance causes you to give that rating? A concrete score forces people to think objectively and compare that person's performance to that of the rest of the team.
The person mentioned that he/she struggled with ____ in that job. Can you please tell me more about that? This is a good chance to dig into any issues that might have been raised during the interview process.
Tell me about a time that you and ___ disagreed. How did you resolve that disagreement? This is a good way of digging into how the candidate deals with conflict.
Would you hire him/her again if you could?
If the candidate is still gainfully employed, then these have to be very carefully done, but indirect references are usually where you get the most candid feedback. Try to find people that the candidate has directly worked with in the past, either directly or indirectly, and get them on the phone.
Use the company's resources to find appropriate candidates. Ask in Slack whether anyone has any contacts at the candidate’s previous workplaces. Lastly, look on LinkedIn to find appropriate people. Use Connect to find their email addresses if necessary.
Once you have them on the phone, follow the script above.
Time spent closing candidates is arguably your most leveraged time spent compared to anything else you could be doing. The old adage “do things that don't scale” applies here; you're dealing with so few candidates that you can do unique and extraordinary things to help increase the chance they accept. Because of this leverage, don't shy away from asking senior people (including our CEO) to help close.
The other adage to bear in mind is “time kills all deals.” We can win offers just by moving faster than the next company.
Prior to closing the candidate, you want to get them as excited as possible about Clearbit. In fact, you should be selling at every touchpoint throughout the interview process. On the first call, you should establish the candidate’s motivations, and then throughout the process be able to reframe the opportunity to align with the candidate’s needs. If you wait to start selling the role at the end of the process, you will probably lose the candidate.
Put yourself in their shoes. Ask the candidate questions to learn about their lives and what they want to optimize for. Is it great management, an inspiring mission, or financial compensation? Hopefully you will have done the groundwork here on the screening call, so you can look at your notes.
We find the typical motivators are cash compensation, scope of role, company growth, culture, location, and industry. You should frame the company's value in a way that’s aligned with each candidate’s core motivations.
Your pitch per candidate will vary, but here are some of the things we suggest:
The five 'fs'
- Fit (talents and strengths match to opportunity and role)
- Family support for joining company
- Freedom to make decisions
- Fortune and glory
- Scope the opportunity—don't be afraid to help candidates do the math.
- If you're interested in working closely with the leadership team, you may be especially suited to Clearbit.
- Share the product roadmap.
- Talk about the other people on the team and their caliber.
- Talk about Clearbit's potential, our latest funding raise, and our ambitions.
- Talk about career progression and the things candidates could learn (and what we can learn from them in return).
Self growth and values
Show how seriously we take self-growth and our values.
- Internally we have an incredible culture of feedback and self-growth. Conscious Leadership and world-class management (Manager’s Handbook) are at the heart of everything we do, and it shows. We score an average of 8.5 out of 10 when we anonymously survey our employees' happiness, and we have only 5% annual employee attrition.
- Send this blog post.
- Talk about the amount of fun we have at Clearbit (send pictures of our offsites).
- Therapy via Modern Health
- Education stipend
- If the candidate is in SF, make sure to have them in for lunch.
Provide social proof
- Encourage the candidate to do reference checks.
- For senior candidates, offer to connect them with our investors.
- Send them and their significant other flowers and/or champagne.
- Ask mutual friends to reach out and provide positive references of the company.
Prior to closing the candidate, use this template to prepare the candidate and gather the necessary information to put together an offer. It's important that at no stage do we indicate for certain that they are getting an offer.
State excitement and hint offer is coming soon: “We’re conducting final references, doing a final team sync, but we’re extremely excited about you. Just wanted to take a second to sync here on some final items.”
Pre-close statement: “Assuming we extended an offer to you that made sense financially, do you see yourself joining Clearbit?”
Potential answer one: candidate says "Yes"
If they did not hesitate, and Clearbit is the first choice, ask these additional questions:
- “Have you discussed Clearbit with your significant other or anyone else required to make a decision?”
- “Theoretically, if everything were to work out, when is the earliest you could start?”
Potential answer two: candidate is unsure whether or not they'd join
Ask very candidly:
- “What questions do you have with Clearbit?”
- “What other options are you considering?”
- Ask candidates to complete the sentence: "I would join the company as long as ___"; they will tell you what is in the way of them joining. Often you'll be surprised at how easy it can be to address their questions.
Repeat back what they said:
- “What I heard is__. If those conditions were met theoretically, would you see yourself joining Clearbit?”
- Take notes on this and send in a comprehensive email follow-up to the candidate to demonstrate commitment to them.
- Ask "What is your timeline for making a decision?"
Potential answer three: Candidate insists that they just want an offer first and then will consider things after
- The likelihood of them joining is lower, but you just ultimately have to go ahead. Agree with that idea cheerily: “Absolutely! We’re super stoked and will be getting back to you ASAP.”
- Ask, "What is your timeline for making a decision?"
- “Great, well, we should be finishing up soon here and we’ll get back to you very quickly. As mentioned, the team is pretty stoked. Talk soon.”
- Follow up this conversation with an email reiterating your understanding of what they’ve said. This builds trust and gives them the confidence that they are being heard (e.g., “What I heard is__”).
Before an offer: do's and don'ts
Do not: Lead the candidate to believe that they can get any added benefits/perks beyond your intended offer unless you are sure they can (e.g., raises, annual refreshes).
Do: Tell them “yes” or “no” only if you are 100% sure. If you are not sure if you are willing/able to give them what they are suggesting, just say something like “I don’t know about that; that’s not typical. I’ll look into it, but let’s assume the answer is no for now.”
Do not: Tell them you will make an offer as soon as you determine they’re qualified for your company. Until reaching that point, do not say or indicate that you will definitely make an offer. After all, you may not.
Do: Say “we like you,” or “it would be great to have you on our team,” etc. Tell them you are very interested, would love to have them aboard, and will be discussing/deliberating/deciding on a compensation package, and that you “hope to reach an agreement with them.”
Do not: Tell them when to expect to receive an offer from you.
Do: Tell them it’s up to them; that you only want to make an offer if you have reached mutual agreement on terms. Candidates are understandably eager to get to the finish line asap, and would love to collect an offer from you asap. But you should only make the offer when the candidate is ready to accept it. You should work with the candidate to get to that point asap.
Do not: Tell them how much time they can have or that they can have time, or refer to any deadline.
Do: Remind them that interviews are ongoing and that you will consider hiring any of those people until the position is filled, so if the candidate does decide they want to work at your company, it will help if they can figure that out as soon as possible. After all, waiting too long may result in the position being filled by someone else instead.
Do not: Discuss any compensation we are thinking of giving them—salary, equity, or otherwise—prior to the offer call.
Do: Tell them about the past, present, and potential future valuation of the company. Give them hypotheticals rather than promises of what will happen in the future. If you do want to talk about the incremental value of an amount of stock that would approximate their offer, then manage their expectations by discussing the value of an amount that is the same or a little lower than what you intend to offer. For example, if you plan on offering .2%, tell them how much .1% is worth. Certainly don’t discuss what .5% or 1% is worth if you plan on offering .2%, as you might inflate the candidate’s expectations beyond what they will get in their package. Sell them even more thoroughly on the things that are not tied to how much you decide to offer them, such as benefits, the job itself, growth opportunities, technology, etc.
Do not: Ask the candidate to email you, or email the candidate anything that desires a response. Your talks with the candidate should only be live (on the phone or in person). Emails can delay communication (and in some cases are not received at all!), they obscure or distort communication, and they are also often used by candidates to create distance. For example, when candidates decide to withdraw from consideration by your company, they almost always decide to do so through email, so that they can avoid confrontation and the possibility of being persuaded otherwise. All of those problematic scenarios caused by using email for communication are the opposite of what you want.
Do: Coordinate your communication with your recruiter. If urgent, then call the candidate rather than emailing them.
Do not: Tell the candidate or give them any indication that they are your top choice, or that you don’t have any other candidates. Even if that is indeed true at the moment, it may soon change, as you should keep pursuing/interviewing candidates until there is no longer an opening. Also, you don’t want to give the candidate a false sense of entitlement.
Do: Tell the candidate that you like them a lot, you think they’re great, etc. Tell them the reasons you like them. People like hearing why others like them, and they tend to reciprocate that liking. One suggestion is to read out positive feedback that the team gave the candidate during the interview process.
Offer and closing
Typically, there are three different methods of making offers to candidates:
- Make the offer with no deadline.
- Make the offer with an immediate deadline (a.k.a. the “exploding offer” or “hard close”)
- Don’t make the offer unless it will be accepted (a.k.a. “Don’t make an offer! Reach an agreement!”)
We recommend the third method for the following reasons:
- We have a standardized leveling system for compensation that ensures that offers are fair; we do not want it to seem like the door is open for negotiation.
- The candidate won't ever be in limbo, mulling over whether or not to accept your offer.
- The candidate won't be able to shop your offer around.
While rare, there may be circumstances where it is best to deviate from this and choose the first or the second method. This is usually when you need to apply some time pressure when there are multiple candidates to choose between.
Make the offer
As with a marriage proposal, the key is not to make the offer until you're sure they're going to accept!
Explain the package
Remind candidates about the work we are doing with our compensation consultants to come up with our ranges.
“We worked with a compensation consultant to develop a system of career levels and associated salary ranges. This new system is helping to make offers competitive by paying above market. It also allows us to create a much more fair system for existing and future employees by removing negotiation from the picture; otherwise, we just reward great negotiators rather than basing offers on the market.”
Remember, this system is designed so we pay top percentile of market, rather than market.
Reach an agreement
Ask them, "If we were to make you the following offer (state the offer in full detail, including cash, equity, benefits, etc), would you accept?"
Make the offer
If they say yes, then make the offer. If you skip this step and simply make them the offer, then it is very common for them to ask for a few more things after the fact (e.g., signing bonus, moving expenses, etc). You will then be in the awkward position of having to give these (but then a political culture begins) or starting the relationship on a negative note by saying no.
It is better to get the candidate to pre-agree in full detail before making the offer. Then the relationship begins with a resoundingly positive “Yes! Thank you! I’m so excited!”
You should have covered benefits by this point, but if the candidate has any questions, reiterate the benefits and send over the PDF where they're all covered.
Telling the Equity Story
Some candidates are coming from more established companies where their base salary is much higher. Other candidates lack a deeper understanding of the value of equity and don’t prioritize it when evaluating offers. In these cases, it’s important to not just give offer details, but to tell a story about the potential value the offer represents.
- Make a copy of our equity calculator (ask the People team).
- Fill in salary and shares with the candidate’s offer.
- Explain that we review salary and equity and you can expect to get grants if you’re performing well.
- Discuss best and worst case scenarios - what their equity could be worth in 2–10 years.
- Share the An Engineer's Guide to Stock Options (relevant to not just engineers), and our public commitment to ensure that everyone can exercise them.
Delivering the offer: do's and don'ts
Do not: Make more than one offer. Do not tell a candidate there is wiggle room in your offer or that it is negotiable, or that they can have more time to think about it. The exception is if you are making someone an offer with several options of base salary and equity combinations. Do not increase your offer if a candidate who has said they would accept your offer asks for you to increase it from what they already said they would accept!
Do: When you make the offer, you should expect that they will immediately verbally accept it. That is what they should have said they would do at this point, and you should hold them accountable to their word. So if the person responds to your offer with “I’ll think about it” or anything other than “I accept,” then respond by saying something like “our understanding was that you would definitely accept an offer at this level."
Sending the offer letter
Remember that an offer letter is a formality and is “the fine print” following the candidate’s verbal acceptance of your offer. It should not be a time for the candidate to negotiate further. You should, of course, answer any questions that arise, but as long as your offer letter language is fairly standard, with no unusual terms or surprises, then the candidate should agree to it, sign it, and return it quickly.
Too many candidates are lost because they feel abandoned once they are given an offer or arrive at the company. Think lots of touches!
Send them a congratulatory email and follow up with flowers and/or champagne to them (and their SO). Our recruiting team will coordinate with you to send an email to them and CC the entire company, so everyone can chime in on how excited they are about your candidate joining.
Clearbit is an equal opportunity employer. We value and celebrate how you identify, who you love, the color of your skin, your age (at heart and on paper), the gods you do or don't believe in, and every other belief and characteristic that make you YOU. The more inclusive we are, the better we—and our work—will be.
So you've successfully interviewed and hired a candidate. Congratulations—nice work! However, before you get too carried away, there's one last step: onboarding.
If hires are not onboarded properly, then one of two things will happen: they will quit within the first six months or, even worse, they will be ineffective.
A successful onboarding process achieves these things:
- Reassures the hire that they've made the right decision
- Introduces the hire to key stakeholders
- Gives the hire the tools they need to do their job (e.g., a set-up laptop, access to GitHub)
- Gives the hire context around the history of the company, product line, culture, etc.
- Sets up the hire's first 90 days, decides on key metrics
- Lets them hit the ground running
Nothing beats in-person time for bonding, trust building, and quick communication, so we fly people out to Clearbit headquarters in San Francisco for their first two weeks whenever possible.
The 30/60/90 plan
A 30/60/90 is simply a plan of what hires will do in their first 90 days. Ideally it should closely align with the Role Proposal you created for the job in the first place.
A good 30/60/90 will be:
- Very specific, with goals orientated around the original role proposal.
- Quantifiable, with specific targets to hit.
- Bought into. Ideally the hire, having seen the role proposal, is going to come up with their own 30/60/90 that you will sign off on. This will ensure that they have bought into the plan.
- Achievable. Hires should be getting easy wins early on.
We suggest splitting out things the hire should learn from things the hire should do, as well as splitting things out by time period.
We have created a sample 30/60/90 here for you to use as inspiration, here's an excerpt:
Goal: Meet everyone, gain context, figure out how to find answers for different foundational questions, and then find them.
- What do the products do?
- Who are the types of people who use them? Why?
- What do all the teams do? What are their goals and targets?
- What does the growth team do? How does the team work together?
- What content exists? What’s the content creation and publishing process?
- What data is available? Where does it come from?
- Participate in ongoing content projects: data playbook, CMO book, persona pages, etc.
- Demonstrate knowledge around SQL joins (e.g., the difference between OUTER and INNER)
- Create drip campaign for leads awaiting response
- Create re-engagement campaign for signup flow abandonment
- Publish a blog post
Early in our history, our leadership team used to do one-on-ones with every new hire. These were an important aspect of onboarding new people and relationship building.
As the company grew, it became untenable to meet everyone individually, so we batch up these meetings into something we call Clearbit Academy, which we run on the last Friday of every month.
Clearbit Academy is about giving new hires (and existing employees) a clearer sense of who we are, what is important to us, and how to be successful in their new roles. Throughout the day, every team presents an overview. This includes team history, key people, how the team is structured, and how best to work with the team.
Check out our wiki for more information on Clearbit Academy and recordings of previous sessions.
Before the hire's official start date, we send them the 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. Our Ops team will also collect a brief bio and send a mass email to the entire team, introducing them to the new hire.
A new hire's first day is all about getting set up, starting to bond with their teammates, and having their first one-one-one.
By day two, we want new hires to feel like they know where to find things, who to ask for help, and how they'll be working with their manager.
Suggested first day schedule
- Tech and HR onboarding *
- Assigned the general onboarding project in Asana *
- Added to your team-specific onboarding project in Asana
- Assigned an onboarding buddy who is their go-to for questions during their first two weeks
- Welcome meeting scheduled with their team
- First one-on-one with their manager
* Ops team will coordinate
Week one is about learning, gathering context, meeting with teammates, and writing a 30/60/90-day plan. They should be going through the Asana checklist, reading the linked materials, and checking off the tasks.
By the end of week one, we want new hires to have met with all of the key stakeholders, gotten the lay of the land, built a first draft of their 30/60/90 plan, and shared it with relevant parties for feedback.
We suggest that their plan includes a quick win, one that can be shipped in the second week.
The first and second weeks are critical because they show the new hire this is our culture. This is how we behave. If we expect the new hire to ship the second week, this will set the pace for the new hire. Conversely, if we set a goal for the new hire to ship in 90 days, that will be the baseline expectation of the new hire moving forward.
Week two is for working! New hires get their managers to sign off on their 30/60/90, then publish it in their team's Slack channel.
As a manager, your job is to help your new hire with their first shippable project, ideally shipped before the end of this week. Expect that your new hire will be spending a large portion of this week reading, in one-on-ones, and still learning a ton.
First 30 days
Focus on more shipping the 30/60/90. Hopefully your new hire has completed their first quick win in week two! If they have, have them post it to the #shipped channel.
It's important to remember that your new hire is still being interviewed 30 days in. You'll have had a first chance to work together and gather data that's impossible to ascertain during the formal interview process.
Be asking yourself:
- Is everyone in the team still excited to have this person join?
- Has this person displayed some of our cultural values and behaviors?
- Have we given them feedback? What was the reaction?
- What is their reaction to adversity?
Make sure to collect feedback from the new hire throughout the one-on-one check-ins to figure out what can be improved in the onboarding process. Every new hire should have an increasingly better experience.
First 90 days
At this point, your new hire should be onboarded. However, don't confuse this with "fully ramped." It will take three to six months for most people to gain enough context to start functioning at full capacity.