'How Many Big Macs Does McDonald's Sell in a Year?' Is the Right Interview Question for Facebook. What's Yours?
Many successful businesses have begun with a brilliant idea, a clear vision of the problem it solves and a determined founder -- eBbay and Amazon being two such examples.
Yet, while resourceful entrepreneurs can accomplish a lot on their own -- especially during the initial startup phase -- once their idea gains traction, building a team becomes a necessity.
Numerous venture capitalists and investors believe that the strength of a startup’s core team, rather than the product itself, is the more crucial factor for their deciding whether to back a business. After all, there are far more good ideas in the world than successful businesses. So, when it comes to achieving startup success, your ability to execute and adapt will be crucial.
A strong management team will give you the ability to do just that.
Still, how do you hire he right people? Qualifications and experience paint an important part of the picture for any potential hire and play a valuable role in narrowing the field of applicants. But to truly determine whether someone is a good fit -- and not just on paper -- the interview process is vital.
According to an article in Inc., companies like Facebook and Google are known to employ interview questions like, “How many Big Macs does McDonald's sell each year in the U.S.?" and, “If you could only choose one song to play every time you walked into a room for the rest of your life, what would it be?"
While quirky questions like these have their place and can showcase prospects' ability to think on their feet, they are no substitute for more substantive interview questions. Here are five such questions you should ask when interviewing team members for your startup.
1. What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?
Lou Adler, who started the performance based hiring movement, and is author of Hire With Your Head, has spent the better part of three decades developing hiring strategies. Adler went in search of the single most effective question to ask in a job interview. After a decade of research, he said he'd found it.
The above question’s power lies not only in the insight it gives into a candidate’s previous experience, and what he or she values most about it, but also the wealth of follow-up questions it can lead to.
Some follow-ups that Adler recommends include:
What were the three to four most significant challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
What aspects of the project did you truly enjoy?
How did you change and grow as a person?
Adler suggests that, with the effective use of follow-up questions, this is the only interview question you need to ask because it opens up so many avenues to explore.
2. Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?
This question is founded on the principle that while the pursuit of perfection may appear an admirable goal, in reality, it is impossible to achieve. No matter what you’re creating, your creation can always be tweaked and improved, particularly when it relies on adoption and use by other people.
Paralysis induced by the quest for perfection may be particularly damaging for startups, where the emphasis is often on building a minimum viable product and failing fast can be considered an asset. For most startups, “good and on time” is the more desirable answer to this question.
3. If you could start your own business, what would it be and why?
Would you really want to hire a candidate who delivers a brilliant answer to this question? Doesn’t this indicate that this person may wish to run his or her own startup rather than help take yours to the next level? Ignore those concerns. Your startup needs as many “intrepreneurs” as it can find.
According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, intrepreneurs share the following traits:
Money Is not the measurement. Compensation is important to everyone, but for intrepreneurs, it is not the most crucial factor. Intrepreneurs greatly value the freedom to innovate and improve.
A readiness to pivot. Interpreneurs think on their feet and are unafraid to reevaluate and shift dramatically from current plans and strategies if the situation warrants it.
Ownership. Intrepreneurs thrive on taking ownership of their responsibilities and executing them to the best of their abilities.
Eyes on the future. Predicting what comes next and acting on it comes naturally.
"Greenhousing." Intrepreneurs often allow ideas to germinate and develop before they share them; they then arrive with fleshed-out plans and solutions.
Doesn't a team member who exhibits these qualities sound like a great potential asset for your growing startup? These questions can help you find him or her.
4. Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.
Serial startup entrepreneur Jordan Ritter, co-founder of Napster and Cloudmark, has written that culture -- more so than the ability to master new skills and existing technical skills and abilities -- is the most crucial factor to consider when you hire a new team member.
Does the candidate share the same values, mindset and ethos as you and other members of your team and business? This is not something that can be taught, or -- in the long run -- faked.
Startup environments are typically highly demanding and require team members to get into the trenches together. If, in answering this question, your candidate is clearly happiest in a tightly structured environment with a high degree of managerial oversight, he or she may not be the best cultural fit, regardless of technical ability and experience.
5. Do you have any questions for me?
In today’s world, there are countless resources available for researching potential employers, but in the early stages, your startup is unlikely to have a robust presence on GlassDoor. Any legitimate candidate will have done as much research as possible on your brand, your product and your plans for the future, but there may be little information publicly available.
A well-prepared candidate should have a wealth of informed questions at his or her fingertips. The questions this person seems most invested in can tell you a lot. If the very first thing asked about is compensation and paid holidays, perhaps this candidate may not be the best fit for your growing business, with its demanding hours.
Turning the tables and having applicants ask the questions can also gain you valuable insight into their personality and interpersonal skills.
Interviewing is an art form and one at which you will get better with practice. These five questions are a great starting point for helping you find the team members to take your startup to the next level.