Hire based on interest, not credentials

Ash Fontana — 13 May 2011

People tend to avoid costly errors rather than aim for finding the truth when making decisions [1]. Applied to recruiting, employers might tend to avoid hiring someone based on their lack of credentials or previous experience, rather than aiming to find if the employee really wants to solve the problem the business is attacking.

I have known employees who exhibited both a disinterest in their company’s aim to solve a problem and a preference for developing their own skill. I have started to think broadly about the following alternative method to avoid ever hiring this sort of person.

The starting question was: how could you flip the current, common recruiting process to test for interest over credentials?

Common (Credentialing) Method

  1. Focus candidate sourcing on only those with credentials deemed required to get the job done with minimal error (require resumes and transcripts and/or recruit at certain schools).
  2. Heavily test credentials in simulations to determine if the employee will be functional from Day 1 (code tests for programming or live modeling for finance jobs).
  3. Append interest-in-company-problem/mission questions to the end of each interview. Something like the generic, "why do you want to work at this company?"

Alternative (Interest) Method

  1. Source from interest groups. Meetups that have something to do with your company's problem (not skill base) or substitute product superusers could be a good start.
  2. Create an interview process that tests interest in the problem. Topics could include other products that have attempted to solve the problem, which of these products the candidate has used, scoping an improvement to a current company or competitor product, and reacting to user stories.
  3. Append credentials testing (or, at scale, outsource it to a HR firm) to check references, academic records and run competency tests.

Avoid ignoring interest for credentialing in questions to a candidate

  • Instead of asking how they made decisions in other roles, ask them to make a decision about the product on which they'd be working in this role.
  • Instead of asking what the candidate has worked on in similar fields, ask what the candidate has used or built to solve this particular problem in the past.
  • Instead of asking how to calculate a certain metric, ask what that metric tells you about a user.

The benefits continue and compound

Even if your company later chooses to build something else or solve another problem, you will know that this employee is capable of being interested in something that interests you and your team. This employee will want to come into work every day to make the product that you all want to make, and evangelize it to everyone they meet through and outside work – investors, customers, partners and potential recruits.

  • [1] Friedrich, James (1993), "Primary error detection and minimization (PEDMIN) strategies in social cognition: a reinterpretation of confirmation bias phenomena", Psychological Review (American Psychological Association) 100 (2): 316–317 via Wikipedia on Confirmation Bias.