On Interview Process

“I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

– Jeff Bezos

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Hiring a wrong candidate is expensive.

According to Geoff Smart and Randy Street, a single mis-hiring for $100K position costs about 1.5 million dollars. [1]

Very expensive, indeed.

If your company has a cash runway of 5 million then failed at hiring 4 times, you’re doomed.

Conducting the right candidate interviews is not nice-to-have important. It’s dead-or-alive important.

Let’s talk about critical steps to make interviews better and more efficient.


For most companies it’s a standard way to interview candidates. Although it’s pretty time-consuming, you can see how candidates talk and react to your questions in real time.

During the interviews, focus on finding how you work together at work, instead of throwing fuzzy questions (e.g. ask how they solve problems that you are currently facing.).

Lastly, make sure you do trials. Even small ones are much better than nothing. If you actually work with candidates before officially hiring, you will discover so many more stuff than just running interviews.


It sounds crazy but most interviews are meaningless, because interviewers can’t tell what they truly care about (“does this person fit into our culture? is she capable of doing what we want her to do?”).

Instead, we recommend working with a candidate before hiring. I know this sounds strange but please read on.

What I mean by saying “work before hiring” is doing trials. For instance Automattic hires candidates with their trial methods.

Doing trials befit both sides : employers can make sure the fit and also get thing done by asking applicants to work on small jobs, prospect employees can earn money and also have a better understanding of the company.

We often recommend people to try with a small project. Like $500.

A quick way to do is hiring your friends for your side project or a weekend hack. A super important thing is to hire people at your own dime.

You will have TOTALLY different pressure/lesson/experience by doing so. Don’t try with someone else’s money.

Don’t care about a formality. Just be practical when you interview.

Reference Check

Just do it. It’s that simple. It’s a part of employer’s work and the best way to find out a culture fit without getting biased by what applicants are saying. Also, if you tell applicants that you will do reference check with their past employees, they will be more honest.

Don’t be lazy on this. Ask questions that are mentioned above: culture fit with their past companies, how she get things done, and her attitude to learn new things.


Ok, you’re happy with the applicant. Then the hiring is changing into more like a sales — you “sell” the offer and get candidates accept it.

From this step companies’ operation and finance roles are involved. No worries, you will get used it.

Grab a coffee / beer to chill out together. Or take the candidate to an office tour. It is by far the most time consuming, but worth it if the candidate will be a big contributor to your company.

You need two documents to wrap things up: NDA and offer letter (in some cases contract agreement). Today you can find templates online.

Or if you want to of Upcounsel. They match you to high-quality legal advisors.

The only thing that left is let the applicant sign on the documents. Be careful about these problems.

  • Be quick : Talented candidates get offers almost every single day. So don’t step back and take a break even if you get a verbal “yes”. Close it as soon as you can.
  • Be authentic and transparent : Many candidates don’t know well or even haven’t heard of words like stock option vesting, performance review, etc. Being open and honest about it and get trusted by candidates. Buffer, even took a step further, and is sharing employee’s salaries and stock options.
  • Be responsive : We don’t know why, but it just sometimes happens that employers don’t be responsive to applicants in the middle of hiring process and the whole flow messes up. Just don’t do this. You will lose trust.

Hiring is not the end. It’s just the beginning. The value of hiring operation will be clear when a new hire shows her performance and contribute to the team.


[1] Who

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