How Do You Interview People And Get The Right Candidate Every Time?

By Brett Fox at

Successful business interviewThe minute we made Tom (not his real name) an offer I knew we had made a mistake. There was just something off about Tom.

I was under pressure from the board to hire Tom, and I let the pressure cloud my judgment. What a f***ing mistake!

I could have said no. I could have stopped it, but I didn’t. Instead, I made the mistake of hoping things would work out.

Of course, things didn’t work out. Tom quit three months after he started. Normally this would be a good thing, but we were raising money at the time. Tom’s departure almost killed our chances of raising money.

Thank goodness it didn’t.

Have you ever settled for someone you knew wasn’t an “A” player?

Have you ever known in your gut that you were making a mistake hiring a person?


Well, you’re not alone.

Most of us have made hiring mistakes. Look at me and the mistake I made hiring Tom. It was completely preventable.

I believe you can fix most hiring mistakes before you make them.

You just need to have a methodology that works. Then (and this is the hard part) you need to stick to that methodology no matter what because that’s when you always seem to get into trouble.

Here’s the methodology that has worked really well for me during my career:

It Starts With Finding The Right People


I want to point out right at the start that hiring the right people is not rocket science. Hiring the right people is about following a methodology that works.

Oh, and this is really important: successful hiring managers make recruiting a priority.

Yes, probably eight out of the ten people you interview are going to be mediocre to poor. I know it’s painful, and I know it’s time consuming, but you have to put the time in. Combine effort with a sound methodology and you will succeed.


Your Network: The Best Place to Start


The best way to grow a team is with people you know. Think about it:

  • You know the people and they know you, so…
  • You know what to expect, and they know what to expect, so…
  • The risk goes down for both sides, and…
  • Retention goes up, and the results are better

If my network doesn’t work, I’ll use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is great for almost all contingency (where the recruiter doesn’t get paid unless you hire the candidate) searches. You can target the candidates you want and reach out directly to them.

The added benefit of using LinkedIn is you save a significant amount of money versus the fee a recruiter takes.


When Should You Use a Recruiter?


I like using recruiters for retained executive searches. There are some really good recruiters out there, and there are some really bad ones.

Since we are talking retained search, this means you are going to pay an upfront retainer (about 1/3 of the fee), another fee when quality candidates are presented, and a final fee when the position is sourced. There’s a lot of money (and time) at stake, so you want to choose wisely.

I would start with polling your network and asking for referrals. See if the same name keeps popping up. That’s probably a good place to start.

Then interview the recruiter. Understand the recruiter’s methodology and make sure there is a style match between you and the recruiter.

One more thing: ask the recruiter for references. You are going to spend a significant amount of money, so check references.

Who Should Do the Initial Screen? You or HR?

I am a big believer that you should do the initial screen, not HR. I am not saying HR will not do a good job, but you will do a better job. Here’s why:

No knows what you want in a new hire better than you do!

Recruiting is the most important activity you have when you are managing a growing team. I know it’s time-consuming, but you’ve got to make the time.

Bring in the your team once you’ve done the initial screen. Have your team interview the final two or three candidates:

  • Really listen for objective feedback
  • Be on the lookout for a major concern

Let’s say you find the ideal candidate. What should you do next?

Ask for references!

Years ago, I was recruiting a senior executive. I liked him and the team liked him too. We were ready to proceed, so I asked him for references.

He gave me three references to call.

The first reference I called was not positive at all about the candidate. In fact, the reference told me the candidate hadn’t told him he was going to be a reference, so my calling was a complete surprise.

Rule number one for candidates: Make sure the person knows about it and is okay with being a reference for you.

Usually references provided by the candidate are extremely positive about the candidate. And these references should be positive. After all the references are chosen by the candidate.

However, every once in a while, you hear a negative story about the candidate. That’s why you check references - because you never know what you are going to hear.

We passed on hiring the candidate.

Then Perform Backdoor Reference Checks

Backdoor reference checks are reference checks you do on the candidate by speaking with unsolicited references. In other words, you speak with people you know that know the candidate. This is a great way to round out your view of the candidate.

A Word of Caution Regarding Backdoor Reference Checks

Backdoor reference checks are a must, but beware of the source. People have agendas, and sometimes a person’s agenda can distort their perspective.

I’ve been the victim of a distorted backdoor reference check (For more read: Here’s what I do because of what happened to me:

• I ask the candidate before I do the reference checks what I am likely to hear. Be brutally honest if an interviewer asks you this question.
• I take into account the biases of the people giving me the information. The older the information, the more distorted the information is likely to be.
• I review the information with the candidate before I make a final decision. I didn’t have a day in court, but the candidate should.

One More Step Before You Make the Offer

Let’s say you are not excited by any of the candidates you and your team have interviewed. Then…

Keep Looking!

Like my example above about hiring Tom, you will regret hiring a mediocre candidate forever. You have instincts for a reason. Now is the time to use them.

Making the Offer

Now you’re ready to go. You’ve found the right person, your team is excited, and you’re excited.

Here are the simple steps to making sure your offer is accepted and the candidate joins the company:


A.Do the prep work while you’re interviewing. Why do we wait until the end of the interview process to make sure our job offer will be accepted? Once you think this candidate MIGHT be the one you should start talking about the framework of your offer.

Part of whether a candidate is a good fit is whether your expectations and the candidate’s expectations of an offer are similar. You don’t have the right candidate if they’re not.

B.Move fast. So many companies screw up by taking too much time to make an offer once the interviews are done. Don’t hesitate! Try and make your offer within twenty-four hours of completing the interviews.

Yes, you heard me right: twenty-four hours! You will make a great impression on the candidate that your company moves fast and is in it to win it.

C.Make a fair offer. The goal shouldn’t be to save money and the goal shouldn’t be to overpay. The goal should be to pay the candidate fairly based on market conditions and your company’s pay scale. (For more on the importance of a great culture read:
There are three reasons to operate from a place of fairness:


  • You owe it to your existing employees to be fair, and…
  • You owe it to your new candidate to be fair, and…
  • You owe it to yourself to be fair because it’s the right thing to do.

You’ve already paved the way during the interview process, so you and the candidate should be on the same page. Now just close the deal.

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