Conducting a zero-bullshit interview

Many interviews in Silicon Valley end up being a bunch of self-promotional, silly trick questions that may get you into Mensa but don’t indicate much else. Or, they’re just full of hot air … and when markets are as hot as they are now, everyone seems desperate to hire quickly, while overlooking the basics.

But rushing to hire 10 sales reps — at the expense of building something that will last — will come back to haunt you later. I, too, have been guilty of allowing this, because surely it’s better to have “bad” breadth than no breadth at all, right?


The worst outcome for a company, and for a candidate, occurs when either party oversells. This is extremely difficult to be disciplined about, but it makes a critical difference in how robust and competitive a company you are going to build.

When the company oversells, the newly hired candidate will be 1-2 days into the job before they realize they were snowed. And then if they stay — which many do because of fear of embarrassment, joining an old team, loss of vesting-hurdle, and upside (“company’s growing everyone wants to be here”) — you won’t have the right person in your company. You need all hands on deck. So why over-sell? Most companies will say it’s to beat the competition. But here’s the thing: You’re not really beating the competition when you have people who shouldn’t be in your company.

When the candidate oversells, it will catch up to them in 1-2 weeks, at which point he or she will at best be marginalized, and at worst be fired 3-4 weeks after landing the job. Either way, it’s hard to recover from the unnecessary stigma this carries. It’s arguably worse for that new hire than the company because they: 1) ended up taking a dent in their resume; 2) have to deal with the emotional vacuum created by promising something and not being able to live up to it; 3) now need to explain what happened to future references and constituents (family friends, customers that they bailed out on, trusted people they hired or brought to the company); and 4) may have a harder time getting the next job.

But when you begin the interview with data, as described earlier, the bullshit interview suddenly turns into a richer, more grounded conversation. Especially if that candidate has filled out the spreadsheet in advance, you can go over the greetings and basics in the first 5 minutes and now have 55 minutes left for a much richer, more grounded conversation. That conversation ends up being much more human, rewarding in the long-term not just short term, and releases all types of interesting avenues that both parties are not used to discussing. This is because in their previous interviews, most salespeople have been so busy coming up with impressive numbers for the interviewee, and the interviewers meanwhile have been too busy building a faulty model in their head.

The killer spreadsheet approach frees up this energy and mind space. Furthermore, if you’re serious about including your sales force — really making them important strategic as well as tactical contributors to the company — this approach leaves sales reps feeling motivated and gratified whereas in previous interviews they would have left feeling there was something missing.

What if some people aren’t comfortable filling out the spreadsheet? Or they feel it’s above them (“I am a rockstar senior sales executive, why do I need to belittle myself by filling out all these forms”)? My answer: No need to apply, then. It makes me chuckle to hear that type of response, or be reminded of how some candidates bailed already at this stage. Bullet dodged.

The winning candidates will share their data with pride, and learn to speak from that place of transparency. The best part is that for a seemingly data-driven conversation, both parties end up getting to build a much stronger emotional connection throughout the course of the interview because they can focus on really getting to know each other. Data helps put the humanity back into the interview.

(content provided by Forbes)