Interview Process Dos and Don’ts for Startups

One of the most important aspects of converting top talent is getting the interview process right. These simple best practices will level up your candidate experience and make accepting a job offer at your startup a no-brainer for the most qualified candidates.

By Iterate Team
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10 minute read

Hiring the right people can make all the difference for a growing startup. Talented, motivated employees will improve your company’s morale and boost productivity throughout the organization.

One of the most important aspects of winning top talent is getting the interview process right. By following some simple best practices, you can create a positive candidate experience and show qualified job seekers why your company is right for them.

In this guide, we’re going to look at 11 interview process dos and don’ts to help you optimize your hiring process.

1. Do validate the job description before kicking off interviews.

At the risk of stating the obvious, a well-scoped and accurate job description is one of the key ingredients for a smooth interview process. If you go live with a rushed job description where the particulars of the role aren’t clear, or the job requirements are misaligned with the broader labor market or talent pool, you may be setting up the candidate — and yourself — for some wasted time and energy.

Accuracy in your job descriptions is paramount for an efficient and productive interview process. While it may be tempting to exaggerate details in your job description to attract more candidates, honesty is always the best policy. Don’t make any false promises about the job — that includes what their day-to-day would look like, salary and benefits, and long-term career prospects.

By overpromising, you will only set yourself and any interested candidates up for confusion and disappointment. In many states, companies that misrepresent themselves in a job description could face legal consequences.

2. Don't forget to create a comfortable interview environment.

Job interviews are always stressful — for everyone involved. By helping the candidate relax as much as possible, you can make it easier for them to open up and communicate their best qualities to you.

If you’re conducting an interview remotely via video call, you might want to:

  • Do a test run to make sure your video conferencing app is up to date and any functionality you need (e.g. sharing your screen) is ready to go.

  • Make sure the candidate knows how to join the call — whether that’s providing instructions or letting them know when to expect the meeting link.

  • Have a backup plan in mind in case your internet is shaky, like using the video conferencing app on your phone, using your phone as a wifi hotspot, or switching locations to a coffee shop.

  • Create a well-lit environment for wherever you take the video call so the candidate can more easily pick up on nuances.

Some tips for creating a comfortable in-person interview experience include:

  • Avoid conducting the interview in an overly small or large room, either of which can create the wrong atmosphere.

  • Ensure that the area you choose for the interview is clean and quiet, without any distractions.

  • Greet the candidate warmly and introduce yourself right away.

  • Don’t leave the candidate standing. Invite them to sit as soon as possible, and offer the candidate a cup of water or coffee.

  • Start the interview with some friendly small talk—just enough to establish rapport.

  • Do not let anything interrupt the interview, including Slack and email notifications. Give the candidate your full and undivided attention.

  • Remember your body language. Can the candidate tell that you are interested and attentive?

Remember: it’s your responsibility to make the candidate feel welcome, not theirs.

3. Do make the most of interview assignments.

We’d love to tell you that everyone is honest on their resumes, but unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. In fact, more than a third of Americans admit to lying on a resume — and those are just the ones brave enough to admit it…

Asking candidates to complete a relevant (and reasonable) assignment to demonstrate their approach to critical thinking, problem-solving, or specialized knowledge for the role, is a great way to validate the candidates’ resume and hire with confidence. It can also give the candidate a better sense of what the role will entail, how the hiring manager thinks or delivers feedback, and ultimately, how they’ll blend with the team.

4. Don't start an interview without a gameplan.

When it comes to interviews, winging it is never wise. You should always make an effort to prepare ahead of time — review the candidate's application, refresh yourself on the details of the job, and decide what questions you’re going to ask. The stronger your game plan when going in, the better.

If there are other interviewers in the equation, make sure they’re up to speed on what you’ve already covered with the candidate, and aware of any subject matter or behavioral questions you need them to address.

Don't forget to brief them on why you brought them into the interview process, either. For example, if an interviewer would be the candidates’ peer, you might ask them to dig into how the candidate collaborates and communicates — and spend some time on their personal values and interests to see if they’re a cultural fit.

5. Do take your time during the interview.

A common mistake interviewers make is to rush through the interview. This is especially easy to do if you’re nervous at the time. If you feel that instinct yourself, fight it. Rushing an interview won’t do anyone any good — least of all you.

Take your time and be willing to let the candidate explain themselves fully. If necessary, ask follow-up questions and explore topics more deeply — while still making sure to stay on track. No need to overload the candidate with superfluous information that may confuse them about the role or your company.

You may want to schedule in some buffer time between interviews and your next obligation to avoid any lingering distractions or competing priorities that might make you tempted to rush.

6. Don't ask the wrong questions.

This may sound obvious, but it’s best to avoid topics or questions in a job interview that could be considered discriminatory. That may include any questions regarding the candidate’s ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, nationality, political leanings, disabilities, or financial status.

Hopefully you’re thinking “I’d never do that” — but even the friendliest, most open-ended questions pertaining to these things could be considered discriminatory. For example, asking about the origin of a candidate’s surname comes too close to asking about their ethnicity and national origin.

Overly personal questions may also be inappropriate. Even when making small talk, steer clear of probing questions about the candidate’s background or family. If the candidate volunteers personal information on their own, you may engage with them, but don’t probe for more information.

7. Do encourage the candidate to ask questions.

If possible, try to leave 10-15 minutes at the end of the interview for the candidate to air any questions or concerns on their mind — it’s a great way to remind them that the interview is a two-way street and that they’re also entitled to ask whatever they need to confirm your org is a good fit for them, too.

It also gives the candidate another opportunity to show how much research they’ve done — if you find that a candidate struggles to come up with questions after the interview, it could be a red flag that they’re not interested or invested in the opportunity to work at your org.

8. Don’t end the interview without setting expectations.

As you close the interview, wind down and end on a friendly note. You may want to circle back to some brief small talk. Don’t leave the candidate hanging, either. Giving them context for what comes next is a vital part of the candidate experience. Answer questions like:

  • How soon will you get back to them?
  • How should they expect to be contacted?
  • Should they reach out to you if they haven’t heard anything after a certain amount of time?

…even if the candidate hasn’t asked them out loud. Then, thank them for their time and make sure you’re ready to follow through and deliver on the expectations you just set.

9. Do organize your interview notes while they’re fresh.

You were taking notes during the interview, right? Plenty of hiring managers neglect this point and end up regretting it later. You might think you’ll remember everything you need to, but don’t bet on it. Details can slip your mind faster than you’d expect.

And if you’re interviewing multiple people for the same role, it’s easy to mix them up in your mind. Having an organized record of each conversation will help keep everything clear.

If taking notes with pen and paper isn’t your style (or if it would distract you during the interview), consider recording the interview so you can listen to it later. Just know that you’ll need to ask for the candidate’s consent first.

10. Don’t wait too long to introduce them to your team.

Never wait until after you’ve hired someone to introduce them to the team. The strength and unity of your team is every bit as important as the talents of any one member — often more so. Before making any final decisions, give the candidate a tour of the office (or an opportunity for a virtual meet and greet with other teammates) and pay attention to how they interact with their potential colleagues to see if they’re a culture fit.

  • Do they treat others with respect?
  • Do they fit in with the team?
  • Is every introduction just a cold handshake, or do they seem to have some genuine interest in others?

Your perspective isn’t the only one that matters, either. Once the introduction tour is over, ask your current staff how they felt about the candidate. Do they see them as a good fit? If not, why?

11. Do give candidates feedback after the interview, and ask for some in return.

Giving personalized feedback to candidates after each interview — even if you’re not moving forward with them — is a good way to make sure they look back fondly on their interactions with your company, and walk away with a positive impression of your employer brand.

If you’re generous with candidate feedback, you’re more likely to receive valuable feedback from them in return. After all, any candidates who interact with your company are full of insights about how your interview process could be improved — regardless of whether they got the job.


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