Whether you’re a two person startup still operating in your garage, or a 250 person startup (like us), one thing needs to remain consistent – your focus on hiring superstars.
When Eddie and I started our e-commerce software company (Bigcommerce), we made a pact to personally interview the first 100 people we hired. It was hard, but we stuck to that pact. It took us about 2 years. We did not have fancy recruiting software back then.
By doing that, we created a foundation of amazing talent and set the bar high for new employees and hiring managers who still adhere to our most important rule about recruitment:
Waiting to hire the right person for a role is painful, but will save you time, money and your sanity in the long run. Never hire someone who is “good enough”. Always wait for the best. They are out there and you will find them.
More than anything else, hiring the right people can determine the destiny of your business. Hire the right people and they’ll get behind your vision and make it a reality. Hire the wrong people and you’ll find that as your business grows, you’ll have a culture of average performers who watch the clock and aren’t motivated nearly as much as you are.
What is a superstar?
Hiring the right people starts well before the interview, but I’ll save that for another article. Today I’m going to share with you seven questions I ask when hiring people. And just to make it clear – I aim to only hire superstars. My hit rate is probably north of 85%, so it’s not perfect, but I’d argue it’s better than most.
A superstar, by my definition, is someone who will generate 5x the important performance indicator of a normal person. For example, a superstar engineer will crank out 5x as much quality code as a normal engineer. A superstar sales person will bring in 5x the qualified revenue of a normal sales rep, etc.
The more superstars you hire, the more you get done as a business.
You’ll have fewer headaches as a founder because your team will be stocked full of people who are driven, ambitious and most importantly, behind your vision. You’ll fire fewer (if any) people and you’ll find any non-superstars that make it through the door (for whatever reason) will self-select themselves out because they come to know they can’t meet the standard you’ve set through previous hires.
The 7 questions
On that note, here are 7 questions I ask during interviews. Over the years I’ve interviewed close to 1,000 people so I’ve tweaked, tested and improved these questions quite a few times. Feel free to use all or some during your next interview.
1. What do you like about our product/business and what don’t you like? How would you change what you don’t like?
This question does two things. First, it gives you insight into how a candidate will verbalize something they don’t like. Will they talk about the problem and then immediately suggest a solution, or will they tell you that your business is perfect when in reality, it probably isn’t? Look for people who talk 5% about the problem and 95% about the solution.
By asking how they’d change what they don’t like, you get a chance to hear how they’d go about solving problems. For example, if they say your customer service stinks but can’t suggest even a basic idea to fix it, what chance do they have of fixing problems when they’re working for you? Will they just give up and move on to something else? Probably.
The best employees solve problems fast and on their own.
2. Which book are you currently reading?
Passionate people tend to read books or listen to audio books to improve their skills. Whether the books are specific to a skill such as sales and marketing or they’re reading a book focused on self-development doesn’t matter. All good signs.
If they’re reading a fiction book and haven’t read an educational book for a while, that’s a red flag to me. Superstars are always looking to better themselves and the smartest people I know are always learning and absorbing new information.
3. Tell me about a problem you were tasked with solving in your current job. How did you fix it?
Again, this surfaces their problem solving and creative thinking skills (or lack thereof). Did they have a thoughtful approach to solving the problem or did they pass it on to someone else?
4. What’s the one thing you’ve accomplished in your career that you’re most proud of?
This gives you insight into what makes them tick and also lets you assess how they define success. If, for example, they worked at their previous company for 12 years and their biggest accomplishment was beating their sales target in a single quarter, they may not be a superstar.
On the other hand, if they were promoted 5 times in their previous role during a 2 year period, then you may have a superstar on your hands. Easy.
5. Have you played any team sports before?
People who play team sports such as basketball, soccer and rowing are driven, focused on achieving goals and physically fit, which helps keep their mind in peak condition. Generally they will also be great communicators, cope well under pressure and perform well during team events.
6. What do you do for fun?
Balance is an important part of success and I’ve found that superstars strive do well in most (if not all) areas of their life, including physical fitness, relationships, contribution and learning.
As an example, if someone hits the gym 3 days a week, volunteers on Saturdays and is learning how to play the piano “just for fun”, then it’s fair to say they value achievement, goal setting and are continually looking to improve themselves. This will translate into their job.
7. “I’m not sure you’re a fit for the role…”
This one works best when you’re hiring people with strong personalities that need to push through constantly hearing “no”, such as for sales reps or sales leaders and it’s more of a comment than a question. By simply making this statement, they can do one of three things.
They can ignore you and skip over the comment. They can agree and try to move on. Or, they can try to sell you on the benefits of bringing them into your business, specifically bringing up the main reasons why you can’t afford not to hire them.
That’s the kind of person you want in your business right?!
These questions aren’t a silver bullet for hiring superstars, but I’ve found that over the years they’ve allowed me to better decide between people who will and won’t be a fit in the business and achieve success in the particular role I’m hiring for.
You can write the best possible job description and go over the details of a candidate’s resume format, but it can only take you so far. Outside of asking questions, never overlook your gut feel during an interview. If something doesn’t feel right or you’re not absolutely certain about hiring someone then say no. Every time.
It will take longer to hire the right person, but you want to build a company full of people that are right for their roles instead of people that came along at the right time. There’s a big difference between the two. Create a company full of superstars and your job becomes much easier.
Before we go, let me repeat my golden rule for hiring just one more time:
Waiting to hire the right person for a role is painful, but will save you time, money and your sanity in the long run. Never hire someone who is “good enough.” Always wait for the best. They are out there and you will find them.
Every time I’ve broken this rule (probably 3 times in 10 years), it’s been a mistake and the person has always ended up not working out, so do your best to stick to it!
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