Earlier this year we had to let someone go. This person had been working for us for less than a month. When someone isn’t a fit at a startup, you need to part ways and move on. In a small team, a single bad egg can have a huge impact.
That led us to the logical question: what did we do wrong? What could we change in our hiring process to make sure this doesn’t happen again? We run every candidate through a rigorous interview process where they meet everyone in the company. We test their technical abilities, communication skills, and we take all candidates out for dinner and drinks to make sure they are a cultural fit.
But at the end of the day, you simply can’t get to know someone after just a few hours. Especially in an interview, when they are “on” and trying to impress you.
There are two ways we have found to get deeper insight into a candidate. Code samples and reference checks are harder to bullshit, and show what you actually do.
1. Code samples. Usually through a Github repository
Being able to look at someone’s code is an incredible way to see if they are a good engineer. You can also see if this person enjoys coding. Are they forking and committing back to interesting projects? Are they on the cutting edge? Are they contributing back to the community?
2. References. Often through a Linkedin connection
It’s tough to bring yourself to check references. Usually this is the last step before making an offer. You, the hiring manager, are sold on this person and reference checks seem like a waste of your time.
But don’t let that stop you from checking references. No matter how experienced this person seems to be, or how senior the role you are hiring for. Even if they were referred to you through a friend, or they are a friend…you have no idea what it will be like to work with them every day.
3. You might still be wrong
Hiring is hard. And you might still make a mistake. In that case, fire fast.
Hiring is a gamble. So when interviewing, don’t be shy. Gather as much information as you can about this person who you will be working so closely with. If there’s anything you can do to learn more about them, do it.
I previously wrote about how one of our investors, Gus Tai, when asked for references, said, “Feel free to contact any person I have ever worked with through my entire career.”
You want to work with people who don’t have skeletons in their closet. If anyone were to ever need a reference on me, I invite them to talk to anyone from my past. And if you need a reference check on anyone I’ve worked with, don’t hesitate to ask.
People are by far the most important ingredient in a startup’s success.
Update: Another great take on hiring.