interviewing humans

There’s two kinds of shoppers in the produce section: Those that know what they want & take the first one that meets their criteria, and those that compare the bruises on nine pears before they pick one.

The most finicky piece of fruit I can competently purchase is an avocado. If you want to use it today, there’s a very particular mix of color and firmness you’re seeking. I remember being taught how to pick one in college; it’s something difficult to describe in words. The best teacher is someone passing you an avocado and saying, “Like this one.”

Many folks approach the interview stage of hiring like an infinite avocado cart. They want to see how full they can get the cart, then set up a 5-point inspection process to get the perfect avocado. Everyone understands this perfect avocado doesn’t exist, and yet they create the same hiring process time after time: Big funnel, run the interview gauntlet, see who emerges.

How do you interview a candidate well? You build a relationship with them. Whatever process you need to build that relationship efficiently and reliably is the process you need. Yes you need to source, and yes you need to filter before that. But it’s that final dozen or so where the process slides into the dreaded the avocado cart scenario. If you say, “Well, I’d like to talk to a few more to compare them” it just means no one has taught you how to pick an avocado and you didn’t ask a friend to come along and teach you. Instead, you pass the avocado from person to person, each giving their own decisive squeeze and noting their opinion, until you end up with guacamole.

Obviously it’s far more complex to build a relationship with a human than to pick an avocado. I can teach the latter in about a minute, but building a relationship in the interview process takes practice and commitment. People aren’t a checklist of qualities, they are irregular shaped pieces of a puzzle that will bend the direction of your organization forever.

The simplest advice I can give is: Save the evaluating for afterward. When you’re interviewing a candidate, focus on bridge building. Leave your ego at the door and don’t ask questions with “correct” answers you are fishing for. Who is this human being? You have finite time to figure out their motivations, experiences, and priorities. You’ll never figure any of that out if you can’t get them to drop their guard and talk to you like a human.

If you did your homework on what you’re looking for, your team is aligned, and your filters worked, you should be able to confidently make a choice. In an activity where speed is so critically important, it amazes me when people slow it down by approaching it like an infinite avocado cart.