Written by Andy Ferrett
Nov 10, 2014

Giving great interviews

What kind of staff do we recruit and how do we interview them?

Interviewing & recruiting the right people

We’re not experts at interviewing, in-fact quite the opposite. We’re relative novices but we’ve been learning a few things along the way about the sort of people we’re looking for, and how we go about recruiting them.


Character - getting the right people on the bus

Jim Collins in his excellent book Good To Great (read this bite-sized summary of it) is at pains to point out that great companies prioritise getting great people onto the bus before figuring out where the bus is going.

Though we don’t have a bus (not yet at least), we do subscribe to that theory here at Brightec. Getting the right people on board is more important than their current skills or experience.

Ultimately we can train people and provide experience but we cannot change someone’s character. Character comes before competence.

We want people who will fit in with our current team and office setup. People who get intrinsic value from their work (see http://www.danpink.com/books/drive); people who love what they do; people who are passionate but flexible, and people who want to work with us.

Character is the most important factor in our decision making and is therefore the most important element to tease out of an interviewee.

"Character comes before competence"

Our process

To find those candidates that we think have the mettle and the character to be a hit with Brightec we follow an increasingly familiar process:

Narrow down the field - telephone interview

Making time within a busy schedule of a growing company to interview applicants who, we hope, will decrease that burden is one of the paradoxical challenges for any small business. So, we don’t like to waste any time.

Firstly, we’ll go through the CVs and pick the handful we’d like to take to the next stage.

Second, we get on the phone. A telephone interview may seem a little crude but we’ve found them very effective. We don’t want to waste the applicants time and, of course, our time is precious too. Interviews often involve pulling staff away from their primary work which for a small business can have a significant cost implication.

Even at this early stage I’m looking for character. Later on we’ll involve a technical member of the team, but to begin with it is just me trying to root out the best people from the candidates.

So after setting the person at ease (see below), I ask some general questions such as; “give me a quick rundown of your background”, “what are you passionate about” and perhaps something more probing like; “why do you want to leave your current employment”.

Quite simply I’m trying to get the applicant talking. This will give me an insight into who they are and what they are about.

Our best sales pitch

All through the process it is important to bear in mind that you are selling your company as much as the candidate is trying to sell themselves. This is important in the telephone interview but more so in the main interview.

It’s worth bearing in this in mind as it can easily be overlooked. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking - ‘why wouldn’t they want to work for us?’

"you are selling your company as much as the candidate is trying to sell themselves"

The interview

Inviting a candidate to a main interview is clearly the next step for people after the telephone interview. For us this involves an invite for them to come to our office for about ½ a day.

The time with us involves an initial interview chat, then a task, then a final chat to finish.

Typically the initial interview chat takes the form of: me introducing us, the candidate introducing themselves and any related projects they’ve been involved in, and then finally some more typical ‘interview’ questions. It is important that during the whole process you get a good feel for the character of the person, so setting them at ease is super important.

I therefore use the first part of the main interview to do this. I take 15-20mins to introduce and sell Brightec and why they should work for us. This allows them to settle in, but also for us to give them our best sales pitch.

Get them on task

Whilst character is the most important element to analyse during an interview, clearly getting a feel for their skills and experience is also important. We therefore use a large section of the time with us for the candidate to complete an exercise that we can later review with them. 

For developers this is pretty much always the same task, building a small app from scratch in a given period, for other roles we try to find something suitable. They would typically spend a couple of hours on the task and then present to us what they have achieved and talk through the reasoning etc. 

So, in addition to us being able to assess the applicants specific skills the task element of the interview allows us to review how they relate in the office environment, how well they can understand a task and also how well they can present what they have done. 

Hopefully it also allows them to see more deeply how we work and how we relate as a staff team.

Some final points

Some final notes of things we think are important in the interview process:

1. Review with the team It is important that you get a wide variety of views from different staff members

2. Make a decision quickly Good candidates will get snapped up quickly, don’t hang about in making an offer to a good candidate

3. Experience or trainability? At some point you’ll need to make a decision whether you will go for experience or trainability.

I guess ideally you should know this in advance of the interview stage, but for us we had to work this out during the process. We simply didn’t know who would apply or what our feelings were on this, although in the end we opted for trainability over experience