We have recently been looking for some great design and engineering minds to join our productboard team. Having done hundreds of interviews in the past, I have been following my recruiting routine of screening candidates, asking about their past experiences, fishing for concrete examples of brilliance, drive, and leadership in their fields. There is nothing more important than hiring the right early team at a startup, so I have been thinking about how to improve my process a lot.

Then, I happened to listen (for the second time) to Peter Thiel’s new book Zero to One. Truly great books should be read three times: once for structure, once for interpretation, and once for criticism. It is even more true with listening. Btw, it really helps to listen to them on 3x speed, you get three readings in the time of one 🙂 As I am listening to it, I hear how he talks about the well-known Pareto principle. So I start thinking about Pareto and how to apply it to recruiting.

I am sure we have all experienced it before. You are interviewing a candidate from a great team/company, but you have no clue what their personal contribution was to past successes. It turns out that there is always just a handful of people that drive innovation, that come up with the truly great ideas. During interviews we ask for examples of concrete deliverables, we dig into details hoping that we will find out if the interviewee is really the 20% superstar or just a member of the 80%, exaggerating and making stuff up.

And then I get this idea. What if we ask something like…

“Who was the most important person on the team without which you would never be able to achieve the success you achieved?”

And then when you do all the reference calls, what if instead of asking the mediocre, “What are some of the areas of improvements for [the candidate]?”, you ask…

“What will be the impact of [the candidate] leaving the team?”

This is what we want to find out — who are the superstars standing behind the great work, right? It seems to me that people will be more prone to answering such questions honestly, because there is a difference between not telling the truth and direct lying.

I am going to try it tomorrow. What do you think?

–Hubert