Interview as a service

When it comes to highly specialist technical roles, it can be hard for non-technical founders to assess and validate candidates’ technical credentials

As a software architect, I was once headhunted and hired for an amazing opportunity in Trinidad. At the eleventh hour, after I’d packed my bags and just before my new boss was about to buy my plane ticket, he asked me about some of the buildings I had designed.  

The recruitment agency had searched on the term "architect", without realising there were different kinds of "architect".  

When it comes to highly specialist technical roles, it can be hard for non-technical founders to assess and validate candidates’ technical credentials. You have the brilliant idea, but you don’t personally know how to code. So how do you build your team? What kind of developers do you even need?  

Hiring the wrong candidate can be hugely expensive. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once estimated that bad hires had cost the company over US$100 million. One bad hire can lead to a domino effect of more bad hires, wrecking company culture. The price of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of the employee’s first year earnings, according to the US Department of Labor. In a study by CareerBuilder, over a quarter of employers reported that a bad hire cost over US$50,000. The more senior the role, the higher the loss.  

The growth of the startup community in Australia is increasing demand for highly skilled people. As startups mature and start seeing success, they need a better grip on their IT. Many may have outsourced development. Now they have an actual business and it’s growing, but they don’t always know what they have.  

Even if they find a potential IT director or CTO or developer, how can they assess if that person is any good? If they’re not tech people themselves, all they can go by is buzzwords. "Oh yeah, he said that and it sounds familiar, he must be good." But they have no real idea of whether the person knows what they’re talking about.  

We’ve frequently come across job applicants who have fudged their qualifications in a way that a non-techie wouldn’t pick up on. I had a person approach me for a Senior Unix System's Administrator role, who claimed he had been working as an Administrator for 20 years. In the first minute I found out that he had done nothing but change backup tapes on Unix systems and had learned pretty much nothing else in all that time. So even decades of experience can be a false flag if taken as a gauge of seniority and experience.   

A recruitment agency is little help either: they’re experienced in finding candidates, but not in validating them. How can someone with a background in HR and hiring be expected to test a candidate’s knowledge in a particular programming language, or assess their technical problems solving skills?  

So there’s a clear gap in ability for many startup founders to know what they need, combined with a limited budget to find it anyway. Hiring the wrong person or messing up a VC interview can both be catastrophic to a fledgling business.  

That’s why we see interview-as-a-service as a natural gap for tech consulting. Having expertise on tap, to guide and advise at critical stages, may mean the difference between making or breaking a company.  

You don’t need in depth assistance at the start of the process, sifting through thousands of resumés. That’s obviously going to blow hiring budgets. It’s more about the final five: when you’ve got your shortlist of candidates, getting a professional in to validate their credentials can save a lot of pain in the long run.  

Recruitment agencies need this support too: it’s not about cutting them out of the equation. We’ve sat on panels where over a hundred candidates have been filtered to just five, of whom three are completely unsuitable for the role. So by getting expert guidance, recruitment agencies can improve the quality of candidates they present, which makes their service more valuable.  

The way we approach this is to prepare before an interview: understanding who the person is and their background. Then we sit through the interview, and afterwards report back on the candidate’s strength and weaknesses.  

For startups and fast growing companies, getting the wrong candidate can spell disaster. It’s a bigger risk to take on a candidate whose ability you don’t truly understand, than to invest in expert advice and assessment as to whether they have the required technical skills you need.      

Simran Gambhir is the founder of technology and software solutions provider Ganemo Group. He was previously CTO for Flybuys and News Corp’s digital arm.  

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