How Interview Projects Stop Bad Hires

Interview projects are take home tests for job candidates. They demonstrate a candidate can help solve your company’s near term need, in addition to the culture and interpersonal skills reflected through in-person and phone interviews. However, when you find an incredible candidate, they may push back on completing an interview project. Here’s why interview projects are essential to making good hires, whereas onsite interviews are only partial assessments and don’t correlate with job performance.

Skill-set Filtering

Every job requires a particular set of skills. However, discerning if a candidate has those necessary skills can be surprisingly difficult.

Onsite Interviews
Onsite interviews can certainly help assess important skills like first impressions, real-time communication skills and emotional intelligence. But it’s very hard to measure to someone’s expertise in a short, first meeting; as you’re unlikely to have enough time to mimic a real task from the workplace. While this may be obvious for engineering roles, it also applies to non-technical roles like sales and marketing.

Interview Projects
Interview projects allow you to assess multiple aspects of a candidate’s skill-set. For engineering roles try a 1–2 hour take home test to assess skills such as: system design, algorithm construction and language proficiency. For sales and marketing roles you can assess communication, planning and execution with a project where candidates create collateral materials and a strategy to sell the product.

High Pressure Situations

Startups are filled with pressurized situations but it’s important to assess a candidate based on the pressure they can expect to experience on the job.

Onsite Interviews
Answering brain teasers on a whiteboard is not what a candidate will be doing day-to-day if they actually get the job. If this is the only way you test their performance under pressure, you won’t know what the candidate will do in response to the real pressure of a startup.

Interview Projects
Interview projects are pressurized situations too but the candidate will have time to think about the problem, use familiar tools and discuss with others — just as they would if actually working in the role. In addition, a good project will have opportunities to demonstrate domain expertise on the problem or provide an advanced solution for extra credit. This allows a candidate to prove they’re capable of a great performance under pressure.

Genuine Interest

Jobs are interesting to different people, but if someone has done a lot of interviews, how do know if their interest in your company and the specific role is genuine?

Onsite Interviews
During an onsite interview a candidate will most likely have to explain why they’re interested in your startup but they won’t have to show you. People practice interviewing and thus get better at answering tough questions. If someone is simply looking for any job they could get very good at explaining why they’re interested in your available role.

Interview Projects
Completing a take home test usually requires a time investment outside of normal working hours (~1–3 hours). Given a candidate can only do a limited number of interview projects, they’re demonstrating significant interest. Many candidates will give up during an interview project, a strong performance is a great signal they want the job.

Unfortunately, the traditional onsite interview process is only a partial reflection of how a potential employee will perform. Use a well thought-out interview project and do the job right.

This article is part of a series on Startup Hiring & HR.

Where to Find the Best People
How to Hire Great People
How Interview Projects Stop Bad Hires
How Startups Make Offers People Sign
7 Reasons to Give Employees More Equity
Why You Have to Fire Fast
How to Cut Your Startup’s Costs Without Layoffs
Doing Layoffs the Right Way

Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in North America. Full process here: sterlingroad.com/process.

You can reach me here: ash@sterlingroad.com

Thanks to Kaego Rust and David Smooke for their help on this article.
Photo by
Tran Mau Tri Tam

Pre-seed Investor. Email: ash@sterlingroad.com. B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info: http://SterlingRoad.com/process