The interview is really as good as it gets

September 26, 2013
September 26, 2013

This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Jon Steinberg here.

The process of negotiating and hiring someone is a microcosm of what your working relationship with them will be. If you are having fun and like the cadence of hiring and negotiating with someone that you are recruiting, you will love working with them. If you find the person slow to respond, uninspired in their responses and ideas, or unpleasant in negotiations, let me assure you: it never gets better. In courtship, you see the best of the person. In negotiation, you see how the person works and competes. In sample work, you see the best of how the person problem solves and ideates.

In the interview and hiring process there should be lots of thoughtful conversations and insightful solutions to various problems. People have all different kinds of styles. The key is that hiring process should showcase how you’ll collaborate in the future. This goes as much for the applicant. If you find the person recruiting you to be out of sync with you, that won’t change.

In November of 2011, in the days in and around Thanksgiving, our CEO Jonah Peretti had made the excellent and fate-defining decision to hire Ben Smith as our editor in chief, and the task was handed to me to negotiate and bring Ben on board. Ben and I met over email and spoke briefly on the phone. Over two days, we fired emails back and forth in minutes, and quickly gave and took.

I’d say, “If we do X are you good on Y? And are we done on this bit?” Two minutes later, Ben would write back “Yep. A little more detail would probably be better but OK lets keep moving. What about Z?”

Ben was fast, good, decisive, smart, reasonable, and fun. We’d bat around ideas for the company in the midst of these threads. It was a fun break from my family to hire Ben over Thanksgiving. We finished the negotiation excited to meet each other, almost friends, and energized. And working with Ben for two years was like hiring him – in fact it was a preview of what was a great movie.

Hiring Andy Wiedlin, as our Chief Revenue Officer, over two years ago was basically the same. I loved talking to Andy about our advertising business. I wanted to spend more time with him both personally and professionally, and we kept getting distracted talking about advertising and the BuzzFeed business when we were supposed to be closing his deal.

When Jonah and I went to one of our first dinners meeting Andy, we got sidetracked talking about Andy’s time and experience working in Japan. I think we were on dessert when we realized we’d been talking so much about how Andy could apply what he’d done at Yahoo and Huffpost that we were nowhere on the terms of his joining us! That’s the problem you always want to have in hiring—the work is so much more exciting to discuss than the specifics of the deal.

I’ve never seen a situation where everyone is excited about the work and the collaboration but can’t come to deal terms. It almost never happens. And a startup is a mission, people who get stuck in minutiae are generally not a good fit.

I would add, finally, that the characteristics of the organization should be mirrored in the people you hire. Over the past five years, Eric Harris (EVP Business Operations), has built a world class client service organization in a product (social content driven advertising) that previously barely existed. This requires detail-orientation, passion, curiosity, responsiveness, rigor and then a trait that can sometime run against these themes: out of the box, standard-breaking, creative problem solving.

Eric is an expert recruiter for this rare skill mix. He identified and cultivated them first in his hiring of the initial members of the team and then as we have grown that team to 30-plus people in the account management unit alone.

We look for this orientation DURING the interview process. Do people respond fast and well? Are their responses detailed and free of errors, and at the same time do they have wit and creativity when we give them sample challenges?

We recently codified the commitments of this team in a re-titling of the various units that roll into our business operations team as the “Client Service Organization.”

If you are interviewing or negotiating with a new hire, and you like them more and more, you are making a good hire. The back and forth is even more important that the actual “interviews.” If you are having a difficult hiring process but think it will be great “when they person gets on board and this hiring is behind us” let me assure you: It never gets better. How it is, is how it will be.

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com

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