This is part of a series on how to conduct a Strength-finding Interview.

Series: Strength-finding Interview
Phase 1: Confirm Expectations (2019-06-20)
Phase 2: Coordinate Format (2019-06-24)
Phase 3: Run Interview (2019-06-27)
Phase 4: Review Notes (2019-07-01)
Phase 5: Make Decision (2019-07-04)
Summary (2019-07-04)

I’ve often been a part of hiring decisions where the candidate:

  • was great at several things, but none of those were assessed
  • was assessed for things that didn’t matter to the job
  • was clearly nervous, but no recourse was provided
  • was not hired, but went on to do amazing things at an other, similar job

Over the years, I’ve grown skeptical of the whole affair. I’m not alone. You can consume countless articles, books, research studies, podcasts, and conference talks about the broken hiring process. Many alternatives have been suggested, all of which seem to pick a difference balance point in the tradeoffs of time, accuracy, and fairness.

Advancing in my career has allowed me to have more control over the process. I’ve researched, experimented, and collaborated on the problem. I’ve talked to who knows how many people about this. I claim no academic authority on the matter, but this series describes where my research and experience have led me.

Where I’m At

Most interviews seem to be accidental (idealistic) Me-finding Interviews: the interviewers are looking for others who share their values, virtues, and unknowingly their vices. The format is also often very rigid, looking for specific things and rejecting candidates who can’t demonstrate them.

Me-finding characteristics, intentional or otherwise:

  • requiring a college degree, just like me
  • requiring a take-home test or a lengthy interview process, just like me who has no kids or family obligations
  • requiring whiteboard coding, just like me?
  • requiring X years experience in a specific technology, just like me
  • requiring similar interests as me, so we can go out for a drink sometime

What follows is a distillation of the process I use for interviewing. If you agree with the goals of this format, feel free to use it as a starting point in your own interview process. Hopefully, it can serve you as a better default.

So far, variations of this format have been tested across 2 companies, 65 phone screens, 23 interviews, 13 offers, and 8 hires. Unsolicited feedback from candidates, even from those we declined, has been overwhelmingly positive.

I really loved the interview process. Thanks for considering me for the role.

This is the best interview process I’ve ever been through.


What makes this process different from traditional interview practices is that it aims to find the overlap between your team’s needs and a candidate’s strengths, then plans the specific candidate’s interview to highlight those strengths.

The other goals are to:

  • be as accurate as possible within the constraints of time expectations
  • remove as much bias as possible from the process
  • provide a fair and consistent experience to candidates
  • be transparent throughout

You may notice that “plan the specific candidate’s interview” and “provide a … consistent experience to candidates” are at odds, but we’ll explore how to balance those.

Summary (tl;dr)

The key takeaways are:

  • ask the candidate what their strengths are, then tailor the interview towards the overlap between those and your needs
  • be flexible in format, tech stack, and time
  • be consistent wherever possible

The Process via A Job and Candidate

Let’s assume we have a candidate Jessie for a Software Engineer position we’d like to fill. This example will be based on some real world experiences, but is not designed to represent a specific person.

👩🏾‍💻 Candidate: Jessie
Education: Self-taught
Experience: 4 years web development
  • Worked on chat software before
  • Designed and implemented APIs in Node.js
  • Implemented web applications in React
  • Wrote API documentation
  • Managed API project by breaking down tasks and communicating across teams

who is applying for this Software Engineer job:

📋 Job: Software Engineer
FlashRecruit is a funded recruitment technology startup with massive traction (SaaS based) looking for a Software Engineer (for full stack development) to join our growing team! We're building chat-based (and other) software to make the job seeking and recruiting experiences better.

Opportunity You are invited to join us on this adventure! There is a unique opportunity here to not only be a part of what we're building, but to influence the direction we take. You will be able to contribute your different skill sets to the various problems we'll solve together.

In this role specifically, you'll be collaborating with the development team to build new features, new products, and iterate on our processes. These efforts will directly lead to happier customers and more sales for the business.

We'd love to tell you more about what to expect, but the team is small and growing. It's hard to predict what the future will hold. Joining now gives you an opportunity to shape that future.

Context We work in the recruiting software landscape, which is complex and crowded. We're doing something unique in the space by offering the ability to chat with a recruiter before applying to a job, which is exciting. We're not stopping there.

We're also a small startup, which means you'll likely wear different hats at different times. We expect you to spend most of your time writing software, but sometimes other related hats will be necessary.

We have an office in Oakbrook, which you are free to use if you like, but the engineering team is fully remote. The company fully embraces remote work. You will be collaborating with others that could be working anywhere in the US (for now). Because of this, communication is key. This includes screen sharing, remote pair programming, writing documentation, virtual meetings, and more.

Expectations of You
There aren't many technical requirements. We don't want to exclude you based on something you could learn quickly enough on the job. Instead, we'd like to focus on the skills that we find to be critical to happiness and success in self and team.

Continuous Improvement: For each other item, you don't have to already be great. The core expectation and real requirement is that you improve over time. The processes and expectations in place will facilitate that, but you should be motivated to continuous improvement as well.

Code: Writing software is the core of this role. You should write software that is tested, modifiable, and clear. We have no expectations around computer science concepts, but you should be open to learning about anything relevant to the work.

Worked on Web Software: You should have built web applications or the systems supporting them before. Experience with our entire stack is not necessary. It is helpful to have some experience with at least one of these:
  • Node.js (API)
  • Ember (Web Client)
  • React Native (Mobile Apps)
  • Heroku/S3/RDS (Infrastructure)

Collaborate: You should work well in a collaborative environment. As a team, we'll be building software, reviewing code, deciding on architecture, and iterating on our processes. You don't have to do all of these things, but we'd like you to be involved with the team more than just executing individual task after task.

Write: Because we fully embrace remote work, you will often be writing messages, pull request descriptions, the occasional document, and more. Technical Writing is an important skill in general, but especially in a remote environment.

Give Feedback: You should give feedback on the product, team, and team members. Feedback should be specific, actionable, and timely. For individuals, it should also be directly related to the job they are expected to perform. You should also be mindful or biases when giving feedback.

Receive Feedback: You should respond well to valid feedback. Responding well can mean many things, including disagreement. We want to build a strong, trust-and-respect-based relationship across the team that allows us to give feedback about actions, not judgements about people.

  • Competitive compensation
  • Equity in a funded, early-stage startup poised for exponential growth
  • Full-time W2 employment
  • Health Care Plan that's good for families and individuals
  • Flexible time to allow for a work-life balance that works for you and your family
  • Minimum Required PTO with suggested 4-weeks per year
  • Intentionally Guided Culture based on inclusion and respect
  • Remote work

If you aren't sure if you should apply, please apply anyway. Don't self-select yourself out. We'd be happy to discuss any concerns you have with the job post matching your skill set.

FlashRecruit is committed to creating a diverse environment and is proud to be an equal opportunity employer. All applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genetics, disability, age, or veteran status.

Side Note: I used in the writing of this job post and I’m very happy with the results!

Next Up

There are five phases to the process. They will look pretty typical, but the details are a bit more unique.

Phase 1: Confirm Expectations
Phase 2: Coordinate Negotiation
Phase 3: Run Interview
Phase 4: Review Notes
Phase 5: Make Decision

In this series, we’ll cover the phases in detail, highlighting Jessie’s strengths.

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Sean Massa


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