Launch Pad Blog


RECAP: Does your start-up know how to interview?

by Jane Buescher | Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Hiring is a top priority for most start-ups. Interviewing is a key element of hiring, but interview training often gets overlooked, leading to poor evaluation and bad candidate experience. 


On March 31, RockIT held an event centered around interview training at start-ups. Prior to the event, we surveyed recruiters and engineering managers to see what their companies’ current interview training and practices entailed: 

  • About 60% of respondents were at companies with 11-150 employees, and 65% of respondents interviewed more than 10 people each month
  • 55% said their companies did not provide any interview training
  • For the 45% whose companies do provide training, typically recruiters were in charge of the training, and it most often came in the form of someone internal to the company providing instruction on interview techniques or letting new interviewers observe others in action
  • 69% said they evaluate candidates against a set of criteria...but only 50% said their company gave guidance on how to evaluate potential hires and only 40% said all interviewers use the same criteria for assessment
  • For evaluation, 41% use a qualitative scale (i.e. "Strong hire, Average hire, Weak hire"), and when someone receives a borderline score, 41% would do additional interviews, 24% would discuss as a group, and 24% would reject; 0% would hire a borderline candidate


Our first speaker was Natalia Baryshnikova, a Product Manager at SmartRecruiters. She spoke about the data behind interviewing, and how different approaches or tools can impact the effectiveness and speed of the interview process. 


Natalia looked at three main topics: How is the interview structured? Who interviews the candidates? What is the content of the interview? And she spoke about how the answer to these three questions had an impact on things like Time to Hire and Time to Interview. 


Two key takeaways:

  1. Structured interviews speed up the Time to Hire by 2x
  2. Team interviews yield 1.6x more hires than individual ones  


Our second speaker was Gayle Laakmann McDowell, Founder & CEO of and Author of Cracking the * Interview series. Gayle’s talk was titled “Constructing the (Im)perfect Interview Process.” She boiled most software engineering interviews down into these 5 types:

  1. Problem-solving questions
  2. Onsite real-world tests
  3. Homework
  4. Prior Experience
  5. References

And she spoke in detail about the benefits but also the flaws of each one of these types of interviews. 

Gayle’s core beliefs about interviews included the notions that a) Interviews don’t have to mirror the real world; b) Good candidate experience matters – even for the candidates that don’t pass the interview; and c) You’ll never have a perfect interview process so do what you can to make it as un-broken as possible.

When it comes to assessing technical talent, Gayle stressed the need to understand what depth of technical knowledge does the candidate absolutely need to know on day one? And, given that, if you are interviewing for a certain skill or level of knowledge, it should either be difficult to acquire or a red flag to lack the skill.


Finally, we had a talent-filled panel moderated by Amy Knapp, Head of Talent at Redpoint, and four panelists:

  • Soham Mehta, Founder of Interview Kickstart and former Director of Engineering at Box
  • Aline Lerner, Independent Recruiter & Blogger and Founder of
  • Emil Ong, Principal Engineer / Engineering Lead at Lookout
  • Jared Friedman, Co-Founder & CTO at Scribd

The panel dove into topics from "how do you determine interview questions?" to "how do you keep employees engaged in interviewing if you don't always agree with their evaluation?" The panel also discussed hiring for culture, and what that means at each of their respective companies.


Some key takeaways:

  • You'll learn a lot more from a candidate doing really poorly - or really well - on an average question than on a really hard question. -- Soham
  • We have a wiki of 100+ questions that the team has come up with and I find the questions are more genuine when they are ones that the team came up with from an actual experience at Scribd. -- Jared
  • People talk about tech fit and culture fit, but not tech culture fit - is the team pragmatic or academic? Do they test? Do they build their own solutions or use things out of the box? -- Aline
  • We hold mock interviews and let the team test out new questions. When I asked one of the smartest engineers on our team a suggested question and he struggled, it gave us an idea that maybe we shouldn't include it. -- Emil


It was a great learning experience and we are already looking forward to the next one! Links to full videos of the event's talks are below:

Natalia's Talk

Gayle's Talk

Panel Discussion