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The Art Of Interviewing: 4 Traits Potential Candidates Need To Show In Order To Be Hired

Winston Ibrahim

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Hiring talented people is an art (and science) in and of itself.

I have been a founder, angel investor, and networker for a while now, and one of the things I am always thinking about is how to continue meeting and connecting with new people who I’d love to work with down the road—or can recommend talented people from their own networks. 

As a business owner, you always want to begin the interview process by pulling from a pool of highly curated candidates. These are individuals who come recommended, who have proven themselves and their expertise elsewhere, and who have shown some sort of initiative or interest in what you’re working toward as a company. Which means, if you are someone looking to be hired, the very first question you need to ask yourself is: “How can I find my way into these pools of curated individuals?”

This is what dramatically reduces the amount of time spent browsing through stacks of resumes or looking people up on LinkedIn. From there, you can then spend more of your time having initial conversations with people to gauge if there’s mutual interest in working together. Remember: opportunities aren’t a one-way street. Things need to make sense for the employer and the role they’re looking to fill, as much as they need to make sense for the employee and how they want to shape the future of their career.

Having conducted hundreds of interviews over the course of many years, here are the 4 big things I look for when speaking with potential candidates.

1. The candidate needs to show there is chemistry working together.

It’s very important to me to meet with people face-to-face (now, over Zoom) for several hours a day, two or three days in a row.

I don’t think of myself as a “boss.” I think of myself as a collaborator. I want to know the people I’m surrounding myself with are people I could see myself spending large amounts of time with, while at the same time embodying the traits of a hard worker. I want to know who they are, what they’re interested in, what drives them, what motivated them to go down this career path in the first place, etc. All of these little details reveal a lot about someone—and give you insight into what you can expect when working together.

These meetings are almost always one-on-one. If it’s a candidate I’m really interested in, I’ll ask them to clear the bulk of a day, or even a full day, so that we can spend several hours talking through a wide assortment of topics—everything from personal interests to previous work experience, to hobbies outside of work, etc. What I really want to know is what they aspire to be, and whether or not I can truly help them get to wherever they want to go (and vice versa).

2. The candidate needs to show their ability to think independently.

Canned answers don’t tell you anything about a person.

One of the true goals of any interview process is to get beyond the nerves of initial conversations and discover how this individual thinks for themselves. If they run into a problem, what do they do? Not what do they “say” they would do, but what do they actually do? How do they overcome obstacles? What’s their response to stressful situations? Do they need to be micromanaged?

This is another reason why I look to spend several hours with a candidate I’m interested in, because it’s usually after the first hour or so that they start to open up. Once you get past the standard interview questions, you inherently have to start divulging more insight and information—otherwise, you’ll just keep repeating yourself.

3. The candidate needs to show they can own their own processes.

My ideal type of working relationship is to give the other person autonomy and freedom.

The most valuable hire you could possibly make is someone who can run with things on their own. If a hire is dependent on you sitting there holding their hand, then chances are, you’ve hired the wrong person. Of course, certain thresholds need to be put in place to ensure their work stays up to snuff, but for the most part, I look for candidates who need very little oversight in order to manage themselves—and this goes for both “managers” as well as more entry-level employees. 

Being a self-starter is an invaluable skill.

4. The candidate needs to show relevant expertise to what they’ll be responsible for doing on a day-to-day basis.

I am the founder and CEO of a sustainable water filtration company called Hydros, and so whenever we are interviewing candidates, I really look for skill sets that are hyper-relevant to what we’re building and the mission of our company. That doesn’t mean the individual needs to have previous experience working for a water filtration company. However, if they were previously doing sales for a granola bar or hydration drink, can they take relevant skills and adjacent knowledge and apply it to a different market? That’s the real question.

For this reason, I prefer starting working relationships with people in some sort of contractor fashion. I like there to be a window of time where we can get to know each other without making too many commitments in either direction. Then, if things are going well, and we see there is a synergy there, we’ll of course want to invest more in the relationship. 

But finding ways to test their expertise beyond just a well-written resume and answering interview questions is an important piece of the puzzle.

I am the founder and CEO of Hydros, an innovative water filtration startup with proprietary technology that works at five times the speed of standard home filtration systems. We strive to create beautiful, convenient, and competitively priced portable and home filtration products to reduce the consumption of single-use disposable plastic bottles.

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