Always try to proactively own the first few minutes of small talk by finding common ground. | Source: Shutterstock
“Thank you for your time today, well be in touch shortly with the next steps,” I said to the founder, smiled and clicked “End the call”. Once the camera was off, I took a deep breath, stretched and closed the laptop. It was my last meeting for the day on a late Friday afternoon, so closing the laptop also symbolically felt like closing out a tough but satisfying week. You know the feeling when youve sat on your butt in front of the laptop all day, in and out of virtual meetings doing little more than listening and talking, yet feel completely exhausted? Yeah, that was me this past Friday. Exhausted, but happy. I have met so many aspiring founders up until now, and I started wondering exactly how many, and why do some of them stand out so clearly next to others?
I checked my calendar and counted each interview I have done for Antler’s Singapore and Vietnam programs to date. I had my first founder interview at the beginning of July and counted to 90 completed interviews as of this past Friday, the 1st of October. That’s 90 founder interviews in 85 calendar days.
Interviewing that amount of people in such a short period of time has enabled me to identify certain patterns of things that the top candidates usually say or do. Here are 5 things I think the top 5% of founders always nail:
They always get the basics right
Being a few minutes early, sitting in a quiet space, having the camera turned on, already completed a check of the mic and speakers feels like a very easy set of basics to get right, especially as the global pandemic has brought so many conversations online. However, many people are still fumbling with these things. It’s never a great start to any conversation to have to wait a few minutes because the person who is used to Zoom can’t figure out how to get their headphones to work in Google Meet, or the other way around. This is not only a source of slight annoyance, but also kills the important initial small talk (see point 2).
If you can’t see someone, it’s not only harder to connect to them, but it also makes it harder to trust them. This is why you never see a TED talk in which the speaker is hiding behind a podium. TED speakers are always standing in the middle of a brightly lit stage with nothing but a clicker in their hand. The same principle goes for video calls. Have the camera turned on and sit facing it with the main light source from the front if possible. I’ve done so many interviews where the candidate f.ex. has placed the camera on the side, making me feel like I am having a conversation with their ear.
It’s already hard enough to create a connection with someone on a video call compared to an in-person meeting. The best candidates make sure they don’t let fundamental, easy-to-fix things hamper the experience.
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As a part of this recruiting drive, I personally conducted almost 300 interviews, some weeks conducting 10 interviews per day. We implemented a robust end-to-end process to ensure the journey was streamlined, straightforward, and most importantly capturing the top talent.
Therefore, the best advice I can offer someone going into an interview is simply answer the question being asked. Behind each stage is a scorecard for the interviewer to complete, based on the candidates answers, to enable them to pass them through to the next round, or hopefully, the offer.
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They call out the obvious
Kids wreaking havoc in the next room, dogs barking in the background, roosters cockadoodledoodling outside the window — I’ve heard them all when interviewing founders. It can be very disturbing and intrusive to a conversation and pretending to ignore it will only make it worse. Instead, just call it out.
By simply saying “sorry, I am home alone with my 5-year old and that’s her throwing Lego’s” or “if you hear some barking it’s just my dog when he sees the neighbor’s cat, I apologize” you do not only defuse the situation, but you will also generate empathy from the interviewer and whatever noise happens after that is usually never an issue.