Date your future employees - Vusi Thembekwayo

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Vusi Thembekwayo 16 February 2020

I thought I should share how we hire employees into our firm and our portfolio companies.

We don’t interview candidates in the classic sense. We prefer to interview the people & companies they used to work with and for, as well as friends & family to get a sense of the character of the candidate.

People will present a picture of themselves that they believe best suits your needs. It is not always the true picture but the picture they want you to believe.

So we prefer to rather talk to people that have actually experienced that person.

Our approach is a 360 approach to recruiting candidates.

It’s not perfect but we think (and the evidence shows us) it’s more effective than the linear interview & references model that is generally used in the marketplace.

The reason is that we’ve noticed how well candidates interview, is not necessarily how well candidates perform. Some people can be shy, not well spoken & not well presented but join your team and kick-ass.

So, we designed our process to give everybody a fair shot. Here is how we do it:

Step 1: we don’t invite candidates in for an interview upfront. Once we receive responses to our job ads, we send a task with a deadline to each of the respondents.

They can submit their response in any format. We open up the format because not everybody has email or the internet. What is important for us is the candidate has to make the deadline.

Step 2: we then invite the candidates for an interview. It’s a group interview & they get to meet the other candidates applying & interviewing for the same job. This is easily the most effective part of our process.

People get really competitive & decide if they can fit the culture. You also get a sense of how people react when it in an environment of uncertainty. This approach tends to jolt the candidates & you get a sense of the true person.

Remember, before you hire someone, you are testing to see who the person is and a test of the true character.

Step 3: We also DONT INTERVIEW the candidate. We allow the candidates to INTERVIEW THE COMPANY. This is revolutionary. Most middle managers have thought this approach ridiculous. Trust me: it works. The trick is you have to get someone senior in the firm to take the interview.

For our firm, I or my CFO usually take those meetings myself.

Here, the candidates can ask anything they want to know about the company. ANYTHING! The quality of the questions they ask tells you everything you need to know about their understanding of your business & readiness to contribute to your business.

The goal here is test culture & purpose fit.

Honestly, our company culture is not for everyone. We work very long hours & because we are busy scaling — there is a lot of “scope-creep” on work

Like most growth businesses, you end up working on something that is not in your employment contract.

On a more personal note, I learned the most as an employee when I was doing the work that was not in my contract of employment. I developed new skills & made myself more employable! It’s really where I learned the skills that made me a more attractive prospect.

But this approach is not for everyone, not fit for every job & we get that. So our goal is to get a team member that understands our drive & goals.

Step 4: After the candidates have interviewed our company, they get a second assignment that is aligned to something they will have to do in the job. This is a technical assignment with slightly more time than the initial test.

Here we test technical competencies & cognitive understanding.

Step 5: we do psychometric testing for some of the more senior hires. So, for example, we are busy hiring a Head of Accelerator for Mygrowthfund VC & all the candidates are doing psychometrics as I write this.

Those tests are not perfect but they do give you some valuable information. The tests can be pricey but let me tell you, the amount of data we have received from our team members & how close to the truth that information has been well worth the cost.

Once you have passed this step, we then invite you to spend a day with us. You don’t have to do it (& some candidates can’t because they still have a job) which is fine.

You don’t get disqualified because if you cant but we prefer that you make the time.

Here we just want you to see HOW WE WORK & if you can vibe with us. Culture is everything in a business. Everything!

Step 6: we then ask you for references.

These can be old employers but also life-long friends, sporting friends, pastors, old clients, etc.

We do this to get a sense of the character. We realized that most old employers are lousy referrals that give bad references so we expand our reference bank to give us a better distribution curve of data. Better data = better decisions.

Ultimately, you want to get a more nuanced, rounded perspective of the candidate is the trick. We just had a candidate give us their pastor as a reference. This is super cool because you are not just an employee number. You are a full human being.

The problem with references right now is that they are used to disqualify candidates rather than to understand the candidate.

Then, if we like each other, we make the offer.

This process is not perfect. Over the years we have lost phenomenal candidates because they felt the process took too long. And that’s a risk we are willing to take.

They say hire slow, fire fast. It’s not true that people are everything in a business. It’s the RIGHT PEOPLE.

Ask any entrepreneur reading this thread, the highest stress issue for them is employees. And our labor laws make it really difficult to part ways with people when things don’t work out.

Our entire approach is the process must be fair.

So try to :

1. get as much information as possible,

2. go on a date,

3. test each other,

4. meet each other’s friends & get a sense of character.

… and then, sign on the dotted line.

We’ve developed this process over a period of 7 years. So, I’m curious to know, “What do you guys think of our process?”

Share your thoughts.

Vusi Thembekwayo
Global Speaker | Venture Investor