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Auditions: The Cure for Ineffective Interviews

As a leader and hiring manager at Salesforce, I had no problem hiring an amazing, high-performing and diverse team. This team of product managers, interaction designers, researchers, and UX engineers needed to onboard and build the front-end of a highly-complex, technical Internet of Things platform. And, these folks needed to be hired quickly to meet Salesforce’s famously immovable Dreamforce deadlines. Failure or delay were not options.

The most important factor in getting us to our goals was my ability as a hiring manager to identify, hire, and quickly onboard the best talent in Silicon Valley. I’m happy to say that our goal was met, our openings were filled quickly, and an extremely high-performing and diverse team was built. In addition, “diversity” was never a stated goal and our recruiter was never asked to source for diversity.

Here's a snapshot of some members of my team:

How do I believe this happened? The biggest factor in this success was a shift in the interview process -- applying “Audition” methods from acting. As an Actor through high school and college, I went through many auditions and those methods influenced how I think about placing talent into roles. What makes Auditions different than Interviews?

First,Interviews emphasize the work that people have done in their past roles.

Auditions emphasize how the person will perform in the role you need them to be in.

In an acting audition, the director will review your past work, but the vast majority of time is spent on the role that needs to be filled and how the person would perform in that role.

Second, Interviews focus around talking about work.

Auditions focus around actually doing the work you need to be done.

In an acting audition, the majority of time is spent actually performing the role that needs to be filled. The director will usually give some notes and coach the actor, then the actor continues to perform the role. The director looks for both how well the actor is performing as well as how much improvement is shown after each moment spent coaching.

And third, Interviews don’t usually produce artifacts to compare candidates objectively after the interview. Auditions do produce artifacts that you can go back to in order to assess candidates in an objective way.

Acting auditions are usually videotaped, so that directors can go back to the videos and assess who performed better. They can put the clips next to each other for a more objective assessment versus relying on memory.

Applying these methods to tech hiring has produced amazing results on my team. Here’s how my “Auditions” usually go:

- I ask for samples of work up-front. This helps me prepare questions about the work as opposed to the person. In the phone interview (which is more traditional), I ask for us to go over the work samples, including the motivations behind different choices and the process by which they were made. If the candidate is advancing to an in-person interview, I tell them that we will work on a problem together and to get ready to roll up their sleeves when we meet.

- The one-hour in-person interview starts with an explanation of the job and the role as well as personal introductions. Then I pull out a stack of blank paper and markers. I introduce the candidate to a problem we are currently trying to solve in the product, that they would likely be working on. I start drawing the problem either on the whiteboard or on the paper. I then hand a marker to the candidate and ask them to start drawing how they would think about the problem or start creating a solution. We work together, sketching together and me clarifying the problem for about 10 minutes. As soon as the candidate seems to understand the problem, I say, “Ok, I’m going to let you sketch for 15 minutes alone and I’ll be back.” I come back and then we go over their ideas and solutions, clarifying and iterating along the way. Throughout this review, I am looking for how well the candidate is solving the problem as well as their mental agility -- their ability to re-think the problem based on new information and ideas that I introduce into the conversation.

- I collect all the artifacts created in the interview. I save the papers and take pictures of the whiteboard. I share these artifacts with members of my team when evaluating candidates and hiring decisions are based primarily on the artifacts, not factors like “culture fit” or “past experience” -- which I think tend to lead to gender and race biased results.

I hope you find this useful and urge you to start auditioning instead of interviewing your candidates. I think you will find that you will be able to hire an amazing and diverse team without much additional effort.

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