How to hire great people: use the “24-hour test”

When you’re starting a company, you spend a significant amount of time interviewing candidates. At Punchbowl Software, we hire full-time employees, part-time employees, and independent contractors. Regardless of the position, all of us work together as a close team. So it’s critical that we hire people that fit the culture and vibe at Punchbowl.

I’m fond of saying that “good” people are relatively easy to find: place an ad in Craigslist or Monster and you can find educated, experienced, and talented people within days. But finding truly “great” people is really hard — how do you find people with superb communication skills, excellent personal traits, a strong work ethic, combined with a willingness to join an early-stage startup? And how do you make sure that the skillset and mindset of this new person will add to the team you already have in place? I can tell you from experience: this is a tough challenge. Hiring is hard (but firing is alot harder…)

Over the years, I’ve developed a sequence to my hiring process. My goal is to learn about the person as much as possible before offering a position. I want to know how they think and what makes them tick. One part of my process happens after my first significant conversation with the candidate. It’s a pretty simple test– something I call the “24-hour test.” (Note to self, write more about your hiring process in a future post).

Here’s how the “24-hour test” works:

I ask the candidate to send me an email within the next 24 hours. In the email, I ask for two things:

1) Send me something that shows me how you think. It could be something creative like a writing sample or a poem. Maybe it’s an amusing picture that you’ve seen. Or even just a rant on something that you find interesting. There are no guidelines here– just show me how you think and who you are.

2) Let me know how interested you are in the position. I want to hear about what makes you excited about the opportunity and the company. Given all of the resources available online, you can learn quite a bit about the company. What concerns do you have? What questions can I answer for you?

So, how do I evaluate the 24-hour test?

1) Did you deliver the email within 24 hours? In a startup, it’s critical that we hit deadlines and deliver on-time. Therefore, I want to know that you’ll actually be able to deliver and hit deadlines — even in this small test example. With my 24-hour test, it is simply unacceptable to be late. If something came up and you can’t get back to me within 24 hours, I expect an email letting me know why. Is this harsh? Maybe. But we’re looking for great people– and great people know how to deliver on-time.

2) How do you think? Are you creative or literal? How do you deal with ambiguity? Do you have a sense of humor? It’s amazing what I can learn about a person from the 24-hour test.

3) Are you excited about the opportunity at Punchbowl Software? Why? Have you spent the time to critically evaluate the opportunity? Are you really ready to join a start-up?

Over the years, I’ve seen some pretty cool things as a result of the 24-hour test. I always enjoy getting the emails, and it’s fun to see what people send. I think the best response I ever received was from a young woman who was interviewing for an internship position (yes, I hired her). She had just spent a semester abroad in France, and she told me over the phone how important it was for a web company to consider an international audience when developing marketing and branding. Then she sent me this:

The photo I’ve included is evidence that the French don’t check out the English words they’re using in developing or naming products. It was really hard to decide what kind of photo to send you (a double rainbow I saw? the disastrously messy room of the 3 and 5 year-old daughters of my host mother? fireworks?), but I narrowed it down to this because it made me laugh.

(A Furniture store in France)

sad_decor.jpg

And she concluded her email with this:

I’m trying to save my smart and insightful comments about the job for lunch on Monday, and I don’t want to bore you, so I’ll stop writing. I’d like to thank you for your interest in me as a candidate, and tell you that this job would be ridiculously cool for me in so many ways. Although this sounds like it’s been taken right out of an example of “how to write a cover letter,” I feel that I’m perfect for the kind of job you’re offering.

If you’ve read this post because I’ve asked you to do the 24-hour test, I hope this gives you a really good idea of the purpose of your task. I’m trying to answer the question: are you good or are you great for Punchbowl Software? After a few years of using my “24-hour test” I’m convinced it helps me uncover great people to join our team.

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One Response to How to hire great people: use the “24-hour test”

  1. Ryan says:

    Hey Matt,
    I really like your idea about the “24 Hour Test” because it is unlike any hiring technique that I have experienced. You actually give the person of interest a job before actually giving them a job and you see how or if they tick before even presenting them with a position.
    In the future when I’m in a position to hire people I will definitely use your examples. Thanks for the post and for sharing your ideas.

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