Best Way to Screen Future Employees? Play Sports.
UPDATE: Just wanted to add, after hearing good feedback, that I am not at all trying to say that all employees should be great athletes or even play sports at all. What I describe below is that IF (and only IF) a prospective employee does play a sport, observing or, even better, playing with them can offer amazing insights as to how they will be as a colleague. Further, “Sport” and “Ultimate Frisbee” are simply metaphors for any competitive project… could be a sport, an online game, or a TopCoder competition etc.
I love creative and unusual techniques of screening new employees. Most employees have figured out “the system” by now (and if they have not, that’s a warning sign right there). They know the questions prospective employers generally ask and have already practiced forty ways of responding, depending on the angle of the sun coming through the window, size of the smile on the interviewer and countless other variables.
The typical interview setting is ridiculously artificial and a terrible indicator of how that person will be in the real work environment. You have to put people in situations where they will fully be themselves and forget about the preparation of how they “should be acting.”
There are a few ways to effectively do this. One is to live with somebody for a week. It is extremely hard to keep up your guard for a week straight while living with somebody. You get to know them well and you’ll figure out quickly how it will be to work with them. Due to time and other constraints, I’ve been told this strategy isn’t entirely realistic so another good way I have found: play Sports.
I can tell how good somebody will be as a colleague after playing sports (specifically Ultimate Frisbee as that is my sport of choice currently) with them for an hour better than a dozen interviews or 360-degree evaluations can. It is tough to “game the system” in an intense athletic competition.
People want to win.
I have heard some people say “But I’m just not competitive.” That’s BULLSHIT. Nobody wants to lose… and if they are ok with it, they shouldn’t be at your company. The key is what are they willing to do to win, how they act when they win or lose and how they play.
Below are couple of quick ways to test potential employees based on sports.
Ask them their in-game stats
(how many times they have scored, how many assists have they had, how many great defensive plays). If he can tell you he has scored 6 times, with 3 great D’s and 12 assists, DON’T HIRE HIM. In the middle of an intense sport, an elite player has no time to remember or even think about their own stats. They are ONLY thinking about what they can do at that second to help their team WIN. Somebody who knows their stats is selfish, a self-promoter and will be poisonous to your company.
Deliberately place them in extreme situations
(put him in when the team is losing drastically… then put him in when they are winning by a huge margin and see how he plays). This will be extremely evident and indicative of whether he can handle the ups and downs of a startup. If he gets extremely frustrated and gives up when he is losing, DON’T HIRE HIM. If he acts like a dick and showboats the hell out of the other team when he is winning, DON’T HIRE HIM. He should be playing 110% for every second that he is in the game. It’s a privilege to be playing just like it is a privilege for him to be at an exciting startup. You don’t want somebody who won’t be giving their all- no matter whether it is the best day or worst day in the world.
Make terrible Foul calls on him
(in Ultimate Frisbee this works because people call their own fouls, but in other sports, “play dirty” on a couple of plays to test this one) How does he act when there is clear unfairness and cheating happening? If he decides to stoop down and cheat as well, DON’T HIRE HIM. If he sits passively and just lets it keep happening without calling it out or figuring out how to fix the situation, DON’T HIRE HIM. You don’t want somebody who won’t say something that needs to be said when tough times come up.
These are a few ways I look at Sports in the context of hiring. Add others in the comments section if you have them or let me know if you think this is idiotic. I GUARANTEE that after watching an Ultimate frisbee game for a few hours, I can tell which players are the most successful, ambitious, passionate- it is an amazing way to screen employees… more on Ultimate as it relates to Entrepreneurs in a soon-to-come post.