Designing an Interview Process for Startups

Named as one of Forbes 30 under 30, Lisa Fetterman is the CEO of Nomiku.  Nomiku is an award-winning machine for sous vide cooking that is changing the way homes cook forever.

When thinking about adding the earliest members of our team we relied on culture fit above all else. We knew we’d be working long hours with these new people and would have to go through the gauntlet uncertainties and challenges startups face. The key was having our dream team that we wanted to hire already organized within our minds. We also had to reach full company consensus before we hired a team member, it’s not a big deal most of the time we generally trust the opinion of the person championing the new hire. Below I’ll walk through our steps to finding that perfect team member.

Planning the Team

Where are we hurting?

There are a million and one positions in a fantasy-perfect-land I’d like to hire for.  However, when it comes to being efficient and focusing on product, I have to ask “Where does it hurts the most?” and hire for that. This definitely helps me prioritize the process. Body-count is the easiest way to increase our burn rate so we have to employ where it counts first.

What are our goals for this year?

Figuring out the milestones we want to reach helps us narrow down the right people to seek. For example, one of our goals was to have better customer service and be more organized so we hired an office manager.

How can I be using my current team’s time better?

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Everyone is running on all cylinders at a startup and that makes the team susceptible to burnout. If I could hire for the areas that would make my founding team members more effective that would make the team more productive as a whole.

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Where to Find People

Craigslist is still magical!

For real! A lot of people are trolling Craigslist all the time for maker jobs like assembling or shipping. It’s still a great pool to hire logistics and manufacturing talent.

I also recommend talking to others in your industry for warm introductions. References are great especially if this is one of your early hires. You will feel the need for more layers of trust to make a confident decision.

The Right Questions to Ask

Don’t ask what they do for fun.

It can cause you to judge them for all the wrong reasons. Of course, they need to be a cultural fit but the most you’ll see an employee is when they’re at work with you. We need to know what they’re like at work.

Alternatively, ask fun questions that relate to the field they are interviewing for.  If your company specializes in fashion, the candidate should, at least, be into fashion. If your company is like Nomiku and you are obsessed with food, they should have an interest in food.  When asked, they should be able to rattle off some dishes they love to eat.

How do you resolves issues at work?

This gives insight on their communication style. For us, the more communication the better. We’re a tightknit group of people and fast/effective communication keeps the ship right on course.

Tell me about a time you felt like work was meaningful.

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At Nomiku, I want the team to always feel like a part of their soul is being nourished when they’re here. Startups have a lot of ups and downs, there are no guarantees. The greatest thing about a startup is learning a lot from it and improving yourself as a human being. If you’re the type of person that doesn’t find meaning at work… I’m not so sure you should apply for a startup.

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Choosing the Candidate

What qualities do they display?

They should have a positive demeanor and speak well of past experiences even if it didn’t work out. If a job didn’t work out I lean in to listen to what they learned from the experience.

Talk to the Team

In between the interview and the job offer talk with the whole team about it. This works especially with smaller teams.  If your team is ten people or less there should be a full consensus from everyone before the hire is made. If the team is bigger, make sure to get the opinion of 3-4 others team members.

Use a CRM program

It’s not okay to not get back to people when you’re not going to hire them. It’s really hard to remember to do that when you’re running a business.  So I use Lever to remind me to send people feedback and help me organize my funnel of people.

Make a decision quickly

Shouldn’t take more than a week, people have to put food in their mouths! Move it along fast to make everything as smooth as possible. There is a saying slow to hire quick to fire, but a week is pretty good for “slow”.


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