Interviewing for a new job is always a nerve-wracking experience, one fraught with potential mistakes that could ruin your chance at working for your dream company.
But take solace in the fact that the interviews you’ve been on are relatively short, at least when compared to the Australian mobile app development startup Appster.
There, candidates go through about 20 hours of interviews and tests in a process that requires them to answer questions ranging from “What would you would do if you were made CEO?” to “How would your tutor in college rate you on a scale of 1-10?”
The pressure is enough to make anyone crack, as one prospective employee did when he started yelling at Appster c0-CEO and cofounder Mark McDonald for mispronouncing a name on his résumé.
“You start seeing glimmers of people’s personalities they can’t hide, things you would never be able to see in a traditional job interview,” McDonald tells Business Insider.
These cracks are precisely what Appster is looking for. If you’re unfamiliar, the company helps people who have an idea for an app by developing software, asking investors for money, and implementing a business plan for them.
Now three years old, Appster has grown to 150 employees and has offices in Australia, San Francisco, and India. In this crucial hiring phase, choosing the wrong people could be crippling.
McDonald says that he and cofounder Josiah Humphrey initially implemented a fairly standard interview process, only to find that many of the new recruits were not suited to work at Appster and left after about a year.
Two years ago, they decided to try something more rigorous, figuring that if they could get more new hires to stick, it would be a huge advantage to them in the long run.
Today, McDonald says about 90% of Appster’s hires work out in the long run, a number he attributes to the fact that it weeds out people who either do not have the right technical knowledge or are not a good fit for Appster’s work-hard, play-hard culture.
The process takes about 12 to 15 hours for entry-level employees, while team leaders and middle managers are interviewed for 22 hours. Senior executives can expect to spend about 150 hours being vetted.
The process begins when Appster develops a list of technical skills and personality traits a “superstar” in a given role will possess, and creates a detailed scorecard to measure applicants on those qualities.
After filling out a short questionnaire and doing a 20-minute screening phone call with human resources, potential hires are brought in to the office for a 90-minute interview with a hiring manager.
If they survive this, candidates move on to the meat of Appster’s interview process, the gruelling “one-day intensive” at its office, for which candidates are usually asked to block out nine hours of their day and sometimes required to come back a second time.
First, applicants do a series of 30- to 45-minute interviews with about five members of the team they would be working with. The interviewers score the candidates on the skills the interviewers are most expert in.
Then, candidates are taken to dinner and drinks for about 4 hours by two Appster employees — usually a hiring manager and a member of the HR team.
There, the prospective employee is asked a series of 150 questions that test industry knowledge (“What will be the biggest trends in mobile technology over the next five years?”), cultural fit (“What would you do if an employee told you a secret that could hurt the business?”), and past performance (“What were your sales figures at your first job out of college?”).
Mostly, what Appster wants to hear is that the candidate excelled at every stop along their career, and that their previous bosses would also rate them highly. Of course, Appster follows up with every person an applicant has ever reported to, just to make sure they are telling the truth.
“If you actually ask them about their direct reports with the idea that you’ll check this later on, people tend to be really honest,” McDonald says.
If someone makes it through all that and Appster still wants to hire them, the person is given about eight hours of work to do on their own time to prove their competence once and for all.
If they succeed at that, and a background check doesn’t turn up anything negative, they will at long last receive an offer.
“I’ve been lucky enough to receive offers for all of the past roles I’ve applied for, but this was quite a daunting experience,” says Dane Matheson, who was hired as the company’s head of growth strategy a little more than a year ago. “When you actually get the green light, it’s extraordinarily rewarding.”
Despite his supreme confidence in himself, Matheson says that 17 hours into the process, he began to get nervous about whether his old bosses would provide him with positive references.
Still, Matheson appreciates that Appster goes to great lengths to make sure its talent is top-notch, something he sees as a “badge of honour” for employees.
McDonald says he’s never had a strong candidate say they didn’t want to do the one-day intensive, adding that “A-plus players” tend to like it because they get to reflect on their achievements.
Another potentially enjoyable aspect of the marathon interview? Since it has already spent so much time making sure candidates are a perfect fit, McDonald says Appster isn’t about to haggle over a few dollars after it has made an offer.
“If you’re serious about recruiting A-plus players, you need to have this rigorous process,” Matheson says. “Otherwise, we won’t get people who are the pinnacle of their respective fields — and that’s what we need to grow the business properly.”
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