Interviewing candidates at the task level

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Jon Steinberg, president, BuzzFeed
Jon Steinberg, president, BuzzFeed

I often ask interview candidates how they spend their days. I do this because I find it hard to evaluate the role people can play in a startup in the absence of concrete functions and tasks. Saying you do “strategy,” “sales,” “business development” or “work with clients” is hard for me to get my head around. I want to hear about deals, product launches, big orders, etc., but I also want to hear what you do at the task level.

I actually give my own responses to the questions to diffuse any tension. I spend my days:

  • working on sales and pitch decks of various flavors
  • meeting with agencies and clients to explain our product
  • working on operational tasks, such as budgets and hiring plans to marking up contracts and completing campaign plans
  • interviewing and following up with candidates
  • putting out fires
  • evaluating and acquiring products and services we need
  • answering questions from current clients about their soon-to-launch campaigns
  • conducting team meetings to determine products and sales

I also like to ask what tools people use. I use: Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint, Google Docs and Keynote. I also like to look in Pivotal Tracker, a project management software.

I love hand-dirty tasks and can't imagine not working in decks and spreadsheets. So when I ask you how you spend your day, what I'm really asking is: “Are you a maker?” as Paul Graham of Y Combinator defined in his essay. If so, what do you make?

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