Interviewing: Like Networking, But Better

Some entrepreneurs spend half their time at conferences meeting people, at networking dinners schmoozing, on Twitter chatting up a storm. In some cases this is a good use of their time and in other cases it’s kind of a waste.

I’m an introvert, and I think I’d go crazy if that was my life.

Nevertheless, I met or talked with a huge number of people on my Circle of Moms journey. And one particular channel stands out in my mind: people I interviewed for jobs.

I interviewed many hundreds of people over the 4.5 years I spent on Circle of Moms. We offered a job to 50 or 60 of them, and about half the people we offered wound up joining our team. Sometimes, our interviews were quick phone conversations with me; other times someone came into our office multiple times.

Of course, I truly got to know the people who came in multiple times. We talked about our goals as a company, their professional aspirations, and how to write code to find anagrams. It went beyond being a purely transactional relationship. So it was tough for us to make a decision to offer to another candidate, or — if we made an offer — for them to choose to work somewhere else.

When something doesn’t end in a signed employment agreement, it’s easy to vilify the other side: he’s a jerk for not making me an offer, she’s a jerk for choosing to work at Zynga instead of Circle of Moms. Here’s my advice: don’t do that. If you aren’t going to hire this person for your company now, things might change and they might join you later — but that’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that you cross paths down the road somewhere else — ideally by design — in our small world (of Silicon Valley in my case).

Since I sold Circle of Moms in February, no fewer than ten people I interviewed but didn’t hire have reached out to me (for a variety of reasons). At Circle of Moms, we turned some of those ten down; some of them turned us down. Each is a talented person I was lucky to cross paths with and could imagine working with in the future. For an introvert, at least, the interview process was a great form of thoughtful, deep networking without the awkward cocktail party practice of looking around for someone you might know.

A few months ago, I signed on as an adviser to Makeupbee, which was started by Brent Francia. Brent and I met when he interviewed to be a software engineer at Circle of Moms; he holds the special distinction of turning us down twice! The second time he said no, he did a great job explaining why he decided to work with Zynga rather than Circle of Moms; it was a fantastic example of being clear about goals and motivations and saying “no” gently. We stayed in touch after that, occasionally sharing advice on product and technology. Early this year, he reached out to get some advice about Makeupbee and building a business for a largely female audience. A short time later, he asked me to join on in a formal advisory role.

So why should you establish a good rapport with the people you’re interviewing? Because you want them to come work for you, of course. Because it’s the right thing to do, certainly. But –especially if you’re an introverted engineer who doesn’t get out a lot — remember the long run reason: this could be a superstar you want on your side some day.

Mike Greenfield founded Bonafide, Circle of Moms, and Team Rankings, led LinkedIn's analytics team, and built much of PayPal's early fraud detection technology. Ping him at [first_name] at mikegreenfield.com.