I’m very passionate about this topic because as a founder of a small business, I know that each and every person that joins the company changes the dynamic and make-up of how we work. So we look at “fit” along three dimensions — Culture, Skills, and Purpose. There’s no such thing as the “perfect” candidate, but we strive to get close!
First and foremost, we hire based on culture. This is not about having a shared background in terms of work history or education so that we can get along. It’s more about sharing the same values and norms that we can then use to bridge differences and build momentum. In our job descriptions, we emphasize that we hire based on our values and follow up by asking in the very first interview for the candidate to provide examples of when they’ve applied those values in their careers. This is not about regurgitating a belief in the Altimeter values, but concrete examples of when they practiced a value of for example, Humility or Empower. We know we’re off to a good start when a candidate begins the interview by talking about how much the values resonated with them — and also warning bells if they haven’t taken the time to even read them!
Culture may eat strategy for lunch, but it can’t make up for lack of skills. At Altimeter, we go beyond asking for hypothetical examples in the interviews (“Give me an example when….”) and give prospects a “practical exam” that’s relevant to their position. Analysts present (and defend) a research topic of their choosing. Researchers conduct secondary research on a given topic and synthesize it into a slide deck that they then present — and they have two hours to prepare this. And our Consultants take a hypothetical request for proposal from a client and have two hours to give it back to us as a proposal. They then come in to present it to us as if it was a client situation.
We stress that there is no right answer in these exercises — we want to see how they approach the problem, and understand areas where they are strong that we can leverage right away, versus areas where we need to invest in skill development. It also gives us an opportunity to “work” with them, to see how they respond to feedback. It also gives the candidate a real taste of what it will be like working at Altimeter.
The last area of fit looks at alignment between how the candidate sees the position fitting into their sense of purpose. They will spend a significant part of their life with us, so why do they want to work at Altimeter and how does the position fit into their career journey and in their lives? We do this by digging into their life story, what drove the major transitions in their lives, and what motivates them today. But more than anything, it’s about knowing that we share this sense of purpose. We want a top candidate to feel AG is a good fit for them as much as we feel they are a good fit for AG – before an offer is extended.
I still remember the first time I met my colleague and partner, Jeremiah Owyang. It was at the first August Capital TechCrunch Party in 2006 and this guy walks up to me and introduces himself as Hitachi’s community manager. I had no idea who he was, but he clearly had a passion for connecting people and I was pleasantly surprised that he sent me a LinkedIn invitation the next day (nice networking!). I didn’t recall what we talked about, but I remembered that sense of purpose, which has carried Jeremiah throughout his amazing career.
One More Thing
There is one more thing. As part of the hiring process, I also talk with people about how they will leave Altimeter one day. The idea of lifetime employment is dead, so why not face up to the reality that this person we’re hiring will one day leave? It’s a core part of us living the value of Integrity — that openness and transparency develops trust. And we set the expectation from the start that we be honest with each other about the fit of culture, skills, and purpose throughout the relationship. So when the fit is no longer there along one of these dimensions, we are able to talk about it. It may be that their Purpose has changed, and Altimeter can no longer help them achieve their goals. I’d rather know that months ahead of time so that we can not only plan a transition, but also so that we can support them with referrals and recommendations.
This was the case with the recent announcement that my partner, Jeremiah Owyang, was leaving Altimeter. He is a passionate advocate for The Collaborative Economy, and it became clear that his Purpose was to pursue this passion to the fullest extent possible, Rather than consider this a betrayal, we saw it as the natural evolution of his growth as a person — and of Altimeter’s growth as a company. The result is a strong relationship between me and Jeremiah where we are colleagues for life, regardless of our employment status.
Hiring and departures are some of the most difficult things that a company does, and I like to think that we’ve learned from our many mistakes to arrive at a pretty darn good process at Altimeter. But we are still constantly learning, so please share your best practices of determining fit.