Success Has 1000 Fathers and Failure is an Orphan

Success has 1000 fathers and failure is an orphan.

I heard this aphorism in my first year as a venture capitalist having forgotten it. There’s a lot of wisdom to it and I think it’s most applicable when interviewing. I remind myself of the same each time I speak with a candidate for a role.

When I see a sterling resume, I know that I am susceptible to confirmation bias. Top-tier university. Highly competitive first job out of school. Early employee at a unicorn company. All those things are fantastic leading indicators that a candidate might be a wonderful hire or a founder of a new company. Many times those leading indicators do indicate a high performance person. But these markings also reinforce confirmation bias and can contribute to overconfidence in a hiring decision.

Conversely, a candidate without a pedigree may be ruled out quickly and erroneously as a result of the very same conversation bias. Reed College dropout. Technician at Atari. Seven month sabbatical to India at 19. Farmer at a commune in Oregon. Name that founder.

That’s why discipline in the hiring process is so important. Maia Josebachvilli of Greenhouse recommends a deep collaboration between a recruiter and hiring manager. “A well structured kickoff meeting between the recruiter and the hiring manager is a fundamental requisite to success across all these metrics. In that meeting, the hiring manager and recruiter should define two things. First, the 30 day goals of the role, from which a recruiter will distill the key skills required in the job. Second, the long-term objectives of the job, which will reveal the attributes and values of the person.”

Professor Adam Grant advocates using structured interviews a technique that increases hiring success predictability by 3x. Laszlo Bock, the former Chief People Officer at Google, outlines some more techniques Google employs in his book, Work Rules!.

And of course, references are a critical part of understanding the way former colleagues and co-workers perceived a person. Many times, they are the most valuable component of the interviewing process.

These methods aim to reduce and ideally eliminate the unconscious biases we bring into the room when we interview candidates, to determine who really would be the best person to contribute to the success of an organization.

Published 2016-08-24 in Startups  Management 


Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.


Read this next: