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Hiring Tips & Insights: Lee Watts, Travelstart: Data-Driven Interviews & Human Bias in Hiring
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Lee Watts, Travelstart: Data-Driven Interviews & Human Bias in Hiring

23 December 2019, by Jomiro Eming

Most hiring decisions are typically based off of a ‘gut feeling’. This makes it hard to attribute what ‘worked’ and what ‘didn’t work’ in the hiring process, which in turn affects how confidently you hire someone. Travelstart, however, makes a predominantly data-based decision in their interviews, without removing the ‘human’ touch.

Lee Watts, Human Resource Business Partner at Travelstart, says that their quantitative approach, in fact, not only makes interviews much shorter, but also gives them a far more qualitative idea of whether someone is a right fit or not.

We talked to Lee about how Travelstart gets it right, what they’ve learned about the short-falls around traditional interviews, and what impacts it has on the hires they make.

Listen to our conversation, find the resources he talks about hyperlinked at the top, and read the full transcript to our chat below.



Jomiro: Can we start with you giving me an idea of where Travelstart is in its life cycle?

Lee: So, I started three and a half, almost four years ago. At that point, we had about 150 people. Subsequently, since then, we’ve been on a real mission adhering to the vision. So, we’re roughly 800 people globally, if you consider the new acquisition with Club Travel Group, as well as several of our subsidiaries, the most poignant of which being Knightsbridge, SafariNow.com, and Hepstar.

J: And how does that inform the way you think about hiring?

L: So it’s evolved massively. I mean, I remember when we first got here, we were a company that was struggling to hire developers and struggling to hire data people. And it’s ironic on the basis that we’re a technology-based eCommerce solution for a largely leisure-based industry sector. And we had to do absolutely everything we could in trying to attract the best available professionals.

J: What made hiring devs so hard? You said you were struggling.

L: We were not really well known at that point. Well, we’re known, but we’re not making necessarily the best noises in the marketplace simply on size. What we found was that getting a developer to us with the capability required in order to insurmountably push the business forward, but at the budget we had available, was a really tricky affair. So, providing the meaningful reasons for somebody wanting to join your company, wasn’t terribly hard, but also being able to put them into the circle of safety by removing any financial implication that they may have, was a little tougher. That’s slightly different now of course.

J: Something we spoke about last time, was how you’ve pivoted away from specifically hiring on ‘gut feel’. What do you mean by that, and why hasn’t that been the best way forward?

L: I’ve answered this question so many times, and the answer to this question started a little while ago. I started reading a lot of books, and we’ve got a book club here at Travelstart where we meet once a quarter. We tend to meet around management books or culture books, or ‘who’s doing what’ type books. And I came across Laszlo Bock, a former senior vice president of Google People Operations. Really loved the way he was doing things. Then I took it upon myself to go and intrinsically look at where HR came from. And I can provide you content on that at another point.

But, essentially, HR changed substantially to the point where the best companies in the world right now are hiring into their HR or people teams, management consultants, data scientists, strategic members of staff, culture catalysts, and of course, an HR person, but for the paperwork of course, right? So, if you have a look at what gut feel means, I think it can be defined as an instinct or intuition, an immediate or basic feeling - I Googled that - it’s a reaction without a logical rationale.

So whilst this is probably one of the great debates in hiring and in commerce in general, the reality is, it’s a very human behavior and it interferes with making a really good fit when hiring new employees at scale. So what’s really cool for either a start-up or a large company is the research I’ve found, which was original hires that are made by founders of that business tend to be superior to the hires that follow. And it’s only because founders often know what the challenges will be intrinsically as well as technically, and they hire the originals with a more clear and meaningful view, let’s say, of what the company’s trying to achieve as well as the skills required to get us there.

So this also goes a little further and it means that founders aren’t necessarily afraid to hire people that are better than them in some meaningful way. And subsequently, what happens thereafter is the hires that follow become progressively worse as scalability becomes reality. And I’ve seen this. I’ve seen it in my own experience.

So, gut feel as a company grows, and it can hinder processes, it can hinder folks getting all the relevant facts needed to make an accurate decision without some sort of predefined metric of the type of employee you’re trying to screen for. You’re left to rely on your feelings, past experiences, and that has obvious bias and obvious flaws.

Moving forward to hiring managers, in now much bigger companies, the way I feel about gut is I find it’s even hard for interviewers and the said hiring managers to come to terms with this. V ery often, they’ll refer to and leverage let’s say the one hiring decision they got right. But they fail to recall the nine others that they got wrong. And on this basis, along with a quick look at all the historical evidence, who got it right, you find that it’s rather overwhelming. The most logical way to get to the core of the problem is by creating the desired quantified outcomes via a largely qualitative process.

It’s one hell of an answer, but it’s the way I view the reason that gut feel is almost no longer relevant in the hiring process.

J: So am I correct in saying that you consider your hiring to be more data driven, right?

L: I would say you’re halfway correct in that assumption, in that part of the metrics still requires that qualitative feel. I mean, if you can’t go to dinner with the person, or you can’t have a coffee with them, or you can’t sit in an airport for a couple of hours and get on with them, then there is absolutely no point. There still needs to be elements of EQ, and - in an ironic twist of fate - all you need to do is go and have a look at Bradberry and Greaves, and they will tell you that you can quantify even EQ. And that for me is amazing.

J: I mean, from the outside, hearing that a hiring process is more data-driven than it is anything else, could sound like you’re taking a lot of the ‘humanity’ - the ‘humanness’, the human elements - out of hiring. Maybe for context’s sake, could you run me through what your hiring process looks like from this data-driven perspective? We can look into the specifics in more detail as we go.

L: Let’s look at it from the perspective of what does that data-driven interview mean. I’m a fan of education, and by that I mean: These are not secrets, this is not some sort of secret sauce. They just simply need air time. So if companies adopt a similar methodology in a way to assess their interview questions, and as a result, the candidate’s interview answers - not only the view on what they’re trying to achieve by establishing a metric and avoiding subjectivity, but I strongly believe that, if you do that, collectively, there’ll be a change in the quality of hire within the employment ecosystem.

I mean, the alternative is you keep doing what you’re doing and there is no progress. So that’s another way of looking at it.

And losing the humanity… I don’t think so. I mean, let’s have a look at a predefined characteristic, right? Let’s say something is required by a hiring manager or a committee. You basically allocate a weighting, based on a metric that you’re trying to assess for. For example, if you’re trying to hire for somebody who can romance the customer - on the basis that that’s one of your core values and their main dealing is with the customer - then you simply have a look at the depth of answer relating to examples provided where they would have delighted the customer, or retained the customer, or upsold on the customer. And they’ll take you to the level at which they entered that problem or situation, and no further. I think you can ascertain the depth as a result of that.

J: So, from a process point-of-view, what’s the first step in this interview, from someone who’s coming in as a candidate - or an interviewee’s - perspective?

L: Basically, they’re going to have a look at the role description first, right? Or they’re going to be approached by the company, which is now largely how we do most of our hires. I did a podcast about a gazillion years ago with another company, where we were talking about receiving 22 000 applications and only hiring 0.08% regardless of where it came from.

And whilst that algorithmic calculation (for lack of a better word) was true, I failed to mention that we actually hire more people by approaching them or by approaching them through platforms, such as LinkedIn or OfferZen, where you can get a better look at somebody who is potentially on the market or not.

So they wouldn’t have an idea of what they’re coming to be interviewed for, in terms of the metric. They understand what the role description might be, they understand potentially what you’ve said about the culture is., they understand potentially what they’ve researched in terms of online or value add proposition based on the content that you’ve provided the world. Right? But, if we have a look at it from the employee point of view, it’ll maybe give you greater insight.

So the predefined characteristics required by a hiring manager or committee can be allocated or weighting or score a metric. Now this is relative to the level of the role and the role function, so the technical ability or skill, not forgetting the company or team - the culture they will be joining - and that’s just the basic 33.3% recurring.

Each interviewer within the said committee or the individual interviewer will have a predefined set of questions to ask - these are all pre-agreed because you’re benchmarking their answer on what it is you’re hoping the outcome is that you’re measuring for. With that, a score will be allocated to the interviewers on the interview notes and it’s based on the answer to the question given by the candidates.

This is also the reason why you have a set number of predefined standardised questions: It’s easier to control. At the end of the process, the interview committee review their scores for the questions versus the answers for the same batch.

And you’ll see that, as if by magic, certain candidates simply provide more insightful, relevant, and quantified answers, which will absolutely reflect in the score. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It takes away the element of bias.

I’d also like to talk about a book I read by Adam Grant. I’ve read quite a lot of his books, actually: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, and there’s another one, Give and Take. I can’t recall which one it was, but in one of his books he mentions a study done by a set of Wharton master students regarding this interview process, and they took in hiring managers and HR professionals, and gave you just a five-second clip of the interviewee. I can’t recall the exact outcome, but it was something like to an accuracy of 70%, just on the five-second viewing, as to who would get the job or not. That is appalling. That just shows you how strong bias is within our nature.

So this is the reason we believe interviewing and hiring will go a more data-driven way; but, of course, it doesn’t take away the humanity element.

Ultimately, you still have to create the metric; it’s not something the machine can do for you. You still have to benchmark these questions to get the culture you’re looking for, and what skills you require within your business.

We like to benchmark them against some of our core values. So we do things like a warrior spirit. We do things like romance the customer. We have a look at things like keeping it simple, which is ironic because this interview process isn’t necessarily always that simple. And we also have a look at things like swimming against the stream.

And then within that, we built into it pillars within those said core values. So we also want to test for things like leadership. We want to test for things like teamwork. We want to test for things like speed and growth - and these are all massive buzzwords in the world of HR. What’s not fully understood is you can test for it, and I think that’s the point of this belief that we’re trying to put out to the marketplace, basically.

J: I mean, we keep coming back to that thing of even though it’s data driven, we’re not taking out the humanity. Maybe another way of putting it is, by removing those human biases that so often slip into the interview, we are actually allowing the people who are doing the interviewing to have a more accurate EQ judgment almost.

L: Absolutely. And also it allows for the best possible candidate to get the actual role. No nepotism. I heard a statement the other day, which is actually super true. I couldn’t believe it. It’s not who you know, it’s more about how you know them - and we get to remove some of that stuff.

I don’t want to create scandalous outbreak by saying: “Just have a look at what goes on in most governments, most tender processes”… those sorts of things. They’re scary to want to uncover.

J: So let’s talk about the kinds of questions you ask in the interview. Is there a certain number of questions you ask?

L: No, it depends on who’s in the room. I like to try and benchmark it to maybe five questions per person. It does two things: The first thing is the obvious one, that it saves on time, and it gives you additional questions for use at a later date.

But the real, real core reason is it allows the person who’s interviewing to actually think about what they want to test, what they want to ask, and what answer they want to receive. I think that’s crucial.

J: And I think you mentioned it already, but the kinds of things that those questions tell you about the person you’re interviewing are, you said, growth and-

L: Leadership. And we look at speed, we look at teamwork, and then we obviously consider our core values. You can answer a whole bunch of these questions basically on that.

To put it simply (dear HR…) to put it simply, you get a question based on something that you desire within your business, and you apply a score to the answer provided that’s to what it is you’re looking for. It’s not rocket science.

J: So you mentioned scoring… Is there a certain way, or some metrics or whatever, that you use to measure those questions? Like, the depth of the response?

L: Yeah, so again: Predefined. We don’t like to overcomplicate it.

Let’s say, for example, we’re looking for role-related knowledge, as well as teamwork: What are the five things that we have decided within that said team, that would constitute good teamwork based on ‘most like’, and ‘least like’? And we put those things down

What we’re really looking for is - and also with the role-related questions - and what we’re looking for is for the candidates to be able to touch each of those points, and they get a point per item touched.

We don’t give any crazy bonus marks. If you’ve got an example that’s sublimely superior to another person’s example, I think that influences bias. What we’re looking for is: “Was the example met?” That’s a prerequisite, I think. But you can do that on anything.

For example, if it’s going to be a database individual, you want them to - and I hate this term, ‘hit the ground running’, it often means you’re only looking at the next three, six months… I hate this term, but let’s use it for the said example - let’s say you’re looking for a short, fixed-term solution. It can even be outsourced consultants, it’s just something you need done now.

What you could look at is, let’s say, a SQL Server database. We’ve got a visualisation tool called Tableau, but over and above that, what do we need done within those two areas? Or maybe they’re using Google data legs. What specific function do we need them to touch on within that world or remit?

Then we put those points down, and we ask questions which gear people towards what we’re looking for. And if they touch those points, fantastic. Then we’ll do some sort of assessment at a later date.

But what we don’t want to do is fall in love with someone, and then realise they can’t actually do the job. That’s not fair on them and it’s not fair on us.

And just whilst I’m thinking about that, actually, it also speaks to a different metric, which I think a lot of people with coffers of money don’t understand.

You might be able to afford the greatest developer the world’s ever seen, but if you don’t have a professional development plan for them or a real thing for them to achieve at your company, it’s unethical. Let them be brilliant, don’t then stifle them.

J: I just want to touch on something you mentioned as well, about time being such a huge save. What about ‘time’ blocks the traditional interview process?

L: This is a tricky one. Everything that I’ve come across would point to this next statement, which is: Do not be afraid to slow your process down. That doesn’t mean interview one candidate a day over the course of the next three months. It means still hire your 10 candidates a day, but be even more particular in who you’re going to hire.

Ironically, you have to move fast in order to be a bit slower. The reverse to that, then, is even more ironically: If you’ve taken the time, and have been slower to find your perfect match, they’re going to speed up what happens thereafter in terms of the development or the feature build.

So when you look at time - I think we were talking about questions, and why it’s only 15? - well, it’s not only 15 questions. I mean, it can be as many questions as you like. But, if I’m sitting in an interview at a company, and they asked me 60 questions over the course of three hours, and then ask me to come back for another two rounds of interviews of 60 questions each, I would think to myself: “Gosh, these guys don’t know what they’re looking for - and there’s another company that does.”

So what we try to do is make our interviewers understand that we really need them to understand what the value add is. So, in your questions, we need to understand what you’re testing in terms of how this candidate is going to make you money. How is this candidate going to save you money? How’s this candidate going to improve your efficiency, and what are the minimum viable product questions that you would require in order to be able to make that decision?” And for us, it’s less than 60. It’s about 50.

J: We’ve basically coined the term MVQ.

L: Yeah, the MVQ, I love that. Can I have that?

J: Yes, absolutely.

L: I’ll have the minimum viable questions in order to get a proper, professional, marketing differentiating, thought-made decision out of it.

I think that’s great. MVQ, I love it.

J: Would you be happy to give an example of what a question could look like? It doesn’t have to be one of your questions. I’m sure those are secrets of the trade.

L: So there are standard questions, but it all comes down to the way you’re benchmarking the onset. So, one of my favorite questions is, without giving too much away… Let’s say for example, we’re interviewing a developer or a salesperson - but this question is relevant across the channel - so, dear candidates, can you give us a time when you built something or implemented something, or made contact with someone, that made money, saved money and improved efficiency, and can you quantify it for us please, to rand, dollar or yen value?

And people look at you and go: “Gosh, well I haven’t really thought about that”, or “Oh, that’s a problem for me.” If somebody had to say to me, “Lee, in the peak of your recruitment days, what was your marketing differentiator?” I would say, “The largest percentage of the hires we made were through my channels.”

That’s not to say that we didn’t use recruitment agencies or platforms with different skill sets that I couldn’t ascertain. That’s a partnership. That’s a collaboration. But if we have a look at the raw rands and cents, if I hired a hundred people through my networks within one year at an average salary of X, at an average fee of X, I’ve saved the company Y. And I can tell you now on Mr. Employer, you don’t pay me Y.”

We’re looking for that kind of answer because that would really give you some quantified feedback as to the depth that this person will go for your business.

J: And you also mentioned that you’ve got a hiring committee who looks through these interviews. What does that committee look like?

L: A disclaimer, I don’t want to say we’ve got a hiring committee. I want to say that at times we’ve had a hiring committee, dependent on the level of the role. What I will say though is, is that was a predefined put together committee with an agenda. We do have organic committees, so not one individual is responsible for making a hiring decision here.

That means that a successful candidate would have to basically pass through maybe three rounds of interviews maximum. But within those three rounds, is going to be a set number of individuals that either relate to the task that is going to be performed or that we’re recruiting for, has some sort of cross-team collaboration or cross-company collaboration with that set individual, or has got nothing to do with that individual, but we simply want a different corner of our company’s opinion on what this person might make them feel, do, and act like.

So a committee, a basic committee, most people do in an even number, and I’m baffled by this. What happens if you need to get to a vote? But I suppose, then, if you’re getting to a vote, it’s not the right person, right? That’s the point.

So what we tend to do is have a couple of ‘veto people’. So let’s use an example: Stefan, our CEO, would be a ‘veto member’ if included into the committee. Our chief of staff, Laurie, she would be a ‘veto member’. The hiring manager, though, is not a veto member. They do have a larger weighting on their feedback to the committee, but they’re not a ‘veto member’.

J: So what’s the role of a veto member?

L: Well, they can say no because they’ve got… so, Stefan’s our founder, right? So he can say no on the basis that - if you remember my earlier example - they tend to hire people that are better than them because they’re more interested in the destination. So, getting through the mission, they’re less politically inclined as a result, and they don’t really suffer the same biases as other people, in that you’re going to be beneath them anyway. You can’t outshine most, supersede them.

These are some of the human elements that we have to remove if you’re going to be a world-class organisation. And everyone’s doing it, man, everybody in Silicon Valley.

Earlier I said that these are not secrets. It’s out there, you just need to actually action it. I think it was Gary Vaynerchuk - who’s an interesting guy, I’m not saying I agree with everything he says - but Gary Vaynerchuk said a line at a talk, which I thought was fantastic. He said: “The return on investment of execution is speed.”

So if you can get that process right, you can move quickly together. And I liked that within the hiring space. I hope I answered that question.

J: So for the sake of argument, I’ll just continue saying hiring committee even though it’s not always a committee necessarily. Is that a set committee that’s always the same people, or do you rotate?

L: No, we would rotate that, but they would be the same committee for the batch of interviews within the process. Like, we’ve got a UI developer here, his name’s Ruben. He has no HR training whatsoever. He has no desire to want to sit in HR. He almost doesn’t love interviewing - which is exactly why I want him there, because he asks some bloody hard questions.

I like to incorporate him in as much as I possibly can, diary dependent. But we do ask each person when they’re internally recruited onto the committee, just to be committed to the process for the period that we’re doing the hiring.

Similarly, we’ve had some folks leave, that wanted to be part of a committee, to hire their replacement because they’ve got greater insight. It’s a big, fat resounding no from me, I’m afraid, on the basis that that makes absolutely no sense at all.

The reality is with the 28 to 36 day hiring time, you’re likely to have served your notice and you won’t be here at the end of the process. And the one way around that is to ask them, “So when you join your new company, will you make yourself available to complete the process on this side?” and they just look at you.

So, committee… maybe we can find a different word - collective group of selected individuals who have the organisation’s hiring practices best at heart.

J: Alright, but I’m not going to try and turn that into an acronym :’) And is there any sort of training or, I guess, preparation that goes into that?

L: Yeah. Absolutely.

It’ll blow your mind how many people don’t know how to interview, even HR people. You sit in the interview and they’re not prepared. No interview questions, no way to take any interview notes. Sometimes they roll in with their laptop. I mean, how disconcerting would that be? Somebody sat behind their laptop typing away while pledging your soul to them. I disagree with that.

J: So you take the laptops out of the interview?

L: Yeah, yeah. We write it down and then we can scan it in. We don’t necessarily need to go and retype all of it. We just scan it in or take it a photo of it and then send it, share it via Slack or whatever.

But everything’s controlled; we are very respectful of the information that we collect. Some people still don’t do it, which drives me up the wall.

But back to the training element: yes, we’ve got a couple of things which you do right here.

We’ve got a chief people officer lady named Celeste van Harten. She came to us from Wonga, and she started a thing called an HR bootcamp, which is amazing. We noticed that schools such as - I think it’s red and yellow? - they basically provide HR 101 for non HR professionals.

So what we do here is as anybody that’s managing a team also, because of the plethora of crazy employment laws that supersede this country and hold us to chains and balls, we have to be very delicate and careful in how we manage people.

So HR 101, HR bootcamp - we do that here in-house. And then there’s also a Recruitment 101 or recruitment bootcamp. And really all it is, is it’s giving you what types of questions you can ask and the information’s all shared.

What is the reason behind asking that question? As in, what are you trying to assess when you say to someone: “Tell me, what’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your CV?” It seems like a really soft question, doesn’t it? But if somebody looks at you and goes, “Oh, I read,” and then you go, “Great, what’s the last book you read?” and they can’t answer you… Well, that’s a non-answer, that answer didn’t happen.

We found out last week, our CFO - it’s amazing - our CFO of group, Robby… “So Robby, what’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your CV?” “Well, I’m a world-champion swimmer.” … What?!

You know what I mean? This sort of really cool stuff I think is amazing and I think it contributes holistically to the character of the individual that is joining your business, as well as collectively how the company or organization will get stronger as a result, which speaks to the human element.

J: So I mean, that’s training on how to ask the questions, right?

L: The meaning behind asking questions. Yeah. We also do a little bit about what the is metric for getting a new hire approved. This is cool…

So the first thing is: Is it critical or is it fluff? Then, is it in budget or is it outside of budget? After that, what is the likelihood of it being approved? And by that, I mean ask yourself this one question: What would our CEO and founder say if you asked him for this budget? And if you can answer all of those questions, good to go, then yeah, let’s get involved.

I think it’s also important to note it’s a bit like changing gears. So this is a cool one for start-ups that have now got crazy investments and are not sure what to do with it, so they just throw a whole bunch of money at people. That is an error.

You need to look at it like this: I’m in first gear, right? I need to push my clutch in to change it into second gear and then I need to release the clutch. And that timing needs to happen, otherwise you get a horrible ‘kangaroo’ and you might stall the car. I look at hiring like that.

We also talk about in this Recruitment 101, about what a successful hire looks like, or processor looks like, and why is it three interviews and a sample of work? Why?

I met the person once, they’re amazing, and I use the analogy that: “You go to the movies. And you watchna trailer. Cool. Do you enjoy the trailer? Yeah, it’s amazing. Have you ever then gone and watched the film and it was awful, all the best bits were in the trailer?”

Well that’s first interview, second interview… Right? And the award ceremony, whether it wins an Oscar or not will be your sample of work. Because the sample of work, again, according to Google, is a 29.7% predictor of future performance, a reference, 7.5%. It’s quite sad isn’t it?

Because usually the value add proposition is: “Oh, we do references for you.” Great. So what about the other 92.5%? So that’s kind of the stuff that we try and enlighten hiring managers on and it doesn’t always work. Sometimes this thinking is a little right field as opposed to left field, but I also don’t expect absolutely everybody to buy into this. That’s what disruption is, or that’s what I’m learning.

For example, if I speak to our CTO, Jan-André, and I say to him, “Hey man, I want to go search something in Bullion,” he’ll look at me and go, “You don’t even know what Nullion is.” But there’s me talking about it.

What’s important is to know what your limitations in that regard are, and be both curious and humble to those.

J: Are there certain triggers or things that you tell these committees to look out for as ‘really goods’ or ‘really not-so-goods’ when it comes to the people that you interview?

L: So, that is to be defined by them. I think the answer is yes because, again, we benchmark it against… and it’s not always a committee here, but it’s the people that have been recruited to be part of your interview process, which can essentially be called a committee, but we benchmark it against a whole bunch of things.

So, role-related knowledge, curiosity and humility, potential leadership ability… the developments or the growth within that human. What are they looking for in this opportunity that they aren’t necessarily getting in their previous opportunity? And ethically, can we actually provide that for them? Right?

We have a look at things like their core values, and you can ask that question: What do you consider your core values to be, does it relate to our core values?

And then lastly, we’ve got a thing here which most companies would engineer, which is a thing called ‘Travelstartiness’. So what is your Travelstartiness? And it’s quite a hard thing to define because it can be 30 different things, but are you willing? Do you have desire? Are you curious? What does leadership mean to you? Can you be a leader without being a manager?

These are all sorts of things that are ‘Travelstarty’ , which we try very best to get right.

J: We’ve already said that the human biases are quite elusive, and the point of this whole thing is to try and eliminate as much of it as you can. Are there other concrete, or I guess practical things that you do or look out for within the process, to try and make sure that other biases don’t still ‘filter in’?

L: Mm, that’s a really difficult question…

Honestly, no; I think we keep it simple. That’s another core value, and I’m going to lean on that. If you start over complicating it, then you start heading down a rabbit hole.

J: And I guess the risk is also you start telling people how to do it, which then contradicts everything that you’ve done up until that point.

L: Exactly. And I think - back to Ruan, the chap I used, the UI designer who’s amazing - he doesn’t mind challenging me. He doesn’t mind challenging anyone. And I think that in itself removes bias because he’s not there to be your friend or be agreeable. He genuinely wants to do the best he could possibly do within that process, at that time. I think that’s admirable. So if you’re listening, Ruan, compliments.

But I think everybody should approach it like that. It’s not about you, man. It’s about getting the best possible person for the organisation that can take you to the next level.

J: Why do you think that’s so important for the tech industry as a whole?

L: It’s developing so fast, isn’t it? I mean, I’m not the biggest techie in the world, it has to be said. I get a bit of a bad rap here because of it actually… but slowly but surely, I’m trying to bring myself to speed.

What I find is, the moment you get your head around a technical concept, somebody else has gone and lifted whatever that existing limitation was and they’ve created new rules. So, the only way I can describe this to - let’s say, non-technical people, who may be interested in what I have to say - is laptops, right?

They used to last four years, now they last two years maybe. And that’s a little bit like technology. It’s not that they don’t last, it’s that it’s ever changing. I remember, I mean, these are terrible analogies, it’s all I can think about right now. Do you remember a phone box? A what? Try find one of them these days…! You might find some in London only because they look cool but the reality is, you’ve got a camera, a video, a voice recording and recognition system, and you can make a phone call all in one device.

If you can somehow relate that to the way software’s working - that is, there is now code that can write code.. I mean, grasp this concept! - it’s terribly exciting and it’s very fast moving. So that’s why it’s relevant.

J: So it’s not necessarily doing this particular interview process. It’s almost the bigger picture of taking a step back, having something that you’re not married to and are adaptable around, and being open to not the traditional all the time or the conventional.

L: Yeah. I think we stated to that earlier, right? Which is: If you’re not trying to change and you’re not moving forward, then I think you are slowly dying.

And I think people say it’s okay to fail and they say fail fast, fail hard. Maybe also fail hard, but I suppose you do want to fail quickly, not hard. I’ve watched people fail over a long period of time. It’s an awful thing to see because it knocks confidence as well.

I think an attempt to better the interview or hiring process certainly within an African context is required. There are companies out there such as Google, Netflix, WhatsApp, Facebook, they’ve been doing this since 2007. We need to wake up.

J: And, last question… What’s one thing you’ve learned about hiring in general that has made the way you hire now a lot easier, or a lot more effective?

L: The one thing I’ve learned about hiring since I started almost 10 years ago to where I am now is it can be summed up like this: Hiring always starts out with the hiring manager wanting the best that the market has to offer within a specified budget; but after some time in pursuit of this perfection, roughly two to three months, sometimes more, and if the role hasn’t magically morphed now into something completely different from when it started… that same set hiring manager is now willing to blow the predefined budget on a below-par profile in order to tick a box.

And that blows my mind, but it happens every day - not at Travelstart, but it happens every day.

So you’ll never find the perfect employee or the perfect manager, or the perfect boss, but you can definitely find an employee who’s going to contribute in a meaningful way and not necessarily tear apart the work environment that you provide for the employees. I think carefully assessing your candidates’ responses in a quantified manner, as suggested in this entire talk, will help you select an employee who will fit well into your workplace as well as perform the role that they were hired to do at the desired level, predefined in your metric and not the other way around.

J: That’s awesome. High Five. Thank you.


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