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Why its hard to interview to interview American candidates for UK roles

I recently did a search for a Head of Marketing role for a London-based startup.  When screening the candidates, one shone through above everyone else, although his CV was not as strong as some of the others.  I was just about to put him forward on a shortlist when I caught myself and realised I had fallen for a superb sales pitch – I needed to go back and do more research.  Gauging how good US candidates are is hard. Why? Because they are so damn good at selling themselves.

I heard Greg Marsh, CEO of onefinestay, speak on this subject once at Imperial College when he was describing hiring for his US offices.  American candidates vs British are much better communicators.  Their sentences are high energy, clipped and punchy, and they have an amazing ability to find the right expression to bring their point home.  Brits can sometimes suffer from rambling oxbridge stammer (or a real one in my case) which impedes the tight, shotgun delivery of facts that our US friends can articulate.

I worked in New York for 8 years across 3 startups (and hired over 30 people) and I’ve developed a theory – Americans are naturally media trained from a young age to articulate points succinctly and with maximum effect.  Blame cable news  (compare Fox News to Channel 4 News for example) or infomercials.  Americans intrinsically understand that communication is the essence of selling and, without even realising, they sell all the time in their everyday conversations. Want to test the theory? Ask any US friend to describe their apartment and you will see what I mean – you’ll get a neat overview, drilling into bullet-point  features, and a close at the end.  And crucially, the elevator pitch, or spoken slack message, is now the norm for communicating in tech.

My advice to any startup founder is to spend more time with the candidate than you otherwise would.  If your process is a screening call and an in-depth interview, add another 2 interviews with other team members and test them live. Do a working, live case study and try and dig deeper into specifics.  If you hire from skype conversations or ask them to do a pre-prepared presentation I fear you may fall for the sales pitch and not have the right information to compare against your other candidates.

Having American entrepreneurs / tech professionals from any of the US tech hubs is a very positive thing for the UK tech scene, and I hope it increases.  I just don't want you to make the wrong hire because you listened to the pitch rather than gauge the person.

Have you had any similar experiences with US candidates?  get in touch @alexvank


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