And how you can signal to interviewers that you’re an A+ player
Recruiting A+ candidates: Communication altitude

Dec 2022

The best candidates are experts at communicating across different levels of altitude. They eloquently bridge the smallest detail to the broadest strategy of a topic they know well. They can zoom in and out of detail of a topic seamlessly, and describe how a small detail influences the success of the overall initiative.

Here’s an example. When interviewing, I like to ask candidates to talk about the most complex and impactful project they’ve built at a previous company. And I’ll dig into 5+ layers of questions until we get to specific decisions that the candidate made which impacted the success or failure of the project. ‘What made this project complex?’ ‘What other solutions did you consider?’ ‘What was the impact and how did you measure it?’. Eventually you ask a question like ‘Why place the button on-screen vs in a toolbar?’. The best candidates sometimes become a little frustrated by these detailed questions, but still deliver an answer that directly links to business goals, such as ‘Our goal was to reduce customer support tickets, and boost operating margins of the business. We found that burying the button in the toolbar increased customer support tickets by X, so we packaged the button in an informational modal on the main app page with nuanced information about how to use this feature’. C-candidates answer with something like 'Our designer thought this would be best' - or another dead-end that deflects the decision elsewhere.

Red flags pop up quickly - people who didn’t make key decisions on a project typically cannot answer detailed questions past the second or third layer. 99% of the time it’s super obvious. It also becomes clear which parts of a project a candidate worked on - in interviews people move a conversation towards the areas they understand best.

Why is this important? Communication across different levels of altitude signals that a candidate had a clear understanding of the purpose and goals of the initiative, what their role was, and what roles other team members played in order to deliver a successful outcome. That understanding and communication of how it all fits together is priceless. It requires curiosity. Communication skills. Relationships across the org. Self-awareness. And in many cases a desire to do more than their job requires - whatever it takes for the initiative to succeed.

When people are really good at something, they can make relevant decisions on a longer time horizon. With zero drama. The best CEO’s of public-scale companies are making decisions that impact their businesses years in the future. VP’s are making decisions quarters in advance. Junior employees are making decisions days or weeks in advance. When you’re inexperienced (or bad) at something, it’s tough to even make the decisions right in front of you.

People who punch above their weight are the ones who can eloquently operate between different levels of altitude regardless of their level of experience. Find them. Hire them. Promote them. And listen to them.