How to Recruit for Interviews


Interviewing is basically free money for your business – and all you need to do is talk to paying customers in a variety of contexts. They must have economically supported your business in some capacity; free plans don’t count and never will count. And they must represent a fair cross-section of buying habits.

When recruiting customers for interviews, you'll want to ask people in the following groups:

  • A range of usage levels, from novice to ultra-expert. Note that someone can use your product for a long time and not take advantage of very many of its features!
  • A range of experience levels, from someone who just bought the product to someone who has used it for years.
  • A range of purchasing volumes, from “is in our target market & is still considering” to “bought our flagship product at a low price” to “has been giving us mid-five figures for years”.

Great interviews involve recruiting 5–7 people who represent various qualities on all three of these axes. Good interviews involve recruiting 3–4 people who represent most of these things. And it is always better to interview just one person than to not do that.

Recruitment is, by some margin, the hardest part of interviewing people. It involves the following:

  • Qualifying candidates. You need to find people who fit given usage, experience, and purchasing criteria before you get them in the door.
  • Scheduling time. Scheduling should be a solved problem by this point, but alas, the reality is more complicated.
  • Anticipating issues. Traffic happens. Public transit breaks down. People can’t peel themselves away from their jobs. They forget about you. You are not a high priority for interview participants, ever. But they are a high priority for you.
  • Following through. Set expectations. Provide a bottle of water & some coffee. Show respect. Stay focused. Be gracious & grateful. Compensate people for their time.

Qualifying candidates

You qualify candidates using a special type of survey called a screener. A screener has the following anatomy from the customer’s standpoint:

  • The customer visits your site. A modal popup appears asking:

Do you want a $50 gift card from Amazon?

Take our brief survey today! You might be selected for a 1-hour interview. Once you complete the interview, we’ll give you a $50 gift card from Amazon.

Take the survey

  • They click to take the survey. Questions are asked about:
    1. Their contact information (so you can follow up)
    2. Their relationship with your business
    3. Their demographic information (in case you need it)

When the survey is finished, thank them for their time. Give them a 5%–10% coupon if you want.

On your end:

  • You gather responses to the survey, and find around 10 qualified leads that fit the criteria you want.
  • You reach out individually to each participant, and ask them to schedule a time.
  • Stop when you have 7 times scheduled. Expect cancellations or reschedules. Interviews are messy affairs, because humans are messy affairs.

Nice optional criteria include:

  • Native speakers of your language.
  • Folks who live near your time zone, so you don’t go scheduling 4am calls for Australian respondents.
  • A diverse balance of race, gender, & sexual orientation.
  • Targeting specific economic backgrounds, especially for luxury goods and the like.
  • Targeting specific job titles, especially for B2B services.

In my experience, the best screener app is called Ethnio. The guy who made Ethnio literally wrote a book about how to research remotely. Regardless of whether you use Ethnio for your screeners, you should buy & read it.

You can recruit people for any kind of interview: phone, Skype, in-person. The goal is to get in front of paying customers, ask them questions, and shut up & listen. Ethnio helps you manage every step of this process, up to the interview itself.

The goal is to qualify out at least 50% of respondents to your survey. This means you don’t need terribly many responses! Heck, you can do this even if you don’t have enough traffic for A/B testing. Over 50 responses to your survey and you’re probably dealing with more noise – unless you’re picky about who you recruit, which is completely okay.

Scheduling time

Once you find qualified participants, you’ll want to get on their calendar by scheduling a confirmed time.

The next tool you’ll need is Calendly, which syncs with your Google or Office 365 calendar, shows your availability, and lets you book a time. It costs zero dollars, because they appear to hate making money. Their loss is your gain!

Sign up for Calendly and create a custom event type for your interviews. Allow for generous free time: a half-hour before and an hour after every single interview. This will help you prepare and decompress. Schedule the interview for 1 hour.

Then, send qualified screener respondents the link that Calendly generated for the custom event. Follow up 1 day later in case they don’t respond, then 2 days later after that. After that point, call them a no-show and reach out to another respondent.

Anticipating issues

Here is a mostly-complete list of all the stuff I do to onboard people:

  • Set expectations for the interview with a single sentence: “We’re looking for feedback from [demographic] for improving the way that [product] communicates to future customers.”
  • Note exactly what they need to do to get to the interview. Do they need to download an app? Provide instructions for doing so – and then a few days beforehand, confirm that they have followed the instructions. Do they need to get to an office? Provide comprehensive directions by bike, public transit, and car. Link your address by Google Maps.
  • Confirm the time 2 days before. (SMS is great for this!) Follow up 1 day before by phone if they don’t reply.
  • If they’re getting on a phone or video call, stress the importance of quality sound and a peaceful environment. No coffee shops. No calls from the street. No bad cell reception: make sure they’re calling from someplace with 5 bars. Landline is ideal, of course. Quiet space is essential, not just for call quality but also for ensuring that they’re focused on you during the interview.
  • Be clear about when they get the gift card. Be clear that they need to complete the interview in order to do so. Finally, compensate them in cash for transportation expenses – and let them know you’ll do so when you invite them to schedule an interview. Use Square Cash or PayPal to do this.

Sound daunting? You can write an email template for this and reuse it into perpetuity. After all, most of these details are unlikely to frequently change.

Following through

Give them the gift card immediately at the end of the interview. Have a physical gift card ready if meeting them in person. Have Amazon’s gift card page open in a tab, if you’re calling them or meeting over video chat.

Thank them profusely over email the next day. Share the hopeful outcomes of the interview after they have performed the interview, so you don’t color their expectations ahead of time. You can have a template ready for this.

You Can Configure This in One Hour, Right Now, Today

Right now, you should sign up for Ethnio, configure a screener, and launch it on your home page.

Tomorrow, you should sign up for Calendly and configure a custom event for the call.

A week from today, you should review your responses on Ethnio and begin reaching out to respondents with your Calendly link.

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