Here’s An Interview Question With One Right Answer

How does Michael Heyward, the 26-year-old founder of secret-sharing app Whisper, identify employees who have the innate excitement to drive the company forward? He asks them about Ohio.

InterviewSpecifically, he asks whether they’d want to work for the company if it was based in Ohio, he told Business Insider. Considering that it’s in fact located in a mid-century house on a sunny residential street in Santa Monica, Calif., an Ohio address paints quite a contrast.

But Heyward says ideal candidates must believe that working at Whisper is an essential opportunity, which they’d do pretty much anything to take advantage of. New staff who arrive from out of town often bed down at headquarters until they acclimate and find other lodging.

Heyward has other rigorous standards. After potential employees answer “yes” to Ohio, they should be excited enough to work long days whether they have to or not. “They don’t have to work 17-hour days, but they should want to work 17-hour days,” he said.

Whisper has been building for two years and has raised $25 million. Millions of people use the app, which is approaching 3 billion page views per month.

While excitement about a company is a major factor in drawing new employees, the founder’s charisma counts, too. Heyward is surely toting some of that special sauce. Many employees have moved across the country for Whisper. After hearing Heyward interviewed, one potential British candidate said that while he didn’t have a visa, he’d “move mountains” to obtain one just to be part of the team.

With that kind of appeal, Heyward can afford to be picky. Before being rejected, one out-of-town candidate mentioned that his significant other lived in Los Angeles. Heyward interpreted this as the candidate seeing the company as a convenience, not a necessity.

Comments

  1. BY RobS says:

    “but they should want to work 17-hour days”
    There are so many red flags with this company, but the above exemplifies it.
    There’s nothing wrong with an employee “wanting” to work long hours, but any boss who expects it had better pay the rewards as though the employee is a co-owner. Many companies expect you to “act” like an owner but never give you the rewards of the owner.
    This guy just seems too arrogant and it will eventually backfire as his employees get fed up with working so hard for so little reward, and then he’ll arrogantly blame the workers, the sales people, the economy, etc for his company failing.

  2. BY Raster says:

    Remind me to never work for this idiot.

  3. BY Gerald Kelly says:

    I agree with the previous comments–who would want to work for this guy? He’s not running a business, he’s running a very creepy cult based on some trashy me-too social networking app that will be gone in a year or two.

  4. BY Raster says:

    Two additional principals that Mr. Heyward should understand. Perhaps as he gains maturity and tenure in the industry, these will come to him eventually.

    – The interview process is a two way street. You’re not just interviewing me, I’m evaluating you, your company, your office environment, the role, and the other employees. Asking me questions that are irrelevant to the position makes you come off as unfocused and mercurial. “Would you move to Ohio?” “Is the company considering a move?” “No, just asking.” “Does the job require constant 17 hour days?” “No, just asking”. These questions would convince me you are not serious about me as a candidate. I can only imagine how you treat your employees.

    - Expecting affirmative answers from an interviewer is selecting for the wrong personality traits, and indicate a candidate who is running away from another situation, not running to you and your company. As a sought after professional, I have multiple opportunities. My career advancement and financial stability are on the line. I will choose wisely. As someone who has a reputation as a tough interviewer, I would be VERY skeptical about candidates that say “Sure, I’ll move anywhere” or “I love 17 hour days” as someone who is desperate and probably lying to me. These would be huge red flags to me. As interviewer, I might use these question to DESELECT candidates. “Would you wear a little fez and dance like a monkey at the team meetings?” “Of course! I love that!” I’d consider that candidate a lunatic and ease him out of my office as gently as possible.

    The correct answer to “would you work 17 hour days”, is “Yes, I have in the past.

    • BY RobS says:

      Years ago, I turned down a possible position because when asked if I’d work 50-hour weeks, my answer was, “is that every week?” “are you working to improve your process?” “are you willing to pay for the equivalent of a 50-hour week?”
      When the answers were YES, NO, NO, then clearly I was not the right person for the job. I’m okay working 50-hour weeks but I expect to get compensated accordingly and I expect it to be a temporary “condition”.
      Either he was desperate to underpay and overwork, or he was testing me. If he was testing me, I didn’t want that kind of boss.

  5. BY Raster says:

    Sorry… Hit post too soon, and the edit option was not working. The last paragraph should read

    Expecting affirmative answers on these questions from a candidate is selecting for the wrong personality traits, and indicate a candidate who is running away from another situation, not running to you and your company. As a sought after professional, I have multiple opportunities. My career advancement and financial stability are on the line. I will choose wisely. As someone who has a reputation as a tough interviewer, I would be VERY skeptical about candidates that say “Sure, I’ll move anywhere” or “I love 17 hour days” as someone who is desperate and probably lying to me. These would be huge red flags to me. As interviewer, I might use these question to DESELECT candidates. “Would you wear a little fez and dance like a monkey at the team meetings?” “Of course! I love that!” I’d consider that candidate a lunatic and ease him out of my office as gently as possible.

    (and what I meant to say was I have worked 17 hour days before, but I consider it a sign of poor planning, unrealistic goals, and insufficient skills of the team. If 17s are a regular occurrence, it’s the sign of a problem in your team, not a badge of honor)

  6. BY joreag says:

    I don’t see how Whisper is set to monetize. Also, since things are posted anonymously, there is no Social aspect to it. Just random memes from anonymous people.

    • BY BTM says:

      The monetizing comes when people track down the senders of individual secrets and start blackmailing them.

  7. BY IB says:

    There are definitely two categories of employment in the tech world. There is the exciting world of startups and the not so exciting world of everything else. In the arena represented by Whisper the talent pool that can realistically deliver and thrive in that environment is probably less than 5% of the IT workforce. Of that 5% many may not want or need to be subjected to the rigorous demands of such work. For the rest of us who are innovative, hard working, and highly skilled we can find substantial work in other areas of the private sector. As hybrid cloud and distributed systems become more pervasive some of the techniques and technologies used by Whispers and Snapchats will make their way into the realm of the non-super heroes. The employer has a right to set whatever criteria they want in their hiring policies and IT workers can choose whether or not to pursue those opportunities.

  8. BY BTM says:

    I agree with the above comments. Interviews like this where the hiring manager EXPECTS that we should be so thrilled to move anywhere he says, work a constant treadmill of unreasonable hours without compensation, and not aim for jobs that are convenient to our lives . . . I think the word is “sociopath.”

    You want two words? I offer you “run away!”

  9. BY Peter says:

    What gets me also, is how the writer of this column is almost celebrating and favoring the attitude of this ‘founder’.

    “While excitement about a company is a major factor in drawing new employees, the founder’s charisma counts, too. Heyward is surely toting some of that special sauce.”

    Special sauce?

  10. BY Fred Bosick says:

    That special sauce is likely just behind a linear fastener stamped “YKK”.

    I’m so glad to see the unanimous condemnation! I was appalled when I read the article and was going to come down like a ton of bricks. But that was already taken care of. We *aren’t* going to drink the Koolaid!

    It also shows how shallow the CEO is, that he needs to find a place allegedly reviled by tech people as an employment filter. I’ve been a Michigan resident most of my life, but I have many friends in Ohio and would have no problem taking a job there.

    • BY RobS says:

      Unfortunately, we’re probably not the target audience for this guy’s job–it’s the naiive young programmer who is just starting his/her career and assumes that working 17-hour days is the way to climb the corporate ladder…only to find he/she is taken advantage of and will likely never see any significant reward for all that hard work. I’ve already seen it in a few upstart companies headed by young wantrepreneurs (who want to become rich at the expense of others.)

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