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hiring: the best worst case scenario effect

Know Your Worst Case Scenario - (principle: you are being interviewed)

By the time any candidate gets to you, they are going to have lots of questions.  One of them is going to be "what's the worst case scenario?"  


You need to demonstrate that you have taken a realistic, rational and logical look at this case.  For many engineers at Powerset, they would actually make me walk them through blow by blow what the worst case would look like, and to describe the financial implications, reputation implications and technology usage implications as it related to them.  On many occasions this even involved building a spreadsheet with them and walking through my logic, it sometimes even involved providing proof of things such as "each engineering head was worth $1 to $2 million."  

Many of the engineers at Powerset still probably remember my worst case with them, because I often used it as my primary selling point when I went to hire them.  I built my worst case scenario based on simple and logical truths that had been constructed purposely from the very outset of the company.  Here it is:  "the worst case scenario of Powerset is better than the middle case, and in some cases the best case, scenario of the other startups that are trying to hire you.  Because: 

  1. We have a killer team, that team has intrinsic value no matter what, and the network of relationships you will build in this company will last you a lifetime
  2. You will enjoy working with our team because we only hire A-level engineers like you, and you know how hard it is to get a gig here
  3. The technology we are building is novel: we are building a search engine from scratch and the problems we face will challenge your engineering skills more than any company that is trying to hire you.
  4. If you join us, you will have a very real impact on something important; we are not some web 2.0 Rackojoo company flipping bits for ad sales.
  5. The worst case scenario financially is that we simply run out of money (which by the way will take 2 years at least based on what we have already raised) so the worst case is that for two years you get all of the above and then we sell for about $100 million which would mean every person in the company could put a down payment on a new house
  6. From a reputation standpoint, the worst case is that you are here for two years, getting a full salary and then you will a) have the pedigree of being part of a well-known startup and b) you will be one of the most sought after engineers on the planet because you will have had experience in either Search, Ruby or Computational Linguistics which are going to be skills nearly every company in the world will be seeking in two years or less.  

If you analyze my worst case scenario, you'll notice that in most of it I simply restate what the candidate already knew in their mind.  Really the only new piece of information in the whole statement was the estimate for how much we would go for if we sold the company and that was simply based on an estimate that any engineer could derive simply by doing a Google search on the value per engineering head in an acquisition.  

In short, I made sure that while my statements were bold, and perhaps may seem cocky, they really weren't.  They were logical and rational conclusions based on simple and well-backed assertions.  I will have to say that not all engineers agreed with me, but every single person appreciated that I didn't say something stupid like "trust me.... it's going to be awesome.... I swear."  

No matter what your response is to this question, you need to be able to nail it.  While you may be less inclined to be as bold as I was in my statement, my point is separate.  Take the time to come up with an answer you believe in.  I believed in mine and I think it showed through when people talked to me, and that made all of the difference in the world.

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