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interviewIA’s Joe Thurman breaks down the status quo of hiring and why change in how we interview and build our organizations with the right talent is more important than ever

Joe Thurman

CEO & Head of Product



UB Ciminieri


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

CEOCFO Magazine

Published – May 31, 2021

CEOCFO: Mr. Thurman, what is the vision behind interviewIA?    

Mr. Thurman: The vision behind interviewIA is to build technology that enables every company to have a more equitable, efficient, and empowered hiring process, moving away from the subjective lens that is currently interviewing itself, and really starting to apply more data at scale, using deep learning to aggregate the knowledge of an interview team and enhance the overall outcome for the company and for the candidates, and ultimately change the way the companies build teams.

CEOCFO: Are people ready today?

Mr. Thurman: Yes. I will say that there has been a big shift in the desire for achieving the “future of work”, and obviously the last year and a half has increased the interest in what that actually means. Whether that is how to hire globally and how to think about remote workforce or remote hiring, all the way to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Along with that is how do we build a world where we are more conscious and thoughtful about our approach to building teams in terms of social unrest, social changes, and social conversations about Asian Americans and African Americans and other oppressed groups? Everything that is happening in this country has really created a desire to both enhance technologically how we hire and advance the thinking around what it means to think about equitable hiring across the board.   

CEOCFO: How would a company use interviewIA?

Mr. Thurman: interviewIA is meant to supercharge the current technical ecosystem that a company has. We generally do not work with small businesses, so companies that are at scale, that do regular hiring, they have some kind of applicant tracking system or an ATS. Hiring systems pull basic data from that ATS and we manage the workflow. We manage many of the things that companies are currently using spreadsheets and documents and Google docs for.

We help support the decision-making of who is hired, and we push that information back to an ATS. Therefore, you do not rip out anything or replace one of your primary systems. We bolt onto that system. We are a cloud-based solution that is easy to stand up, easy to use and easy to expand across your organization as you continue to grow.  

CEOCFO: How are you making the decision? What are you looking at that affects the recommendation you make to a company?

Mr. Thurman: That would lean into why our name is interviewIA and not interviewAI. IA is the understanding that you can use technology to amplify or augment human decisions or human intelligence, so it is Intelligence Augmentation / Intelligence Amplification verses AI, which is Artificial Intelligence. The artificial intelligence or the AI approach would be to listen to a recorded interview and match that with an outcome. That is not what we do.

What we do is structure questions, structure answers, and then deploy those questions and answers to different places within the workflow for interviews. When we use structured data, we can actually start to look at trend lines that relate to who you hired, why you hired them, and how they performed. Therefore, at the end of the day, we are trying to use technology to reduce the human errors that occur within the process of hiring, without replacing the human. Human error is what drives bad hiring. “I hired the wrong person for the wrong reasons,” or anything of that nature. What we can do is enhance human behavior using technology and data to maintain the human-to-human connection, even virtually, while ensuring equitable evaluation of every candidate.

CEOCFO: Would you give us a couple of examples of questions you would have the interviewer ask that they might not normally and what you are looking for in the answer to that question?  

Mr. Thurman: The bigger point of that is what we are looking for. We do not believe that there is a magical question. There are general questions, there are tough questions, as technical or as non-technical as you like. The key is what is the framework and what are you actually looking for in the answer. We use these indicators, generally a positive and negative indicator. Think of it as an aligned or a misaligned indicator that is the candidate’s answer to that question. Let’s take something that happens in technical interviewing, that is not even a question, but is an activity, such as a whiteboarding session. A candidate can do something on Zoom or stand at a whiteboard (when we are back doing in-person interviews) and write or draw out their response to see if they get to the right answer.

In our methodology the right answer is only one positive indicator. The other thing that we might be looking for is what is their problem-solving methodology. If they reach the wrong answer, do they ask probing questions to get them back on track to a potential correct answer? We structure the answers in a way that are multipronged. Therefore, the indicators align or misalign with what works within our company. A subjective score of how confident I am in this person’s ability to execute based on their answer to our question and aligning that to the intent of what we are trying to measure, combined with general notes that we do capture, is our framework that is more than simply asking a question without knowing what we are looking for in an answer.   

CEOCFO: Where does the intangible feeling about a person come into play or does it?

Mr. Thurman: One of the primary things that we are attempting to do is to remove that feeling as the primary decision-making point when you look at it at scale. In a potential interview process, where there are three to four interviewers and all of them are leaning on that feeling, we spend all our time trying to make sense of feeling more than objectiveness to make the right hiring decision. There are some interviewers who claim to have great intuition, and they really have a great feeling about someone or a bad feeling about someone. However, more often than not, there are interviewers whose feelings are driven, unchecked, by their unconscious or conscious bias. That is what we need to avoid at scale across an organization. Otherwise, we fall prey to only thinking of candidates based on those feelings of unconscious bias. Who does this person remind of me? Does this candidate remind me of someone who is trustworthy or someone who I believe is successful in this type of role? The concept of “like hires like,” people saying, “You remind me of a younger version of myself,” whether they articulate that or not, that is nothing but bias and our feelings at play, trying to look for something familiar and comfortable as opposed to the right person for our company.

One constant bias at play that we talk about specifically is recall bias. Recall bias is the fact that, outside of a very short time frame, generally seconds, our brain only stores certain information that makes us comfortable or that we are familiar with as opposed to information that is not familiar. For example, if someone went to my alma mater or they grew up in the same town, or maybe they like the same things, I will generally remember that person more favorably than others. Most interview debriefs do not happen for at least 24 to 48 hours. The hiring managers will only recall certain candidates in a more favorable light. Those candidates that they are able to remember are not necessarily the best candidate for a role. It is just the candidate they were most familiar with and if that person left a general good impression, then that person will probably get the job. Other candidates who were unfamiliar to hiring managers, and are more often than not the better candidates, are generally forgotten and they do not get the role.     

CEOCFO: How do you help the people doing the hiring to understand what you are trying to do and to accept it and be comfortable with this as part of their natural flow in the interview process?  

Mr. Thurman: We try to de-stress them and give them more confidence. Interviewing is stressful for most people, unless they are well trained interviewers, which most hiring managers are not. In fact, interviewers have been observed to be more nervous than the candidates in the interview. How do we solve for that? We have an element of training layered into the platform to help interviewers improve with every interview. We provide them with a method that helps deliver a well-documented interview. Ultimately, we de-stress them through structure to be more prepared to do their job as an interviewer.

Generally, their day job is not to be an interviewer, but the job at the moment is to be a good interviewer and make a high stakes decision for the company. We want to make them more confident. We want to give them a clear path of how to do that job well and we want to support them in that, to gain their confidence in using interviewIA for every interview, knowing that they will continuously improve and transform their hiring behaviors.

CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach as you have worked with more and more companies and more and more people? What have you learned?

Mr. Thurman: We have learned that perceived lack of time is the biggest hurdle that companies are trying to overcome. Companies are trying to go through HR transformation, but the perceived lack of time is preventing them from successfully accomplishing their goals. Generally, the push is to put out a fire or there’s a fire drill or “we need these resources right now.” Many organizations struggle with both tactical action and strategic thinking to be proactive. Technology is really important in how organizations and their employees can navigate the change management cycle. That is some of what we have been talking about. How do we de-stress the situation? How do we drive adoption with technology? How do we build moments of delight into a process that can be stressful and frustrating, such as hiring?

It is really how can technology ease the use of change management and give back or reduce the perceived time lift that it takes to strategically transform your talent strategy. That is the biggest thing that HR leaders and hiring teams are trying to solve in order to build great teams.  

CEOCFO: What might you recommend to a company? How do you interact with the company to help them make the right decision?  

Mr. Thurman: While we have a client success team, most of the interaction is through our technology that acts as decision support in the hiring process. Our technology organizes all of the questions by tags. The parent tags are ability – does someone have the ability to do the job; alignment – what is their alignment with your particular company; and growth - that person’s growth potential in the role and growth potential that they are looking for in your company. Those are the parent tags. Then we have child tags that can be anything from a technical skill to curiosity or other characteristics or traits being sought. Those questions are then supported by positive and negative indicators as I mentioned before. Finally, we have categorical weights behind every question built into the system, so you get a candidate’s overall score. The candidate’s score aligns with those three criteria - ability, alignment and growth - and we use that equitable scoring to stack the candidates.

Not to say that you always hire the candidate with the highest score, but we organize candidates in a user-friendly way to better support the hiring decision. We also look at recommendations. Does Joe the interviewer recommend this person to move forward, or does Lynn the interviewer not recommend this person to move forward? This is the initial data about candidates that we get back.

The other data points are interviewer behavior. Does Joe ask most of the questions within his assigned interviews, that the company designs and desires for Joe to ask, or does Joe ask a different version of questions? What is Joe’s recommendation rate, what is Joe’s performance rate of making good hiring decisions? Does Joe score certain candidates lower than others even though they have more positive indicators as responses? Therefore, we look at process data, interview data, question data, and candidate data to surface insights that help support every hiring decision, all from within the platform.           

CEOCFO: It is a big job!

Mr. Thurman: Yes, it is. That is why technology has to be used to do it and that is why it’s so powerful. Because, if you think about it, across these large organizations, there are thousands or tens of thousands of interviews, or more, conducted every year. One of the things that we talk about is can you learn as you grow, and if you learn as you grow, what questions are working? What is the right number of rounds for this particular team to hire this particular role in an effective, efficient way, every time, that creates an equitable and inclusive experience for both sides and a good outcome for both sides? This is data that is available, but it needs to be gathered and accessed in a way that you can actually use it strategically. Therefore, when we say that we have data that other systems do not have, it is true. It is because we are focused in putting this technology into the hands of anyone who is touching this process, in a seamless way, and pulling it back so that we can do that big job that you mentioned.

CEOCFO: How do you help an interviewer, in the atmosphere we have today, be able to ask questions and not worry about what they are saying and how they are saying it?

Mr. Thurman: The biggest thing that we focus on is confidence and structure, because when you have structure, you can actually avoid the questions that are inappropriate for an interview. Generally, we are trying to control those things interviewers often say from their gut feeling by starting with the intent behind every question. Simply put, what do you intend to measure? If you struggle to articulate what you intend to measure with the question that you have selected, then why ask the question in the first place? We have to have intent behind the interview’s purpose, behind the questions that we build, and behind the questions that we allow a company to build into their own question bank.

We force you to think through what the qualifications are for this role and then with any particular question, what do you intend to measure. Once you start from there you can begin to strip away questions that do not have an aligned intention. They do not actually have a powerful way to help us evaluate each candidate. You can have part of your interview for the first five minutes where you are just being cordial and you are introducing yourself, but generally, you should avoid questions that introduce bias and have zero relevance to the person’s ability to perform.

We have become trained to believe that our job as an interviewer is to take 30 minutes to use our magical human powers, which none of us have, to assess this individual in this finite amount of time, and give a judgment on their character, a judgment on their ability, and a judgment on how they will impact our culture, and that is just not what an interview is for. An interview, with an interview workflow and interview process, should start to help us identify red flags, yellow flags, and green flags across a number of interviews. Each interview needs to have clear context and clear intentions in order to produce that data for us. When you do that, you avoid the landmines that you are asking me about.

CEOCFO: What led you to interviewIA?

Mr. Thurman: I have been in talent for 15 years and I have done everything from building technical teams to moving into executive hiring and I have placed everything from CEOs down to helping organizations build call centers. Throughout that process I have seen many, many different behaviors. When you are hiring a CEO, it is all about transferable skills and the potential that this person brings to the table. When you are hiring a technical person, in some companies, it is all about how much they need and what can they do and some other criteria. It is less about the human. It is more about the skills. It’s really a hybrid of these things that makes the best hiring and drives to a better hiring outcome. Therefore, along the way I saw many of these mistakes and I am sure I made some mistakes in the thousands of interviews that I have seen and conducted.

I met up with a great team where we built a previous company called Jobber Group, and those are the 4 co-founders of interviewIA - UB Ciminieri, Jacob Mueller, Carolyn McGrath, and myself. We had worked together for the last 5 years in our previous company, solutioning around the many aspects of hiring challenges that companies have and really saw that this was a universal problem - the lack of ability to gain objective and data-driven insights into why we make the selections that we make for hiring and it’s many impacts on the company, whether it is lack of diversity, socioeconomic impacts, or just struggling to build the teams that will take them to the next level. We started to work on a scalable solution and that is why we are here today.     

CEOCFO: How is business?

Mr. Thurman: It is good! We just closed our $2 million seed round, and we have early adopter customers. We have around 26-28 early customers. We are continuing to build and continuing to grow. Yes, things are great! We have some great partnerships on the horizon with some major, major players in the talent ecosystem and we have no complaints.

CEOCFO: Why is interviewIA an important company?

Mr. Thurman: interviewIA is an important company because the way that work is done and the way that companies are built is just at the beginning of the change that we will see over the next 5 to 10 years. Companies have to rely on more intelligent means of building organizations and interviewIA is one of these solutions that has a clear path to solving something that has not been solved in the market before. When we think of the importance of work and what work has meant to every society around the world forever and its continued impact on human society of how we do work and where we do work and how we are selected for work, that is going to be a very, very interesting dynamic to continue to define and continue to see as we emerge from COVID and from all of the things that have changed our world.

There will be lasting changes and some of those changes are things that interviewIA is focused on solving. How can we have more equitable, more structured, more meaningful, more impactful team members within organizations that are doing great things in this world? We are one of the companies that is going to help that come to pass.

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“Companies have to rely on more intelligent means of building organizations and interviewIA is one of these solutions that has a clear path to solving something that has not been solved in the market before.”
Joe Thurman