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Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl.com

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The 24 Hour Challenge for Job Candidates

Every month, I spend a significant amount of time interviewing candidates. At Punchbowl, we hire full-time employees, independent contractors, and interns. Regardless of the position, all of us work together as a close team. So it’s critical that we hire people that fit the culture and vibe.

I’m fond of saying that ‘good’ people are relatively easy to find: place an ad in Craigslist or Indeed.com and you can find educated, experienced, and talented people within days. But finding truly GREAT people is really hard — how do you find people with superb communication skills, a strong work ethic, excellent personal traits, combined with a willingness to join a small company? And how do you make sure that the skill set and mindset of this new person will be additive to the team you already have in place? I can tell you from experience: hiring great people is very hard.

Over the years, I’ve developed a sequence to my hiring process to find great people. My goal is to learn about the person as much as possible before offering a position. I want to know how they think and what makes them tick. One part of my process is something I call the “24-hour challenge.”

Here’s how the “24-hour challenge” works: I ask the candidate to send me an email within the next 24 hours. In the email, I ask for two parts:

Part 1: I want to know how interested you are in the position. Are you the right fit? I want to hear about what makes you excited about the opportunity and the company. Given all of the resources available online, you can learn quite a bit about us. Convince me that you are the right fit, you are excited, and you really want to work with the team at Punchbowl.

Part 2: Send me something that shows me who you are and how you think. It could be something creative like a writing sample or a poem. Maybe it’s an amusing picture that you’ve seen or something that means something to you on a personal level. Or maybe just a rant on something that you find interesting. There are no guidelines here– just show me who you are and how you think.

So, how do I evaluate the 24-hour challenge?

1) Did you deliver the email within 24 hours? In a small company, it’s critical that we hit deadlines and deliver on-time. Therefore, I want to know that you’ll actually be able to deliver and hit deadlines — even with this small challenge. With my 24-hour challenge, it is simply unacceptable to be even one minute late. If something came up and you can’t get back to me within 24 hours, I expect an email letting me know why. If you’re late, I won’t even bother reading your email. Is this harsh? Maybe. But we’re looking for GREAT people– and great people always deliver on-time.

2) How do you think? Are you creative or literal? Are you self-aware? Do you have a sense of humor? It’s amazing what I can learn about a person from the 24-hour challenge.

3) Are you excited about the opportunity at Punchbowl? Why? Have you spent the time to critically evaluate the opportunity? Are you ready to join a small company?

Over the years, I’ve seen some pretty cool things as a result of the 24-hour challenge. I always enjoy getting the emails, and it’s fun to see what people send. One memorable response I received was from a young woman who was interviewing for an internship position (yes, I hired her). She had just spent a semester abroad in France, and she told me over the phone how important it was for an Internet company to consider an international audience when developing marketing and branding. Then she sent me this:

A furniture store in France
A furniture store in France

The photo I’ve included is evidence that the French don’t check out the English words they’re using in developing or naming products. It was really hard to decide what kind of photo to send you (a double rainbow I saw? the disastrously messy room of the 3 and 5 year-old daughters of my host mother? fireworks?), but I narrowed it down to this because it made me laugh.

And she concluded her email with this:

I’m trying to save my smart and insightful comments about the job for lunch on Monday, and I don’t want to bore you, so I’ll stop writing. I’d like to thank you for your interest in me as a candidate, and tell you that this job would be ridiculously cool for me in so many ways. Although this sounds like it’s been taken right out of an example of “how to write a cover letter,” I feel that I’m perfect for the kind of job you’re offering.

If you’ve read this post because we’ve given you the 24-hour challenge, I hope this gives you a really good idea of the purpose of your task. I’m trying to answer the question: are you good or are you GREAT for Punchbowl? After a few years of using my “24-hour challenge” I’m convinced it helps me uncover great people to join our team.

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©2018 Matt Douglas