Thoughts on How to Build the Best 20 Minute Interview 📣

Mia Wähälä
3 min readMar 19, 2021


Here’s my download on how to make the best of your first “get to know” interview in high volume recruiting, keeping your calls to just 20 minutes a pop.

Your Five Step Structure to Ace the Interview

Tasked with filling a role is often stressful. Question marks come up, difficult decisions need making. In an early stage venture, you typically spend a lot of time winning over the team you need to achieve your mission whilst trying to assess if they’re a fit.

Be it in sales mode or assessment, you need to allocate your time wisely. Ultimately, my best interviews have been ones that flow effortlessly, make you both feel better than before taking the call, and where you both learnt something new. 💡

However, what make them exactly that I believe come from the investment in structure. Building a solid interview process from the beginning, that you can iterate on and make scalable, will save you loads of pain later on.

For an intro call of 20 minutes, especially effective with referras and inbound canddiates, I like to structure my talk around five chunks detailed below. It’s not a strict order, this should feel like 🏄‍♂️ a natural conversation — not a court hearing.

1 | The First 3 Minutes on Intro and Agenda

  • Spend three minutes on a hot introduction, setting the scene of what we will cover in the interview, why this is the right time to join and why we need the role. It’s a sales pitch, it’s exciting, and you’re there for them and to show them a good time.
  • Being transparent about the agenda like this is a neat way to set expectations whilst creating buy in from the candidate.
  • You also eliminate a lot of unnecessary stress and uncertainty from the candidate if they know what’s coming so they can perform to their best.

2 | The Candidate’s 5 Minutes for Questions

  • My running assumption is that the best candidates already have a clear picture of the company mission. They will have done their research.
  • Prepared candidates are genuinely curious to understand how they can add value 🗣. They ask personalised questions and target in on specifics.
  • Those questions are so revealing of who the candidate is. Listen closely, take note of them.

3 | The Deep 7 Minutes Dive on Motivational and Cultural Fit

  • You need to find candidates who have similar working principles to you, I wrote a whole bunch on that here. Exchange questions on values, habits and attitudes to self and others.
  • Get real life examples of each statement made.
  • Particularly in this part it’s easy to go after confirming what you think you know 🤔. To work against confirmation bias and prejudice, practice being genuinely curious about what the candidate is saying — without expectations. ☝️

4 | The Clarifying 3 Minutes on Practicalities 🥁

  • Salary is a sensitive topic for many. But to be respectful of people’s time, it’s often better to just ask the candidate where they stand sooner rather than later. If they don’t want to go there, you can agree to return to the topic later.
  • Also ask about ideal start date.

5 | The Last 2 Minutes to Wrap-up

  • Cover the interview process steps and any remaining questions.
  • Finally I think it’s always best to tell the candidate straight up if you’re certain the role is not a fit. Don’t be afraid to cut the interview short if you notice a mismatch in expectations. You can always offer to stay in touch at a later time or refer the person on to someone in your network with a more fitting role. 🍰

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Hope that helped you. Curious to find out how your next interview will go after practicing some of that.

Thanks for reading everyone!