Initially, I wanted to call this article “The Non-Interview”. Because the original idea was to completely deconstruct the concept of interviews. But after much thought, I just realized that the majority of interviewing processes are centered on the needs of the company, and then forced into the candidates’ throats. That does not suit me. I decided to do the opposite, and put humans in the heart of my hiring process. In short, I wanted to create a way of hiring that is primarily centred on the candidate.
Recently, I met a lot of people in interviews at Marine Press. And I took these opportunities to refine my approach. And it works very well so far. People who are interested REALLY are interested, and not just for the money. We are a medium-sized company and have salaries suitable for a medium-sized company. But for candidates, their motivation to work with us is highly intrinsic, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for. People want to work here to satisfy their need for creativity, autonomy, innovation, accountability, and meaning. So, what did I find out, and how did I manage that? I would be remiss if I didn’t share my discoveries with you.
1. The first contact in person
Not always obvious, I know. As of now, we are dealing with a headhunter who sends us candidates, and they are all very interesting. So we set interviews directly with them. I know it would be more difficult and really different if we had to sort resumes ourselves. But the feedback I got is: we are rarities to want to meet people directly. Those who do business with a headhunter, after meeting with him, must go through a phone interview with the company, an interview with a recruiter, and then a technical interview or an interview with the manager. With us, they meet the managers right away. It’s really appreciated by the candidates. Much less waste of time, and an immediate human contact.
2. I start by defusing formality
After the candidate arrived, the first thing I do, while showing them around the office, is usually to explain to them that this meeting is absolutely informal. In general, I say that while pointing at my t-shirt that’s usually sporting one or another pop-culture item. Today is a Transformers t-shirt. Those lucky meet me while I’m wearing my Bob-Ross-painting-the-galaxy t-shirt. Very quickly, I start to see the relief. Shoulders sag, jaws relax. We are not very corporate. We aren’t obsessed about our image, we are obsessed only by people, their potential and the value they can bring us.
3. I manage expectations in terms of interview performance
In our temporary office, we have tables, chairs, sofas. I let them choose what they prefer, and I explain to them how this will go:
- This is an informal, two-way discussion
- We do not want to know if candidates are good at being interviewed, we want to find people with whom we want to work, and who want to work with us
- There are no good or bad answers to our questions. We only want honest answers, and we are committed to giving equally honest answers
- It’s not just about what they can do for us, but what we can do for them and their career.
The level of comfort increases, and that’s when I start hearing stuff like “wow”.
4. It’s not about a position
One of my biggest frustrations back when I was on the candidates’ chair was when I was shown a box and then asked “Are you a cube? Jump in the box!” My interviews are not based on a position. At the moment, all my teams need help. We do not bias our interviews by having one particular team in mind. We reiterate the objective: We want to find a good developer with whom we want to work. In our interview, this is the goal. So the first discussion is not about a particular position. It’s about the candidate. I ask them “Where are you going in life? What are your aspirations? What makes you vibrate?”. The discussion begins just like that. People First.
5. We talk at least as much about culture as we talk about products or technology
The interview also contains a more technological portion, which is covered by a fellow technical manager. In this component, there is talk of having discussions about the candidate’s knowledge and interests.
Candidates are all very interested in the “what”, of course, since they will be directly involved in the products. I give them an overview of our 3 products, I answer their questions when I can (I am a people manager more than a technical manager) and then we talk about the “how and why”. I first explain the mindset of our department which encourages ownership, how teams are self-organized, how we include teams in decision-making as best we can, especially for decisions that will have a big impact on their work. It’s not always possible, but it’s our ideal. I can see a sparkle in their eyes after this discussion. Most candidates did not work in this kind of environment. The interview also contains a more technological portion, which is covered by a fellow technical manager. In this component, there is talk of having discussions about the candidate’s knowledge and interests. There are a few questions and answers, and the opportunity to discuss everything that thrills their passions.
6. Our “People First” policy makes the difference.
What is refreshing is that if many are already interested when I tell them about the culture of our department, it is in the small details that they are downright astonished. Our Group Insurance Plans and Group RRSPs are the most common. When they ask questions about vacations, holidays and all that, they are quickly taken aback by the answers. Here are some concrete examples of recurring questions, and my answers.
Q: How many sick days a year do you have?
A: How many days are you sick in a year? If you are sick, do not come and contaminate others. And even if we gave you a number, say 5, are you going to just be sick just 5 days? We decide to trust you on this. Sick = rest. If you are sick 29 days in 2 months, we will come to see you and ask you if everything is fine:)
Q: How are vacations managed?
A: It will not affect your managers if you are on vacation, but it will affect your team. So if the team is comfortable with the holidays, it is automatically approved. If the team is uncomfortable, it is their responsibility to find a contingency plan. When the team has a plan, the holidays are automatically approved. I also add that if the person has two weeks of vacation, and that she finds the deal of the century for a trip to her dream destination that would last 21 days, that she take the deal, and we have will arrange well with the rest. We are not here to break people’s dreams!
Q: What is the work schedule?
A: Everyone is expected to do about 40 hours a week. We are not here to control your whereabouts and calculate 40 hours to the minute. We are results oriented. Everything we do, we do it so that our product is delivered on time and with quality. You have the latitude to do what you think is the right thing to do to achieve that goal. And also, talking about trust, we do not fill time sheets. It is only done during sick days or holidays. The time worked is taken for granted. People do not have a relationship of trust with a computer system but have one with their team and their manager. Easy to abuse a system without having the least scruple … but abusing the trust of colleagues is different. People really appreciate this and wish to be worthy of that trust. We do not force overtime, teams volunteer for this because they care about delivering their product on time. It will happen that one asks when will you count to take leave if you do too many hours, however!
Basically, we stand out by our products (which, to change, are not related to finance or insurance) but especially by all these trivial things of everyday life that are often found in heavy bureaucratic processes elsewhere, but who , at home, have to pass the test of critical judgment, and “see what the team thinks.“ Be told that they deserve trust from day one, that they will be listened to when they have something to say, and that they will consider the context in which they live when they have to take vacations and days leave makes all the difference.
7. They meet their future colleagues
Having the opportunity to talk to the developers with whom they would work (and this without supervision, my colleagues know that the transparency goes away) is really welcome.
It has not been done often enough for my taste, but recently, we organize a meeting between the candidates (sometimes the same day, sometimes during a second interview) and representatives of our teams having volunteered. Our colleagues will be those who will live 40 hours a week with the person who will be hired, and we want them to give us the GO for hiring. Their role in this meeting is to determine if the candidate will be able to help them, and will flourish in our technological environment. They do this by presenting our products in a concrete way (while I have only talked about it), and finding what makes the candidate’s eyes shine. And most importantly, the part that interests me a lot recently, trying to evaluate the potential of the person. Having the opportunity to talk to the developers with whom they would work (and this without supervision, my colleagues know that the transparency goes away) is really welcome.
8. My commitment to candidates
The title of my LinkedIn profile is “I cultivate people’s awesomeness“. It’s true both at work and outside. No one can cultivate the development of people by creating only short-term relationships. One of my biggest frustrations in the recruiting world is seeing how many candidates fall into oblivion. Candidates for single use. They were interesting, and all of a sudden, because of a “mismatch“, because of certain expectations or needs that do not suit the company or the candidate, they suddenly become disposable. “Thank you for your time, we will never speak again“.
I reject this reality and substitute my own.
My message is the same for my colleagues as for my candidates: I will do what I can to help them achieve their aspirations, even if that means they will work somewhere else than Marine Press. Well-rounded people are better than miserable people, and we’d rather have happy people at in our company, or anywhere else. With the candidates, if we can not help them to flourish (or if they can not help us flourish as a business), my personal offer always holds.
Whether coaching them on LinkedIn networking, putting them in touch with other recruiters, giving them tips for interviews, I offer them help. As long as it stays within the framework of the laws and contractual agreements that I would have (for example, if they were referred to me by a headhunter, I can not refer them to other companies or recruiters myself ).
This is my added value, and it is something that I would like to spread more elsewhere in the company, and in the Montreal market.
In conclusion, here is what they said
At the end of the interview, I ask them how they experienced this. Most are unequivocal: they have never experienced such a humane interview. They do not feel scrutinized from head to toe, we do not just ask them questions by ticking boxes to check.
All of them, without exception, told me that they were getting tired of being mechanically approached by recruiters who, very often, only care about their metrics and their hiring goals. They are tired of feeling like cattle that we just walk from one pen to another.
All, without exception, were delighted to be treated as humans, and their aspirations as much as their experience considered.
All, without exception, were stunned not to be forced into an interview process optimized for the company, but absolutely not for them.
One person told me something important: “I come to an interview to find a great company to work for, and I feel like you are working for your employees and even for candidates.“
And this, my friends, is how we create ambassadors.
Speaking of all this to one of my fellow developers who likes to participate a lot in the hiring process, we drew this conclusion: “For a human interview, be human …”.