How we hire engineers at News UK

This is our approach to ensure our hiring activities are quick, transparent and equal, with tips to help you get hired

Jeremy Burns
Sep 13, 2019 · 10 min read

Hiring is a full time job

With an engineering team of over 200 in London alone, a busy Bangalore office and a growing presence in Sofia, we are always looking for good people. We are growing, we work in a dynamic company and — of course — people move up or move on.

We start with a list of open positions and look for likely candidates, but we generally think past the specific role. We look for good engineers and consider how they might fit into any of our open positions. On many occasions we have offered someone a role other than the one they initially applied for.

We also look to keep a balance of junior through to senior engineers as well as striving for diversity and inclusivity.

Here is some background to our process, what we look for and how to get hired (by us or another company!).

Quality, equality and consistency

As much as we want each interview to be as individual as the candidate we are talking to (and you are all different!) we also want everyone to have the same chances and to be considered equally. So we are progressively introducing some standard elements to every interview process to allow unbiased candidate assessment and comparison.

We need our hiring managers to understand the process, to be great interviewers and to make the right choices. We want it to be clear what a ‘good’ hire looks like so we can continue to build an awesome culture. To make our process repeatable, seamless and efficient, we have standards that work well in most cases.

Sometimes we’ll need to vary because of candidate circumstances, interviewer’s availability or role/level specifics, but generally we repeat the same process to build up muscle memory in our hiring managers and to introduce a level of consistency.

That means we give each applicant a great experience, we have a frame of reference to compare you with other candidates impartially and we give everyone a fair and equal chance.

So we are always working on our best practices and run training sessions to keep it fresh and relevant. All hiring managers will have passively sat through some interviews before taking part (because that’s the best training you can get) and the team always meet to prepare ahead of doing any interviews.

Inclusivity > diversity

Diversity is extremely important to us, not least in engineering where we all know there has traditionally been more male than female coders. We’re making good strides in this direction but can always do better.

We feel that — rather than set targets — diversity is something we achieve by having a fully open and inclusive hiring process and being accepting of the most suitable talent regardless of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and marital and family status.

When the activities that try to attract people to consider your company are not fully inclusive, you’ll only get the same old male dominated CVs. It’s hardly any wonder, then, that the majority of the interviews you do and hires you make are male.

So we’ve worked hard to ensure that we appeal to and are open to anyone. The wider the funnel neck, the more diverse talent we attract.

Inclusive job descriptions

We’ve rewritten all of our job descriptions so they are simple, clear and meaningful. They don’t have a hundred bullet points listing must haves and nice to haves. We try to express the flavour of the role that can be explored and expanded in conversation. They are written in plain English from your perspective, making it really easy to understand how well you could fit in and succeed at the role.

Our job descriptions have all been through decoders to ensure they are as equal and unbiased as they can be. We know that the more diverse a range of candidate that we get, the more diverse our workforce will be.

Transparency

We don’t want our process to be some dark mystery. We want you to fully understand:

  • What the role entails
  • What the interview process is
  • How long each stage will take

Any person involved with the process can answer these questions for you.

The two week offer

Speed is essential for hiring. We always try to get from ‘hello’ to offer in two weeks where possible. That means making interview activities a priority for our hiring managers and having a team of people fully behind the process. In theory it’s very doable, but sometimes circumstances mean we can’t. But we try.

We try to get from ‘hello’ to offer in two weeks.

Communication and feedback

We communicate with you throughout the process and — for those we hire — in that important gap between accepting the offer and arriving for day one.

How we find and reach out to talent

We find interesting people from a variety of sources;

  • Referrals from our current engineers
  • Our internal recruitment team (Roland Hoxha and Vinny Marino)
  • When a candidate approaches us directly

We also use a small panel of recruiters when there is something complex with a role that we cannot meet ourselves.

Once we have looked at your CV and/or LinkedIn profile, we make contact as quickly as we can to see if there is interest on both sides. Once we know you are open to the idea of joining us, one of our hiring managers will start the process.

Tip: Make sure your LinkedIn page is up to date and that you have a recent CV to hand. Make sure they are consistent, but not the same. Your LinkedIn profile should have a more personal conversational feel, showing your achievements. Your CV should be briefer, more factual and less conversational. If you are looking for a new job, turn on that setting in LinkedIn to help us find you. Your LinkedIn profile will appear in searches, so look carefully at its contents because that will shape how you are found.

What we look for in candidates

Knowledge, skill and approach

We appraise three dimensions in every person we consider:

  • Knowledge: what you know and what your experience has been to date
  • Skill: how well you can use the knowledge you have (e.g. coding ability)
  • Approach: your character, behaviour and how you go about your work

The interview process

Where at all possible, we have a three stage selection process. This is not radical in any way, but we commit to it to avoid a lengthy process that might irritate and frustrate our candidates.

1: CV reviews and sifting

We generally like succinct CVs that really tell us who you are; what you have done before, what you do well and enjoy, and what you want to do next.

Tip: A one to two page CV works best. Make it results and delivery based. Make it clear what your contribution was and what the impact was. Avoid too much jargon. Don’t just list all the technologies and languages you’ve ever touched or read about. Be specific about what you are good at, what you enjoy and what you want to do next.

2: A phone or video call

We generally talk to seven or eight out of ten CVs presented. That’s because we believe you can tell a lot more about you by speaking with you.

On the phone or video call we try to verify you with some basic skills questions, explore your experience and technical knowledge and find out a bit more about your personality and approach.

It might sound trivial, but it’s important that we like you, we think you will add to the team and that we can manage you (we try to avoid hiring problems!).

The call will cover who News UK is, what the company does, a flavour of the team we are hiring for and an overview of the role. The phone or video call will generally last about twenty to thirty minutes and is a very relaxed two way conversation. We actively encourage questions.

Tip: Be yourself and ask your key questions. Interruptions are welcome. There are no rules.

3: A face to face interview

We try to achieve everything we need to in a single face to face interview, which can take between one-and-a-half and two hours (sometimes longer). We let you know this before we book it and spell out the interview format so you know what to expect.

We invite you in to meet at least two people; that’s generally the hiring manager and one other; perhaps a team member or someone slightly independent. I often join them as I like to have some influence on who we bring in. It’s not unusual for there to be three hirers in the room because our experience shows it gives both you and us a better opportunity.

Coding exercise

We ask you to bring in your laptop because we always do a live coding test. We do everything we can to avoid this being a tense, pressurised experience; we don’t work under stress, so we don’t test under stress. In practice it’s more like a pairing exercise. We’re looking at three dimensions in the coding test:

  • How well you know your language of choice
  • How well you craft a solution
  • How you approach the challenge

We’re looking at how you work as much as we are looking at what you produce.

We make the interview as relaxed as we can, trying to mimic our real working conditions. It’s a very two way experience as we encourage you to be yourself and to ask any questions you like. It’s super important that you choose us as much as we choose you.

Standardisation

We are beginning to introduce some elements of standardisation across all interviews to bring equality and consistency of comparisons and decisions. Human memory being what it is, we prefer to make notes and keep scores during the interview.

We’re honest and open about this during interviews, and let you know that we are taking notes and making scores because it is in your interest. The tricky part is to not let that get in the way of the interview flow.

Tip: Relax, listen, ask questions, explore, be yourself and be honest. If you don’t know something, say so. You limit your prospects if the interviewers sense you are bluffing.

Mutual respect

I can only speak for myself here, but if I have a phone interview booked, I will be sat somewhere quiet, ready and prepared for the call ahead of time. I will dial your number on the stroke of time and check that it is still a good time to speak. It’s frustrating when the other person doesn’t pick up or sounds surprised that I’ve called. The same goes for the on site interview. We’ll all be ready, prepared and waiting.

Tip: Things can go wrong on both sides, but it is alway better to communicate changes ahead of time than to leave people wondering what’s going on.

Decision making

We never communicate decisions during the interview. That’s simply because we absolutely want to compare thoughts and opinions before we decide.

As soon as you have left the room the interviewers meet to make a decision (we never do this other than face-to-face and we never delay). Without saying a word to each other we do a simple show of hands with thumbs up or down. That sounds so harsh, but it sets the scene in a fairly objective manner. We all know where each of us is starting from without being influenced by other’s feelings and opinions.

We then discuss our findings and challenge each other:

  • If everyone is thumbs down we generally don’t hire because it means that we’ve all seen something that didn’t fit.
  • If there is a mixture of thumbs up and down it’s unlikely we will make an offer but we do talk it through.
  • Having all thumbs up means we probably all agree that this will be a good hire.

Whatever the outcome of the thumb test we always talk it through until we are all agreed on a decision. We share and challenge observations and reflections, some of which change perceptions of how well it went. We might repeat our thumbs test a few times.

We also decide what level we think you’re at, so that you can join us and begin making the right contributions straight away. We also touch on any development and growth needs we identify to be sure we can help you grow in post.

We need everyone to fully back the decision so that we can keep standards high. If at least one person is believes you are not a good hire, we don’t hire. Assuming that we all agree on hiring you, we proceed to offer.

Feedback for unsuccessful candidates

If we decide not to hire, we always provide detailed feedback to you that is specific about your process.

After the hire is agreed

If we make an offer and you accept, we start the paperwork and organise the first day. Our HR team will start the formal process of preparing your offer and doing background checks. We work with you to support you while you resign from your current post and prepare for your new job.

Keeping in touch

We keep in touch with you throughout so that you feel welcome and appreciated. Any new hire is important to us and we know it’s a big thing in your life. So we treat it with the importance it deserves.

Onboarding

There’s nothing worse than arriving for your first day at a new job and feeling like a bit of a surprise. We do what we can to make sure everything is set up and ready for our new team member. We order your kit, get all accounts and access sorted and allocate you a desk, ready for day one.

We have designed an onboarding process to welcome new hires, to teach them about our company and to introduce them to their team:

  • New hires usually start on Tuesday. Your first full day is spent in a company induction, run by HR.
  • Wednesday 10:00–11:00: your first hour of the next day is spent in a technology specific induction, designed and run by technology staff.
  • Wednesday 11:00–12:00: your next hour is a discipline specific induction run by the lead for your discipline (our disciplines are business analysis, data science, engineering, project and programme management, product management and UX&D).
  • Wednesday 12:00: Hand over to your team, who then do a team specific induction.

Each month, we bring the previous month’s new starters back together for pizza, socialising and feedback. This helps us improve the hiring and onboarding experience for future new hires.

Situations vacant

If you are interested in joining us, please get in touch and tell us.

Our careers page

Our careers page lists our current openings. Soon we’ll add videos and staff interviews so you can get a feel for what it’s like to work here.

Applying for a job will be fast and easy and you will hear from us quickly, whether you are selected to proceed or not.

How to contact us

In the first instance, reach out to one of our hiring team and they will start a conversation with you.

roland.hoxha@news.co.uk

vinny.marino@news.co.uk

Jeremy Burns

Written by

Head of Software Engineering for News UK. My mission is to make News UK a target destination for a diverse set of talented engineers.

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