Life at Ataccama
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Life at Ataccama

Redesigning Our Interview Process for Growth

At the end of the last year, Ataccama had just started dramatically scaling its business. I was still very new to my position as the head of product design and my task was to grow our team of designers from 5 to 14 people.

I didn’t have much experience as a hiring manager. But I knew we’d have to be extra careful about who we end up adding to the group. All these new folks would play the main part in shaping the team and company culture for the seasons ahead.

This post is about how we changed our interviewing process to succeed. I hope this will inspire leaders to review their approach to this activity and improve the experience for everyone involved.

First thing’s first

I felt like we needed to change how we did interviews. I simply thought it was not ready for such a big wave of hiring. Before proposing solutions, I first wanted to understand our current mode of operation — to highlight what works well and what needs a fix.

So I asked…

  • …who is involved in the process on our side?
  • …which tools do we use in the process?
  • …how many rounds of interviews are there?
  • …who keeps in touch with the candidate along the way?
  • …how long does the process take?
  • …how do we check the candidates?
  • …how do we reject the candidates?

After this exercise, it was clear that the support from our HR team and communication with the candidates was solid. This could stay.

Yet, on some of the questions, I couldn’t get clear answers. Those were the weak spots. It turned out we needed to improve how we structure the interviews and evaluate the candidates’ performance.

Who are we trying to hire

Before laying out the new interviewing process, there was one more thing to figure out: who are we trying to hire?

We are looking for a product designer. But what does a product designer actually do at Ataccama? What skills do the candidates need to have and what can we help them acquire?

At the end of the day, the team knows best.

I called on the then team of product designers to answer those. At the end of the day, the team knows best. Also, it would be them who would interview, evaluate, and end up working with the hired folks.

Thanks to a short team workshop, we were able to bring more diverse viewpoints and ideas to the table. In the end, we had a rich, aligned meeting room.

Here’s how we structured the session:

1. Warm up

First, we started with a quick warm-up. I cut our current job post describing the designer’s work at Ataccama into pieces. Then I made the team place those pieces on a scale, ranging from fantasy to reality.

Apparently, the post had not been too far from reality.

On the other hand, we found out that almost nobody (!) was familiar with the actual contents of the job post.

2. Reflection

Second, we reflected on what our jobs really are about. We started by silently answering a set of questions, one at a time. Then, we read the answers out loud and discussed them a bit. Here are some of the questions:

  • What type of work do you spend the most time with on your team?
  • What one skill are you making use of the most?
  • What one skill do you need and also feel you’re missing?
  • What is hard about your job?
  • How would you describe your job using one sentence?

Thanks to this, we could see the patterns but also how the job might differ based on which product team the designer is working on.

Our teams slightly differ in size, focus, rituals, and ways of working. All these nuances place specific demands on the designer’s profile. This learning later shaped the format of our interviewing rounds quite heavily.

3. Helpful vs. hindering

With the last activity, we focused on capturing the values important to us. What are the behaviors we praise and which ones do we rather leave at the door? We used simple conversation starters to flesh this out:

  • It helps me to do my job better when others are…
  • I really value it when others…
  • It bothers me when others….
  • I wish I did less of…

Again, after discussing our notes, threads emerged. We saw phrases but also descriptions of specific situations.

Bringing it home

Eventually, the insights formed into four areas of skills and requirements: Communication, Organizing work & Collaboration, Designing, and Autonomy. These represent what the job is really about. This is what designers need to enjoy the work and be successful at it.

At this point, I had enough material to start shaping the format and structure of the interviews.

This was the trickiest part. I mostly relied on being already quite familiar with the insights and my idea about a good interviewing process. Through trial and error, I finally married the two.

We now have three interview rounds. Each has a defined clear goal, what needs to be answered, structure with timing and suggested questions to ask.

Having a defined process written down and made accessible to anyone is absolutely crucial.

One might argue that this is very prescriptive and may feel unnatural. But having a defined process written down and made accessible to anyone is absolutely crucial. Only like this can you orchestrate such activity, align the team, and most importantly iterate on it as you go.

Some specific benefits surfaced very soon after putting the guidelines in use:

  • The guidelines make the interviewers feel more at ease. They now have something to lean on when things go off the rails or they’re just new to the process (some new hires started taking part in interviews no later than after a few weeks in the company).
  • All the other roles, such as talent acquisition specialists, HR managers, or my manager now have a great visibility into “how we do this,” and can freely pick it up or, potentially, challenge it.
  • Last but not least, once other teams started looking for more people to join them, such as UX research or UX writing, they had a good interviewing template to start with.

Final thoughts

Process guidelines make success repeatable. They allow for repeating what has proved to work over time and avoiding what has not. You don’t have to start from scratch over and over again.

This is only powerful when you and your team keep challenging and changing the guidelines regularly, based on the actual needs. What was true yesterday may not be relevant today.

What’s your take on interviews? How well do they work for you and your team? Let us now!

Want to join Albert and his team? Check out our open positions and see if we’re a good fit. Can’t wait to hear from you!

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Albert Zikmund

Albert Zikmund

Head of Product Design @ataccama • ex @frogdesign 🐸 • @techstars alumni, and so on…