I’ve always been a fan of Doist, a remote team of 62 working from 26 countries!
They built a healthy and fun startup culture that shines through their products (Todoist and Twist) and the way they communicate.
I also love their commitment to remote work and to do things differently. They never raised outside capital (aside from StartupChile) and they don’t have an exit strategy. In other words, they are focused on the long term.
// This article is the first of a series of in-depth remote teams interviews. It was inspired by Tobias Van Schneider “How To Get a Job…” series.
Hey Allan! Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Doist?
I joined the company as the second employee back in 2012. I was in Chile to write my MBA thesis, and that’s where I met Amir the founder and CEO who had just joined an accelerator program down there.
I have worn any imaginable hat over the years as you do in a startup, but nowadays I overlook operations at Doist. I have a background as a trained Pipe Organ Builder, so my career path is a bit unconventional!
Looking at your current team, how many of them came through internal referrals or headhunting, and how many came through the traditional application process?
About 10% of the team comes from internal referrals. We have never headhunted anyone. We generally don’t believe in having to convince people to come and work for us.
The team consists of people who all went the extra mile to craft a nicely written cover letter that expressed why they wanted to be part of our project.
Say we decide to reach out with a cold email. What kind of message gets a reply? Any secrets for us?
9 out of 10 we hire are for roles listed on our job site. But we do also have a “Your Position” option on our job site. Occasionally, someone will apply and impress us in a way that we have to hop on a call to talk to this person. The bare minimum is a top-notch cover letter.
“The bare minimum is a top-notch cover letter.”
The person has to explain to us what role it is that we don’t have and don’t know we need and how she can make an impact that we can’t miss out on.
The twist is, she still has to do it humbly as any I_can_do_it_all types of letters are dealbreakers. It’s not easy, but we have people on the team who pulled it off, so it’s possible!
How important is it to have previous remote work experience? Can I get away with not having worked remotely when interviewing at Doist?
It’s not that essential because it’s not a skill in itself. It can be a small plus as previous experience with remote work indicates that a person thrives and can deliver in such an environment.
We also talk with candidates about it during an interview to ensure the person knows what she signs up for. Finally, we will pay for a dedicated office desk at a co-working to everyone to ensure employees have access to human interaction during the workday.
We’re curious, what is the one thing you never want to see again on an application. Anything you wish you saw more?
Grade Point Average (GPA). We’re not neglecting that specific tools need to be in the toolbox for any position, but top grades don’t say much about how good a team player you are or your human qualities which are much more important to us than anything else.
I wish more would set aside the time to write personalized cover letters. Too many only attach a resume which disqualifies them instantly.
“Too many only attach a resume which disqualifies them instantly.”
Besides having a portfolio, do you like the idea of remote workers being invested in other interests? For example being active bloggers or otherwise outspoken in their community?
Absolutely, it’s a big plus if you have a personal side project of any kind. It demonstrates you’re willing to invest time and energy in things that don’t necessarily pay off monetarily, but you do it out of passion or love to something.
We believe that is a positive trait and somehow a lot of Doisters have one or more of such projects.
Say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
The company rule is that to be hirable a candidate has to complete at least one test task and interview with minimum three Doisters who all say hell-yeah we want to work with this person. Derek Sivers has inspired us with his philosophy of there is no “yes,” it’s either “hell-yeah,” or it’s a “no.”
Generally, the process looks like this.
- Initial interview with someone you’d be working closely with at Doist
- Complete a test task
- Interview with Head of the team you’d be joining
- Interview with me to screen for cultural and personal fit
What are the secondary skills you look for in a remote worker, besides common soft skills?
Proactivity. In a remote job it’s crucial a person can take initiatives to start on things without anyone nudging her.
The team head might be in a different time zone, so a remote worker has to always look ahead and foresee what impactful task she should work on.
“In a remote job it’s crucial a person can take initiatives to start on things without anyone nudging her.”
Ability to focus on things with high impact. There are many books on this topic, Great at Work, the One thing and many more.
“Ask yourself what is the one thing I should focus and work on that will have the highest impact on the company?”
Alright! Would Doist hire someone who is a cultural fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
Definitely, we don’t hire people who don’t fit culturally regardless of how skilled and talented they are. It would jeopardize our culture.
What are the biggest mistakes you see applicants make when applying for a job at Doist? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us!
- Lack of cover letter.
- Too formal. Haven’t adjusted the tone and style of the cover letter to the company the candidate is applying at. Doist is a startup!
- Too much focus only on individual skills and experience and not why the person wants to be part of the project.
- Bold subject lines scare such as I’m your next XYZ… no, you’re not! ;)
- I’m applying because I want a remote work! (Don’t say that, it gives us the impression that it’s the remote part that appeals primarily to you and not the interest in joining our company.)
Has Doist accepted interns in the past? If so, is that a good way to get our foot in the door?
We have, and we love interns. We have had about ten interns over the years, and except for one who left, we employed everyone else, and many hold central roles in the company now.
Starting out as an intern is an excellent way of getting a foot in the door. If someone decides to come and work as an intern for us for six months while this person could have gone elsewhere and gotten an entry salary.
It demonstrates that the person wants the project more than anything else. We believe that is a good thing as Doist is a marathon project that we hope will outlive us. We currently have two interns on the team.
How do you think Doist is different when hiring new talent compared to other remote teams? Is there a “European way” to run a remote company?
Amir is born in Bosnia but grew up in Denmark where I’m from, so I usually tell people we are an international company built on Scandinavian values. All Scandinavian countries are in the top ten of the happiest people in the world, and we have naturally tried to implement company perks that support the same social welfare we grew up with.
Healthy work-life balance, work 8 hours daily and then check out. Paid maternity and paternity leave, five weeks mandatory paid vacation plus national holidays in the country you live. A severance package of minimum two months from the minute you join the company, education perk, and much more.
How has Doist changed since you’ve joined in 2012? :-)
It used to be a company where we centered everything around increasing productivity employing Todoist. Nowadays the vision has changed to building the future we want to work in.
“The vision has changed to building the future we want to work in.”
That future is one that protects us from being overworked and leaves time for deep work and mindful communication.
Our collaboration platform Twist has played an enormous role and changed everything around how we work and stay on top of things while still having time and energy for a prosperous life outside of work. :)
Thanks so much to Allan for taking time to answer our questions!
- Doist is hiring (7 jobs are currently open), check those out over here! Remember, do your own research and make sure you send them an awesome cover letter.