Hiring Humans, Not Resources

How to Bring Humanity to Hiring

At The Ready, we are obsessed with transforming organizations from machines into organisms. The paradigm shift is so fundamental that everything about the way we work is subject to examination and reinvention, especially the people we hire and how we hire them.

Conventional hiring processes are designed to recruit the most skilled people to fill a specific role at the right price. The experience can feel dehumanizing — it’s laden with unwritten rules, negotiation, posturing, and indirect communication (if you’re lucky) through recruiters.

The process, at its core, is a transaction of resources. It’s not fit for the future of work, where an employee’s purpose, character, intrinsic motivation, adaptability, comfort with ambiguity, aptitude for learning, and responsibility to self-manage are critical to success.

This leads us to ask the question,

How can we make hiring more about humans and less about resources?

To provide some insight on this question, especially for emergent organizations, I’ll draw upon my surprisingly pleasant hiring experience with The Ready and share some practices you can apply to your recruitment process.

1. Start with why

At the risk of sounding cliché, starting with why is important but often misunderstood.

During the recruiting process, I was never asked “Why The Ready?” but instead “Why does our purpose resonate with you?”

The two questions elicit different depth in answers. I could answer the former with my impressions on the brand, thought leadership, or their approach to change. The latter compels me to connect with my purpose and explain why I want to change how the world works.

At The Ready, we screen for purpose alignment. It’s the first question we ask anyone interested in joining, because it connects us to their intrinsic motivation. It reframes the employee value proposition — joining us is an opportunity for a career that aligns with who you are and the change you wish to see in the world. The rest will follow.

2. Hire for soul, not role

Job descriptions are never exhaustive, even from the beginning. They represent a set of needs for a specific context and time, which after a few months no longer reflects reality. Yet companies hire people based on their ability to match that fixed job description. They hire for the short-term.

Why start from something so specific? Instead, find people who can contribute to the organization in dynamic and unforeseen ways. Screen for purpose alignment and values fit, the enduring elements of the organization. This doesn’t prevent you from hiring for specific skills and expertise, but instead asks you take a broader view that looks beyond immediate needs. No matter a candidate’s skills, are they willing and able to contribute them to the organization in new and unfamiliar contexts?

In emergent organizations, roles are fluid and shift as the work evolves. Employees craft new roles to best serve the organization’s purpose. At The Ready, we don’t have titles or job descriptions. People energize various roles at different times, so we don’t equate each other to roles we hold. Recognizing this fluidity in the hiring process acknowledges people as dynamic beings. My roles have already evolved since joining, in ways neither I nor The Ready could have foreseen while interviewing.

3. Look beyond the resume

The Ready is not alone in moving away from the typical resume and cover letter application. Many startups create tailored application questions to understand how someone could shape a role and fit with the values — some do this by using LinkedIn profiles to understand someone’s professional journey.

In fact, The Future Project, an education organization empowering underserved high school students to build their future, tells candidates “resumes truly don’t matter to us.” Resumes are grounded in an understanding that candidates’ prior achievements are the strongest indicators of future performance. But we no longer live in a world where the past reliably predicts the future. Emergent organizations need to hire people who can transcend their experience and respond to new environments and challenges.

I did not share a tailored resume with The Ready, because for them, checking my LinkedIn profile was good enough. Instead, I answered meaningful application questions that made me reflect on my professional journey.

What have you learned from your experience in organizational transformation? What are your convictions and who influences them? Why this work? Anything else we should know about you?

The application gave me license to be whole and authentic. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my answers referenced later in conversations with team members.

4. Make it a conversation

Recruitment can involve a lot of theatre. Candidates are encouraged to dress a certain way or prepare a pitch. We sit across from each other in private rooms. Interviewers use intimidation tactics. Organizations want to impress candidates with office tours and special events, but avoid answering pointed questions (just ask any law associate how the expectations set during their summer internship compares to their first year experience with the firm).

Let’s take a typical interview day at an established consulting firm and the different acts that are staged. Interviewees sit in a waiting room awkwardly with our competition, have a “buddy” who facilitates our schedule for the day, participate in a series of interviews (each designed to assess different skills and traits), and hope the case interview is similar to the ones we practiced.

On the flip side, interviews with The Ready felt like conversations. How we use space is an important aspect of org design, as it strongly shapes behavior, so we also take this belief into our interview process. The Ready works out of NeueHouse, a buzzing co-working space. My conversations with team members were out in the open space, often sitting side by side on couches over coffee. That didn’t prevent us from walking through challenging cases or scenarios, but I didn’t feel pressured to perform according to a standard format. The experience felt natural and comfortable.

5. Give people a realistic chance

The final round of The Ready’s recruitment process is a simulation. I pitched systemic transformation to the leadership team (roleplayed by Ready members) of an unspecified organization. The task was open-ended and ambitious, with no defined right answer. The “leadership team” was curious, critical, and skeptical, encouraging me to think on my feet and respond to their needs.

While many interview processes include a case study, in the form of either a homework assignment or a presentation, the simulation introduces realistic complexity. Simulations are unpredictable and require people to respond or pivot to external factors — just like in real life! It’s not enough to say all the right things in the right way. You have to sense the mood, the environment, and people’s reactions to adapt your approach on the fly. In the simulation, you’re given the opportunity to practice continuous steering, a vital competency for emergent organizations.

6. Provide feedback and promote learning

Recruitment feels transactional because “ghosting” is the status quo. It is normal for people to invest hours of time, energy, and intellectual capital into interviews with a new organization and not even be told they were unsuccessful. Requests for feedback are often ignored.

Responsive organizations are fueled by individual and collective learning. Retrospectives are baked into the culture; feedback and learning drive strategy and growth. At The Ready, we are rigorous about meeting weekly to share lessons from our work so that we can dynamically steer our approaches, and our strategy can emerge from these meetings.

By extension, the interview process is treated as a learning opportunity. After my interview simulation at The Ready, the interviewers spent 10–15 minutes going through feedback on what worked well, what could have been better, and how I responded to stimuli. I not only felt respected for the investment of my time and energy, but I also felt excited by how much I would learn and grow if I joined. If a candidate isn’t open to feedback, they’re probably not a good fit for an emergent organization.

7. Default to open

Recruitment processes are rife with posturing, from both candidates and organizations. Candidates are discouraged from asking too much about what it’s really like to work somewhere because that might disqualify them or alienate the interviewers. Recruiters and interviewers answer pointed questions with “well, it depends.”

At The Ready, we default to being open with information because we trust people are responsible and well-intentioned. It’s a fundamental principle of how we work, and anyone who works with us must embrace transparency.

As a candidate, I was shown work in progress and asked for feedback on governance materials. Trust begets trust. The openness I experienced during the recruitment process inspired me to be truthful in return. I asked candid questions about the culture at The Ready that were answered with “we’re still figuring that out, but here’s what we’ve learned so far” or “we haven’t thought about that yet, but you would be free to shape our approach.”

Nothing felt like a surprise after joining. As with feedback, transparency is a good litmus test for whether people are ready for future ways of working.

8. Base compensation on skills and contribution

“How much are you expecting to earn in your next role?” Countless blog posts and seminars exist to help people navigate requests for salary history and expectations. Requesting salary history perpetuates inequality, as women and minorities are historically underpaid.

In hopes to eliminate this inequality, Massachusetts set a national precedent by passing legislation barring organizations from requesting salary history, so lower wages will not follow people their entire careers. Last week, the New York City Council passed similar legislation, with potential implications across the country, as many companies who do business in New York will favor standardizing a new practice.

The Ready takes a different approach to salary discussions. Rather than basing compensation on prior salary, negotiation tactics, years of work experience, or brand names, we use a collaboratively-designed skills matrix to assess a prospective employee’s potential contribution to the business.The skill levels are clearly delineated (learning, practicing, teaching, mastering) and applied equally to everyone regardless of tenure, educational background, or employment experience. Both candidates and The Ready interviewers use the recruitment process to assess the best starting point against the skills matrix.

The process isn’t immune to subjectivity, but it’s certainly several steps in the direction of bringing greater objectivity and clarity to compensation. We strongly believe in the principle of fairness and are committed to learning and improving the practice of skills-based compensation.

As a woman of color, I am grateful that The Ready never asked me what I was making or hoped to make. They facilitated a different kind of conversation than what I was accustomed to. Knowing The Ready had a compensation system that challenges inequality made me feel respected, and incredibly motivated to join an organization that’s practicing what they preach.

9. Make hiring — and retention — everyone’s responsibility.

In emergent organizations, hiring is everyone’s responsibility. It saves the costs of a recruiting function and agency fees by empowering everyone to be a sensor for who joins the team. For example, at Valve, a gaming software and technology company, finding other great people is one of the few job responsibilities for employees. In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, hiring is one of the few things you can control.

I met my (current) colleague at a conference and she guided me through The Ready’s recruitment process. I had conversations with team members I would work with everyday and I could direct questions to anyone I met.

Retention is also everyone’s responsibility. At The Ready, I don’t have a buddy or someone designated to make sure I onboard successfully. All my colleagues have been onboarding me in various ways that relate to the roles they hold and their experience. I am part of the team.

Don’t just talk about these principles; embody them in how you hire, and you’ll hire candidates who are ready to bring them to life with you.

The hiring practices outlined above reflect principles of emergent organizations — purpose, transparency, learning, empowerment, and wholeness. Emergent organizations embed these principles into everything they do, especially the recruitment process.

When your hiring process incorporates these practices, it acts as the perfect filter to attract people fit for complexity and emergence.

In the spirit of learning — what practices aren’t on this list that you would include? How does your organization hire, and how has that shifted in response to complexity? Leave your thoughts in the comments — we’d love to hear them!


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