Imperatives

VideoAmp has been hiring like gangbusters this year. Right now we are running a burgeoning talent pipeline involving a dozen+ recruiters, 5 roles, 4 leads, and a run rate of closing ~20 Brains / quarter.

Let’s discuss some fine-tunings that we are applying to our hiring process, so that we don’t lose our early-stage startup engineering mojo as we scale.

Wildcards

Wildcard questions spark interesting conversations with engineering talent.

Because you can’t just ask “are you a team player?”, “are you a hard worker”, or the cliche “where do you see yourself in 5 years”… type of questions.

You gotta meander your way there….

Some of my favorites this year are: “surely you’ve worked in a team before, tell me about someone who didn’t pull their weight”.

Then after we go down that path, 
“let’s turn that question around, and tell me traits of people whom you have worked with and admire”.

If they can tell you about how they fixed a team member morale/productivity challenge, and also tell you the traits in people they like working with, they have probably been to the mountain.

Lately, we have had an influx of fantastic senior talent. At my position in the tail-end of the funnel, by the time I’m talking to them, they’ve run the Gauntlet, and have passed with thumbs-up and “f-yeahs” all around.

By this stage in the process, I want to know how the years have worn on the individual, battle-hardening, etc…. A frequent question I’ve been asking these days… “what are YOUR imperatives?”

Some ask for qualification. “What are your non-negotiables?”

Conversation ensues…

What makes this a powerful question is that it hopefully brings to bare important past situations they have learned from, and we all benefit by these shared experiences.

The answers range from:
“don’t use !important in CSS”
“squash merge”
and the always popular 
“never ask a candidate to whiteboard code which they may type”

IFE IFFY?

In Flight Entertainment (IFE) optimization

Switching gears… in a prior chapter I optimized client/server performance in IFE (In Flight Entertainment) systems. They were all LAMP web environments in the 2000’s, and they were mostly all poorly written.

On roughly 15 airlines, I optimized click performances from as horrible as~15 seconds to a snappy~250ms. Response time matters. Though your Users are force-captives on overseas flights, they have better things to do with their time. That being relaxing vs. “monkey-fingering” the screen in frustration.

The airlines understood how performance of these systems mattered, and invested great attention to the performance and stability on these systems. Beyond the immediate user-experience, there’s the matter of perceptions.

When you get on a plane, and the entertainment system is crashed, or continually reboots… you wonder “OMG what else is broken on this aircraft”. Causing a nervous feeling on behalf of your customers.

Though entertainment and navigational systems are not even physically connected, it’s an important matter of perception. How you do one thing is how you do everything.
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self.reflect();

Over the New Years break, I decided to turn that question onto myself… “what are my imperatives”? I’m going to spend Q1 2018 writing a few posts from different angles on Imperatives. For today, we’ll talk about fine-tuning a few hiring fundamentals.

In the early days our hiring process was archaic, being managed mostly by email + calendar. Then various ATS’es (Applicant Tracking Systems). For now, we’ve settled on Lever.

For about 2 years, this was a solo process in addition to exec and R&D duties. As we’ve grown and focused on parallel product lines, it has become untenable to manage all of this solo. We enlisted a few select recruiters in Q4 of 2017 to make our goals. Prior to this we hired via 95% direct-hiring/sourcing.

Now we are managing over a dozen recruiters, and triple digit candidate submissions on a good week. Scaling this pipeline has not been easy, and it is fundamental to give hiring responsibilities to each respective team lead. This handover had many speed-bumps, which we’ll detail in a minute…

THE CANDIDATES PERSPECTIVE

Over the break I was also talking to a BFF who mentioned he wanted this better job, closer to home, but the company was taking forever to work with him.

He said “if they are going to treat me like crap as a candidate, how is it going to be working for _that_ company?!?”.

Knowing how hard it is to scale recruiting, I jumped in “wait a minute, just because they have a crappy in-house recruiter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the job isn’t excellent once you get inside”. … or “not”.

Once again, it’s a matter of perceptions. My advice for him to “be politely persistent, and stay in touch with them until they beg you to go away…”.

WARM FUZZIES

In this scaled hiring process we are achieving our hiring goals, but one thing has been left behind; that original level of personal touch. We have a very high bar. Candidates fall out of the funnel for many types of reasons; even being over-qualified or just not domain-specific enough for us.

It doesn’t mean we don’t want to talk again some day. We want to leave a lasting positive impression with the candidate, even when it doesn’t work out.

Something I found in this New Year’s reflection was that we have lost our personal touch, (aka warm fuzzies), in how we notify candidates when they fall out of the funnel.

The status quo is lack of communication… and that phone rings both ways. Candidates will take other jobs and never tell you. They just vanish. But sometimes, so do we. This is suboptimal.

We can do better than this. We are now using Lever to create and personalize responses for all candidates who submit with us. And especially when they take the time to run our Gauntlet of technical phone screens and relevant code hacking tests. (Big ups to Hacker Rank for saving us gobs of time)

TTR

Something I noticed when running the pipeline solo was that candidates would be enamored with quick responses to applying.

I’m talking someone applies at 11pm on a Sunday night, and they get a reply back by 11:15pm.

100% of candidates are amazed when we’ve already setup a greeting call early in the week when this happens.

This is another trait that went out the door when we scaled things, because it’s not realistic to expect team leads, who have an entire world of responsibilities beyond their hiring duties to respond this quickly. Let alone daily, even weekly sometimes. Again, suboptimal.

The fact remains that TTR (time to respond) is just as important in hiring as it is in Tech Ops to responding to service downtime incidents. The best candidates don’t hit the market for very long, and your ability to respond quickly is a reflection on your team and the company as a whole. It’s like your IFE system responding in 500ms vs 15s.

It doesn’t stop with candidates. TTR with recruiters matters too, because they have options as to where to submit. If your process is tar-pitted by internal inefficiencies, they can ratchet back their interactions. It’s a real-world problem.

self.close();

With hiring process TTR matters, and so does all communication. It’s the first line of defense for corporate perceptions. With every new talented new-hire, we are asking them to board our plane, and ride along for an amazing journey. If the system doesn’t look or feel right, it’s reasonable to expect their hesitations to get onboard.

We are emphasizing these Hiring Imperatives in order to better represent the rest of our engineering ethos. This is how we are focusing on the hiring pipeline in 2018 because how we do that thing, is how we do everything.

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