Perfecting your interview process for building distributed teams

Building distributed teams part 2

Zinc’s on a mission to “Open source interviewing”, by providing tools to allow applicants to retain and reuse data collected whilst interviewing. In this blog I’ll be analysing interview processes of leading teams in web3. So this is the perfect place to launch a ‘Open Source Your Interview Process’ movement. We’ve started off a list of teams that have ‘open sourced’ their interview processes, listing publicly on this Github repo. If we’re able to share notes, we can learn from each other and all spend less time interviewing. If your company is willing to share your interview process and contribute then please add it here.

The negative press crypto brings to blockchain is counterbalanced by the radical openness and transparency some teams adopt. In some cases this transparency and openness carries through to careers pages. Some interview processes are listed publicly on jobs pages, others that I’ve reached out to are happy for their processes to be public. That’s why it’s no surprise that web3 teams are leading the charge in the remote revolution. We found that twice as many web3 teams were distributed compared to the rest of tech. It’s this kind of radical openness which is allowing web3 leaders to attract and retain top talent across tech and beyond.

Blind Interview by Daniel McCullough

Distributed teams are being hailed as the new route to efficiency and productivity, with minimal time lost to commuting, unnecessary meetings, gossip or other distractions that come with having an office-based team. Everybody’s free to work where and how they want, taking full ownership for their own productivity and output, without becoming embroiled in wider company issues, if they don’t need to be (who does :)

We now know why remote teams are worthwhile, but what do you need to put this in in place?

Leading Web3 Teams Processes

Aragon’s process

Success stats: Truly globally remote, no offices. 21 people work across Aragon’s teams, 20/30 outside contributors at once. Aragon’s privacy preserving interview techniques, like IM interviews are commendable: https://wiki.aragon.org/jobs/

Blockstack’s process

Success stats: Globally remote, distributed across Hong Kong, Gambia, Barcelona, Toronto, and Seattle. 24 core team members + open source contributors. Flexible process & powerful values (voted for by the team): https://blockstack.org/careers

Blockchain.com’s process

Success stats: Distributed across UK, SF & New York. Scaled to over 150 in the past year. Bonus points for the nicest interview graphic. Unlimited PTO, flexible schedules and crypto bonuses: https://www.blockchain.com/careers

Bitpesa’s process

Success stats: Globally remote, offices in Lagos, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, and Dakar. Over 60 people globally, challenging hiring in emerging markets: https://www.bitpesa.co/careers/

Bitfinex’s process

Success stats: Truly globally remote, distributed across Asia, Europe & Americas. Culture of Learning offsite’s and team building, flexible hours: https://www.bitfinex.com/careers

Status’s process

Success stats: Truly globally remote, no offices. Scaled to 100+ people in the last year. Will pay in SNT or local fiat. Extremely flexible, no set interview process & serious about privacy: https://status.im/contribute/applicant_privacy.html

Zeppelin’s process

Success stats: Truly globally remote, offices in Buenos Aires. On average the process takes 4–6 weeks. Good wiki. Work tests are paid should and are roughly 10 hours weekly, spanning no more than three weeks. Smart to be referencing early on: https://zeppelin.solutions/jobs/

Disclaimer: these processes are taken from job specs, online forums & here-say: I’m certain they’ll vary between jobs and will likely be outdated soon.

From this small sample of distributed teams we can see there is an average of 5.7 stages in their interview processes. For centralised tech teams this isn’t too dissimilar. Which helps dispels the myth that you need more rigorous processes for remote teams.

As you’ll see from the highly confusing diagram below, whilst all the processes are comprised of the same components the flow varies greatly. In fact, no two processes are the same. We encourage teams to share notes and learn from each-other so we can all spend less time interviewing. Below I’m going to pick our of favourite parts to encourage teams to experiment and iterate on their processes.

Perfecting your process to build distributed teams

At Zinc, we’re working towards reducing assessment load, time candidates and recruiters spend interviewing. We’re strong believers in respecting people’s time.

We’re identifying the most effective task at each interview stage to find out if it’s worth asking your applicant for more time. At each stage collect the critical amount of information needed to know if it’s worthwhile moving to the next stage. No unnecessary jumping through hoops.

Considerations for each interview stage:

  • First stage phone screen: Some in the modern workforce lack the sophisticated communication skills to be effective remote workers. Often the greatest challenge with creating effective remote teams is communication. That’s written, video and face to face communication. These forms of communication require different skills ~ since we have different tools at our disposal to get our message across; body language, verbal tone, emoji’s and most importantly GIF’s. The remote team reality is that calls a crucial form of communication. From this crucial first stage you need to be confident that this person is a very competent communicator over the phone.
  • Instant Messenger interviews: This is one I was pleased to see deep in Aragon’s docs, they often support instant messenger interviews. I can see the sceptics turning their nose up at this idea. The pessimist out there will tell you a story about when they’ve caught candidates Googling answers, we’ve all been there. But the pessimists are missing the point. This is a great communication test. We all Google answers everyday at work so why not replicate this. IM is your day-to-day communication tool. I can tell you for free that being able to write good Javascript does not translate to being able to write good English. In fact the pessimist might say there’s an inverse relationship here.
  • Technical Tests: This stage is included by all the leaders in some form other than Status. It varies in its form greatly. Tests with Bitfinex prior the face to face ask for 4–8 hours of applicants time. A ‘work test’ at Zeppelin asks for up to 10 hours over up to 3 weeks, paid. Better categorised as a trial. The technical test is the most contentious part of the process. It’s the largest time and effort commitment ask of applicants. We assume that’s why Status have left it out, having the luxury of a flourishing open source community of contributions. We recommend you take a leaf from Status’s interview hand-book and swap unpaid tests for paid work trials where possible. This is a better way of replicating the work that engineers will be doing. Where tests are necessary we suggest that work is open sourced. Consider the time and effort asked of applicants very seriously first. Zinc offers an interview proofing tool to gift job applicants to verifiable claims of work completed in interview processes ~ such as tests. This allows applicants to have something permanent and provable to take away from interview processes so time isn’t wasted.
  • Work Trials: it’s a small sample size but all bar one of the above organisations include a trial in their process. Hiring remote teams is arguably harder since we have to judge whether an applicant will excel in a remote environment. For other facets of the work, we’ll look at an applicant’s past performance to see if they have excelled. Since remote teams are a relatively new phenomenon we often don’t have past experiences to take from. This is of course a vital factor in anyone’s success in a job. Again it’s advisable to try and recreate the conditions of the job as closely as possible in the interview process. Hence a remote working trial is an effective way to recreate the job. You could say this about any job of course. The downsides to it are the time and cost. It can take your interview process from something that takes weeks into months.
  • Background checking: Some employers are surprised to hear that distributed employees still need proof of right to work & residency for the jurisdiction they are working in. You need to ensure that the person your employing is eligible to work where they’re located. This comes down to tax because all employers need to cough up in the home country of their employee, which is only possible if they’re a resident there. Local rules apply but it’s highly recommended to check proof of residency & right to work ID docs for everybody. Again you can check employment references & educational history with applicant’s consent. For any other level of check; criminal or financial, check the local rules since they vary wildly. For instance, in the UK you can conduct financial or criminal checks for workers in certain industries; healthcare, government or financial etc. The extra anonymity and trust that comes with remote working makes it all the more contentious but all the more important. Do the necessary; residency, nationality and employment checks but respect privacy, don’t do more that is necessary or legally allowed. Part 3 of this series will focus on this minefield.
  • Referencing: You’ll notice that a couple of companies explicitly mention that they conduct references. We believe references are an essential part of a remote teams process regardless if you’re looking for competency information or not. It’s one of the few background checks that’s universally allowed. Trust is such a significant part of remote working. It’s one of the most dramatic differences from on-site work so it’s essential you know that the trust is there from the outset. What’s interesting to take from the example processes above is when the referencing takes place. Zeppelin conduct references two stages before an offer. Blockchain.com conduct references at the end of the process ~ which is more common from my experience. I believe this is because of the frustration in the time it takes and the difficulty in obtaining valid responses. Equally, the lack of competency information being extracted has pushed it back in the process. However we suggest taking a leaf out of the Zeppelin’s interview handbook. Aim for competency information early on, and start referencing prior to the final stage. This will enable you to have so you have the necessary information to make a decision after the trial or final interview.

Full disclosure: I’m advocate of referencing, we offer an automated referencing tool at Zinc. I have my own conscious bias on this subject.

  • On-boarding: Aside from the stats above empathetic on-boarding is more important than ever. To the wider working world, remote teams are still a new phenomenon — most people have not experienced this environment before. With a physical barrier between new employees it’s harder to give the support they need. Someone to contact for silly questions and starting to feel like part of a team is essential.
Remote by Daniel McCullough

As mentioned above the last piece in the distributed teams series will be focusing on the minefield of navigating background checking globally distributed teams. Read on.

This post was written in collaboration with Recruiting Brainfood (www.recruitingbrainfood.com).

Get in touch if you’d like support using the Zinc’s blockchain based hiring toolkit; hello@zinc.work.

Website: https://zinc.work

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