Swyg helps companies hire, but what about our own recruitment?
We significantly expanded our team about six months ago. With hindsight, we want to share our experiences and reflect on what went well and where we failed.
Our goal was to create a hiring process that reflects what we think should change about the way hiring is done. That meant looking beyond the usual markers for success (like past job titles) and being willing to invest a lot of our own time to get to know the candidates.
One of Swyg’s core values is that candidates should get hired because of their potential to be successful in the future, not their success in the past.
In order to identify the right people, we had to understand what qualities are needed to be successful at a fully-remote startup and how to assess these. At the same time we wanted to create an experience for candidates that made them feel welcome from the first interview. That’s why we built an interview process where the first interview was often with the CEO; a process focused on collaboration and two-way communication. No cover letters, no homework assignments, no multiple-choice tests. To make sure the process was fair, we created detailed scorecards, and adopted an open minded approach to evaluate all applications.
Quote from Johann, our Lead Software Engineer:
Vincent, our CEO also added:
Where we failed
We received 300+ applications in less than 2 weeks. And we still failed to hire anyone from our first round of interviews. Almost right away we fell into the common trap of trying to hire a purple flying unicorn. One person that could do everything really well.
A problem specific to us in this one case was how to fill in the frontend triangle: Engineering, UX, and Graphic design. But we only wanted to hire two people, so we had to understand how a UX Engineer and a Product Designer would fulfill the triangle.
When we made a short list of the applicants that had some experience in each of the three dimensions, we ended up with people that did not excel in any of the qualities we needed the most.
Where we succeeded
We changed our process to first look for candidates that excelled in one or two categories in the hope that the interviews would show they had the ability to learn the others.
We interviewed a lot of people (44 experts in total).
It turns out that great designers don't advertise their interest in engineering on their profile and vice versa. We invested a lot of our senior team members' time (CEO, Lead Software Engineer), not just our in-house recruitment specialist’s.
To measure potential, we created a collaborative technical interview. Our technical interview consisted of a 2-hour block where the candidate went through an exercise with us. The question looked deceptively simple: “For a set of rectangles, write an algorithm to find the maximum number of rectangles that overlap in one place.” A key aspect of this question is that it is technology agnostic.
Here is Johann’s view on why we selected this question as part of the technical stage:
What did candidates say
Dani — who we ended up hiring as our new Senior Frontend Engineer — says:
Of course, we could not evaluate our own process without following up with the people we ultimately did not hire.
A particular piece of feedback, after a call Vincent had with a candidate we rejected:
Unfortunately, the common practice (even after late-stage interviews) is sending rejection letters which are impersonal and “dry” to say the least. Time is the most valuable currency for everyone, however, showing gratitude and creating a positive experience for our candidates is embedded in our company DNA. We want to ensure that each candidate is provided with insights that will help them improve, learn something or reflect. Most companies don’t give feedback because they are afraid of bad reactions from candidates. Receiving feedback is hard but, at Swyg, we believe it’s wrong to rob the vast majority of candidates of the opportunity to grow in order to avoid a few bad reactions.
The Take Away
We’re writing this post, about 6 months after the events that have been described (and 4 months since Dani joined us). That’s long enough to know that we did the right thing in hiring Dani — he’s great!
Investing a lot of time in interviews is possible for startups. Identifying the first employees is critical and requires everyone’s involvement. This feels as though it is out of reach for most organizations, but Swyg is working on changing that.
We’re sharing our story to show that we practice what we preach. And we will continue to share our learnings, our successes and our failures.
Our mission is to change the traditional hiring process - if your company prioritizes candidate experience and wants to establish a human-driven and inclusive hiring practice, we would love to hear from you!