One of the big benefits of running a completely virtual company is that our candidate pool is larger than that of a traditional company which is restricted to hiring people from one country or even one city.
But a much larger hiring pool forced us to re-think the hiring process. We stuck our heads together and came up with a process to go from hundreds of applicants to just a few final candidates in very little time.
When we start looking to fill a new position, we start by writing a detailed briefing for that role. The briefing has the following structure:
- Description of the role and hourly commitment (E.g.: MEAN Stack Developer, 30hr+/week)
- An intro including what we are building, where candidates can try our product, our vision, and mission
- What’s important to us and how we work
- General Responsibilities for this role
- More fine-grained list of tasks for this role
- What we offer (the way we work together, our retreats, …)
- A high-level overview of our hiring process
This briefing is typically about two A4 pages long (about a thousand words) and takes 5-10 minutes to read.
We then publish the briefing on various channels – freelancer sites, social media, our network, job sites, etc.
Typically, until here I have invested about 30 minutes of my time to tailor the briefing to a new role.
The Tripwire – Going from 100% applicants to the best 15%
On a typical post, we get about 600 replies. Way too many to review by hand and filter the good from the bad. This is why we came up with “The Tripwire”.
The Tripwire is one small sentence that makes a huge difference. We place it somewhere in the above briefing. It reads like this:
“If you’re interested in this job, make sure to start your application with these exact words: “Hey Team Sendtask, I’m the MEAN Stack Superstar you’re looking for!””
This very simple detail allows us to immediately filter any applicants who have not carefully read the briefing and missed that detail.
Typically, only about 15% of all applicants get this right! This was a huge push for the efficiency of our hiring process as it allows us to spend zero time on the 85% of candidates that did not take the time to carefully read our briefing!
Typically, it takes the team about 15 minutes to filter out the candidates who did not get the first line right. In total, we have invested about 30 minutes of my time and 30 minutes of the team’s time.
The Questionnaire – Going from 15% to just 3%
80 Candidates are still too many to manually review and interview. This is why we added this next step. It gives us two things:
1) A lot of data about the candidate and much more depth than any CV
2) A good idea of how much the candidate wants the job
We send a Google Form questionnaire to the candidates who got past the first barrier. We split the questionnaire into four parts:
Part 1: General questions about the candidate’s name, their Skype ID, their location, etc.
Part 2: Assessing whether they will be a good fit for the company. We ask them about their favorite productivity tools (which is important as we build one), what they hope to get out of the role and also seemingly unrelated things like what they do for fun.
Part 3: We ask them for their first impression of Sendtask. We ask them to try our app and answer a few questions. This is extremely important as we want to understand if they are getting the point and if they have good inputs for how to improve our product.
Part 4: The fourth part is three technical problems in their area of expertise. For a MEAN stack developer, the questions will be about these technologies.
The questionnaire can take anywhere between two and four hours of their time to complete. Some people get frustrated and stop about halfway through.
Working in a completely virtual and distributed company can often be frustrating – there’s no one you can just walk over to and tap on the shoulder to ask for help. You need to have above-average persistence in order to be successful and happy in a distributed setup and that’s why we test our candidates here.
About a quarter of the candidates that we send the questionnaire to complete them within the deadline. Now we’re down to 3% of our original pool. Typically up and until this point, we have spent less than two hours between myself and the team to go from 100% of all applicants to the top 3%!
Here’s an example questionnaire.
The Review – Going from 3% to 1%
Because we use a Google Form for the questionnaire, all the answers end up in a spreadsheet. One member of our team goes through the first three parts of the questionnaire (General, Company Fit & Impression of Sendtask) and assesses the applicants’ communications skills. How good is their English? Are their answers complete? Are they able to give clear and concise answers?
Working in a distributed company requires everyone to be even better at communication than in a traditional setup. This is why we need everyone to adhere to high standards. Our team member goes through the answers and marks answers green (very good answer, +1 point), leaves them unformatted ( the answer is ok but not great, no point) or marks them red (answer doesn’t meet the benchmark, -1 point).
After this, we reorder the candidates based on their score from high to low. Now a technical team member reviews the answers in the fourth section, starting with the candidates that have the highest score so far. He assigns them either a ‘go’ or ‘no-go’. He stops once we have three candidates that scored high on the first three parts and passed the technical review.
We’re now down to the top 3 candidates, which is typically the top 0.5% to 1% of all applications we have received. So far, we have typically invested about 30 mins of my time and about two hours of the team’s time.
Test Task – Finding our Favorite
At this point, we prepare a test task that takes between eight and twelve hours to complete. The applicant is paid for those hours if hired. The goal of this task is to see how much a candidate can get done within that time frame and also understand his thinking process. How does he split up larger tasks into smaller tasks? How does he react if he runs into a roadblock? Does he do any of the bonus tasks?
One of our engineers prepares a two to four-page document that contains the specifications for the test task. There are several main objectives as well as bonus tasks.
We start with our favorite candidate and have a one-hour phone call with them. Typically, it’s me and one of our engineers on the call. The call’s purpose is to get to know each other, clarify any questions that either party may have and introduce the test task. Then, we agree on a deadline for when the test task will be handed in. We track the test task progress in a Sendtask project where the engineer and I are added so that we can see how the candidate breaks down the test task into smaller tasks.
We schedule another two-hour call for the day after the candidate hands in his solution. On this call, we dive into how they approached the problem, what they found difficult and what was easy. If all goes well, we then schedule interviews where every team member gets to speak to the potential new team member. If everyone likes the new candidate, he gets hired.
When we’re not satisfied with the results of the test task or if any of our existing team members vetoes, we move on to our 2nd and 3rd choice.
If we go with our first candidate, we typically spend about three hours of my time and about eight hours of the team’s time.
Realizing that we will hopefully get to hire much more people into the Sendtask team, we took some time to think about how we can optimize this process to be respectful of both the applicant’s and our own time. So far, this process has proven to be very efficient and led to great hires.
What does your hiring process look like?