Hi, my name is Andreas Heim. I am the VP of Engineering at Unacast, hard at work every single day to make sure we are making sound decisions so that we are technically well-equipped to create value for our partners today, and well prepared to do the same tomorrow. That’s not an easy task when you are building something game changing like the Real World Graph.
Still, the most crucial part of accomplishing something game-changing is people – and therefore hiring. No matter how you slice and dice what we do (that’s an internal joke I would love to fill you in on at some point) it always comes down to people. People are what makes a company successful. People are what makes me love my job.
After our recent $17.5m funding round I get to do even more of what makes me love my job; meet a whole lot of great people and hopefully get to work with some of those talented people.
Yes, that means you. In fact, you can check out our open positions here.
As an ambitious startup with a big mission we are always hiring, and I’ve been spending the last three years in and out of hiring-mode. We approach our hiring methodologies and processes the same way we approach our products; build, measure, learn, adjust. In this post, I'll introduce you to our new and improved hiring methodology for technically-focused roles, and why we've ended up with this approach.
As with everything you build, it is essential to understand the success criteria for what you are trying to accomplish. When what you are making is a company, there are of course an infinite number of ways of measuring success. To keep ourselves contained to the topic at hand, we'll focus on some specific criteria that make the recruitment process successful for us. And for you.
Criteria number one is of course that we manage to find, attract and retain the very best people. This is a given, but it is nevertheless important to keep in mind. That means that we will have to organize our process around two things.
1. Assess that the candidate is the best fit for Unacast
2. Assess that Unacast is the best fit for the candidate
We have had multiple candidates in our process that we were comfortable with hiring, but where we collectively together with the candidate discovered that Unacast might not be the best fit for the candidate, regardless of how valuable her or his skill set would have been for us. We do not believe that interviews should be a monologue, and we strive to give the candidate as much information and insight about Unacast as possible during the interview process.
Criteria number two is to structure the interviews so that there is little or no room for biases. We believe that real innovation can only be achieved by us when we have co-workers with a diverse background, both regarding gender, ethnicity, experience, industry, and skills. Our goal is to understand how all people move around in the physical world so that would only make sense, right?
To accomplish this and remove apparent biases, we rely heavily on structured interviews with a qualitative output.
Criteria number three is to streamline the process, so we get the right trade-off between time spent, and confidence gained. That is probably the hardest part since we want to be as confident as possible, but we also want to conserve both our own time, but most importantly the candidate’s time. We want our candidates to have a good time doing the interviews, and we want it to be relevant for them (and ideally even learn new stuff). We have had multiple candidates interviewing for a position, and discover that the timing was wrong, and had that person start the company at a later point in time.
To make the recruitment process an enjoyable experience both for Unacast and for the candidate we are deliberately relying on external tooling and resources, some of which we will touch upon in the following paragraphs. We have learned from previous hiring processes, and therefore implemented, that is smart to use an external recruiter working very carefully with the Unacast team (type “in our Slack-close”) to manage the process and make sure that we deliver an excellent experience both internally and externally. They also help us avoid biases, as this is someone with a different viewpoint forcing us to see our blind spots – of which we have many.
If you're still reading, thank you. Let's move on to the actual steps and techniques we use to assess our candidates!
Everything usually starts with you, either by your own devices or by us nudging you, sending us an application. Everyone who applies goes directly to our first screening step.
After receiving that application, we send you two tasks to complete. The first task is a small and elementary programming challenge, where we expect most of the candidates who are relevant for the role to get close to a top score. We are, after all, trying to solve one of the biggest challenge out there – how we all use this planet. The other task is to answer five questions about yourself, your experience and your motivation to join in on the Unacast mission.
Our recruiter and us will screen those questions and the result from the programming challenges, and we give either a thumb up or the opposite.
We are using this step as an initial filtering step, filtering out application-bots, irrelevant candidates and straight out spam (You know, these “hiring agencies” calling you every other day). We do not use the information from this step to evaluate candidates in any specific manner. Either you pass, or you don't.
If you pass the first step (most non-bots do), you'll get a call from our external recruiter. This short 10-15 minute call will be used to understand general expectations around the role and compensation, and to give you as the candidate an opportunity to ask questions.
A successful phone screen will result in you moving towards the next step.
In this step, we'll schedule a call with you, give you information about the role, and ask a few more in-depth role-related questions. These are a fair bit more technical than the programming challenge, and we use this opportunity for both to evaluate if we should spend more time together or not.
The interview will be structured, where you will be answering the same questions as all other applicants for the role. We use a framework that we have adjusted over the last three years to evaluate the answers, and there will always be more than one person to assess the responses, either on the call or after the call. Remember, we are trying our very best to avoid biases.
After you pass the technical screening, we will give you two tasks. One is a short and straightforward personality test (more on that later), and the other is a work sample.
The work sample is the primary evaluation tool that we use to figure out if you have the appropriate skills that we need. I want to stress this point: This is not a measurement of your skills, and most of the people that apply for a job at Unacast are highly skilled, but instead, if your skills are a match our needs. The work sample is different for each role, but they all have in common that they make you think! Some of the work samples include actual coding (in your language of choice, we’re not a corporate after all) and others involve more academic tasks (Hello Data Scientists). We will give you the assignment with more than enough time to solve and respect your schedule; we know you have a day-job and a family! You can expect to complete the work sample in three to six hours. You will also present your work to us and answer follow-up questions in the cases we are too dumb to understand all the nuances of your submission.
We will also send you a personality test that you need to complete. That might sound scary, but from our experience, this is very valuable for both parties - rest assured, we’re not part of any top-secret government program. Again, remember we are trying to understand the potential upside for both parties. For you and us.
We use this as a framework for our interview to learn more about your work behavior, preferences, and how you like to, and want to work, and what motivates you. In other words, this is a basis for conversation and assessment.
There are no wrong answers to this test, but at certain times we might be looking for other types of characteristics then what you have. We do not use this in any way to filter candidates but rather to understand more about who you are and how you like to work.
As an example: Certain times we might need more people to do experimental work, without clear expectations, and other times we might need people who prefer to work in a very organized manner to stabilize a product or a part of our architecture. Both of these characteristics are valuable in the company, but we are conscious about having a diverse crowd of co-workers, regarding skill-set, personality, expertise and experience level.
We will also send you an ability test. For us this gives valuable information to assess your potential and ability to learn and process information. We don't joke when we say that we care more about potential growth than specific skills. And as you'll be learning new stuff together with us every day, we think that you should have this ability. In fact, most people should have this ability in an ever-changing world, but that’s another story for another blog post.
Typically we call you in for a combined interview to save your time, where you’ll both present the case join in on the personal interview.
If you pass the case assignment and the personal interview, we are confident that you are a good fit for Unacast, and that you would think Unacast is a good fit for you, but we still want you to talk to two more people.
The last part of the interviews is an interview with the Hiring Manager, which would be the person you would be reporting to either directly or indirectly. We use this interview to dig into any uncertainties on either our or your end that has surfaced in the process. We also make sure that we're prepared for you, understand what you need to be successful, and help you understand how you can contribute best to the company. The goal of this interview is to make sure that there are no loose threads, and that both parties are confident in moving forward.
You'll also meet one of our founders for an interview. We believe this part is essential since you need to hear the Unacast story, vision, and mission directly from the source. Also, if you hate the founders, this might not be a good match.
Congratulations, you're hired! You are now another reason I love my job. I look forward to learning tons from you, and together with the kickass team we’ve built over the last three years, maybe we can teach you a thing or two as well. Apply, and we’ll find out!