Hiring great candidates in-person and hiring great candidates remotely requires two totally different approaches. And we learned this the hard way.
As you may have read in our latest quarterly update, we recently made some new hires on our Product Management team. After going through the normal talent acquisition process, we needed to solve for ensuring each team member met with the candidate, while also being conscious of the time this may take.
It’s one thing to take the day to go to an interview and spend a few hours in the office, and it’s another to go to 3 back to back Zoom calls. We didn’t think this would be an engaging or pleasant experience.
We concluded that candidates would get a better feel of our team dynamic, and be able to get multiple perspectives on both the job and life at Foxbox in general if they met with the team all at once. It had to be a panel interview.
So, how were we going to do this over video chat?
Being that there were four people in the room who live for solving this kind of thing, we set out to figure out how we could both get the information we needed during our interviews, as well as ensure that our candidates were engaged and comfortable.
Here’s what we did:
When in doubt, plan it out
Since our company tagline is "Move Purposely", you may have already guessed that we put thought and intention into everything that we do. Given that this was a new experience for us, as well as the person on the other side of the call, going into each interview without a strong understanding of what we were trying to accomplish over the time we had wasn’t an option.
Any time you get a group of product managers and Scrum masters together to discuss creating a process, the discussion is spirited. Our team often operates under the guideline that we appreciate strong opinions loosely held, so while there was no disagreement per se, we all certainly had different thoughts on what questions and actions were the most important.
Scrum masters wanted to ensure that they'd integrate with the engineering team and understand the nuances of working with a fully remote company. Product managers wanted to focus on what hard product skills a candidate could bring. We accounted for everything we wanted to ask in a document and discussed. After synthesizing our ideas, we made a tactical plan:
- Created a kanban board with all of our candidates and their information (because isn’t everything better with a kanban board?).
- Blocked time on our individual calendars to focus on our candidate pipeline and leave an initial impression based on the resume and phone screen notes.
- Met to brainstorm interview questions, which we then divided into four categories:
- Hard skills
- Soft skills
- Culture based questions
- Career questions
- Determined who should field what questions and blocked them out in a shared document.
- Scheduled a pre-interview call to review the candidate a final time before the interview.
- Scheduled a post-interview discussion with the hiring manager to share our thoughts and give a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
- Provided the hiring manager with the guidance needed to move forward based on our feedback.
So you can see we accounted for just about everything except the interview itself. With this solid foundation to work off of, we designed our process to be as effective as possible.
Practice not for perfection, but for timing
It seems strange to conduct a dry run of an interview, but that’s exactly what we did. We needed to know roughly how many questions we could ask in the time we had allotted, as well as account for follow up questions, candidate questions for us, and who should answer what during our conversation.
Additionally, we needed to assign roles. Who would kick off the interview, given that bringing a video call into play makes everything seem more formal? Who would take notes? How would we communicate that we needed to ask or answer a question to the other panel interviewers?
As an organization that practices Scrum, we’re all familiar with time boxing and making sure time is used valuably, so we needed to know, while accounting for the human piece of interviewing, how much time would it take to facilitate a conversation where we felt we could say yes or no to someone.
We couldn’t leave that to chance. So we practiced. And the unsurprising outcome was that when we had our first interview, we ended a bit early.
Like all good product people, we iterate and learn
When we ended our first video panel interview early, we all felt a little bit concerned. Perhaps we weren’t being thorough enough, or maybe we didn’t ask enough follow up questions.
But there’s always the human side to everything. There are very few situations where a one-size fits all approach will work, and it turns out that a video panel interview, of course, isn’t one of them.
We realized that when we were talking to people, they may not have as many questions about our company and our team as we as individuals may have. They may not have long responses to our questions, and if they provided a satisfactory answer, then why would we just ask the same question in a different way?
Our biggest takeaway from our first interview was while we had constructed what we felt was a bulletproof plan, maybe we couldn’t plan for everything.
Going forward, we adjusted our expectations around time a little bit, and found that when we loosened our grip a little bit, we got better outcomes and had more fruitful conversations.
In all, we conducted 6 video panel interviews over the course of 2 weeks, which was time consuming, but we expected we would have had to spend the same amount of time parsed out over a few weeks had we gone a more traditional route, which might have meant we missed out on great talent.
In the end, we are thrilled with the new hires that we brought on board and what we learned as a team going through this process. We hope our experience can serve as a framework for other organizations pulling in new talent during this strange time.