A couple of weeks ago, I shared strategies on Building A Great Hiring Process. As Head of HR at CareerPlug, I threw in some of our experience with hiring our team and building a hiring process. Now I want to pull back the curtain on how we hire at CareerPlug.
One of our core values is Innovate & Grow Every Day. One way we’ve lived that value is by improving our hiring process. Over the years, we’ve built a process that works for us, but it has evolved and will continue to change as we keep the conversation going, keep the feedback coming, and focus on creating exceptional experiences for both candidates and hiring managers.
Who We Hire
As you design your hiring process, you’ll configure it based on your company’s needs and the type of positions for which you’re hiring. At CareerPlug, we typically hire for positions that require specialized training or industry expertise: Software Engineers, Client Success Managers, and Project Managers.
Besides professional history, we always hire candidates who align with our Culture Drivers. These are four key characteristics we want every person on the team to exemplify:
- Scrappers – people with passion and perseverance
- Initiators – people who lead with action
- Learners – people who have a growth mindset
- Givers – people who are generous and unselfish
Before Posting the Job
At the start of our hiring process, before the job is posted on the job boards, there are a few internal pre-hiring steps we follow:
- Write an up-to-date job description
- Create an Ideal Candidate Profile (this is an exercise that details who we are looking for — read more about creating this profile here)
- Submit a personnel requisition with departmental, HR, and leadership sign-off
Our Hiring Process
We lay out our hiring process in this basic workflow: Review, Phone Screen, Assess, Interviews, Verify, and Offer. In my last post, I covered the general purpose of each step; this is how we’ve created our own unique hiring process:
Our hiring managers use this step to evaluate incoming applicants within our Applicant Tracking System and decide whether or not to move them forward. We include four to five prescreen questions on the application asking about the most important information, usually about experience level in their field.
Hiring managers typically conduct a 15-20 minute phone screen with candidates, though candidates may also be speaking with me as HR. Our phone screens have three parts:
- Vetting basic qualifications for the role (Tell me what a typical day looks like in your current role?)
- Discovering job preferences (What’s your ideal work environment or company culture?)
- Time for the candidate to ask questions (We like candidates who do their research and ask thoughtful questions)
We use the personality and math/verbal assessments within our Applicant Tracking System for most of our roles. Candidates spend 10-15 minutes on each assessment, and then we review the results with them during their first in-person interview. For some positions, like Software Engineers, we’ll do a job assessment more specific to the role, like a coding challenge.
For our full-time positions, we do two in-person interviews. The first interview is led by the hiring manager with one or two co-interviewers — sometimes myself (as HR) or the department head and sometimes a peer from the team. This interview takes 60-90 minutes and dives deeper into the candidate’s experience.
We begin this interview with a Life Story exercise. This is an in-depth exploration of a candidate’s resume, dividing their professional life into “chapters” and asking these questions:
- What happened during that chapter?
- Who was your manager and what was it like working for them?
- What were the highs/lows of that job?
- Why did you leave?
- What were your key takeaways or lessons learned?
We may jump in with additional questions, but this structure reveals a lot about where candidates excelled, how they view failures and accomplishments, and the story they tell themselves about their career so far.
After this exercise, we usually have time for more general, behavioral style questions (“Tell me about a time…”) to fill in the gaps the life story didn’t uncover.
The second and final in-person interview is divided into three parts. Only a handful of top candidates advance to this stage for each opening. We schedule 90 minutes and focus on evaluating candidates for their potential to succeed in the role and grow with us.
Part One – The Leadership Interview
Candidates meet with three or more members of our Leadership Team. Our team asks questions driven by our business drivers and core values. Culture fit is non-negotiable for us, and the members of our Leadership Team are the final gatekeepers. This interview is also an opportunity for candidates to ask questions and learn about the company’s vision and strategy.
Part Two – The Best Five Years Interview
This is my favorite interview, a drawn-out variation of the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” We like to understand a candidate’s career goals as well as some of their personal goals and values. This allows us to mutually decide with a candidate if the job at CareerPlug will help them fulfill their aspirations.
We divide this concept into four categories: career, money, and two bonus categories that we let the candidate choose. The categories have included hobbies, relationships, health, and education. We had a past employee name Harry Potter as one of her categories. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about myself.
For each category, we then ask: What does “awesome” look like in this category in the next five years? How do you envision this happening? Why is this important to you? How would you feel if you achieved this?
We write notes from this interview on our whiteboard walls, with the interviewer (usually myself) documenting as the candidate answers. We close the interview by asking “Given what you know about this job and CareerPlug, can you see yourself accomplishing these goals with us?”
Part Three – Candidate Exercise
Most of our full-time candidates complete an on-the-job exercise. For our support positions, candidates will do a short phone role play and email response with the hiring manager. For sales positions, candidates will do a short presentation on the company they currently work for to gauge their presentation and demo ability. For a senior-level role, we may ask for a plan on how they would approach their first 90 days.
We wrap up our hiring process with a few more internal steps. First, we always conduct a reference check for final stage candidates, aiming for three with a strong preference for past supervisors.
We also do an internal step we call The Case. This is where it all comes together. From the Ideal Candidate Profile and job description to the assessments and interview notes, the hiring manager gathers everything and presents the candidate to our leadership team.
The hiring manager makes the case for why this person is the right fit for the role. We share our feedback, ask probing questions, and sometimes play devil’s advocate. This is designed for the hiring manager to feel confident in their hire and ensure they’ve evaluated everything most important to the role.
Finally, we give the candidate an offer. We try to do this in person when possible so we can present the full offer and be there for their reactions and questions. We believe in leading with our best offer and don’t negotiate with candidates. This helps us stay equitable as well as have early, transparent conversations about compensation so we don’t get blindsided at this stage.
After the offer is accepted, we do a criminal background check through Universal Background (a platform integrated with our ATS).
Hiring Efficiently with our ATS
Our Applicant Tracking System is the roadmap for our hiring process. The workflow above is a custom workflow in the ATS so our hiring managers can follow the process step by step. I’ve created custom interview guides for our team to use within the ATS and all of our communication with candidates — by email or text — goes through the system. This is easier on our hiring managers and easier on me as an admin checking on candidate statuses and communication.
What Candidates Think Of Our Hiring Process
We take our hiring seriously, and it can feel intense on paper (and sometimes in practice). However, overwhelmingly we hear from candidates that they love our process.
Hiring for a company that provides hiring software is a unique position, but it makes all of us put that much more commitment and care into our hiring and treat it as a priority. The result has been a lean team of dedicated, hard-working people who live our core values and have helped us build one of the best places to work in Austin.
Keeping the candidate experience at the forefront has helped protect our process from becoming burdensome. One way to do this is to share your hiring process with applicants upfront. We share this video of me explaining our hiring steps on our careers page and link to it in the automatic thank you email applicants receive after applying:
- Document your current hiring process, including what candidates can expect at each step. Consider making this a public-facing document that you share with applicants before they apply.
- Ask yourself: What’s one thing that could be improved in your hiring process to create a better experience for hiring managers or candidates?
- Identify steps in your hiring process that various hiring managers handle differently. Brainstorm ways to add consistency to your hiring process so all candidates get a similar experience. For example, you might create interview question templates or create guidelines about how many of your team members should be present during interviews.
Check out the how-to article Building a Great Hiring Process for more actionable strategies on improving hiring.