Session Transcripts

Live transcripts from all the talks and several of the sessions at SRCCON:WORK.

Small things you can do to attract a more diverse pool of job candidates TODAY

Session facilitator(s): Chao Li, Stefania Sicurelli

Day & Time: Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, at 12:15pm

Room: Franklin

STEF: We ask that you honor three working agreements. The first year one is that there are no dumb questions. And second one is assume positive intent. And the third one is that we’ll honor off the record requests. There is a stenographer here transcribing the session. So if you want to keep something that you say off the record, just say so before you say it, or after the session, and it won’t be written down.

CHAO: So the agenda. Stef and I are going to be talking about for 20-25 minutes and then after that, we’re going to do an exercise, or an activity. And on your tables you’ll see a little card that has our etherpad URL on it and we’ve already pre-populated it with some resources that have been really helpful for me and Stef during our his process. And you’ll also see, index cards. If at any time during the session, you have questions, concerns, we’re going to use them later for an activity as a group. Does anyone have any questions before we start? Great.

So today we’re talking about diversity. Diversity is a really daunting task. And sometimes it just seems really impossible and scary. And right after Stef and I started talking about diversity at work, we went to the Slack Frontier conference and there was a great diversity panel where someone named Nicole Sanchez spoke about hiring, and diversity. And she said that so many times she goes to a company, and there’s one person that she needs help with all the time and that one person is expected to solve the whole diversity problem at that company, and how they got into it is one day they raised their hand during the meeting. And they said, hey, what about diversity? And everyone looked at that person and said, well, you’re in charge of that now! Surprise! And she has actually said she’s turned down consulting jobs before if the CEO refuses to get on board with diversity and try to understand why she’s there. So it’s really scary when the CEO doesn’t really understand. So if you think about it, we, as humans of this westernized society, we’re all really proud of our individuality, and we’re all different people. And so, why should we expect one person, you know, even as empathic, and as worldly as we can be, why should we expect them to have all the answers to solve diversity? So how we were started, I had to hire an engineer for our team for emergent platforms and, you know, the technical manager who’s going to be managing that person wrote the job description. He looked at a job description that we already had up, and then — thank you. And then he had copied the format and then he gave it to me, and I did some grammar changes. And I was, like, you know what, this is my first time directly being involved with hiring at this company. I don’t want to rock the boat. I bet they already have a great process. I mean, I’m here, he’s here, we’re all here, so it’s going to be fine. And so we posted it.

And as the candidates started coming in, I was like, oh, my God, and I had a sinking feeling that something was going awfully wrong. All of our applicants, probably, like, roughly 90%, were men of white or South Asian in their mid- to late-20s. And that was almost everybody. And I was like, oh, my gosh, what was going on?

And as hiring managers, we meet with recruiters, we meet with tech recruiters every week to talk about how the hiring was going and everything. And a couple of weeks into it, they really pressured me into a hire. If we don’t do something, or offer him something this week, he’s going to take another job. And I just remember feeling really frustrated because the guy was great but I knew that when I pictured my ideal candidate, he wasn’t the one.

So I remember just like putting my hands like in my face and I was like, I don’t know what, I don’t think that we should have any more serious conversations with any candidates until we find out why all of our applicants are exactly the same. So the CTO of the company, Ken Peltzer, he looks to me, and he said, yeah, I agree with that. And I was like, yay! And then I was like, oh, no! And then I left that meeting being like, oh, my gosh! I don’t know what I’m doing!

And so then I was kind of like dog floating around in space. And I got back to my desk and I did what a lot of us will do is I did, like, a nervous Google search. And I kind of sat back and assessed what I had control over today, right now.

So then I read an article and it said that a study found that job descriptions with a lot of feminine wording did little to discourage men for applying to a job, however, job descriptions with a lot of masculine wording did discourage women from applying because they didn’t feel like they would belong. And I said, okay. I think I can control some job-description stuff. So some of the words they called out for being masculine are like, adventurous, ninja — like, we’ve all seen ninja thrown around on job descriptions. Fight, driven, outspoken. You know, there are a ton of words out there, and on our etherpad, we’ll link to a bigger list of these words.

And so then I was like, okay, I’m going to start by overhauling job descriptions. And these are the things that I started with. I reorganized the items in the job description to must-haves, nice-haves, and bonus skills. And then I doubled checked: are all the requirements actually required? If it’s not, then don’t put them on there. And then I cut out all the gendered language. I used a tool like Matfield’s Gender Decoder, you can run your job description through it and it will tell you if your job description is too masculine in terms of wording.

So and then I was like, okay, this is really great. This new job description, so much better. I was so proud of myself. And then I was like, you know what, before I post this, I’m just going to run this through the Women and Tech community that I’ve been part for a while. And so I dropped it to them, and told them context of what I was trying to do. And so many amazing women gave me feedback.

And a bit later, a woman DM’d me, and she really put things into perspective for me. And she said, hey, I noticed on the job description, you wrote that you wanted someone who lost a tanker, a hacker on the weekends, not because of their job, but because they’re curious. But I have to tell you, I have a husband, I have two children, and I volunteer on the weekends, and I honestly think that I would be great for this job, but if I saw this, I probably wouldn’t apply because of what you’ve put down there.

And this experience really taught me that, this whole diversity thing and making things better, it’s going to be an ongoing process. You’re never going to get it right the first time. You’re going to make some mistakes and you might lose some people along the way. But you know what? It’s still worth it to start small and do everything you can with the best intent.

And after we posted the job listing, we immediately saw results. I was honestly very surprised at how well and effective even those three things worked. And then Stef and I started talking more and more during these hiring meetings. And at first, we were a little mousy about what we wanted to change, and then every single week, we helped elevate each other’s voices because we can count on each other, we knew that we were aiming for the same goal.

So then as we started doing more with diversity, it turned out that all of our coworkers had been thinking about diversity, too! And more and more people started coming to us and sending us articles, and having conversations with us about stuff that they’d noticed. Like our coworker, Tara was like, hey, the letters that we send to potential candidates on LinkedIn, the wording sounds a little bro-y in some places, and not as professional in other places and so we changed it. And normalizing diversity kind of helped our work culture and brought us closer together and it didn’t seem as scary anymore and it just turned out that a lot of our coworkers felt the same way as me where, you know, at first they didn’t know if they had a say in this process, or they thought that HR had it down, or, you know — or, you know, they were like, I don’t want to bring this up as a problem, because I don’t have the solution to answer it.

And it just turns out that, every little bit that we do, it all adds up. So then we were so excited, we were calling the candidates in, and we quickly realized that we started to chip away at another bigger part of this issue, which is that our interview process sucked. And so at this I’m going to toss it over to Stef and she’s going to tell you a little bit more about what we did for their interview process.

STEF: Thank you, Chao. Before I start talking about the interview process, I want to circle back and just define what diversity means to us. And I think that this quote from Kim Crayton sums it up very well. She says that inclusion is inviting people to the table and inclusion is listening to the perspectives of those individuals and making decisions based on those perspectives. So our updated job descriptions, and our deal breakers, that we’re referencing. Now we’ve got to work to build this inclusive culture that we’re shooting for.

And here we are at interviews. Let me ask you guys a question: how many of you have ever been in a situation where you felt really uncomfortable having to give an interview. I know I have for sure. And there are lots of reasons behind that. But very common qualities is that there’s no structure. Imagine a situation where your manager comes up to you and says, we have this really great candidate, Jane, coming in today, but the person who’s supposed to interview her isn’t here, why don’t you talk to her for an hour, interview her, she if she’s good. By the way, she’s coming in ten minutes. Believe it or not, that happens a lot in tech companies. And that situation can definitely be avoided. And it should. If Jane comes in and she senses you’re not prepared, she might not want to work for you, and she might leave a crappy Glassdoor review that’s going to hurt your candidate pool.

So when we talked about our interview process over the past six months, kind of broke it down to three chunks, there’s preparation, order of operations, what is each stage of your interviews supposed to accomplish. Consistency, are you delivering the same interview to each candidate. Does your team know what they’re doing? Is everyone comfortable to step in an interview at any time and know what to expect? And reflection, it’s important to keep this feedback process open identifying all the things that don’t work by involving all your coworkers. So let’s talk about getting prepared. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Jurassic Park, but it can be summed up in two words: they weren’t ready. So a candidate’s success is directly related to how well you set them up for that. First define the process, like I said before, what are the stages of the interview, what are the purposes of each stage. If Jane comes in, and four people are interviewing her back-to-back, you’re not going to know if you want to hire merry by the time she reaches the last stage of the interview. Do you have representation from the relevant departments, or do you have someone randomly stepping in to talk to her for 30 minutes? The next thing that really helped us out was to take some time to provide resources to your coworkers.

We found pre-interview briefings to be really helpful. Instead of throwing an interview at somebody on the same day, get together a day or two beforehand. Go over the candidate’s résumé. Talk about what you like, and what you have questions about, and assign jobs for each interviewer. And you can document that, as well. There are lots of tools you can use, Google, Wiki, Jira, Confluence, and you can make checklists for your interviewers to reference so that they’re comfortable in the process and they can be an effective leader through the interview.

Some other steps you can take. This is really important and a lot of people miss it. Don’t assume that because you’re a big fancy tech company people want to work for you. Who are you? What do you do here? Why would anyone want to work here? A lot of times we wait until the end of the interview for candidates to ask most of these questions but if it’s something that you have it’s definitely worth mentioning.

And something else you can do that’s really important is to evaluate your space. Is it wheelchair accessible? Do you have gender-neutral bathrooms? These are going to be deal breakers for people right off the bat. Do you have pets in the office? Not everybody likes a dog jumping on them all the time, even though I do, a lot of people don’t, and lots of offices are pet friendly so you want to think about that, too. So part two is to practice consistency. Hiring for diversity, there’s a misconception about it where people think that it means you’re going to change the interview for each candidate. But the way that you can keep diversity in mind is to just be mindful about the questions that you’re asking in the first place. And believe it or not, this holds true for tech interviews, as well.

I got a lot of really useful information from this book women in Tech, written by Tara Wheeler and in the book, women share experiences that they’ve gone through within their careers. And there was one example that stood out to me about an engineer who went into an interview and they asked her to program a bowling game. The only problem was she had no idea how to bowl, and she asked, hey, maybe could I do a basketball game, or a baseball game instead? And the interviewer said, no, I mean, everybody else did the bowling game, if you do a different game, we can’t compare your answer to theirs. So let’s talk about that for a second. So what the interviewer did right is they asked the same question to everyone. But what they did wrong is they set anyone up for failure who didn’t know how to bowl, I guess. It was a really important part.

So something you can do to avoid situations like that is be more conversational and less quizzical. I know that there’s always a test when it comes to a tech interview but refer to your list of must-haves and deal breakers that you came up with when you were writing your job description.

Which requirements can only determined by this test? Do you need to use a whiteboard? Will a take-home suffice? Doing a whiteboard is another item that can set people up for failure. People who have anxiety. People who are a little nervous about speaking in front of a lot of people. And something else you can do is when you’re looking at a résumé, think about education versus experience. You know, when you see the name of a big school or a bootcamp, a lot of people have biases towards that and it’s helpful to think about implicit knowledge versus explicit knowledge. Namely, what projects have you done recently? What are you passionate about, more so than what is your degree. And something like coding style. The reason why I say it’s not that important is because it’s something that can be enforced on the job. If you want to get up in arms about tabs versus spaces, then that’s a problem.

So here’s, like, a sample question that I really like to give to front-end engineers. It’s: you are tasked with improving the performance of a website, the site has lots of daily traffic, is full of images and videos, and is particularly slow on mobile. These are complaints that we get constantly and — well, not constantly — but we do work on it. We do keep it in mind while we’re developing. So I asked you to describe your thought process and identifying trouble spots, how do you implement your solutions, and when do you know you’ve made a difference? And the answers to these questions let me know whether the front-end engineer knows how to do their job, rather than asking them if they know how to do a binary sort, or anything if they don’t have a CS degree. You can talk about evaluating development tools. If you practice and really think about these questions, you can have really useful conversations.

And the last step is to reflect. Keep going back to this because it’s super important. We’re always learning, we’re always changing and even the steps that I just talked about, they’re just stuff that works for us. Like Group Nine. They’re small steps that we’ve talked to our coworkers about, we’ve gotten feedback. We’ve tweaked questions, tweaked wording. Tried lots of different things. But the most important thing is to do it now. This isn’t something that can wait until you’re hiring. It’s a long-term investment and if you have candidates coming in and you’re in the prepared you’re going to run into the same problems that I described earlier. You’re not going to retain anyone, you’re going to get bad reviews and you’re not really invested in these changes. And that’s a helpful way that you can pitch to your managers that you want to start taking these steps. Especially if you’re not in a position to do hiring.

All right. So in the spirit of working together to solve these problems, let’s move on to our activity.

CHAO: Cool. So I know a lot of people are coming in today with some concerns and questions, and things like that. So I just want to kick it off for the first person who might have a block or a concern.

AUDIENCE: I have a question. How do you balance — because for a lot of people, hiring is not their only job. It is, like, part of a million other things. So do you have any tips on how to balance like — because a lot of it is your boss wants you to fill this position very fast but you also want to be very thoughtful and inclusive and have that process, and then you’re reaching out to other people on your team to be a part of that process, and to facilitate that process, and all of this stuff you have to crunch into a very small time. And while you’re running a team and doing, you know, launching projects, and kicks off, and brainstorms, so do you guys have any tips on how to do that better?

STEF: Yeah, it is. And that was a really big challenge that we face. But we also want to involve everyone in the room on this conversation, as well. So just feel free to jump in.

CHAO: So does anyone else go through this? I know… okay. Yeah. Does anyone — has anyone tried?

KARISSA: So I’m a manager of people operations at a tech company but we wait essentially to hire until we have too much work for the team that’s hiring to do. And then the team has to do the hiring on top of that. So as you can imagine, that’s really stressful and I think that speaks to your sort of experience. I find that the key thing is that — is actually documentation. Like, that’s the last thing you want to add to whatever you’re doing when you’re in the middle of it. You’re already so busy but if you record whatever changes you make, or whatever you’re doing this time around so the next time around, you aren’t starting from scratch and you can build on that.

And so, I sort of have outsourced this task. So any time our engineering teams are hiring, we keep all of our technical questions in a GitHub repo and they make any commits for any changes for people that are in there. But people who are hiring for teams that have similar roles, they’ll have a GitHub repo. So the next time they hire, it’s there for them to build off of. And even if it’s a different team, they don’t have to start over from scratch.

CHAO: That’s a really good idea. We started running Google Docs we immediately add notes for the candidates like after so we don’t forget if they’re a good person or not or I’ll be like, hey, these are the questions that I wanted to ask, but these were the questions that I didn’t get to. So you can set the next person up for an easy preparation time. Also something that I think is important is to get the buy-in of your managers to think of this as a part of your work instead of on top of your work so that, you know — so that it’s not like extra, and that they can, like, plan workloads and time a lot better. So Stef and I were just doing this from 6:00 to 8:00 at night for, like, a couple weeks. And then, finally, like, Ken, our CTO, and our head of product, Annie, they announced in our office saying, hey, Stef and Chao are officially going to help with our hiring process. And everyone just goth better that this is a part of our jobs now. And that it shouldn’t be something that we’re doing extra.

STEF: Yeah, and for me, as an engineer, I’m a manager but I’m also a developer. So when it came down to spring planning and things like that, I would take on a little bit less during times when I knew I had a lot of interviews that week, or needed to write some documentation because this shouldn’t be a second job. It’s your job.

CHAO: Does anyone else?

AUDIENCE: Um, I — so something that always bugs me when I was applying for internships and jobs was how long it would take for people to get back to you. Whether it’s, you know, we’ve received your application, and then I don’t hear from you for a month, and then maybe you’ll have me in for an interview, or you’ll just say you didn’t get the job, or even worse, you just never hear back again. And now that I’m a manager and involved in hiring processes, and also, working as a reporter at my job, it’s like that saying where you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain where I feel like I’m the person not getting back quickly enough to people. So every once in a while, I’ll think, I need to email the applicant pool and say, still working on it! So I was just wondering if anybody has had similar issues on how they’ve kind of worked with that.

Like, how much contact with the applicant pool is too much or too little? It just felt like one position we were hiring for took, like, three months. And a lot of that was even out of my control. So just thoughts on that. How much you should keep in contact with your applicant pool.

CHAO: Does anyone face the same problems? I know I do. Literally the week that I — like, last week, I was trying to email some people. Thank you so much for bringing that up. Does anyone have a solution?

AUDIENCE: I was gonna say, whenever you — every time you interact with your — whoever you’re trying to hire, especially if it’s in an interview process, bound yourself to sort of the next steps even if it’s that, I don’t know the full timeline but you will hear from me within two weeks. I think that really helps. And I mean be as honest as you can because sometimes I’d like to say that hiring is not fun for either of us. Like, it’s not a great process. Like, we’re just trying to find a match for both of us. So I think just that empathy ahead of time and, like, being as honest as you can really helps.

AUDIENCE: One thing I try to do is empower the candidates. So I — I don’t trust the organization that I work at to get those types of people. And a lot of times I don’t hire directly the people in my area are hiring and I’m shepherding candidates. So I sometimes say, I’ll try to get back to you by a certain amount of time. But if I don’t, please reach out to me. So they’ve got it to the point where people feel like they can reach out. Saying, hey, I haven’t heard back from this manager, or HR, or whatever, and then I can go and poke around and see.

AUDIENCE: Something that I’ve found helpful is people who are scheduling for interviews, and say, for an hour, 45 minutes, I’ll go into my calendar and put 15 minutes on my end, or if it’s on Thursday, do it some time on Tuesday, and take a potential 20 minutes and do a deep dive of who they are. And it can be kind of, like, the first thing I top off my day if something else is bleeding over. But I think spending that specific time helps with the mindset. And I think the way that I make sure that I don’t cancel that on myself is to employ my empathy and be like, remember when you were, like, being interviewed? Would you have preferred that the person walking into the room knew anything about you? And that, maybe, it’s guilt a little bit in that moment but it’s powerful enough to keep me on task. So to be totally honest, I love it. Whoever’s doing interview scheduling also put that into my calendar. So that can be something that I suggest. But if your HR people aren’t gonna do that, then we can leave it up to the candidates for a bunch of that time.

AUDIENCE: I was gonna say that — I work at a big news organization that spans radio, TV, digital, and a whole bunch of different kind of content areas and I work in news but I think that even though we’re arm’s length from the government, we’re very diverse and inclusive on paper but we have a lot of work to do. And as a hiring manager, I’m not given a lot of tools from our HR recruitment departments and its been an uphill battle to get any real process or training coming down from HR. So I along with a couple of my colleagues have been trying to do this kind of work ourselves independently of HR. And I wonder if anybody — and I think there’s sort of a risk of coming across “too HR” — we’re doing their jobs for them, or we’re trying to tell them how to do their jobs because they’re not doing it so well. But does anybody have any suggestions on interfacing with HR, so try to make change to work on improving hiring for diversity specifically? Yeah, with their HR departments?

AUDIENCE: I just want to add to your questions because I feel like it falls under that thing was that, I don’t even know what their definition of diversity is. Because sometimes it’s like, let’s hire a bunch of women, but they’re all white. But it’s not necessarily based on numbers — but it’s like, diversity is a buzzword, so I’m assuming that you’re different than a white man and that works. And that, to me, is a problem, because it’s like, well, I don’t know what you mean by diversity. How do you get HR to explain what their diversity means.

AUDIENCE: I think working for big organizations can make it tough because there are probably policies and a string of sort of decisions that are not transparent and that don’t necessarily include hiring managers. So, I mean, it may be like a chipping-away factor of just like talking to — trying to get to the right people and saying, this doesn’t meet our needs and getting support from whoever it is that you’re reporting to to, like, push back on that. And I think also like that the people in HR are a — they’re not necessarily — it’s not necessarily a profession that’s always where, like, people are always coming to — approaching the hiring practices with the kind of empathy that you would want them to for the role that you’re in. I had worked with one, like, in 20 years of working and probably, like, 15 years of being in a position of hire, one person who I thought was terrific, and sensitive, and wonderful, and Sarah is somewhere in the room knows exactly what I’m talking about. And that was very recent. And so I think it’s very — it’s like you have to — I’m really impressed with how you guys pushed back and, like, recognized that, you know — pushed for something better to happen within your company because I think it’s actually the norm for it to not be.

AUDIENCE: I would say just recently within my own company, we have an employee resource group of, like, diversity/inclusion resource group, but more recently, a small group of hiring managers, myself included, have formed a smaller breakout committee. So hopefully this little group — so it won’t be just me, but there are actually some higher-ranking people will be able to effect some change with hiring just because we’re a smaller group of hiring managers. But it’s crazy. It’s tough.

AUDIENCE: I actually had a question that’s unrelated. So I’m sorry.

CHAO: Can I just —

AUDIENCE: Yeah, of course.

CHAO: So how we’ve tried to do that at our company is basically what we’re doing is bootstrapping our own process and we really want HR to be more involved but right now they’re hiring a new leader of people in operations, I think. So they’re creating — so basically our company is really small, and then we merged with, like, three other brands. And then now, like, they’re seeing that these HR people are not really up to par with how much people we have to hire, and all the issues that we have going on. So they’re hiring in new people and operations leaders. And we’ve been talking a lot to our head of product and our CTO about manager training, bias training, and things like that. And every time someone mentions it — oh, what about diversity training for HR people? Okay! Cool! So I try to sneak that in so that they try to budget for it, but they are actually talking about doing that. But yeah, I agree. I think that we’re lucky that our product and tech team — they’re very supportive of what we’re doing. We can hope that we can take this, like, our learnings and track. Like, we’ve been tracking them, and then we’re going to some day present it to HR, and prove, like, a better case for why we need stuff like this. Because we’re going to be hiring like —

[ Off The Record ]

STANLEY: Are We Back On The Record?

CHAO: Does anyone have other things to offer to this issue?

AUDIENCE: This comes back to the question of you’re waiting for the right candidate but you get pressure from management to hire now. I’ve definitely been in that situation. I’m a hiring manager and I’m also an engineer and I’ve been hiring for 12 years. And one thing that I found that really kind of speaks to them is usually when we’re hiring for a position, we try to keep the applicant pool open for as long as possible until like the pool is more diverse. And then like evaluating. But it takes months sometimes. And then one thing that I suggest is the numbers game. Because people love numbers. They say, oh, we hired the wrong person. Here’s how long we spent training them. Here’s how long we spent… you know, they have a shelf life for them. And next year we have to hire for this position again, and this is how much it’s going to cost. And usually that’s like a better kind of argument about let’s just keep this open so that we can find the right person. Hopefully, maybe if they’re not a lifer, we’ll at least have a longer shelf life with them. And I like to have post-mortem for things that worked, or things that didn’t work. I usually have like a script that I go there not just like exact sentences but I try to touch on the key points that we want to ask about so when I talk to applicants, I can tailor it to what their experiences are, but still kind of answer the questions that I want as a hiring manager. So yeah.

AUDIENCE: Two separate things. But one was, I think when you were talking about designing through process, and the difference it made in rewriting the job descriptions, I wondered if you shared it with different groups because of that, and did it help, and was it that you shared it with the groups, and the job descriptions attracted a different type of applicant. And just another comment on what you’re saying. It’s like, make this easier on yourself if you’re not using a tool that’s not designed for this. We use Greenhouse, but use canned messages if you’re sending the same message, like, over and over. And there’s this resource that I need to find and I’ll share it but it’s like 100 different interview questions that are behavioral and based on certain skills and competencies.

So one way to kind of systematize the interview process is to pick two or three competencies and have people pick from these competencies. It doesn’t have to be that hard. It doesn’t have to be impossible. But anyway…

CHAO: That’s a really good point. All the small things that you do really add up. So in terms of, like, where we posted job descriptions and stuff, when I was looking at the engineering networking platforms, we didn’t end up posting it anywhere else. We just kind of kept it — I don’t know, I come from a science background and I was like, let’s not change the other variable and see how it goes!

[ Laughter ]

… yeah, I’m a nerd. So when we didn’t post it anywhere else — however, we recently had to hire someone else — or now we’re in the process of hiring a product manager to run our CMS team and this time, we used the best practices but we also got budget from HR to post it to Tech Ladies, and POCIT, and those were really helpful for people to say where they saw an application. And we’ve seen a really good amount come back in from those resources.

So, you know, like you were saying with the numbers and stuff, so our HR person was not tracking how many people were coming in from those places. So I went back, and started tracking them so that we can say, hey, listen, we paid $100 for this posting. And we paid $6 for this posting and we only got three people. So next time, when we’re asking for budget, I’ll have those numbers, and we can see what’s going to work better and how they can spend money in a smarter way.

STEF: I just want to add really quickly if you’re involving HR and they’re doing phone screens for you, one small thing you can do is just ask them what questions they’re asking because you might find that they’re asking something that’s completely irrelevant. Or what will cause them to say, hey, this engineer’s résumé is really great. Oh, they use x, y, z library. But if your recruiter doesn’t really know what the questions that they’re asking — they don’t know what the answers to those questions are, it helps to kind of provide them with a list of items that you’re looking for. So just that open communication with your HR person. Build a good relationship with them. Don’t, like, shit talk. They’re your allies. You want to bring them on your side.

AUDIENCE: To that, I found that going to lunch with your HR person where you’re talking just more casually, even if you don’t think there’s someone to go to lunch with… they often, in my experience, don’t want to look like what your job life is like? How could they know? Does anyone know what you do all day, anyone? So just going to them and talking to them and sharing about what your day to day looks like, what are the things that you work on, what are the things that stress you out, and anyone that can sympathize with that, gives them a lot more insight in a sneaky way where you’re not telling them this stuff but you’re just sharing your experience so that it better informs them than those phone screens, and I myself have found that it helps a lot.

AUDIENCE: And I would just kind of add to that that one of the things that our HR person started to do is, like, invited — or like, recruiting some HR people to our teams. Like, daily stand-ups, and weekly show-and-tells and stuff like that. So they don’t always come but they come often enough to get a much more detailed sense about what the team culture is like, and what do goals feel like, and it’s a much better way for them to get insight into the day to day as they’re recruiting people for a role, or interviewing people for a role, than just telling them.

CHAO: That’s a great idea.

AUDIENCE: I was gonna say that, it’s part of that. And it goes back to the data, too. They share data in — we have a meeting once a week, and they have ten minutes when they talk and tell us their numbers. So it’s completely part of our team now. It’s not like they’re off into some corner.

CHAO: What kind of numbers do you find helpful?

AUDIENCE: Their ability getting back to people? They definitely democratize the process of at least we have within two days, we want to have our first response that should say this. Within four days… and it’s not like they’re really shaming us. But they’ll be like, design, you have six people that have been waiting nine days! So they kind of share data that forces you to go along, and prevents them from waiting, and also map that data onto people that actually will accept. So they’ll remind us like we know after 30 days, these people have disappeared and are no longer a reliable candidate for us. So driving it back to data. And then because government, sometimes we can’t get all the numbers we want about diversity, they do internal surveys, for us, every quarter, and then share that data back out to us. So more about — obviously, there’s some things that you can share, but there isn’t very detailed information. So they’ll create surveys and it’s more about asking about community. Like, this is who we are. And so we can be reflective about this is what we look like today. And then they also show, a year ago, this is what we looked like.

CHAO: That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing.

AUDIENCE: I just wanted to mention a tool about analyzing the language in your job descriptions. Textio, it costs a chunk of money, but they have a free 30-day trial where you can plug in a job description and compare that in terms of conversion rates as well as understanding the feminine and masculine language in your job description and things like that for, like, specific industries. And if your job descriptions have at least, like, some similar formats across multiple jobs, that can be, like, a good way during a trial period to just get an understanding of that.

AUDIENCE: I concur. It’s amazing.

AUDIENCE: What’s it called?

AUDIENCE: Textio, Text.io. So that’s really great. And then an idea for you that your HR people might like. So you mentioned that you’re tracking candidate sources to make arguments, is that something that even might be more compelling is the candidate quality by source. In other words, if you spend $600 and only got three candidates but all three of them made it to an in-person interview stage, that’s a much better results than spending $20 and no one making it to an interview.

CHAO: I have heard of the free trial of Textio before. But it’s really impressive. I just asked if we, since we’re hiring a lot if our HR team will have the budget because everyone is, like, doing the budgets right now. So I was like, what about a budget about this? So we’ll see how that goes.

AUDIENCE: In my responsibility as a room wrangler, we have nine minutes left but I also have a comment as a hiring manager. So something that’s helped — like, I rely a lot on the engineering team and they’re doing the interviews, and the technical screening. But I rely on the feedback a lot. And what I try to do is reduce their bias in giving that feedback. So instead of just having open ended, what did you think? And they could be like, I didn’t like this person. I’m like, okay, can they do their job? And add more breadth and depth, and making it more templatized. But I was wondering if there was anything that you do to help your team to reduce their biases in their feedback?

CHAO: I think for us personally providing the must-haves, and bonus skills is really, really helpful because then it’s kind of like a can they do this or not and it doesn’t — it helps definitely cut down the bias so as we say, that’s helped us does anyone else have good…

AUDIENCE: Yeah, we’ve done. So you’re saying asking more objective questions. We ask everybody if it’s allowed to do a group debrief and it’s been helpful because if you put it up, you can see sort of the consensus before you have the conversation. So you avoid the risk of one person dominating the conversation, rather than the minority voice. And it’s also helpful because you’re specifically asking about different skills as opposed to the — what you were talking about, the general like…

AUDIENCE: Is it just skills, or is it also — because I do think that some people fit well on some teams and not others. So do you get at that sort of qualitative?

AUDIENCE: It’s skills and behaviors. What are the attitudes. What are the things that we’re looking at.

AUDIENCE: But that last comment, that one is something that I sometimes struggle with because I danced that line a little bit because I don’t want to be like if the culture — my company was good. Previous companies that I’ve worked at, the culture was bad, we were trying to change it. So if it’s not a culture fit, that could be good — we’re trying to move that direction.

So that one, I danced the line on. But I know what you mean, there are some people on this team, and it’s probably going to be miserable for people. But it’s a move in the right direction.

AUDIENCE: So to talk about that, I’ve worked for startups for a long time and I hate the word culture fit because you can picture what culture fit looks like, and I recently heard someone say culture add. I think about all the different personalities and all their strengths and weaknesses. And find whatever that gaping hole is, and then find somebody to fit in there.

AUDIENCE: We use the term values fit and we have a very clear list of, like, cultural values that all candidates must possess. Like, honesty, default to transparency, so on and so forth and we have specific questions for each of those things. So I think that also gives people a level of comfort who may also have worked in environments where “culture fit” means you’re not like me, therefore, we don’t like you. So people feel comfortable saying, this person answered this culture or values fit question in a way that I didn’t like, I don’t think they’re a good fit on the team. And they feel confident because it’s like a values question and not, like, a likeness question.

AUDIENCE: Can you talk a little bit what an example question is that you test for that? Because that’s one of the things that I feel is really important for the team and I think it’s a challenging thing to…

AUDIENCE: Yeah, a lot of the questions that we get asked are not specifically like are you a couple person? But when we do reference checks, we actually check that. How kind is this person? Do you have examples of when they have been kind, which is actually not a question that reference people are expecting. But we would ask questions like if I was in a room of your current colleagues, like, what are things they would tell me about their interactions with you? Or, like, what is the legacy that you are leaving on the people in a relational way that you have worked with, and what is, like, the technical. And questions that get at how they relate to other people are often about kindness and also how they want to interact with other people and what they want other people to think of them. People who aren’t kind generally don’t care they think they’re not kind.

AUDIENCE: On the culture note, we’ve had luck getting more diverse applicants, at least our engineering team. And this goes back to your earlier point about selling the position. Selling our culture in the job description but we’ve found that a lot of our engineers are coming to our newsroom from outside the news industry. I’m from Austin, there’s a lot of tech industry. There’s a lot of industries that they want to get out of, or they want to try something new. So we’ve been very explicit about what we want, here’s what we are. We think of ourselves as a grown-up startup. We believe in weekends and, you know, this type of people work here, and try to illuminate a bit what a newsroom is like because a lot of the tech people think — or the core of our engineering team don’t come from news. So a lot of it seemed to attract different types of people who maybe on the outside, thought, a news group? I’m not a reporter, I don’t know what that means. Brought on these Python people who were like, huh, that sounds like a place for me.

CHAO: I agree with that. In our job descriptions, since we work with so many machine-driven brands, we’ve put down some stuff about our company but we’ve also put down in the about you section, you love to blah, blah, blah, you love to work with diverse people and create cool stuff together. And our company, especially The Dodo, they do, like, once every four or five weeks, they volunteer together as an animal shelter and our company actually gives them time off to do that. So they leave at 3:00 or 4:00, and they volunteer until, like, 6:00 normally when they would get out of their job or whatever and then they go home, and we make volunteering a part of what they do and that’s really helpful for our culture.

And normally when I say that during an interview as a part of, like, selling our company, you can normally gauge people who are like, that’s a good idea. I already volunteer! These are the things I do. Or yeah… cool. I don’t really care about animals. And you can gauge how kind someone is when you say something like that but it also takes people that already work there to kind of get that going. So they do like beach clean-ups, and then The Dodo Walks Dogs, and clean cat litter.

STEF: You can tell how kind an employee is, getting back to that point is involving other departments in an interview. I know there are some engineers that I’ve encountered who are a little condescending to people in QA, or who aren’t technically versed. I interviewed a really amazing candidate and when I left, our receptionist was really upset because she had been really rude to her. And, to me, that was a real red flag and was one of the reasons that we didn’t hire her even though she was super involved.

So stuff like that, if you’re on an Agile team and you have scrum, they’re like, I hate this, that’s another red flag, too. So you can rely on other departments that maybe aren’t in the position to come in and fill those “culture” questions, as well. And I just want to say real quick, I really appreciate the feedback around the terminology because that’s still something that I’m working on, as well. Saying things like selling the position or culture fit. I still use those words. I’m trying to replace them with better ones so…

CHAO: Cool. Awesome. I think we’re going to wrap up. Does anyone have any last comments or anything? Okay. Cool. Thank you all so much for coming and participating.

[ Applause ]

We have stickers on the table over there, and also our business cards and like I said, we are hiring so if you’re interested, talk to us. Also, this is the first time that we’ve ever done this talk. So any feedback would be so appreciated and thank you so much for coming!

[ Applause ]