Rethinking Recruiting

When I first became a Manager of Engineering, I was expecting a lot of challenges; delivering product on time and with quality, defining technical roadmap and addressing current debt, working on career path. I also knew about a particular requirement on the job description:

Get the right people on board.

Being a software engineer at other companies for over a decade, I never thought this was one of the priorities of my previous managers, so I felt lost.

Recruiting Engineers is hard.

Scratch that. Recruiting the right engineers is really, really hard.

First, you need to know which engineers are right for you. At Medallia, we look for engineers that have strong computer science fundamentals, a proven record of performing at a high level, and deep understanding on their field. But that is not enough, we look for engineers that can also fit into our culture, where we value others and have a growth mindset to understand that, no matter what, there is always space to learn new things and expand our knowledge. These two skills combined are required to work in our flat-structured, fast-paced environment, as we deliver a world class experience to our customers through our SaaS platform.

Second, we know what the best engineers are doing right now, delivering value for their organizations; taking on the best available projects, defining complex architectures or working with high impact customers.

We also know what they are not doing, answering recruiters’ e-mails. Be it because they had really bad experiences in the past or because they are bombarded with generic emails with irrelevant job descriptions; Engineers are mentally or actually filtering them out.

I had been with Medallia for over a year before moving to a management role. At Medallia, we want to do things differently, to take advantage of the fact that we, as engineers, are the primary promoters of Medallia and the ones that know best what kind of people to look for.

Based on those premises, we started an initiative to recruit engineers by engineers.

At first — it seemed like it worked…. We would set aside time for sourcing candidates, investigate them and contact them. We contacted them on a different premise, as peers talking about projects and interests, and brought them into the interview process if they want to. We saw candidates move through the stages of our interview process.

Over the 4 months we did this, we were able to onboard more new hires than in the entire previous year, though all of them were direct referrals from current employees.

We learned that it was hard to convince candidates that were happy on their current jobs to go through the process, and that the way we carried it was frustrating for most of them. We were disorganized, we didn’t have the clarity on all the positions, benefits and other data candidates needed, the process was really long as we didn’t have a single person responsible for it, and we weren’t even communicating this up front. Furthermore, we were rejecting people and not letting them know why. We understood that we needed to improve a lot. We had to be more organized, be more clear to the candidates about the process structure and length, and have a clear ownership of the candidate experience.

But, above all, the main problem with the initiative is that it took a lot of time and effort from engineers and that we were starting to feel that we had run out of candidates, that we’ve dried the pool of talent. We needed to shake things up again; so a new recruiting team was formed. We got 3 recruiters on board. They drove head-on into the task of growing our engineering team, but there was something wrong; despite all their efforts, all their calls and the amount of candidates they got into the process, we got few new hires.

As we faced this challenge, we tried thinking outside the box, as we tend to do at Medallia, and then we understood: engineers cannot do recruiting on their own, but neither can recruiters; we needed the knowledge and the full involvement of the engineering organization, and we needed the subject-matter experience, networks and ability to pull sheer numbers of the recruiting organization. We needed a full time partnership.

Fortunately, we had a recruiting team that was amazing at opening up and letting engineers in to partner with them, and also a great engineering team that is excited to get the right people on board.

So what does this partnership looks like?

Trust and Communication

We understand the sensitivity for candidates going through a process while still employed in a different company. However, we believe in honesty and transparency above all, and trust our employees can keep confidential information that way.

We established a Kanban board for recruiting. This way, everybody can see the candidates going through the pipeline¹ and easily identify roadblocks and unhealthy pipelines, and act to unblock them or build the pipeline.

Job Descriptions on steroids

We got a great insight by running the sourcing by engineers initiative: understanding the profile of the engineers we want at Medallia goes beyond a list of technologies or experiences you can check in a CV.

We believe in performance based hiring, and we believe in the intangible skills that sometimes cannot be expressed in writing.

With these in mind, we have been proactively passing all this information to our recruiters and sourcers. They know what we are working on, they understand our product and they know the challenges we face.

This information gives them the chance to target more people, but also have their own tools for filtering them out; allowing for a broad initial pipeline that doesn’t stress the engineers with interviews.

Having the right metrics

There are several metrics to evaluate the performance of the recruiting organization. We have come with a couple that are not in the usual toolbelt of every recruiter:

Time in Process: We have a long interview process, that includes 6 interviews. We’ve set ourselves to finish this process within 10 working days, in order to give the candidate the best experience, and make sure we don’t lose them to competing offers. Additionally, our recruiters follow up with candidates after each stage to ensure they stay engaged through the process.

NPS²: Perhaps hidden in the previous paragraph is the sentence “give the candidate the best experience”. We believe in candidates being the customers of our recruiting process, and we believe in giving customers the best possible experience. We actively and consistently solicit feedback from our candidates, regardless of whether we choose to give them an offer or not. It’s not just about a score or number, but rather how we use this information to change behavior. The real-time candidate feedback allows us to both close the loop, test new practices, and improve experience overall.

Building a community

When you are a smallish engineering team distributed across two offices it can be hard to be known throughout a local tech community.

We have engaged in several meetups and other events, where we invited people to Medallia and were able to show what we do, who we are, and also learn from each other. The goal of these events is not only to build knowledge in the community, but also serve as a way to engage and create a tech community.

At Medallia, recruiting, not just headcount, is a central conversation in every leadership meeting. Iterating on our process and engaging our candidates as customers of a process, we are actively building a recruiting process that we can call Medallian.  The end results have begun to pay off, by aligning the whole engineering team with the recruiting effort, we have been able to grow faster than ever in the last few months, without ever lowering the bar.

As I said earlier, this is not the most common challenge we face as Engineering Managers, but is definitely one of the hardest, one I am excited about. Because, deep down, I know that having great people is what makes our engineering team amazing; and every time we onboard someone, I am proud of adding someone new to our family.

¹ When specifically requested by the candidate, we use placeholders or, in some cases, avoid putting them entirely on the board.

² NPS means Net Promoter Score, and is the most accepted score for measuring customer experience. you can find more information here.

Author: Gabriel Vinokur

Having worked for over 12 years as a Software Developer, including the last 6 of them working as a Technical Leader, I have shifted my career down the leadership path. At Medallia, my main focus is on building and enabling High-Performing Teams and helping our engineers grow in their careers.

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