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Remote Hiring from the Front Lines: What’s Different Now?

Experiences and best practices from talent leaders at GitLab, Airbnb, Udemy

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Written by

Kerry Wang

CEO, Co-Founder

Published

March 28, 2020 10:45 PM

Categories

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Last Friday, we hosted a roundtable with Dave Gilbert (VP Talent at Gitlab), Evan Connor (Head of Homes Recruiting at Airbnb), and Fadi Hindi (Head of People Operations and Strategy at Udemy) to hear their perspectives on talent teams and hiring in these unprecedented times. If you missed it, you can watch the recording or listen to our podcast below.

Here were our top 10 takeaways. A detailed transcription of highlights are below!

For talent teams:

  • This is the time to be people first, humanity first. Bring your values as a company front and center.
  • Still reach out to passive candidates and invest in relationships. Tell your story, and speak to the long term vision. 
  • Create feedback loops to rapidly improve as you implement remote processes for the first time. Invest more on documentation and transparency, especially around your tech stack.
  • Be proactive about communications with candidates, interviewers and your recruiting team. Pivoting fast means you don’t lose momentum.
  • Examine all your platforms and tools and make sure you’re getting ROI. 

For hiring managers:

  • To reconfigure your interview processes for remote hiring, revisit your interview questions and think hard about the intention of each question. “What am I really trying to learn about the candidate with this question?”
  • Make sure your virtual interviews are structured. Every interviewer should know what they specifically need to focus on.
  • Dig deeper in pre-briefs and debriefs to combat bias, uncover concerns, and help everyone get clarity on what they’re looking for. We shouldn’t need to meet a candidate in person to make a hiring decision.

For candidates:

  • Companies are still hiring! Consider the impact of the virus on the business when evaluating job opportunities.
  • Find additional ways to stand out. Consider creating content like video to showcase who you are.

Highlights

📌 What’s changed for recruiting teams in the midst of COVID-19?

People first. It's a great time to bring your values as a company front and center. Lead with empathy. Create feedback loops to iterate on what’s working and learn what’s not working.

Dave Gilbert: This is a time to double down on people and empathy. People are feeling unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety -- starting every conversation with the basic questions of, “Are you okay? Do you have what you need?” Three days a week, we're doing what I'm calling Remote Social Time for my teams around the world. No agenda, no documentation -- just a time to get together and connect when folks are feeling anxiety, isolation, and loneliness. Humanity first.

We've been recording videos to express enthusiasm, and to make sure [candidates] know how excited we are about having them become GitLabbers, whether it's next week or next month, so that the fear and uncertainty of a job change is not something that sparks undue anxiety. - Dave Gilbert, GitLab

Our candidates are experiencing that stress and anxiety, and so we are very mindful about that. We made updates to our handbook and communications to our candidates to let them know that it's okay for them to have distractions in the background, or if they need to pause the process with us. It's a great time to bring your values as a company front and center. We made a concerted effort to ask hiring managers and recruiters to reach out to candidates who have accepted and not yet started to ensure that they know and feel that things are solid with the commitment that we've made. We've been recording videos to express enthusiasm, and to make sure they know how excited we are about having them become GitLabbers, whether it's next week or next month, so that the fear and uncertainty of a job change is not something that sparks undue anxiety.

Fadi Hindi: I think about, “How do you lead with empathy?” Put yourself in that candidate’s shoes. If you were that candidate right now, what would you want your experience to be like? And then I think about the feedback loop. Almost like an engineering team where you have a constant feedback loop and iterate on a weekly or daily basis, same thing with recruiting, and it needs to run very agile right now.

We’re asking recruiters, every time you hear something from a candidate, add it to this sheet so that we can start to figure out what are the trends of problems and issues and how we improve on them. - Fadi Hindi, Udemy

Keep the feedback loop open with candidates, hiring managers, and recruiting teams themselves so that you can start to figure out what's working, what's not working, and iterate on a daily basis. We're emphasizing candidate surveys, and rephrasing our questions to be more tailored to the actual virtual experience. We’ve gotten our recruiting coordinators to attack the problems in real time, take notes and then keep that feedback loop open within our teams. We’re asking recruiters, every time you hear something from a candidate, add it to this sheet so that we can start to figure out what are the trends of problems and issues and how we improve on them.

Stay connected with candidates. Tell your story, and speak to the long term vision. Improve your systems and train your team.

Evan Connor: Recruiting is a social activity. We can constantly be networking with top talent. And this is also an opportunity to really step back and look at the processes that we have in place. Do we need to iterate? We've been moving so quickly, now we have an opportunity to slow down a little bit. Can we rebuild our processes? Do we need to take a look at how we're interviewing, how we're assessing?  Is this an opportunity to train our hiring managers and our hiring teams on diversity and inclusion?

Can we rebuild our processes? Do we need to take a look at how we're interviewing, how we're assessing?  Is this an opportunity to train our hiring managers and our hiring teams on diversity and inclusion? - Evan Connor, Airbnb

Talent mapping is another big investment area right now where this is a great opportunity to take a holistic look at where the pockets of talent are. Continue to have sell calls emphasizing the key talking points for your business and for your company. A lot of companies have long term, 5, 10, 15 year roadmaps, so being able to speak to those roadmaps and the industry is important.

Dave Gilbert: It's a marathon, not a sprint. There’s a relationship opportunity that companies have to connect with top talent that align with their values and are additive to their cultures. Those are the opportunities that right now are front and center for us and should be for all companies. Whether you're hiring today or not. We are, and we are also shifting our focus. We're doubling down on diversity. We're doubling down on global marketplaces. We have 1200 plus team members today and 67 countries, and we're using this as a place to reach out and connect proactively with the very best people in the world and introduce them to the world's largest, all remote company. 

We strongly encourage hiring managers and teams to create videos that help illustrate and illuminate a what life would be like working on a particular team at GitLab for candidates who are considering, and that becomes a great reusable asset when you're marketing a role either broadly to a network or one to one. - Dave Gilbert, GitLab

The other thing GitLab is doing is also sharing its knowledge and its toolset for remote based work very openly. We don't see this a lot, but use video! We strongly encourage hiring managers and teams to create videos that help illustrate and illuminate a what life would be like working on a particular team at GitLab for candidates who are considering, and that becomes a great reusable asset when you're marketing a role either broadly to a network or one to one, be a direct outreach to passive candidates who you're interested in and see a strong alignment with.

📌 What advice do you have when working with hiring managers?

Revisit your interview questions, and think hard about the intention of each question. Ask, “What am I really trying to learn about the candidate with this question?”

Make sure your virtual interviews are structured, and that every interviewer knows what to focus on.

Dig deeper in pre-briefs and debriefs to combat bias, uncover concerns, and help everyone get clarity on what they’re looking for.

Fadi Hindi: One of our data science teams had a whiteboarding question where you need a physical whiteboard. We tried things like Zoom whiteboard, but it's with your mouse, so it's really difficult to draw on. Another idea was to get a cheap tablet from Amazon and send it to the candidate, which would cause a lot of logistical nightmares. And so what I did was I went to the data science team and asked them, “What is the focus area of the question? What are you trying to uncover from the candidate? And is there another way you can keep that same focus area but change the question up to do it remotely?” And they started brainstorming and they realized they could do something on HackerRank that, without making the question easier or changing the focus area at all, could get them the same end result. And that's the advice I want to give every hiring manager. Revisit your interview panel, revisit your focus areas. That is the place to start first -- are you able to get the right signals from your questions? If not, where can you grow to make those better? Whether it’s in person or virtual, it shouldn't make a difference.

If you're going to do interviews over remote based tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts, make sure they're structured. For us, structuring the interview questions around different dimensions of our values is a great way to assess alignment and match from a candidate perspective and from a company perspective. - Dave Gilbert, GitLab

Dave Gilbert: If you're going to do interviews over remote based tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts, make sure they're structured. For us, structuring the interview questions around different dimensions of our values is a great way to assess alignment and match from a candidate perspective and from a company perspective. We're a Greenhouse shop in terms of an ATS provider and within Greenhouse there's a way to create an interview plan so we very easily aggregate what the expectations are for each interviewer and what they're going to assess. We can break that up so that the different slices of a candidate experience can come together holistically when we debrief to make a final decision. And then you're avoiding the risk of different interviewers asking candidates the exact same question inadvertently.

Evan Connor: One of the things we should be focusing on as well as in our debriefs and our roundups after the interviews is what signal we received from the interviewers. Diving deep into what was shared. If there is hesitation or not enough signal, why weren't we able to get that signal? Are we comparing apples to apples, and are we making sure that we're asking the same questions to each candidate? And are we measuring those things? I would encourage folks that are in remote roundups to really unpack those and check for bias. Is there location bias, because we aren't able to be in person with these people? Do you have any reservations since you did the interview over video when you normally would have met the candidate in person? Really start to dig to see if we can overcome those and try to address those fears and concerns.

And I think [it’s] even more important now than ever, especially if [your team is virtual] -- really revisit your focus areas and align on what the hiring manager and the team wants, but also make sure that it's communicated constantly before you meet a candidate. - Fadi Hindi, Udemy

Fadi Hindi: That is so spot on, Evan. The debrief is my favorite part of the interview process because you can be so much more strategic in that room with everyone that met the individual. What we are also trying to focus on is the pre-brief. We do something I'm sure other companies do, where the hiring manager sends out focus areas to the interview panel and makes sure everyone has clear roles and responsibilities and knows their focus areas, but also the hiring manager restates what they're looking for and emphasizes what it is outside of the job description that is important. And I think that's even more important now than ever, especially if it's virtual. Really revisit your focus areas and align on what the hiring manager and the team wants, but also make sure that it's communicated constantly before you meet a candidate. The role is always changing a little bit, so keep that feedback loop open with your interview panel and make sure that every week, you’re reminding them what you're looking for.

📌 How are you thinking about strategy, systems, and communications?

Think strategically about communications with candidates, interviewers and your recruiting team.

Evan Connor: The way that I think about the overall framework is to really define what the problem statement is, and who the key stakeholders are. In this specific case, switching to remote interviewing, those stakeholders are: recruiters, sourcers, coordination teams, hiring managers, interviewers, our IT teams, leadership, internal comms teams, legal teams, talent partners. Next, establish the overall POC, the business POC, the recruiting POC, and really define roles and responsibilities. Try to get as clear as possible about what the milestones and deliverables are, and set a timeframe so that you can hold each other accountable. Then, I think about comms planning. Who do we need to communicate to, what are we trying to communicate? How? When?

Asking [the candidate], do you have any accommodations or needs? As we've changed this interview from in-person to remote, here's what to expect, and here's what this process will look like for you as a candidate. Here's how to set up your laptop and get logged into Zoom and how to download any tools that you may need. - Evan Connor, Airbnb

Then, developing comms to candidates. Asking, do you have any accommodations or needs? As we've changed this interview from in-person to remote, here's what to expect, and here's what this process will look like for you as a candidate. Here's how to set up your laptop and get logged into Zoom and how to download any tools that you may need. Next, developing comms for interviewers. Sharing the process change and timeline, and any action items for them. Here's some talking points that you can share with the candidates. Lastly, I think about comms to recruiters. I'm talking through what the process changes are, making sure that our candidate communications are really buttoned up.

Fadi Hindi: As Evan was speaking, I started thinking to myself -- how do we get the managers that are doing really well with this remote onboarding, remote interviewing, to share best practices and open up the feedback loop? Because sometimes people want to hear from their peers on their own teams. And I think that's something we need to start doing more and more of is getting creative with our comms. There's no perfect way of doing this, but I think creativity is key right now.

Invest more in documentation and transparency.

Dave Gilbert: The only thing I can add would be the importance of documentation. Use or create some form of a handbook, an operating system for your company. I've been in prior companies that had them as intranet, internal tools. With GitLab, it's very public and it becomes something that is externally viewable to the world. I remember when I was a candidate at GitLab and I was reading and studying its handbook, its description changed to say that if you were to print this handbook out, it would be 2,000 some odd pages. During the time I was interviewing, it changed from 2,000 to 3,000. Now it's up to north of 5,000 searchable pages of information. 

Use or create some form of a handbook, an operating system for your company. I've been in prior companies that had them as intranet, internal tools. With GitLab, it's very public and it becomes something that is externally viewable to the world. - Dave Gilbert, GitLab

Fadi Hindi: The other thing I would add is right now is that we're revisiting all our tools that we use and really thinking about the ROI behind them, because some are super valuable, and then some are not. Kerry did not put me up to this, but I'm going to say this anyways. Searchlight is a great tool to use right now more than ever because it's streamlining our references and has actually helped me a lot as a hiring manager myself. Really helps me look at the candidates I'm assessing and think about whether I'm being too harsh or not. And then when I review their feedback from their past managers or past colleagues on Searchlight, my feedback has been pretty spot on. So Searchlight really helps give us more data points, which is especially important, now more than ever.


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