Whilst the last 18 months have made a total bugbear of the phrase ‘unprecedented change’, many brave and resilient businesses have ploughed on with their growth and hiring plans. However, the pandemic has undeniably caused a number of unexplored hurdles to overcome in regards to selling your workplace culture remotely and maintaining inclusivity within the hiring process.
We spoke to five of our recent technology candidates to find out exactly how their organisations have approached these new challenges, from application to onboarding, so we can share their insights with you.
Meet Anthony Bradley (Chief of Staff at Pollen); Sam Jones (Engineering Director at Pollen); Jaime Thompson (Head of Engineering at Kaluza); Yemi Awoyemi (Head of Engineering at Thriva); and Charlotte Forsyth (former Chief People Officer at WorldRemit).
Conveying your culture from the get go
With myriad online communication channels available to us these days, you have the ability to convey your company culture before a candidate even applies for a role.
Pollen utilises videos featuring the company leaders, available online for any candidates to watch, to clearly explain how the company has built its culture on the drivers of intrinsic motivation, which Pollen believes are Mastery, Freedom & Ownership, and Community.
Anthony Bradley, Chief of Staff to the CTO at Pollen, told us this immediately helped him to feel well-informed: “Culture is a big part of this workplace and a big part of why people would join. It was perfectly conveyable during the hiring process. Since joining, I’ve found the values explained in those videos to be completely true.“
Showcasing your company practising the culture they preach is of huge importance to candidates. Sam Jones, Engineering Director shared how ”Pollen really stands by its culture and takes actions in alignment with its values, which is quite unusual.
Culture leads to happier candidates
Many of our candidates give company culture as their main reason for being attracted to a new role. Jaime Thompson, Head of Engineering at Kaluza told us: “I applied for the role because of the company’s mission. When Kirsty at Druthers explained the job and company to me, I thought it would be more personally fulfilling and something that I was really passionate about.”
If a company’s culture matches the values of an individual, it provides a platform where employees can bring their whole selves to work. “The opportunity to merge what I was passionate about outside of work with my work itself was really appealing”, Jaime said. Not only does a strong culture fit lead to more applications at the hiring stage, it improves employee retention long-term.
Conducting a successful remote interview process
Interviewing remotely marks a huge change from the policies that many companies have held for decades. As a previous hiring manager himself, Anthony “used to have a requirement that I meet every candidate in person. I think we know now that rule won’t ever be necessary again.”
Whilst being hired by someone you’ve never met in person can be a strange experience, it also offers some benefits. A remote interview process can allow your company to be more organised, efficient and put the candidate at ease. Jaime experienced exactly this: “there was actually very little difference between interviewing in person and remotely. If anything, it was more relaxed being virtual, which was great for me as the candidate.”
Keeping candidates in the loop at every stage of their interview process is a huge contributing factor to good feelings between candidate and company. “This particular interview process was very informative”, Jaime found in her latest role, “I was kept in the loop at every stage through email and pre-arranged phone calls, it was very efficient. The most impressive thing for me as a candidate was the speed of feedback – typically within 24 hours”. Ensuring you give detailed feedback, in a timely manner, demonstrates that the hire is a priority for your organisation and that the happiness of your people is a valuable part of company culture.
A remote interview process also provides more flexibility for candidates with specific schedules, such as parents or people with carer responsibilities. Anthony advised that: “The timing of interviews is a key area where inclusion can be improved. When you’re not travelling to meet face-to-face, it’s easier to adjust to people’s timeframes and accommodate different diaries.”
To technical test or not to test
Technical testing – and the matter of getting it right – is the source of much debate in tech recruitment. While some people feel it’s an equal and unbiased way to assess a candidate’s skill, there’s a strong general consensus that the system needs to be improved, particularly in remote settings.
Anthony explained, “We’ve been trying to erase some of the take-home aspects of tech testing. Instead, we’ve created pairing environments, where we can work through a problem collaboratively with our current team and the candidate.” The result of this? “A more inclusive nature, where people don’t need to spend 6 hours at home focusing on a test instead of spending time with their families.”
Jaime has direct experience of paired technical tests as a candidate. She found they offer some improvement over take-home tests, but that no method is “the silver bullet for understanding someone’s ability”. Jaime prefers a conversation-focused approach, where a candidate must explain their technical stories: “that’s a better indication of their technical skill and aptitude I think. It’s really difficult within the space of an hour or two to understand someone’s technical competence.”
However you’re testing, remember that specific part of the interview process can be stressful for a lot of candidates. In her candidate journey, Sam found that “The technical test part of the interview intimidated me the most, due to a mixture of imposter syndrome and not having been close to the technical detail for a few years! The interviewers were very friendly and seemed quite adept at putting me at ease though.” Be sure to set clear expectations and get regular feedback from candidates on your technical testing approach, in order to get the best out of the process on both sides.
Onboarding new staff and remote working
Yemi Awoyemi, Head of Engineering at Thriva, started his new role remotely during the pandemic in February 2021. He’s yet to meet any of his team in person, but found that his first month was much smoother than he expected, thanks to the onboarding systems Thriva has in place (including a welcome breakfast and buddy programme).
“Joining a startup, I wondered whether all the systems would be in place, compared to bigger companies I’ve worked with in the past. But Thriva was great! Their system is to onboard new people on the same day every two weeks, so you immediately get to know another new starter. In my first week, I also had a welcome breakfast with the leadership team, which was fantastic. Beyond the first week, Thriva has a buddy system, which gives you a friendly face who can help you to understand the systems and teams.”
Thriva also utilises AI technology in lieu of in-person chats, which can often be missed by remote new joiners. Yemi says: “The main difference I found joining remotely was not having those random ‘water cooler’ chance meetings, where you bump into a colleague getting coffee and start talking. At Thriva, we use the Donut automated system on Slack, which pairs you up with people for virtual meetings across different teams. It helps you to have ‘chance’ meetings with people in the wider company.”
From doughnuts to pancakes, Yemi felt even more welcomed to the team when Thriva held a pancake judging competition for all colleagues and their families. “My son loved scoring the pancakes. It allowed us all to get to know people’s families and their lives beyond work, which was a really good introduction and something that might not happen if we weren’t working from home.”
Alongside keeping your team connected virtually, it’s critical to consider the practical elements which make working from home a more pleasant and comfortable experience. Not all employees and new joiners may have access to a desk space or ergonomic chair, which can reduce health issues like back pain and even improve concentration and efficiency. Many companies, Anthony shared, “have given allowances to people for work furniture that they can use from home, like monitors, chairs and adjustable tables, which has been very well received.”
Scaling culture from 800 to 1600 people: A hiring manager’s viewpoint
Selling workplace culture presents a unique set of challenges when you’re hiring at scale. Charlotte Forsyth, Chief People Officer at WorldRemit, spoke to us about her experience of redefining WorldRemit’s employee value proposition (EVP) and raising their brand awareness, in order to double headcount in only 18 months.
“We went on a bit of a journey at WorldRemit, because there was quite a misalignment between what people thought our culture was like and what it’s really like. We spent a lot of the last year becoming really clear on what our EVP was and it was really important to me that we got this across in the employment process.”
An employee value proposition outlines the unique set of benefits your employees will receive, in return for the skills and experience they bring to the company. A strong EVP can showcase what your company stands for and how you value your staff, setting you apart from competitors in the jobs market.
Charlotte emphasised that, “From the very first contact with candidates, we’re clear about the high performance we expect from them, as well as how we will support them to deliver that in terms of mental health and career development.”
As well as redefining their EVP, WorldRemit actively sought ways to raise awareness of themselves as an exciting employer in the tech space. In an industry where the majority of staff are white and cis male, this involved utilising channels and partnerships which could offer a pipeline of diverse junior talent. Alongside hosting female-only meetups and hackathons, they partnered with Women in Tech to run internships and returnships to attract talent typically overlooked.
An active emphasis on diversity needs to extend beyond the hiring process, to focus dually on inclusion in the workplace and retention once staff are in post. Charlotte recognises this: “If people don’t feel like they can be authentic and talk about their upbringing, partner or weekend plans in the office, your hiring process hasn’t been successful. Diversity and Inclusion these days is far broader than the protected characteristics, it’s about diversity of thought. Do your training programmes support everyone in the room? There’s an expectation at staff workshops that people should speak up and get involved, but for someone who’s neurodiverse, or even just introverted, that’s very uncomfortable.”
And how does WorldRemit measure the success of their hiring process? “Attrition figures speak for themselves.” In the last year, WorldRemit’s attrition figures for new joiners (employees with less than 12 months of service) halved, and stayed steady, thereby “speaking to the fact that we were portraying our culture in an authentic way.”
When it all goes wrong: Interview red flags
The interview process isn’t just about a company assessing a candidate; judgements are being made the other way around too.
Yemi has a list of questions he runs through during an interview process, to assess any red flags within the company: “Where is the interview being conducted, is it in the offices? How many people know the role exists? What happened to the last person in the role? Is there clarity of purpose, vision and mission? If people can’t clearly explain the vision, it’s a red flag for me.”
Along with 67% of job seekers in the UK, Anthony actively searches for signs of diversity, equity and inclusion in his potential employers whilst interviewing, like diverse interview panels. Once inside a company: “I work to strip out unconscious bias in the interview process.”
At Druthers Search, it’s our mission and our passion to empower organisations to find the best person to make an impact on their work, from a diverse shortlist of remarkable talent. Get in touch to talk to us about how we can help your business to make a positive change.
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