This post will give you an overview of how we think about hiring, onboarding and the steps we have taken so far. This post is useful if you are looking to setup a team from scratch or are starting a services company.
Note: This is a very long article, but you can skip sections that do not interest you and not lose any continuity
The challenges for hiring and onboarding
We think that the current skills of testers will be insufficient in the near future (see The need for change(at Qxf2)). We figure that testers of the future will end up knowing how to code, do mathematics, have good DevOps skills and will be comfortable with hardware. Which means hiring practices need to change. We think these are some challenges that our hiring practices must solve:
1. It is not obvious how we are going to find people. The skill set required is not common. And there is not yet a widespread need for such skills. So coming up with the set requirement list and test candidates against that won’t work.
2. Interview process needs to change. We can no longer only ask candidates what they already know. Also, there is no guarantee that we will have the expertise or wisdom to interview people who have a very different skill set from our own.
3. We need to manage the first 6-months well. We found that employees are most likely to leave Qxf2 in the first 6 months of their stay. This is happening because there is no structured plan, they are forced to learn new work habits and tackle problems that slightly are beyond their comfort zone. We have learned that if we do not counsel employees during this phase they burn out and take to get disinterested
4. We need to manage remote work. Qxf2 is a fully remote company. That adds a layer of complexity for new hires. Remote employees will not feel comfortable asking for help openly unless they trust their colleagues. And trust takes time to build.
5. Minimize the business downside. There is definitely a business downside to our approach to hiring and orientation. It takes a while for the new employee’s mindset change. That means we are not able to put them on a client too quickly and that has proved costly for us.
Our hiring and onboarding practices so far
1. Early days
We have tried several hiring experiments so far. When Qxf2 started in 2013, we went the traditional route. we used LinkedIn, Indeed, purchased a Naukri database, placed ads with a local testing school and posted job descriptions on our website. Each experiment worked to an extent. Of our first 6 employees, we got one from Naukri, one from data-mining a Naukri dataset and then micro-targeting candidates, one from an Indeed ad and three referrals. Our interview process was relatively light. For senior candidates, it was usually a couple of calls with Arun (founder) and maybe a programming exercise. For junior candidates, it was an interview with Arun (founder) and our first employee Raji. Junior candidates had to do an aptitude test too. Onboarding was non-existent. We used to sit with the new hire on the first day, help them get setup with their laptop, then introduce them to the client’s products and that was it!
2. A better career page and orientation
Clearly, this process needed a lot of improvements. For example, we rarely spoke about Qxf2 as a company. The employees were focused on the client from day 1. We also made little effort to introduce colleagues and manage any discomfort a new employee was bound to feel.
We figured that our approach to hiring and onboarding was a little too clinical. We had to soften our approach. First, we took time to write out what it felt like to work at Qxf2. We listed the pros, the cons and several other pieces of information that a potential employee would look for when joining a new company. We prepared orientation slides for the new hires to give them a sense of Qxf2, our history and work habits. We started to look for more referrals and not rely on traditional avenues for sourcing candidates. We also made a couple of hires that had a very different skill set – one with a hardware background and one with a teaching background.
3. Making hiring more systematic
We hired Smitha Rajesh in June 2016. She decided to redo our approach to hiring and onboarding. She began by writing job descriptions that we could pass along when we were asking for references. We also documented and let candidates know what to expect during our interview process. We have also gotten much better at keeping candidates informed during our hiring process. We have good first emails to candidates, interview feedback emails, emails inviting candidates for onsite interviews and better reject emails. We get a lot of inbound enquiries from interested candidates. In the past, Arun (founder) would not respond to these emails unless there was an opening. We now have a Trello board with a candidate pipeline and we try our best to reply to every inbound enquiry. Smitha also redid our orientation slides to increase emphasis on our culture and work habits.
4. Making onboarding relevant
Over time, we have started to get better at onboarding new colleagues. We have a welcome email waiting in their inbox on their first day. This email introduces them to all the important systems we use at Qxf2 – the wiki, calendar, Trello, Skype and BitBucket. Everyone in the company does a video chat with the new hire on their first day. We also started doing 90-minute orientation sessions with new hires that expose them to our past and also introduce them to (what we think) is our culture. We take this opportunity to stress some challenges they are bound to face with remote work and Qxf2’s culture. We have a wiki page that covers what the new hire will do for the first four weeks. Our colleague Shivahari created this page to help newbies. Annapoorani and Rohan Dudam have evolved it to have useful tutorials on Python and git. At some point, we started having a ‘buddy’ system where one person would serve as buddy and helper for the new hire. But we have stopped this habit. We force the new hire to ask the group on our company wide Skype channel. This feels harsh to the new employee but over the long run, they understand that asking for help or not knowing things is not such a big deal.
5. Documenting the interview process better
We want to make our interviews fairer. But given that we all have different backgrounds, there is a large variation in the way in which each of us interview candidates. To develop a common understanding and hopefully give junior members of the team more insight into our interviews, we have started documenting our interviews in detail. Each interviewer writes (usually about 500 words) describing what questions they asked, why they took a particular line of questioning and also what the candidate replied. It’s early days yet, but we are liking this method.
What we learned about hiring and onboarding
Many things here may look obvious, but this is what we have learned
1. Do not forget to focus on your company even if you are in the services business. For the first couple of years, we did not have enough focus on Qxf2. Most employees related more to the client than Qxf2.
2. Employees are more willing to change old habits in their first few days.
3. We had good working habits that were not called out. Take credit if you genuinely do something good.
4. We had to introduce remote working as a challenge … not a perk!
5. Remote culture has its downsides.
6. References work. Explicitly ask people to refer their ex-colleagues and friends.
7. Having something written down is reassuring for new employees … even if the written document is not all that great.
8. An inaccurate job description is worth much, much more than no job description.
9. The first 6-months are critical in a new Qxf2-er’s tenure.
10. People want to use 1:1 chat. If you do not like it, correct this habit in the first few days itself. After that, it is more or less a lost cause.
11. People liked our interviews. Learn more about our interview process here.
12. Building a team requires extreme patience – the same mistake can happen multiple times, things you do not control
can will come in the way.
How we judge our hiring practices
Here is how we will be judging if our hiring strategies are working or not
1. The process should be fair
- No knowledge based questions
- Nothing outside of the resume
- We ask candidates if we can change something
- Interviewers admit when they cannot understand something
2. We don’t become too homogenous
- Don’t hire based on what you know!
3. We should be open about our mistakes
- We used to reply late
- Our offer letters usually go out late
- Our process sometimes takes 4-weeks!
4. Candidate should have no unpleasant surprises
- We try to be open about shortcomings
How we judge our onboarding practices
Here is how we will be judging if our onboarding strategies are working or not. At the end of onboarding, new hires should:
1. have a realistic sense of how difficult and challenging their job is going to be
2. know they will soon feel lost …. but will have support
3. feel overwhelmed but talk about it
4. feel like they “know Qxf2”
5. feel like they can talk to everyone in the company
6. not mind failing
7. not feel like their previous experience was for nothing
8. be able to report issues well
Where are we headed with hiring and onboarding?
This one is hard to list in detail but here are some cool things we plan to do. We plan to hire a mathematician soon. After that, we’d like to hire an engineer who are inclined to do marketing. We have also identified being able to teach and train employees to conduct better interviews as something important to us.
Thanks for reading so far! We apologize for the lack of flow in this article. It is extremely hard to summarize what we have tried in our nearly 5-year existence. If you are starting a new company, we hope you can learn from our mistakes and current outlook. If you have questions, fire away at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Where is Qxf2 headed?
- The need for change (at Qxf2)
- An introduction to R&D at Qxf2
- Qxf2’s DevOps roadmap
- Qxf2’s Hardware and Robotics roadmap
- Qxf2’s Data analytics, Machine Learning and AI roadmap
- An introduction to training at Qxf2
- An introduction to hiring and onboarding at Qxf2
- Experimenting with team structures at Qxf2