Rearchitecting Your Hiring Process: Seven Tips to Win Top Talent
Sagnik Nandy is the Chief Development Officer at Okta; overseeing engineering, product, design, and operations for Okta Workforce Identity Cloud.
Previously, he spent nearly 16 years at Google where he was a VP of Engineering and built and managed products like Google’s publisher ads platforms, Google Analytics, and some of the most critical systems (ads targeting, bidding, infrastructure, etc.) that made Google into the trillion-dollar juggernaut that it is today.
In his private talk for Guilds by FirstMark, Sagnik shared some of the most important insights and strategies for hiring top talent that he has learned throughout his career.
In today’s market, every leader needs to be focused on hiring and retaining top talent. At many companies, new headcount has been limited, so getting the right people into those few spots is critical. Competition for top talent is also incredibly high, and with many companies offering remote work, job-seekers have more options than ever before.
Sagnik has built and led teams through challenging markets, and at multiple stages of scale. His insights are powerful and if heeding his advice leads to even one critical hire you otherwise wouldn’t have closed, that has the potential to change the entire trajectory of your company.
By the time a candidate gets an offer, they’ve already made up their mind about what kind of company you have, what your culture is like, and what it will be like to work in your business.
Obviously, the reality of settling into any role will be dramatically different from what’s apparent through the interview process. Candidates know this; but equally, they don’t care — the default candidate assumption is that all surprises will occur on the downside, not on the upside. In effect, the interview experience is setting a ceiling for how a candidate thinks about your company prior to joining.
Once you internalize this insight, you’ll begin to examine every aspect of your interview process through different eyes. You’ll realize you have a lot of bad habits that are sending the wrong signals to candidates.
Are interviewers showing up on time and prepared, or late and winging it?
If the interviews are in person, is the candidate made to feel welcome, or left sitting alone?
Is your hiring process clear and transparent, or are candidates doing interview after interview, not knowing if/when they can expect an offer?
One of the metrics most highly correlated to close rates is your average interview-to-offer time. Move candidates through your interview process faster, and you’ll close more of them. Sagnik advises leaders to identify the most time-consuming components of their hiring processes and then figure out how to shorten them.
One specific example Sagnik shared about Okta was that one of the steps in their process was a CTO-level offer review. This step required him to review every offer before it went out. Being CTO however, his schedule was packed and this seemingly-straightforward task added up to one full day to the hiring process. Upon reflecting, he also realized that by the time the candidate had reached this step, the offer decision had been made and this was merely an unnecessary formality.
By removing this step from the process, Okta reduced its interview-to-offer time by up to one full day, which in turn, had a positive impact on close rates.
Those you have conducting the interviews in your hiring process can make all the difference between closing or losing top candidates.
Every interviewer needs to believe that it’s part of their job to make sure candidates walk away excited about the business. Even if a specific candidate doesn’t seem like the right fit, they are now a voice in the ecosystem who will have something to say to other job-seekers about your company. As Sagnik put it,
“when candidates are talking about your company, what do you want them to say?”
Whether explicit or not, some interviewers look at interviewing as a chore, or worse, as an opportunity to exert power over someone else. Your imperative as a leader is to make sure employees understand the crucial role that interviewing plays in the success of the company so that they approach interviews with the right attitude.
Interviewers have two clear responsibilities when it comes to conducting interviews:
First, they need to do the best job they possibly can to understand each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses against their predetermined competencies.
Second, they need to make sure that regardless of whether or not they think the candidate is a fit, the candidate is walking away inspired about the role, business, and company culture.
Ideally, interviewers are assigned against the candidate’s competencies in non-overlapping (or purposely overlapping) ways and will be able to provide their feedback in an unbiased, structured format that streamlines your hiring (or non-hiring) decision-making process.
As your company matures, you can begin to analyze the data in your ATS to identify what Sagnik calls your “Predictive Interviewers.” These are the interviewers whose hiring numbers and opinions are the most predictive of candidates who will be the most successful, which Sagnik recommends analyzing across two levels:
These interviewers are often extremely skilled at getting candidates excited about the company. They also tend to be excellent at assessing competencies and influencing candidates to accept offers.
Once you identify your predictive interviewers, you can dive deeper in to tease out the specific behaviors from these individuals that are leading to great outcomes. Then you can incorporate those behaviors into your hiring process or into interviewer training so that you can scale the positive outcomes they lead to.
As companies grow, they begin to put formal frameworks around the hiring process. For example, “every candidate will have seven interviews; three with peers, two with architects, and two with executives.”
These are frameworks you shouldn’t accept in perpetuity; like every other aspect of your business, they need to be systematically reviewed.
If candidates are currently going through seven interviews before they reach the offer stage, what would the impact be if you reduced that to six? Or four? Do you really believe that the additional interviewers meaningfully affect the quality of candidates that you’re hiring?
Generally, the value each subsequent interviewer adds to the process decreases as candidates move farther and farther along the process.
This is not to say you should have one or two people making all the hiring decisions — diversity of feedback is extremely important. It’s also important that candidates feel like they’ve met enough people to get a strong picture of what the company culture is like and who they would be working with. The point is simply to think critically about the process you have in place and make sure that every single interview in the process adds additional value that the previous one did not, both for the candidate and for the company. Sagnik explains,
“The right number of interviews for your company will balance both diversity of feedback and rigorous candidate vetting while reducing the overall interview-to-offer time.”
Your best employees didn’t join your company so that they could spend half their time interviewing other people. If you ask the same engineer to interview 100 people in a year, they are very likely to leave. That’s why it’s just as critical for your interviewers, as well as your candidates, to have a positive experience.
Are they being properly enabled for each conversation? Interviewers should be able to very quickly know important information about the candidate they’ll be speaking with; their professional background, what position they’re interviewing for, what core competencies they should be vetting, potential questions to ask, etc.
Are they interviewing too many candidates? Interviewing can get quite cumbersome when your schedule is already busy and you have a heavy workload. The right number may vary based on the company and role, but the important thing to focus on is that team members should not feel like they’re losing valuable hours of their time every week to interviews.
Do they see their feedback being acknowledged and listened to? Make sure that when employees take the time to interview candidates, they are thanked for their effort, and their feedback is acknowledged. The quickest way to make an interviewer disengage is to ignore their feedback. It’s fine if an interviewer recommends against a candidate who gets hired anyway, but only if the interviewer is given some context into why that decision was made.
Currently, most organizations bias against false positives. Hiring managers and interviewers look for any reason to exclude a candidate from their process. They do this generally for two reasons:
In Sagnik’s experience, this leads to companies losing a significant number of very talented candidates. He has seen many candidates hired after their second or third time applying to the same company, as well as candidates who have been passed over for one role but end up being hired for another. These candidates may have been struggling with serious interview panic or have had something happen in their personal life that prevented them from “showing up” to the interview at their best.
Because of the frequency that Sagnik has seen this occur, he advises companies to bias towards false positives and hone their hiring funnels in other areas so that they can tap into this large pool of talented candidates, and not risk losing great candidates unnecessarily.
In the early days of a company, the focus of the hiring process is on precision over scale, and rightly so. When your company has 20, 50, or even 100 people, each hire is going to have a very powerful impact on your culture. At this stage, you should optimize for precision — establish a very high bar, and make sure every hire meets or exceeds that bar.
However, many companies fool themselves into thinking they can hold that precise bar forever. As you grow, false positives (poor hires) will make it through. It is unavoidable. Sagnik advises that at a certain point (which will vary for each company), you should begin focusing on scale over precision by empowering more team members to make hiring decisions and adapting your hiring process to balance candidate experience with quality vetting.
At this point, you should be devoting your resources to detecting and mitigating poor hires as early as possible, rather than staying laser-focused on preventing them from getting hired in the first place.
Your hiring process should be revisited annually, at minimum. When it is revisited, it should be with a critical eye and a clear goal to find an area for improvement. That area might be your interview-to-offer time, your candidate or interviewer experience, or your feedback and candidate analysis process.
As with every other process at a scaling company, your hiring process should never be set in stone. It should evolve and improve as your company grows and matures. Even at scale, maintaining a flexible hiring process is one of the most important factors in recruiting and retaining top talent in an increasingly competitive market.
Sagnik advises having stories in the bank that interviewers can draw on to communicate the culture of the company or the team they would be joining. He analyzes candidate needs across 4 four pillars:
If these four pillars are addressed to the satisfaction of the candidate during the hiring process, you will not only see a measurable impact on close rates, but you will also see a positive impact on employee retention rates since new team members will have an extremely clear idea of what to expect if they receive and accept an offer.
There are countless tweaks and improvements you can make to your hiring process; that will never change, no matter how large your company gets. And while the tips and strategies outlined above may be helpful to you, every business is unique and will have its own set of requirements.
The important things to keep in mind are that your hiring process should never stagnate, you should be considering both the interviewer and interviewee experience when you develop/change your hiring process, and if you want to be competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, you need to stay flexible.
It may sound impossible to be flexible at scale, but it’s clear that having a rigid hiring process leads to poor outcomes. Flexibility may open the door to poor hires, but that same door also leads to capturing incredible hires who would have otherwise been lost, and according to Sagnik, the positives of a flexible process far outweigh the negatives.
This content came from a private session from Guilds by FirstMark, the largest private network of seasoned operators representing 2000 leaders from top venture-backed companies, with representation from 50% of global unicorns.
To be eligible for Guild Membership, you must be a C- or VP-level leader at a technology company that has raised significant venture capital and/or grown to tens of millions of revenue. Apply here to join.