“I’m Matt Sevey, and I’m Going to be your VP of Engineering in two years.”
Coming in Hot
During my interview with Sia, the leading decentralized data storage platform, I was able to articulate something that I was never able to before. What are your career goals? For better or worse, I told them I was going to be the Vice President of Engineering.
Prior to Sia I was working for Procter & Gamble (P&G), and going from a global corporation to a seven-person startup was a big change, but what stuck out to me the most was the level of engagement. Much like me, many of the people I worked with in my previous career didn’t have much passion for what they were doing. Startups are fueled by passion and collective excitement to solve problems. Sia was no different, and as an early-stage startup, each member of the company made an intentional choice to join our small but mighty team.
After a successful round of funding, it was time to start growing the team. For us, this meant doubling the size of the company. Even though that meant bringing on only seven hires, we knew this would have a huge impact on the company. One of the skills I gained at P&G was expertise in developing and improving internal processes, so I gave myself the goal to create the best hiring and onboarding experience possible. I started documenting all that I could with our current interview process and asking questions about how we handled various stages of interviewing. In typical startup fashion, our team largely operated on the principle that whoever identifies work to be done gets tasked with completing it. For me, this meant that even though I was the newest hire, I was suddenly charged with defining our hiring process and managing the new hire experience.
At the time, like many startups, we were using AngelList for our job board and applicant tracking system (ATS). While the cost of free was great, Angellist lacked some key features that we needed if we wanted to create a great experience for new hires. Lever has become a very well-known name in the ATS and recruiting software space, and after reviewing the features of their starter plan we made the switch. With Lever, I was able to create standardized email templates and feedback forms so that we could give the same experience to every candidate.
Alright, so I had a platform that allowed me to give each candidate the same high-quality experience, but now I had to figure out what that experience should be.
I had some experience conducting interviews—but in a totally different industry. I reflected on my recent experience changing careers and thought about some of the advice I received.
How can I incorporate aspects of the interview process that I appreciated as the candidate?
How can we determine if the candidates applying are making the same intentional choices about their careers that we have to continue to strengthen our team?
One piece of advice I received when I was interviewing, was that candidates should have the mindset that they are interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing them. This is something I firmly agree with and believe this leads to a better result for the candidate and the company. In order to gauge whether a candidate has this mindset, I created feedback forms for our interviews that had a place to document what questions a candidate was asking. This helped us see which candidates were asking thoughtful questions about the role and company and which were asking surface-level questions that could be found on our job posting.
If we were expecting candidates to ask thoughtful questions, then we need to be asking thoughtful questions as well. I curated a list of questions for us to ask each candidate. First on the list was asking about their career goals. If a candidate can’t clearly articulate what they want out of their career, then they are still figuring things out and might discover in a few months that they don’t actually want to work with us. This was a good start, but I knew we needed something else that would help us determine if the candidate was going to be a good fit for a startup environment.
VUCA State of Mind
Fortunately, we found a great article that talked about candidates who can handle volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) situations typically have the skill set to thrive in a startup environment. To determine if someone can handle VUCA situations, you look for curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. This turned out to be a great framework to evaluate candidates with. Something we discovered is that these end up being a great indicator of whether or not a candidate is passionate about what they do. With limited resources, startups need people to hit the ground running, candidates that are passionate about the work will do just that.
With each step of the process, we tried to be as upfront as possible with the expectations for the interview. Being so explicit about interview expectations might seem counter to the goal of looking for candidates who can handle VUCA situations, however, I found that not to be the case. I always hated going into an interview not knowing what to expect, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t put any of our candidates through that. We got feedback from several candidates expressing that they really appreciated this approach. The other thing we found was that when the expectations are clearly stated it ends up being easier for the interviewer to identify those that go above and beyond. With the expectations so clearly laid out, it requires the candidate to have more curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination to stand out.
Deciding what roles you need to hire is hard, writing good job descriptions that attract the right candidates is even harder, and creating a standardized process for evaluating those candidates is harder still. It is a lot of work to find the right questions to ask that help you identify the values and qualities you are looking for in a candidate, but in the end, it pays dividends. We were able to fill all our positions with candidates we were truly excited about, and in no time at all, each hire was working and contributing as if they had been part of the team for years. We recently started hiring again, and are excited to continue to improve the process and bring more amazing people on board.
I’ve been very fortunate to share my story with a number of people, and something I always try and share is a piece of advice that was given to me. When going through a change, whether it be a new location, position, company, or career, there will inevitably be an adjustment period. However, you are in control of how long that adjustment period is, and whether you see the change as an obstacle or an opportunity.