Remote Hiring [Husney]


Jordan Husney, co-founder and CEO of Prabol gave a great talk about remote hiring as part of NOBL’s Change@Work conference, which he later transformed into an even better blog post: 

6 steps to hiring as a fully-remote team 

Parabol’s team has been fully-remote for the last 5-years, so while many organizations had to transition to hiring remotely relatively recently, the Parabol team has had a few reps under its belt and it’s great to learn from their experience. 

Jordan is an incredibly sharp thinker, so I’d highly recommend reading his post in its entirety to fully benefit from his deep observations. Below, I’d only outline Prabol’s hiring process at a high level and offer my perspective on it. 

1. Application

The application process is extremely lightweight: contact info, work eligibility, and relevant materials that the candidate thinks attest well to their fit for the role. Note that a resume is not required (but is an option), which I’m a big fan of as they’re often bad predictors of fit. The one tweak I’d offer here would be to offer a fast-track option (quicker application review time) that requires completing a short assignment, demonstrating deeper interest from the candidate. 

2. Optional pre-screen 

Throughout the process, there’s an intentional effort to not waste either the candidate’s or the team’s time and this is a good example of that. The outcome of reviewing the application doesn’t have to be a definitive pass/fail. If the outcome of the review is inconclusive, the team simply emails the candidate asking a specific question or requesting additional information, rather than forcing a definitive, suboptimal outcome — passing on a candidate who had a shot or wasting time with a borderline candidate.

3. Phone screen 

A 30-min phone call (sometimes shorter) where the agenda is optimized to reject a candidate who’s not a fit as quickly as possible, by asking the biggest question first. Parabol’s “big question” is very straightforward: 

Compared to your previous roles, what would you like to do more of and less of in your next role? And why does Parabol feel like a good fit for you?

However, it packs a lot of insights, allowing the team to get a rough assessment of the candidate’s self-awareness, motivation, alignment of interests, excitement about the opportunity, and level of verbal communication skills. 

At the end of the screen, the baton for driving the process forward is passed to the candidate. If they’d like to move forward, they’re asked to send the team an email with any questions that they didn’t get answered today and want answered as part of upcoming conversations. 

I LOVE this little tweak! Not only does it give the team a strong signal on the candidate’s level of interest in the role, and doesn’t waste their time with candidates that would just show up to the interview day because they were invited to one, it also, and perhaps more importantly, a deeply empathetic way to connect with the candidate, acknowledge that this is a two-way evaluation process, and in a small way, allows them to co-design the remainder of the process to fit their needs. 

4. Skills assessment: 2 months, 2 weeks

A 30–60mins session in which candidates are asked to look critically at Parabol data and ask questions in order to create their own onboarding plan and scope out about 2 months of work. 

Towards the end of the session, they are given a take-home assignment (that’s emailed back to the team once complete) in which they are asked to distill the plan down to: 

  1. The 3–5 things they’d like to get done in the first 2 months.
  2. The 3–5 things they’d like to get done in the first 2 weeks.

I’m a big supporter of the overall approach of avoiding brain teasers and various whiteboarding exercises for assessing skills. However, there’s some nuance that’s not fully captured in the description of this step that may or may not cause it to introduce bias of its own. 

Most of us are pretty bad in engaging with out-of-context hypothetical scenarios: thinking how we’d act in a situation we’ve never been in before, or how we’d solve a problem we’ve never solved before. This gets compounded if we have to do that “thinking on our feet” without time to fully digest the new situation and pattern-match it to a challenge we have been in before. 

The “live” portion of the exercise outlined above runs that risk, though it can be mitigated by teeing up the conversation and sharing the data ahead of time. Recording the interview and making the recording available for the take-home assignment, as well as ensuring that follow-up questions are encouraged, can further mitigate some biases. 

Personally, I’d still couple this exercise with a deep dive on a recent project that the candidate was involved with/led. Hearing the candidate truly in their element, speaking about something that they’re an expert on (their own experience) can be a good counterbalance for some of the challenges with the hypothetical exercise. 

5. Cultural assessment

This is a 60-mins group session (a member from each team is present) aimed at assessing the candidate’s alignment with Parabol’s 3 core values: transparency, empathy, and experimentation. 

The format uses “tell me about a time…” questions (“Can you think of a time when you last lost your cool?”) and follow-up questions to explore deeper (“if we were to ask the other person what their version of this story would be, what would it sound like?”).

The laser focus on values alignment, rather than broad and fuzzy “culture fit” is fantastic. 

However, the method, as Jordan points out himself, is imperfect in ways that go beyond needing to be mindful that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. “Tell me about a time” questions suffer from the same retrieval/out-of-context challenges as hypotheticals. I don’t keep a running list of times that I lost my cool in my head, and it may be difficult for me to think of one on the spot. Yet that has little to do with my actual alignment with the company’s values. “Tell me about a time” questions run the risk of assessing more for preparedness for answering the particular question than the essence of the response itself. An alternative approach will be similar to the one outlined in the previous section: asking broader experience questions and zooming in from there. For example: what did you like/dislike the most in your previous role? what were your greatest strengths/areas of growth in that role? what would your manager say if we asked him? what was your proudest achievement? They are not without fault of their own, but better than “tell me about a time” questions, in my opinion. 

6. Contract-to-hire “batting practice”

Rather than forcing the team towards an expensively reversible “hire/don’t hire” decision, after the cultural assessment the team answers a different question, consistent with their experimentation/safe to try value: 

Do we want to put some of our company’s money and more of our team’s time to try working alongside this candidate?

A 20-hour task is picked, often from the onboarding plan the candidate created in the skills assessment interview, and the candidate is extended a 2–4 weeks part-time contract to complete it, depending on their availability. At the end of the project, the candidate reviews the deliverable with the team and they conduct a shared retrospective, after which the team needs to make a unanimous decision on whether to extend a full-time offer to the candidate. 

Conceptually, I’m a big supporter of this type of contract-to-hire assessment as a way to give both parties a better feel for what it would be like to work together. Practically, it can be a challenging commitment for many candidates with existing full-time jobs and family obligations. 

My only other hope is that the team is embodying the “safe enough to try” value in their final decision as well, looking for consent, rather than consensus on that final decision. 

Taking a step back, the Parabol process is a great blueprint for a highly effective remote hiring process. I’ve outlined the tweaks that I’d make to make it even better. You should consider your own. The only big thing that I would have liked to see more of, is carving out more time for the candidate to assess the company, not just for the company to assess the candidate. While I didn’t see it listed in the post, one way to go about it is still credited in my head to Jordan: have one of the interviews be an interview where the candidate explicitly interviews an employee in the company rather than the other way around. I’ll let this be my parting thought for this post. 

Remote Hiring [Husney]

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