“Over 90% of our interviews are entirely virtual, where we never meet the candidate in person. Now with the current climate, we’ve moved to 100% virtual.”

Recruiting in the Zoom Age

We're being challenged to adapt during unprecedented times, and recruiters are navigating an overnight shift to virtual interviewing.

In this issue of The Offer, we break down Netlify's entirely virtual interview process to learn how they evaluate, sell and win candidates in the Zoom Age - with tactics and templates you can put into use today.

Why Netlify?

Over 80% of Netlify’s employees were hired without ever meeting them in person. Oh yeah, and they have a 94% close rate.  

We sat down with Brandi Bergstrom, Recruiting Manager, and Darla Downing, Recruiting Operations Specialist at Netlify to break down the 7 core tactics they use to win using a virtual interview process.

An Overview of Netlify's 7 Core Tactics:

  1. A pre-designed “Zoom process”
  2. A transparent “interview guide” to share with candidates
  3. A “tip sheet” to share with interviewers
  4. A Slack channel for candidates to collaborate
  5. A “gated” interview process with lean interview teams
  6. A reverse interview
  7. A "feedback session" for candidate rejections

Below we dig into each tactic in detail and link to downloadable templates at the end of the post.

Tactic 1: A pre-designed “Zoom process”

Whether using Zoom or other video conferencing software, Darla emphasizes how vital it is to nail the specifics of how your video links get generated, shared and joined by interviewers and candidates to avoid logistical hiccups that can kill an interview.

The traditional method of creating Zoom calls just wasn’t working for us.

One major improvement Netlify made was creating a more “organized” approach using Personal Meeting IDs for everyone at the company (“PMIs” are specific to Zoom). When doing virtual interviews, interviewers often use Zoom's auto-generated meeting room IDs through Zoom's Chrome extension or Calendar integration. This caused interview slots to get double-booked or scheduled over recurring meetings like 1:1s, generating error messages and a logistics nightmare for everyone involved.

To solve this, Brandi created a "Zoom process" - a spreadsheet of every interviewer which includes their permanent PMI (found in Zoom settings), timezone, LinkedIn profile and personal bio. This doc became the source of truth that allows the recruiting team to copy any interviewer’s info into Greenhouse and the candidate’s interview guide (more on this soon), dramatically simplifying their workflow and making video calls easily accessible to the interviewer and candidate without scheduling conflicts.

Tactic 2: A transparent “interview guide” to share with candidates

Netlify cites “transparency” as one of their secret recruiting weapons. Darla describes the process of creating robust interview guides that get sent to all candidates at [the equivalent of] the onsite stage and beyond.

This had such an impact for Netlify, they now share interview guides with candidates even earlier in the process, at the phone screen stage.

It’s critical that the candidate understands the makeup of our interview process up front and has all the information at their fingertips. We communicate up front what each step of the interview process is expected to be, who they will be meeting with during each interview, how long we expect the process to take and detailed tips on how to prepare, like finding a quiet spot for the interview and making sure your AirPods are charged.

Darla touches on the biggest hurdle keeping more recruiters from doing this - the upfront cost:

We’re now use software for this, but initially we would painfully write long Greenhouse email templates summarizing our process, and even that was clearly worth it given the impact on our process.
An example interview schedule shared with the candidate

Darla and Brandi both pointed out how details of the interview process like times and interviewers commonly change unexpectedly which causes many recruiters trepidation in being transparent up front. But the Netlify team sees potential changes as a genuine opportunity to build rapport with candidates through these additional touchpoints.

We try to maximize the amount of touchpoints with each candidate as long as each provides value or helps them get to know us better. We’ve never received feedback from a candidate that we over communicated.

Netlify flips a potential negative experience (ie. the process changing mid-flight) into an asset. As they explain, when a detail in the process changes it creates an opportunity to check in with the candidate, to let them know what’s going on and explain what to expect during the upcoming interview:

We may not even be in the pre-selling stage yet but with each touchpoint we build trust and candidates get increasingly bought in. They’re getting a real sense of what it’s like to work here.

You’ll find a link to an interview guide template at the bottom of this post you can try yourself.

Tactic 3: A “tip sheet” to share with interviewers

Netlify encourages building a “tip sheet” - or even better, running a brief training session for interviewers - to outline best practices and common technology pitfalls so interviewers are prepared.

Here's what a tip sheet might include:

This downloadable tip sheet is linked below

Like testing a product before you ship to live users, Netlify emphasizes doing a test run before you roll out the process to candidates. This is an easy way to fix bugs that will impact the candidate (and interviewer's) experience.

The team also encouraged strong internal organization - the stuff the candidate doesn’t see - to ensure all goes smoothly during interviews. This includes fluid internal communication and feedback between interviews across recruiters and interviewers, via your ATS, or Slack in Netlify's case.

As a final note, Brandi recommends surveying your interview team for any concerns about running a virtual interview process:

It’s important to ensure that everyone on the interview team is comfortable with the virtual process. If they aren’t, it will impact all of their interviews.

Superpro-tip from Brandi: Include new hires in the interview process as interviewers. As your new employees onboard, they can refer back to their own candidate experience which services as training for how to be an effective interviewer at your company.

Tactic 4: A Slack channel for candidates to collaborate

For engineering and other roles that require the candidate to complete a project as part of the interview process, Netlify uses Slack to engage the candidate in a meaningful way:

We do a project and invite them to a single slack channel. We let candidates know upfront that the coding project is done in slack to give them a chance to communicate live and interact with the engineering team and post questions.

How Netlify does it:

  1. Once a candidate reached the project stage, the recruiter creates a Slack channel titled “#interview_candidatename” and invites the hiring manager and interview team.
  2. Once they’re in, someone in the channel volunteers to be the "team captain" for this candidate. The captain is responsible for welcoming the candidate in Slack, sharing the project details and ensuring questions are answered. Oh, and sharing lots of emoji love.
  3. Once the candidate is invited to the channel, they get a warm welcome by the team creating a friendly tone and to minimize the “this is a test” feel.
  4. The captain shares the project overview in the channel using a template which links to a pre-prepared Github repository for the project (for engineering candidates).
  5. Once the project is complete, the candidate uploads a zip the file which the team adds to Greenhouse with the scorecard for review. The recruiting team tells candidates up front that the channel will go dark after their project is submitted and is set to expire in 30 days. From here, primary communication with the candidate moves back to email.

Throughout the process, the candidate is encouraged to engage and interact with the Netlify team by asking questions to get a feel for what it’s like to work together:

We tell candidates that this is really an opportunity for you to see what it looks like to work here - an opportunity to focus on what’s in it for the candidate.

This part of Netlify’s process has another secret weapon built in. Because Netlify is a “Slack-first culture,” which they admit has its pros and cons, they value and assess a candidate’s collaboration style and level of engagement.

Brandi explains the importance of making their project stage an interactive experience designed to elicit responses, collaboration and communication in the Slack channel. Candidates who do well across Netlify's process tend to be engaged, communicative and ask questions.

Tactic 5: A “gated” interview process with lean interview teams

Instead of waiting until the candidate finishes several interviews before making a decision, the Netlify team instead has a “gated” interview process (vs a “panel” style) whereby they make a decision to move forward after each individual interview. This protects both the candidate and interviewer’s time by avoiding unnecessary interviews.

Brandi emphasizes how important it is to educate candidates up front about their gated interviews work so there are no surprises:

When we do our initial screen with a candidate, we work diligently as a recruiting team to educate the candidate about our process, explaining how our gated process works so there are no surprises. Again and again we find that candidates appreciate transparency and show up better because of it.

Another design detail that improves the experience for candidates is the number of interviewers in each interview. Netlify aims for a maximum of 2 interviewers in each block. "We don’t do large group interviews over Zoom unless it’s an exception. We try to keep each interview to only the candidate and two interviewers max,” says Brandi.

Tactic 6: A reverse interview

Brandi, trying to melt our hearts:

The interview isn’t over until the candidates questions are answered.

This is about when we started begging for jobs at Netlify.

Brandi explains the importance of the interview process being an equal, two-way street. She believes candidates should have an opportunity to learn as much about the company as the company gets to learn about them. Because it could be the start of a long-term relationship, it’s critical that both parties, especially the candidate, are making an informed decision. If the candidate is making a decision with incomplete information it’s a risk for both the candidate and the company.

Brandi on transparency:

Our recruiters are an open book. We believe in fully open communications so both sides can make the best decision. That’s in everyone’s best interest over the long term.

By the end of the interview process candidates have the opportunity to explore Netlify’s business and request meetings with anyone on the team - including the co-founders. This is what we dubbed a "reverse interview."

According to Brandi, not every candidate takes them up on the offer but they notice that merely giving the option makes candidates less stressed.

This is another opportunity to get the broader company involved in the hiring process. Brandi explains that each person at Netlify is part of the candidate experience, and part of the interview process:

We hire as an organization. As for the recruiting team, we're the conductor that keeps the train on the tracks. Hiring is a true organization-wide effort.

Tactic 7: A "feedback session" for candidate rejections

When Netlify decides not to move forward with a candidate, they triple down on the human approach.

They offer candidates a “feedback session” to explain the rationale for the decision, so they have the opportunity to learn and grow. This not only helps candidates who they reject, but it turns many into referral engines and Netlify brand evangelists. A highly differentiating part of Netlify’s process in the eyes of candidates is that they lead with empathy:

We stop and ask: how would we like to be treated? We try to lead with empathy. It's easy to come up with a strategy if you know your priority is the candidate first, because you can inform it with how you want to be treated.

This isn't easy, as Brandi notes. "It's not easy to get on a Zoom call face to face and tell a candidate that we’re not going to hire them. But it’s the right thing to do. We pull up feedback from their interviews and offer it to them so they can learn and grow, if they want it. We let them know that this is not a value judgement about them as a person and that interviewing is far from a science.”

Another characteristic that helps Netlify win the hearts and minds of candidates - even of those they reject - is humility. They work hard to understand where they can get better and ask candidates for their feedback on how they can improve:

We know we’re not perfect. We treat candidates as human beings and let them know we are too. We let them know we make mistakes; that we can improve. We ask candidates for feedback on what we could do better and we tell them how we’re going to fix it.

Underlying Principles of Netlify's Interview Process

  • Candidate obsession: Putting in work upfront to offer candidates a better experience transforms the process and outcomes.
  • Transparency: A secret weapon that filters out the wrong candidates and naturally sells the right ones by helping them understand what it’s like to work at the company.
  • (Over)communication: A widely available and under utilized asset that fixes process gaps and creates opportunities to connect with candidates.
  • Org-wide recruiting: it’s a company-wide effort and the recruiting team serves as “the conductor that keeps the train on the tracks.”

Narrator: Damn! We know there’s many ways to skin a cat but we’re confident if more companies emulated Netlify’s approach, the world would be a slightly better place (and more teams would hit their hiring goals).

Resources

  1. Candidate Interview Guide [Template]
  2. Virtual Interviewer Tip Sheet [Template]

Whew, that was fun. If you enjoyed the first issue of The Offer, forward it along and subscribe to future posts here.

Until next time ✌️

Troy Sultan, Resource CEO