How I Hire: Questions & Screening

Kalen recently asked on Twitter for tips on hiring frontend developers:

Many people responded with great advice - giving candidates a test project was a frequent answer, and a great step to take. However, even before you assign a test project, I think it's important to evaluate each candidate on several things above and beyond just their development skills.

At Creatuity, I've built our hiring process over the years with input and ideas from books like Joel Spolsky's (CEO of Fog Creek Software) book Smart and Gets Things Done and Tony Hsieh's (CEO of Zappos) book Delivering Happiness. Combining ideas from these books and my experience growing Creatuity over the years and tracking the success of each person we've hired has given us a fairly unique approach.

In what will hopefully become a series of articles, I'd like to share this approach to help both other companies hire better and to help people who are applying at Creatuity understand how the process works and how they can impress us.

Today, I'd like to focus on one of the very first steps of the process - questions & screening. After someone has found our job posting (for instance, our PHP eCommerce Development Intern posting, or if that's not an active posting when you read this, pick any of the positions in our Texas office from this list of open job positions at Creatuity and follow along on that one - the process is similar for both technical and non-technical roles), they're faced with more than just the usual fields of name, resume and cover letter. We ask a few additional questions on the initial application, such as:

Why do you want to work in software development?
Do you find ecommerce interesting? Why?
Any other comments you'd like us to consider while reviewing your application?

These questions serve several purposes. We're looking for a few different things:

  1. Did the candidate answer all of the questions with short, brief sentences, giving little detail? If so, that's a good sign they're applying everywhere they can, looking for any job at all, and not specifically interested in working for us or working in this specific position. That's usually a bad sign.
  2. Do they seem passionate? Passionate about their work, their life, our industry? Passionate people tend to be successful people.
  3. Does their response seem well-written? Do they use text (SMS) abbreviations, or do they write professionally? One common thread I've seen in many, many books and articles on hiring is that no matter what the position is, written communication skills can be one of the biggest indicators of potential success or failure as an employee.

Based on the resumes and responses to these questions, we'll generally select a large number of people to send a followup screener to. This screener is sent via email and consists of a few more questions. For instance, for our marketing internships, we'll ask:

Why do you want to work at Creatuity?
When you visit our website at what do you notice? How well do you think it communicates our value and our brand to potential clients, and what would you change about it?
We strongly believe in work-life balance and making sure our employees have an opportunity to pursue their hobbies and have time off to spend with friends and family. What are some of your hobbies?
What's the most interesting personal project you've completed?
Include a link to your blog and Twitter accounts if you'd like, to help us understand your experience with blogging and Twitter/social media.
We strongly believe in our Core Values and want to find employees and interns that mesh well with these values - which of these values do you identify with the most?

This is also where we'd generally ask for a sample project (in the case of marketing interns, we give them a brief overview of our current marketing efforts and ask them to critique it and provide a course of action they would take for marketing our services).

This series of questions is designed to judge a few different things before we then select who we call in for an interview, such as:

  1. Their desire, interest and motivation level - the majority of candidates never even reply to these questions. If you won't take the time to answer these questions when you're looking for a job, what sort of motivation levels will you have when you're working each day?
  2. Their basic level of skill in the field we're hiring them for - we'll dive into this further during the interview, but we want to get a feel for their experience before we get to that point.
  3. If they are really passionate about this field - if their most interesting personal project is related to ecommerce (our focus at Creatuity), then that means they're really passionate about the field, and that passion will show in their work.
  4. Questions about hobbies, etc., allow us to start getting a feel for how they might interact with existing members of our team and oftentimes uncover strengths a person otherwise wouldn't think to mention during an interview.

Once a candidate passes the initial application screening and answers these questions, we'll generally schedule a phone or in-person interview. After implementing these steps, hiring definitely takes longer - a majority of the people who view the job posting don't apply and a majority that apply don't answer the follow-up questions. However, those that do make it through this process are much more likely to be individuals we would make a job offer to, and those individuals also tend to be much, much more successful employees.

Thanks to this process, turnover is very, very low at Creatuity - this, combined with our accelerated review process during the first two months of employment has almost entirely eliminated hiring mistakes.

The jobs we're hiring for are all in our offices, so we always do an in-person interview as the last step, however, this process could be adapted and has been used with remote hiring as well - either through job postings or sites like oDesk.

If you have any questions about our screening processes, feel free to post them here or find me on Twitter - @JoshuaSWarren - I'd love to discuss my approach to hiring with you. Also let me know what aspect of the recruiting/hiring/onboarding process you'd like me to write about next.

I hope this helps Kalen and anyone else that's looking for a solid way to hire great candidates.

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Jamie Larson