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The Right Team vs. The Team for Right Now

By Nathan Hughes | Detroit Labs | 5/25/2016
 

Detroit Labs office space in downtown Detroit. 

The very first day we opened our doors at Detroit Labs, we talked about how our initial projects would probably look very different than the problems we’d be solving five years down the road if our crazy startup idea survived. It turns out we were right. Based on our early insights, the recruiting systems we built have always looked at developing the right future team rather than merely the team for right now. Hiring for today’s specific technology expertise took a back seat to identifying teammates that could adapt to new technologies and tackle problems we couldn’t predict.

To find individuals that could change as fast as our business would, we made several key decisions early on about the structure of our hiring process:

  1. Hiring would be an open and inclusive process. We want everyone to contribute to building the company, and as a services business that means hiring and adding to our team needs all of our brainpower focused on it. 
  2. We structured hiring activities to meet our goals, not to match industry standards. We abandoned resumes for custom questionnaires for each role, required practical skills interviews for every position, and distributed interview responsibilities across all teams and all roles. 
  3. We’d go to where the candidates we wanted already are. Instead of blasting postings on generic boards, we aggressively worked small networks, boutique message and job boards, local user groups, and personal networks for our early hires.

A key differentiator in this process is the role-specific questionnaire we begin all hiring activities with. We call it the GTKY, which stands for Getting to Know You, and it is full of technical and non-technical questions that allow the candidate to describe their background and demonstrate their written communication style, ability to sell themselves, and tell a story. It also serves several other purposes:

  1. We knew we’d probably be recruiting individuals who weren’t actively looking for work, and wouldn’t have an up-to-date resume. For those folks, instead of requiring them to put together a resume, we ask them to put together a GTKY.
  2. Resumes are word-rich but lacking in the actual information we care about. As a company that is more interested in what kind of person you are than what programming languages you list, the GTKY allows us to get more of the information we care about up front in the process.
  3. Filling out the GTKY takes a lot of personal time and investment. Those that do, demonstrate that they are serious about applying to Detroit Labs. It’s impossible to blast a resume to us and enter the hiring process.

Everyone in the company ranks every GTKY we get with a simple thumbs up/thumbs down vote. As candidates progress, they participate in at least two in-person interviews. The first attempts to determine what a candidate brings to Detroit Labs that we don’t currently possess – a skill, cultural contribution, experience, or background. The second is a practical interview where the candidate is able to show how they’d actually do the work and achieve the goals of the job they are applying to. Technical interviews for programmers are common enough, but we make it a point to have every role, from salespeople to designers, act out their future work.

With a few changes, this same process later screened hundreds of applicants to find the right few dozen for our Apprenticeship programs. Because it was designed to find the ideal potential teammates based on behaviors instead of current specific skills, making some slight adjustments to the GTKY questions and structuring the in-person interviews appropriate for many more people was straightforward and successful. Similar changes allowed the process to be used to hire summer interns and developers for our OnSite business unit.

For companies like ours, the cliché is accurate: our people are our most important asset. Whether looking for seasoned executives or students most likely to graduate a technical curriculum, a structured and goal-oriented recruiting process that exposes and demonstrates the behavioral requirements necessary for success outperforms the resume keyword sniffing and HR-exclusive hiring team process we’ve dealt with in the past. Time after time, a correctly structured screening process is the predictor of success.

Nathan Hughes serves as co-founder of Detroit Labs, a Detroit-based mobile development company and maker of iPhone, iPad, Android, and vehicle apps. The firm has partnered with national brands like Domino’s Pizza, General Motors, DTE Energy, and Hyundai to dream up, design, and build beautiful, intuitive apps. For more information, visit www.detroitlabs.com

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