Session Transcripts

A live transcription team captured the SRCCON sessions that were most conducive to a written record—about half the sessions, in all.

Recruiting and Hiring People, Not Wishlists

Session Facilitator(s): Erika Owens, Helga Salinas, Ted Han

Day & Time: Thursday, 4:30-5:30pm

Room: Thomas Swain

So I think there are still folks grabbing their caffeine and snacks, so we’ll probably wait a couple more minutes and then get started.

Hi everybody: There are—we’ve got enough people that we could actually like feasibly form a circle and actually talk in a group, so we’re thinking about doing that. Would you guys mind coming over this way with some chairs?

Well, I think we could stand, maybe. Yeah, yeah, we’ll stand just for the start and so we’re like moving and awake a little bit. And then you’ll be able to sit again, promise.

The promise is sitting later.

Yeah, circle, we can bring it over here.

Oh, we’re doing a circle of trust?

Just a circle.

Duck duck goose? Sure.

And dodgeball.

I don’t think I’ve been in a circle since freshman year of college. I’m excited.

Why don’t we get started?

Well, welcome, three of us convened this discussion and we’re really happy for you to join us. So I’m Erika.

I’m Helga.

And I’m Ted and so a lot of this discussion kind of came around like a lot of—hiring is sort of a fraught discussion from basically any angle you want to take it, and especially given the way that like news and tech are often approached ostensibly from very different angles, and so there have been a lot of different discussions that have cropped around right around the SRCCON pitches were going a and this session ended up getting put together so we can discuss this from a different angles and from my perspective, DocumentCloud has been hiring over the past year, and trying to figure out how to get that stuff right, especially since we operate as a remote organization, too, it’s been an interesting and challenging thing from my perspective, you know, having also been an applicant in the past, and of course we’ve gone through a bunch of discussion of this from the applicant angle, too.

I’ve been job-searching for the past year and I’ve been going through the sphere of how to present myself as a journalist or as a person who has a lot of experience with tech since it’s been like a balance about how do I pitch for myself, who do I reach out to, how do I reach out to this person and how do I cover all of my different passions you know, using buzzwords and key words.

Yeah, and I have come at this from a few different angles, we have a fellowship program and have done a lot of work in thinking about how to do outreach and make that process inclusive, and so really excited to talk more about all the of different angles of this process. There was also a session earlier today in newsroom Nadsat that was talking about language used in job postings, in interviews, in different parts of this process, so we’re really excited to dive in a little bit more on the hiring piece and so, just to give you an overview of what we’re going to be doing in the next hour or so, we’re going to start with this activity where you are all standing. Just to get ta little bit of a sense about the perps of where we’re all coming from in terms of being and applicant or someone being in a hiring role. We’re then going to move to a small group activity to talk about some of the things that have made it easier or more difficult to interview for a position, or recruit people for a position, and then we’re going to come together with some recommendations of things that we can do to improve this process, both from the perspective of an applicant and of a hiring manager, so there are some ambitious plans for this hour but we hope you’re up for it and we’re really excited to have you in the room, so to start, we were going to do an activity that is meant to visualize the perspectives that we’re coming from, so we’re going to shout out some questions, and if that question applies to you, you can step into the circle. And then we’ll be able to visualize who all this has applied to, so we have a couple of questions in mind, and then we’re also really excited to hear questions that might arise to you that you might be interested in getting a read on in the room.

So I think we can start with the first question, which would be have you ever been a job applicant?

OK. Great. So we can step back out. And then to the next kind of perspective on things, have you ever been in a hiring role?


You want the list?

Oh, sure, yeah, if you want to read off the list.

And then we had a bunch of other questions, too, like have you ever read through a job description that you thought was interesting, but the bullet point requirements didn’t make any expense?

15 years experience.

Five years-plus Node.js.

And likewise have you read through job descriptions that you thought were interesting but you didn’t fit all the bullet points they had listed? Now, how many people applied anyway?

OK, cool.

Now, how many people here have actually had to write a job description?

OK. And if you guys have things that you’d want to throw out, too, if you have any questions that you want to ask a group of other people who have been applicants or we can keep on going through these, but keep in mind we’ll be going back. Have you ever hired a person who actually fit all of the bulletins that you put in the job post?



Have you hired—have you ever hired for those who have hired, have you ever hired a person who didn’t fit all of the bullets in your job posting?


If you’ve had to write a job posting, did HR have to approve it?

Not now.

OK. So does anybody else have anything they’d want to throw out and ask at this point?

Have you ever read a job description and at the end of it had no idea what the person was to be doing day to day?

OK, anybody else?

Who currently hires by trial?

What do you mean by trial?

Like application project, some sort of work experience project.

Yeah, right, paid.

We do like a test. We contract work and then hire.

Yeah, that’s probably the same idea.

Who’s like not gotten the kinds of job applicants they wanted from an application they put into the world?


OK. Now I’ve got a question then. Who has posted a job like a job description on a service that you had to pay for?

What service?

Any of them. Like.

I’m just curious.

Authentic Jobs,

We work remotely.

Yeah, that’s the best one.

Stack overflow careers.


How many people have actually hired somebody off of one of those lists?


How many people have hired somebody off of a mailing list or sort of community group that you’re part of?

How many people have hired someone from a conference?

Hey, guys, how’s it going? Helga.

I was going to ask how many people are here more or less explicitly for that purpose?

To hire or to be hired?

How many people have been hired from a conference like this?


For people who are trying to hire for diverse applicants how many people have contacted cultural affinity groups or cultural organizations to do the hiring?

To do the hiring or to.

To help, yeah.

Yeah, I did that.

What does that look like? I’m very curious? So if you are looking to diversify your engineers, did you contact the national society of black or Latino engineers, if you are looking to hire more queer journalists, did you contact—how many people have hired from those places?


Sometimes I ask them to tell me. I don’t know in all cases.

Who has shared their interview questions with applicants ahead of time?

We kind of, yeah.

That one’s complicated, because I mean like what I’ve done is gone through a couple of rounds and one of them I actually want very explicitly to say that I’m I want to have a conversation about this specific thing.

Who’s lost a good candidate because the interview process was horrible?

Oh, my God.

Who’s now satisfied with their hiring process?

They’re all in the other sessions.

Yeah, this is the self-help group. Who’s had a satisfying experience as an applicant?

Can I step back? You haven’t had a single satisfying experience?


That’s sad. I want to hug you right now.

Any final questions?

I have a reverse of a question that was asked which is as an applicant, who has begun to look on that company with sort of like a bad overshadow because of the hiring process?

For people who have been hired or hiring, how many of you have gotten your employment through one to two degrees of personal friends relationships? I know someone who knows someone.

I was going to ask you how many have hired without an actual job posting because you knew someone?

So how many of you have had to give advice to somebody else about either hiring or being an applicant?

How many people have hired someone from a competitor?

The flip side: How many have hired from outside the industry?

Which industry?

All right, anybody else have questions? How many people have found a job through an affinity job based on diversity, like some diversity that you identify with has a specific group that encourages members’ postings to spread them wider among each other.

That’s upsetting.

The other question I have is how many of you could belong to an affinity group who don’t actually belong to one?

Right, like I’m not part of AJAM, for example, I could be, and that’s I guess a thing for me. More than anything else.

How many people have been hired cold without any like personal relationship by an organization?

How many of you have come out of an interview not knowing what they were looking for?

How many people have been hired and still not figured out why you were hired?

OK, how many people have been hired for a job and ended up doing something different than what they thought they were being hired for?

Oh, all of us.

How many people have worked in a place where the job listing they saw was different than what they felt their team needed?

How many people could recite their current job description?

I wrote mine.

I mean I –


I think it would take a while.

Like you know it off the top of my head and –

How many people have a job description?

How many people’s reviews match their job description? Oh, awesome.

I’d say mine does.

Yeah? Yeah? Everyone that works for ProPublica, you know what you’re getting. Cool.

That’s actually a good transition point, yeah.

Yeah, yeah, so if everyone wants to take a seat again we’ll transition into the next activity. Thank you so much for getting up, moving around a little bit and sharing those questions which also had within them some great tips. OK, all right, so there’s a mic and it’s very loud. So the next half hour, the basically the bulk of the rest of the session is going to be time for you to chat with the other people in the room. We really want to hear what your experiences have been. So those questions kind of came from the applicant perspective and the hiring manager perspective, so it would be great if you could get into groups to represent one of those perspectives. So you can either like move into different groups or just like collectively as a table decide which perspective you want to like speak from in this next activity.

But we should explain why, too.

Yeah, so what we want to surface is things that make hiring more challenging from a hiring manager’s perspective, and things that make hiring easier from a hiring manager’s perspective and on the flip side, things that make an application process more difficult for an applicant or things that make an application process easier for an applicant, so we kind of like want to branch those out, so the so if you can either pick for your table or move into groups, I don’t know –

Do you want to just say one side is one and one –

Yeah, yeah, that’s probably the simplest route.

Y, of course there’s a grid of 3X3. So we’ll see people interested in the hiring manager’s perspective over here and people are interested from the manager’s perspective over here, and what we’re looking for is what are things in the process that you’ve gone through that have made the experience considerably poorer or better when working with like an applicant from the perspective of a hiring manager or vice versa. Like we talked about things like job descriptions being unclear, right, that’s obviously a thing that makes being an applicant hard, versus things that have been good experience for you from the perspective of you understood what the job posting was about and you had a good interviewing experience or things like that.

So if anyone wants to move, if there’s anyone who wants to talk from the applicant perspective that wants to move over to this side or move over to this side, or is everyone is pretty good where they are, and it’s not it’s not meant to be a strict divide, just for like the purposes of where your head space is. Just for the purposes of this activity. So just to—just to frame the activity a little bit, first we’re going to give you about 10 minutes to talk about things that maximize your experience. So if you’re a hiring manager, things that improve the experience of being a hiring manager, things that improve the experience of posting jobs, doing outreach, focus on things that improve the experience and just brainstorm them. There’s big post-its on each table, talk about things that improve that experience, same thing from the applicant point of view. After ten minutes we’re going to switch over and brainstorm things that minimize that experience, things that make it more difficult as an applicant, but we’re going to try to spend separate time on those things so you can really flesh out those thoughts. For right now, what makes your life easier as a hiring manager, what makes your life easier as an applicant, brainstorm time.

[group activity]

So just to give everybody a heads up, we’ve got about two minutes before we switch to the mic. So we’re going to pass out another piece of paper where we talk about things that make it easier to be a hiring manager, and we’re coming around for another ten minutes or so to talk about it.

[group activity]

Hi, everyone, thank you for researching, we have the last part of the exercise. So from your brainstorming of maximizing and minimizing whatever the experience is, narrow down two things that you can recommend to change this to. Two recommendations to change the experience, either on the employer side and on the applicant side, and each group is going to report back to a group as a whole, so you can provide a list that you could actually put in practice as an applicant or as an employer looking to fill a job. OK, so two things.

You can just pick two.

[group activity]

OK, guys, one minute.

[group activity]

OK, everybody: So this is the show and tell part. So we’re going to write down everybody’s recommendations and I think we’re actually going to start with folks from the stage left side of the room. So what did you guys end up discussing and coming up with? Feel free to you know –


A clear concise jargonless empathetic process, you have to put all those adjectives in there. so one of the things we talked about a lot is a process for applicants being a process that you wouldn’t want to go through but why are you putting other people through it? So there was no outreach. One things to talk about in terms of jargon is there are bad dating terms abound in applications so it’s someone we want someone who’s chill, we want a coding ninja, what the hell do you mean by that? What is the actual thing you want to do? Someone to contact? So when you are—like you will be speaking to a hiring manager or things about someone you’re definitely trying to give that to. You have lovely description of like a really good user interface trying to apply a website that doesn’t make sense, and if you’re going to hire for things like fit and descriptions and culture, actually say what those are.

That’s a great suggestion.

What is your culture that you are trying to.

What is your culture?

And how often is that not there?

Actual stuff about percentages and preferred that you had to make a point that women will not apply if they don’t meet two out of 20, but descriptions if there are two things that they don’t, they’re not going to apply, whereas they should apply if they hit half. Personal experience, be clear about the duties and the things you actually want done and what you can teach, so sometimes they hire somebody who had a great degree and they were great on paper where actually what they needed was drill sergeant or people who are restaurants.

So we were talking about networks and you can have two challenges where you were trying to hire within your network and you get the same kinds of candidates over and again or you don’t get any candidates at all who were suitable for that, so you you have to be out actively recruiting, building trust, making sure people know who you are and if you are saying you are looking for diverse candidates you are actually walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

What was our second one?


Sure, so talking about creating a for the people hiring, especially if it’s really important I think to create some form of predictability, so everything is documented, the questions you get, that you’re going to ask are documented, you repeat that process over and over again, we have a person who actually shepherds the whole process and schedules the interviews so you don’t have to be thinking about that all the time, so as the person is interviewing, it can disrupt your whole day, so instead, if you have a process, if you have documentation, it makes it really easy, you know what to expect, you know what you’re getting into, and so just creating that ability makes it really, really easy to interview, it’s a lot less stressful.

Cool, thank you. And –

We talked about process, too, and one of the things we were talking about was having that documentation. Also make sure that you’re evaluating more fairly than just like oh, this dude was cool, I want to have a beer with him, right? Like but one of the other things that I thought was great was interview like you work. So there are a lot of people in distributed teams over here and folks who’ve dealt with this sort of issue of culture fit in different ways, so I felt that was like a super-awesome suggestion. You guys are doing group interviews on the sly, they’re doing trial projects, like there’s a lot of cool ideas about that. Other stuff?

Cool, thanks.

Just my own personal curiosity, now, one of the things that I always hear from like devs who end up going into places who have really tightly put together places like interviewing at Google is supposed to be hell, right, and that’s partially because they have a really rigorous process and one part of the process you will end up with a person who’s just like I’m just going to nit-pick everything you say, right so how would you avoid something like that where you’ve got a really well documented process but everybody is intentional in each of the steps when you actually go through it.

Don’t have people like that on your staff?

Oh, right, culture problem fixed.

Yeah, no assholes in our –

one thing we did that we have one person doing the interview and one person creating the interviewer. So we actually have just doing this, but it seems to be getting interesting, as well, so we’re actually starting to borrow some of the Google process, where at the end of it you fill out a thing with like clear questions and answers so there’s documentation of how the interview went but the second person is actually rating the interviewer whether they asked the questions the fair way, whether they brought in the own bias.

You shouldn’t be doing interviews one-on-one. It should be a group thing.

We’ve always done it as groups but the second person now specifically is rating the interviewer.

That’s really cool.

Yeah. So let’s throw this open, does anybody have any questions? One of the things that kind of surprised me was that everybody agreed that this is like about process and improving process, which is kind of cool.

I think one thing everybody said is cultural fit and I can’t remember who tweeted it but it was such a great tweet, is that you want culture add and not culture fit and when you start thinking about that, that changes how you write your job descriptions, what you should be looking for and the weirder and the crazier are the ones that you want and then you start building your company, you get more of those people and then your networks grow and it all gets better.

I’ll say as a thank you, two things that I made myself notes I’m going to go back and change my job description as soon as I get home. One is I’m going to put in a sentence explicitly for building new products having teams that are diverse in a lot of perspectives is really important and just saying that we are trying to hire for diverse teams and we’re looking for that and value that. And the other thing is going to be real clear is what is going to be the first step in the process, like if you reply you’ll get a phone call. Whatever that next step is so that it’s clear like what the thing is.

Something we didn’t talk about is the follow-up of like you send in your resume and fucking no reply or you do an interview and nobody ever calls you back.

And one of the things is every single person gets a reply.

It sucks when you just like click the button, though, and it sends out 300 dings all at once.

I would love it if anyone sees great job descriptions or has a great experience if they would like be like hey, I interviewed here, it was awesome, or this is an awesome job description, I would love to see more examples of like right things.

So if you guys wanted to email us, especially if you’re like uncomfortable with being like, yeah, I saw this really awesome job posting.

Yeah, right. If you see awesome things, I would love to see it.

Feedback would be great, too. The competitiveness thing is one thing you always forget. It’s like you need 10 years’ experience, like kill that line and it tells you all of that right away and it’s really great.

It’s called—text.

No, I use a different one. It’s a command line tool.

That’s a great transition, so what we were hoping for coming out of this is being able to like compile these resources and share them in a way that people can use them and reference them. Either in writing or in like follow-up presentations at other conferences, so if there’s anyone who is interested in helping with that, like if you want to reach out to us, I mean I think the example of having job descriptions that people like is really good and that also makes me think about the other points in the process, like good rejection emails are like so critical to the point about maintaining relationships and building relationships with people, and so that might even be the kind of thing, like at each step in the process, like a good notification email or those types of things, so people have references that they can call upon in updating the processes that they’re using. Cool. Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[session ended]