Hacking the Hiring Process (Part 1)

Twilio is hiring, which is always a very exciting time for younger companies.  Growing the team with fresh blood and new ideas means generating more capacity for the company to achieve more.   Sweet.

At the same time, hiring is a total pain in the ass.  Sorry to say, but the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of hiring almost totally offsets the joy in building the team.

We thought we’d take the opportunity to publish some of the ways we’ve learned to hack the hiring process to increase our efficiency, get the right candidates to apply, and after the torrent of applications arrive, to float the best candidates to the top.

If you’re hiring, maybe these ideas will help you dig out from your pile of job apps.  If you’re an applicant, here’s an opportunity to get into the head of a company that’s hiring and help you hack their process as well.

Our first hack is…

Task the applicant with something minor

Ask the to submit something slightly out of the ordinary, and related to your company or the position they’ll be filling, with their cover letter.

For example, when we were hiring a UI/UX position several months back, we asked candidates to give a quick critique of the Twilio.com website.  When applicants did send a brief critique of our site, it showed:

  1. That they read the job description, and weren’t just firing resumes off indiscriminately
  2. They learned something about the company, and were further interested in applying
  3. They have the design chops to critique a live site and give feedback
  4. Whether or not they have good feedback to give

#1 is the most important.  Did they even read the job description?

It’s like the Van Halen concert rider that requires a bowl of M&Ms be placed in the dressing room, but with all the brown M&Ms removed.  It was an easy test for the band to see if the concert promoter actually read the contract… and if they didn’t, it was a sign that the more important aspects of the rider, such as providing for a stage sturdy-enough for the equipment, should be double-checked.

If all we wanted to test was whether or not they read the application, we request that applicants use the word Pancake or dodecahedron or any variety of TMBG lyrics in their cover letter… but #2 is also critical.

Young companies need employees to really want to work for the company, and are willing to learn about the company before submitting the application.  Do they care enough to know what we do, or are they just firing off resumes to any jobs@company.com who might remotely be hiring?

Our new job posts for Web Technologies Engineer and Twilio Core Engineer have a slightly more involved task.  For each job description, in the “How to Apply” section, we noted:

“Highest consideration with be given to applicants who provide an innovative way for Twilio representatives to contact them by phone, using the Twilio API (free trial accounts available) and code that they’ve written.”

It’s a pretty quick test.  If they did not create an interesting way to contact them using Twilio, may we assume…

  1. They don’t want the highest consideration?
  2. They weren’t able to think of anything?
  3. They don’t know what Twilio does?
  4. They aren’t able to code?

So not only does this tell us if they read the application, but it also helps us find tinkerers, hackers, geeks and the like!

Can they write a little code?  Do they have enough experience to be able to deploy code somewhere? (An fairly good test we’ve found of whether or not somebody is a “hacker”.  Hackers have playgrounds.)  Do they like learning new technologies enough to play around with our API before submitting a job application?

Finding the right task isn’t the easiest thing.  To be respectful of the applicant’s time, I don’t think the task should be inordinately time consuming or challenging… it should be something that comes naturally if you’re good at the job you’re applying for.  You’re a UI/UX designer?  Take 10 minutes and critique a site.  You’re a web developer?  Write a few lines of PHP code.  Both of these tasks should be second nature for a skilled applicant.

So with our new job posts, there are many simple ways to build an interesting little app that will get our attention.  So far, a small handful of applicants have included a fun or interesting way to contact them.

And guess what?  They also happen to have the most relevant experience and qualifications for the jobs.

We didn’t lie… those creative apps and site critiques are getting our attention.  But so would sending brown M&Ms I guess.