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September 8, 2020

Hiring for culture fit — why and how we do it

You’ve probably heard the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” often attributed to Peter Drucker. Regardless of who said it, we’re here to say “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, but a strategy to build culture gets to eat your lunch, too!”

Why culture is important to us

At Journeyage, we are fanatical about our culture, represented by our Passport.

Our Passport includes pages for all of our values (we call them signposts). Everybody who joins our tribe is given a unique stamp (yes, a real, inky stamp) and Passport. This little red book embodies who we aspire to be, guiding every one of our employees in how to demonstrate our culture’s precepts. When a member of our tribe witnesses one of their colleagues walking out one of those principles, they stamp that page in their teammate’s Passport, recognizing them publicly, and reinforcing how action outweighs intention.

Sound great?

Wondering how it works during COVID-19 in a remote work environment?

Actually pretty well!

Sure, we’ve had to make some adaptations to how we give stamps (now we do it via Slack), but the same process exists, and we’ve been able to maintain our team’s excitement about and commitment to our core values. Even during this pandemic, 100% of our employees report that Journeyage is a great place to work, they rarely think about looking for another job, and they believe that the company will succeed.

How do we do it?

We hire for culture first.

How we hire for culture fit

We have grown rapidly during 2020, and, like most companies hiring during a pandemic and economic downturn, we have received an unprecedented number of applications for our open positions. Basically everyone is highly qualified because so many people are now “on the market”. This is a recruiter’s dream in some ways but we’re not looking for qualifications alone. Of course, we care what the candidates can do, but we care much more about the quality of the human we’re about to hire.

Screening applicants

In order to hire for culture fit, we take several steps. We do a basic qualification assessment right off the bat to make sure that candidates meet our minimum requirements. But after that, we jump right into assessing candidates for values fit.

We’ve been using to conduct an audio-only interview in which candidates can react to three questions based on our signposts. These questions are basic behavioral questions, but give us a sense right away of whether or not they align with our core values. We have two members of the team who are not the recruiter or on the hiring committee review these submissions and rate them for alignment with our culture.

Those receiving the lowest reviews don’t proceed, even if their resumes are stellar.

Really. No matter what.

This works for a couple of reasons:

  1. We can’t see the person. Yes, we can hear accents, so this is not a perfect system, but many of the biases that would play out with an in-person or video interview don’t happen here, and the data bears that out.
  2. These team members aren’t biased by a resume. They haven’t even seen the candidate’s LinkedIn profile. As a result, they’re reviewing simply for heart and humanity, not for credentials.

Then as we move through the interview process, we lead with our values before anything else. We don’t even talk to the candidate about the job until we’ve shared what Journeyage is about. We know that there are many candidates who may not feel like this is necessary, but we know that if their eyes glaze over during this part of the interview process, then that candidate is probably not for us. We want to hire people who are just as enthusiastic about how we do our work as they are about what we do.

So far, this process has worked 100% of the time. We have now onboarded four candidates totally remotely, all as great additions to our culture. By getting crystal clear on what we want to see in the human we hire, we’re able to ensure that the resume we’ve identified as a winner is attached to someone with those values. And even while working remotely, we’ve built a pretty dang great culture! Our Slack channels are fun, people are meeting up via Donut, and we’re giving out our inky stamps through Disco.

Diversity considerations

“Culture fit” has long been weaponized by the startup community as a way to exclude female and BIPOC candidates from the hiring process, and we’re really intentional about ensuring that we assess for values and not for personality. We will constantly be monitoring our process for bias, and we’ve already made some important improvements in our process.

First, by including non-hiring committee team members, we’re ensuring that the potential biases of the hiring team (“good developers are a certain way” or “men can’t be successful in human resources”) don’t seep into the first assessment.

Second, we are intentional to choose two team members to review our culture assessments who are different in age, role, and gender. We look forward to diversifying that even more.

We are excited to continue to thoughtfully hire for culture fit and to shine light on how it can be done well. So far, we’re pretty obsessed with the results.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Keep exploring

Maksym Fedorenko

Front-end Developer


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