June 8, 2015
Three tips for getting hired at Highway Twenty
My company has grown fast over the past couple years, which means we’ve had to hire fast. Each person we add to the team changes our energy, culture, and capacity. I’ve spent countless hours researching and thinking about how to hire the best – and right – people for our team (including many late nights with the infamous Netflix culture deck).
We don’t have our own process completely right but we’re determined to be intentional and get it right. We’ve benefitted a lot from people who have shared their advice on how to get it right, and now we’d like to share as well.
I spent the morning talking with a friend who is making a career change to become a web developer. I gave him some tips – from the perspective of someone hiring for a small agency.
Here – as told to my friend – are a few of the things that go through my mind when I’m interviewing someone for an internship or junior position:
1. Will the investment be mutual?
We pay all of our interns and treat them as team members. When we’re hiring a junior team member or intern, we know we will be investing a lot of time in training and mentoring. So it’s important to find people who will be making an investment in us by committing to our team, taking ownership of their work, feeling pride in our company as their own, and ultimately, believing in us and our business.
I know that people only stay in jobs for an average of three years, so I don’t expect anyone to promise their lives to us, but I do look for people who are passionate about what we’re doing and where we’re going.
2. Will you hustle?
If someone is looking for a 9-5, clock in, clock out, check items off a list type desk job, we’re not a fit. I care a lot about my employees’ lives and am working to build a company that allows real work-life balance. And compared to other creative agencies, we work normal and reasonable hours. We also work remotely two days per week. But sometimes we have projects or events that take more time than expected or happen past 5 pm.
A few months ago we had a major proposal due. We decided as a team to go for it at the last minute, which meant working late into the night a few days in a row. On the last night, nearly our entire team stayed until we submitted our proposal at midnight (over Pita Jungle and Hefeweizens). One of our junior team members stuck around that night even though no one asked her to and she really wasn’t really able to help much. But she cared about the rest of the team, knew she could learn something and was excited about the project, so she stayed.
Bosses notice things like that. And in interviews, we try to guess if someone is the sort of person who would have stuck around that night.
Bottom line: if you’re thinking about joining a small team at a fast growing company, assume they’re often all hands on deck. Show that you’re willing to jump in, try new things, and ultimately, be someone who believes in what we’re doing.
3. Will you get along with the team?
I try to be careful and intentional about defining our culture. It’s an important and sensitive topic. But at the most basic level, in our day to day life as a team, we all have to work together and hopefully like each other.
Often more important than a person’s skills (which can be taught), is their personality. In interviews, I try to ask questions and identify signs of a person’s emotional maturity. Telling me you get along well with people doesn’t mean much. Describing to me how you feel and act when under pressure, and how you are able to notice how others act when under pressure and adapt your behavior to them – that means a lot.
Ellen, our Art Director, and I attended an excellent talk last year where Kate Stephensen Rogers talked about Weebly’s hiring and culture philosophies. She mentioned how their entire culture revolves around two values: respect and positivity. I’ve been stuck on those two traits ever since.
I don’t think people wake up feeling naturally positive every day. And I’m not looking for the type of people who do. But I am looking for people who will intentionally try to be positive. Respect is non-negotiable. It’s not always easy, but disrespect toward each other, our clients, or others is a deal breaker. And we’ve fired people for it. It’s inevitable that coworkers (humans who spend a serious amount of time together) will disagree and will feel frustrated, worried, and even mad. That’s all fine, if handled with respect.
These are just three things that came to mind this morning. It’s certainly not an all inclusive list of what we think about when talking to potential new hires (or researching them online). Every time we hire, we are forced to weigh several (often competing) priorities like team capacity, skills, culture, diversity, budget, and future.
Obviously missing from these tips is anything about skills. What you know, what you can do, and what you’ve done are all completely critical. But skills can be taught.
As Patty McCord says: “Here’s what you want in your first 100 employees: the best talent you can afford, who work hard and believe. The belief part can actually outdo the other two. It’s more than passion. Passion is such an interpretive statement. People need to believe.”