- Story of my journey through the world of recruiting
- Tips for companies on how to quickly vet candidates
- Tips for applicants on how to get hired
- Email me to use my skills test interviews for free
I sat down and rubbed my damp palms on my ill-fitting old suit. I looked around for my interviewer in a Starbucks on the ground floor of the Accenture building in downtown Seattle. A friend of mine was a consultant at Accenture and had hooked me up with their recruiting department.
The recruiter spotted me, walked over and shook my hand. “Would you like a coffee?” she politely asked.
“Thanks! I’ll take a mocha.”
When she came back and sat down with our drinks, she made small talk about the college I went to and a bit about my work experience.
We took an elevator upstairs to the busy and paper-strewn main office. I was sent to a waiting area where I sat for about half an hour, continuing to sweat while my anxiety grew.
Finally, a senior team member came over and asked me to follow them to their office. We shared a general conversation, laced with behavioral and case study related questions.
Twenty minutes later, they sent me on my way.
I didn’t get the job.
All of my other interview experiences as a potential candidate went similarly – starting with a general “get to know you” sort of conversation. If I clicked with the interviewer, I’d get an offer a few days later.
I hated the whole interview process as a candidate… dragging out my old suit from the closet, driving to a strange office building, waiting in little chairs for decision makers to get the time to meet with me, trying to brag without bragging, then driving home to peel the suit off and hang it back up.
Two years after that Accenture interview I found myself on the other side of the table. I had started my own digital agency about a year earlier and now needed some help. My confidence was very high in my ability to assess people. I genuinely believed my judgment was spot on.
I posted a job ad on Craigslist Los Angeles and received a nice handful of applicants. The first person I called in was a guy in his mid-twenties just like me. We chatted a bit about SEO principles and after feeling pretty excited about him, I made him an offer on the spot, which he accepted.
A year later, I had hired several more people. That first guy was long gone – he had stopped showing up for work and had sent me emails saying there were ants crawling everywhere in his house. Weird. Another arrogant programmer I had hired worked on a client project for several weeks and made very little progress before I let him go. One of my newly acquired project managers told a client that the client was an idiot who talked too much – I was desperate so I didn’t fire the PM… Luckily, he quit anyways a few weeks later. My confidence in my ability to judge people based on initial impressions was badly shaken.
Now, I hated the interview process as a recruiter / manager. Looking at resumes was not much better than guessing. I’d pick an almost random handful of people to come meet with me. After an hour of conversation with each, I’d do my best to pick one… and miss more often than I hit.
I had some luck with a few people, but I was spending far too much time, effort, and money on recruiting, training, and managing people who just could not do the job right. I sat down and thought about what to do. It seemed like the conventional conversation-based interviews with experience, behavior and case study questions were not good enough. What could I do instead?
That’s when I was struck with an idea that seems obvious in retrospect: Ask people to do a simple task that is representative of their daily work during the interview. For example, if I was going to interview a front-end developer, I would have them actually convert a PSD to an HTML & CSS page while I watched. Brilliant!
I tested this out with my next batch of candidates. The first candidate answered my basic questions expertly, but when I had him open up Dreamweaver (I know, I know… ) he made a lot of excuses for his inability to get anywhere. The next few candidates were all mediocre. Finally, a candidate was very quiet and unengaging came in. I was bored just looking at him. But when he quickly used Photoshop to create a nice mockup, then in just a few minutes converted it to HTML & CSS, I was sold. He started work soon thereafter and revolutionized the quality of front-end development my company offered.
This skills test based interviewing system worked much better than my old method of asking questions and looking at years of experience on resumes (much of which was falsified anyways). As a matter of fact, it worked so well that I stopped really bothering with resumes and kept the conversation to a minimum.
The strength of my new hires allowed my agency to grow rapidly for the next couple of years – my team did far better work than any other agency I came across.
The keys to successful skills test based hiring are:
- Limit your initial screening test to under an hour. Longer is disrespectful of the applicant’s time and usually will take you too long to grade as well. A well-crafted skills test will show you everything you need to know with an hour or less.
- Every test should include writing samples and a spoken sample. How well someone can express their ideas is a good indicator of intelligence. It also is a great indicator of how well they will be able to work with others.
- Ask the applicant to do the most common task they will do day to day in the actual job. For customer service people, I have them write an email to an unhappy client. For a graphic designer, I have them mock up a simple homepage. For a front end developer, they convert a PSD to HTML / CSS. For a back end developer, they create a simple app that can do the CRUD functions and apply a bit of basic logic.
An Automated Solution
Things started to bog down once I reached about 20 employees… Each skills test based interview I did generally took an hour or so of my time and I wasn’t able to do enough interviews to keep up with the growth my business was undergoing.
I was stressed out, working twelve or fourteen hour days and was struggling to keep up. Finally, I was hit by my next brilliant inspiration – I didn’t need to sit and manually watch applicants take the test. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even need to waste their time commuting into my office and back home. I could simply have them take the skills test interview at home and send me their work!
I built out a fairly complex and heavy Google Apps script to automate this process – each new applicant would submit their initial application through a Google form that would then trigger an email requesting they take a test and upload their files through another Google Form. I ended up needing 3 Google Forms, 4 Google Sheets, and 7 Google Apps Scripts for each and every job I posted… it took me about two hours to get all of those set up every time. However, once a job was set up, I could receive unlimited applicants and have each submit their tests, allowing me to score them at my leisure.
It took me about 5 minutes to evaluate and score each skills test. Now instead of evaluating 4 or 5 candidates per day with in person interviews, I could now evaluate 120 per day. Massive efficiency gain!
My agency really took off and grew to 50 full time team members. Our work quality was the highest it had ever been as now I could ensure I was hiring the most talented person available – generally this would be the best out of 50 applicants or so. The results for our clients was stunning – we were able to start building a portfolio of hundreds of major SEO, PPC, and web development wins.
Even still, this Google Apps scripts based system slowly began to bog down. I simply didn’t have the time to spend hours updating my code for each new job and it was very hard to debug the errors that would crop up occasionally. There was another serious problem too – candidates had to upload their videos of themselves and skills test folders to their own Google Drive, Youtube, or Vimeo… and many times they would not set sharing permissions correctly. This meant my recruiters wasted many hours asking candidates to change their sharing permissions so they could evaluate the skills test interviews.
I decided, even though the Google Apps scripts had served us well, I needed to retire it and build a professional web application. One of my developers had enthusiastically recommended Laravel as a very developer friendly framework, so I started to rebuild my whole recruiting system there. Several months later, the new system was ready!
The first Laravel / PHP version had numerous issues, but now applicants could upload their videos of themselves and skills test folders directly to my platform. One embarrassing issue was that all of the videos were uploaded to a anonymous but unlisted Youtube account… rendering these videos accessible to the public if someone knew where to look. Lots of folks complained about this, so I rebuilt the application to save these privately. Now all of the videos are saved to my Amazon S3 account.
My tips to applicants seeking a new job based on interviewing tens of thousands and hiring hundreds of people:
- Recruiters are taught to look for reasons to say no rather than yes. Therefore, carefully quality check your resume and cover letter and written answers for grammar, spelling, and clarity. Ask a friend to double check or use a tool like Grammarly. Don’t give a recruiter an easy way to say no to you.
- Be honest about your salary requirements. Some people say high salary numbers when they would be happy with less, but then get rejected out of hand as too expensive. Please note most self reported salary surveys like Glassdoor are usually way higher than actual industry practices. I think this is because the people who have higher salaries may like to brag while those with lower salaries don’t want to respond. That’s just a guess though.
- Smile and be friendly. Applicants often get nervous and end up way too serious and do not build a bond with their recruiter. If your recruiter likes you personally, you are more likely to be hired.
Helping Other Teams Grow
My new recruiting platform is a nice selling point for prospects in my digital agency… it makes for a pretty strong pitch when we tell prospective clients “each person who will work on your project is in the top 1% of all people in their job area”. This caused lots of these business owners to start asking me if they could use my platform to hire their own people.
I set out to rebuild my Laravel application to allow other businesses to recruit their own team members using the massively more efficient skills test interviews process about a year ago. I learned a ton during the process – all about Laravel, modern PHP, AWS, NGINX, and a thousand little details about programming.
I am proud to announce today that any company can use the Skills Test Interview process at TestedRecruits.com. This platform has been honed through countless applications, tens of thousands of skills test interviews, and hundreds of hires.
Any business that uses TestedRecruits will see a massive improvement in the success rate of their new hires. No more looking at resumes and guessing if someone can do the job or not. No more wasted hours for applicants driving in, sitting in waiting rooms, and making useless small talk. No more training overhead just to find out the employee was not a good fit. Recruiting agencies and companies that use it are going to lead the recruiting revolution. At least that’s my hope!
If you’d like a year of free unlimited usage, just sign up to try my platform and provide me with feedback. Just submit a support request with your company, name, and email address.
My future roadmap of key features for this application:
- A simpler getting started process. I think the current application makes the setup more complex than it needs to be.
- A library of free basic skills tests any company can use and edit as they wish.
- A library of free basic job descriptions any company can copy and then edit to match their needs.
- A resume parser so that applicants don’t need to enter their personal details
- Most important to me: allow applicants to share their skills tests with other companies. I think there is a lot of replication that happens for candidates and they spend many hours doing very similar interviews and assessments. It is exhausting and frustrating for them, and I want a better way. I want applicants to be able to share their previous interviews whenever possible. I think this will make everyone’s lives much easier.