Everything starts with dopamine. How do we screen our DNA? 💉
🧡 Why our values matter when we do the initial screening of our candidates’ DNA 🧡
Recently I read an article from Raluca Cristescu, a graduate from a Faculty of Letters. She focused on the neuroscience of values. Why values matters to us and our candidates whom we approach. Researchers agree it all starts with dopamine. This hormone determines how the brain processes reward and hence what it values. This is what is the main goal within our first screen with a candidate. Next to the 90 % of selling productboard. We screen them for our shared values.
Dopamine is found all over the brain but specifically two regions are important and used by neuroscientists to quantify value. One is the nucleus accumbens and the other is the ventral medial prefrontal cortex. They sound fancy but in layman’s terms they are the value determining system of the brain. Its initial function was to give people motivation to survive — run from wild animals, look for food and find shelter.
☎️ How do we screen the candidates’ DNA?
I am going to share the concrete examples of how do I screen the candidate’s DNA next to our values. You will also find out what we are concretely focusing in our hiring process.
📈 Relentless improvement
- Here I usually focus on our candidate’s self-reflection. How does she ask for feedback concretely and how much does it matter to her. What does she do with critical feedback, how has she reacted last time, what was it about? What has she learnt from it?
- Does she have critique culture at her current place? How does it look like?
- I talk about how we run our retrospective sessions and ask about their process, how does it work exactly? Do they have a retrospective session at her company? How we praise the radical candors? I do tell how we do it!
- How does the candidate deal with the feedback, I let her giving me some examples from the past when she received feedback she did not agree with.
- Can she describe the process? Does she remember any recent “facepalm” moment, how did she deal with it? What has she learned?
- Last fail or fuck up. No one is perfect. We are humans. We make mistakes. I do them all the time. But the post mortem is also crucial afterwards! When the candidate says that there is nothing she has done wrong, it says something about her juniority.
🙏🏼 Leave your ego at the door
No ego and humility, emotional intelligence and empathy is the key thing. You can think that this is hard to find in the tech world, but we care the most about this.
Even though you cannot find this one in our manifesto, this is more about our DNA. This is something that matters to us. And you can see that this comes from our founders most. And then it is something that connects everyone at productboard.
- How does she show her vulnerability when she talks about her weaknesses or room for improvement?
- I like it when the candidate is confident, but she should present her achievement and what does make her proud.
🧠 Growth mindset
“Technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” — Steve Jobs
Also, something more about our DNA. It says something about how open our people are to new or different interests, whether they be in science, business, physics or other areas.
In such a fast-growing environment, you are learning new things every day, so you will not go far with a fixed mindset. As an engineer, when being in a startup of 20 people, you need different setups and information than being in a continually scaling company of 120 people and a growing army of all the customers. You need to be flexible, switching the programming language, migrating your databases and data warehouses, scaling the infrastructure. You can learn more about the candidate’s mindset asking for:
- How does she develop herself? How does she keep up with the latest tech trends? What are her hacks for studying? What is the most recent tech/programming language/skill she has learnt?
- How did she react to critique feedback last time?
- What is her interest? What does she do in her spare time?
- Has she had to switch the programming language in her job previously? How did it go?
💖 Emotional design
We say we are obsessed with design. We need a delightful experience. And it applies not only to our customers. It also applies to our candidates, employees and for everyone who is going to cross our way.
We need a candidate who cares about the beauty and usability of the products. Of every product, she uses on the daily bases. She cares about design, how to solve a problem, why would he solve the problem, how would he do it. And it does not matter if she is applying for a position of designer, backend engineer or receptionist.
When hopping on a call with the candidate, our CEO Hubert always asks about the favourite product. He askes as he wants to find out what does it exactly mean to experience a delightful feeling when using this product and how much they care about it.
He also created a channel on slack about #productexcellence where we all can share our passion for most beautiful products of our lives.
🛀🏼 Transparency and being a radical candor
To me, this is about finding out how much does she resonate with our core value. Transparency. This is something it could differentiate us from the big corporation or companies where they stand for the political approaches. I explain what we share at our All hands (bi-weekly meeting of our all company talking about goals, last weeks progresses, product, numbers, metrics, saying goodbyes and reasons for saying goodbyes etc.). We also have open channels where we share our business numbers, updates and ama channels. When we have some important announcement that needs to be communicated, we do it straight away across the whole company.
When it comes to the feedback, we make sure we are transparent, critical, and you need to know how does the candidate cope with that. You can ask about the last feedback session, one on ones.
A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.
— Simon Sinek
One of the biggest obstacles for great teamwork is avoiding conflict. You can see this many times when the candidate agrees with everything you say. You do not want to let your confirmation and like me bias to stop you here. If you see that the candidate feels that she has to agree on everything to keep the peace, it could lead to mediocre ideas. We need a diverse team with diverse ways of thinking, skills and background — sometimes it’s natural that it leads to tension or constructive discussions but it is challenging and it settles the environment for improvement of team’s ideas and the creativity can grow! 🌱
When screening for teamwork focus on her current situation, and the ability to work cross-functionally. Ask about current challenges within a team etc. Also ask what are her expectations for her future team.
I am also curious about how does she think that her current team could work more effectively and if she facilitate internal training, workshops, hackathons for her team or anything that has creativity, proactivity and teamwork attributes included. At productboard we run Code retreats, hackathons or team workshop that emphasizes knowledge sharing and better collaboration.
🎁 And my two favourite and bonus questions:
These two below curiosity and creativity are our current values but I think in general it is just a natural part of every human being. So I want to showcase what we care and looking for in general and how it is linked to curiosity and creativity, passion or motivation.
When screening for the creativity I ask usually on a concrete example of any problem-solving in the past. But I do not necessarily need the candidate to be way creative or hardworking. We prefer wisdome and smart solution and it can be often to recycle something that was successfully used in the past.
- How did she approach the problem?
- Why did she decide to come with this solution?
- What was the solution? (the best practices from the best at the market?)
- Did her direct report tell her what to do? Whose idea was it, does it make even sense? How does it work now? What was the reaction of her team/customers?
- Is she open to new ideas? Where is she getting her inspiration?
- Curiosity and passion are tightly linked. It is a core premise of PM. Asking for the feedback of the customer. Communication. How passionate the candidate sounds when talking about her future role at productboard?
- Is the candidate asking relevant questions and I mean not only about compensation and benefit, but she truly cares about founding story, about founders themselves, manifesto, her future team and their collaboration, product, history, daily tasks, and her own impact? Is she excitingly asking anything at all?
- I always ask about their favourite book, podcasts, blog and I love to discuss their current reading list next to our reading lists. You can see how passionate are they about it, what literature made them influenced. But you can also get inspired by yourself (I always do! And now I regret how many books are in my backlog!). But also you can inspire them with your own reading list and make them prepared for the next interviewing rounds. Like sometimes I recommend a great podcast that resonates with our hiring manager and so.
- I ask about what are they doing in their spare time. Are they curious self-learner?
🤩 How do we exemplify the curiosity at productboard:
- To showcase our drive for curiosity we have our channel exec-ama (ask me anything) on Slack. You can ask our founders anything anytime you want. You can come up as anonymous if you do not feel comfortable but we want this place is safe for you.
- In this channel our teammates do ask every day what’s new, what are we building next, how do our sales department do such great stuff, how our engineers feel about values, they just seek info cross-functionally.
- We have our regular Reading Club sessions for anyone to join onsite or remotely (that I actually skipped for like second time by mistake I must have been vacationing or what 😳🙈). It can be facilitated by any dear volunteer or our CTO. We always go through some ahead designed topic e.g. One on Ones, Our meeting culture (or how to be better and more efficient in facilitating meetings), Performance management, Coaching or Communication. We share materials and literature ahead and then we have an open discussion where we share the best practices, learning and other scenarios.
🏋🏻♀️ Work with purpose
We need to know that our efforts and all the hard work make sense eventually. We know where we are heading, we know how to measure it, and we are constantly making sure that we follow the right direction. And we need this confidence from the candidate too.
When screening a candidate, I need to know her current position and asking about how does she feel about the impact on the customer or the stakeholders, impact on the product, what is her role exactly and what is the outcome and how does she feel about it.
How do they work on their OKRs at the current company? How does she measure success? What does success mean to her in the workplace? What does success mean to her in general? What are the criteria for her success? What is essential for her to decide between more offers?
This one is significant and I need to ask this every time I do the initial screen. Where does she head as a professional? How can productboard help you with your future goals?
I always need to feel the excitement on my call. Happy to meet multipliers on my calls!
- What does the candidate make tick about applying to productboard?
- I let her choose only one thing from the entire universe. She will have time for this in the upcoming week. If she thinks about this activity, it makes her extremely happy. What is that? And do I see the sparkle in her eyes when she talks about something that exciting?
- How positive is the candidate? Is she a multiplier?
- What vibes do you feel while talking to a candidate?
- Was this conversation exhausting or overwhelming to you? Maybe this candidate could be an energy vampire 🧛🏻♀️🤯
This was for me an extreme thing while coming from a corporate environment. Of course, I could expect that in a startup, everything is wild and chaotic. No structure. More punk. People are more easily themselves, and they can use GIFs in approaching emails. I decided to leave the corporate just because of that. But then changing the priorities over every single weekend and time management and re-focusing every 20 minutes were something I was struggling for a long time here at productboard. So we need to prepare the candidates for that. But I think that if Hubert asked me this question, I would not pass one year ago 🤦🏻♀️
- How well does she respond to a change? What was the last change, and what was the reaction? How does she cope with switching focus, I let her telling me the example what does help her?
I am so curious (yay, I just passed our testing, I could mark one of it at least) to hear about how do you do this and how do you make sure you hire the right talents with your own DNA? Let me know!