Best Practices: Scality’s Hiring Strategy

53. We were 53 team members at Scality when I joined early 2014. Three years later and we have just hit 208 as our total number of employees.

While this can be an exciting prospect, as recruiting equates to growth, it is an area we have had to approach with great care. This is because great people are what makes a great company, and when you hire in proportion to growth, it is a costly endeavor and can potentially mean a lot of time. So, it is very important to get it right. This is especially true when you recruit in ecosystems with competitive talent markets like the San Francisco Bay Area, or in regions like Western Europe where the job market is structurally rigid, e.g. with very long notice periods.

After I joined Scality, we quickly predicted a quantitative challenge which we addressed by putting a process in place to ensure mutual discovery for both the candidate and the company. The process to this day involves 6 rounds of interviews, and one of those interviews would have to be with Jérôme (CEO), Giorgio (CTO), or myself. However, this process was challenged by our own managers who each approached the issue with their own recruiting methods, either recruiting on skills or motivation, or a mix of both. We soon realized there was no unity in our recruiting process. Something had to be done.

At Scality, we decided to focus our efforts across three evaluation “axes:” skills fit, motivation fit, and culture fit. Recruitment shouldn’t be based solely on the candidate’s skills but rather on a blend of skills, motivation, and culture (by the way Scality Culture is discussed here).

Motivation Fit

Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert shows us how to bring art and science together.

          Successful recruiting combines art and science.

At Scality, we work hard, and by “hard” I mean hard. We solve customers’ complex problems. We need employees who can work in a high intensity work environment, doing what’s right for the customer even if that means late evenings and weekends, or being asked to hop on a plane at 7 am the next day to finalize a sale. If it’s not your work style, then you may want to reconsider working with us – not because you don’t have the right skills, but simply because you probably won’t like the projects we are working on and the way we deliver results.

You may even think we are doing things wrong! So, it is best for everyone, that we know about this straight away rather than in 6 to 12 months’ time when the new team member goes through their annual performance review (a process we have abandoned, but that’s a topic for another blog post). Now, this is easier said than done! As a hiring manager, you will find that if the person in front you really wants the role, they may selectively not hear some elements of context or some expectations which don’t fit their motivation. Some will be ready to say anything to make you want to hire them. It was the hardest thing for us to work on and improve: making sure the motivation fit was there. It’s hard, and if you manage to do it though, it will no doubt save you a lot of time and therefore a lot of money.

The Good Candidate and the Bad Candidate

Now, while it’s easy to know what you want, who you dream of hiring, what skills and experience they should have etc., the person that matches all your requirements probably doesn’t exist. And that is where Ben Horowitz’s “Hard thing about hard things”[1] comes into play. The idea being that you put two list together: your list of desired attributes (good candidate) and the list of unacceptable attributes (bad candidate). Because superman doesn’t exist (!) so it will be very rare for you to find a candidate that matches all your requirements, and you certainly do not want to compromise on the wrong attributes. With this practice, you know exactly that if a candidate displays just one of the attributes on the “bad candidate” list you shouldn’t hire him/her. So, you can make compromises, just not on the essentials!

Candidate Rating

For all this to come together, you need a feedback process. Something to structure the anarchy that reviews can be. At Scality we use a platform called Smart Recruiters – but there are a lot of them out there. Each interviewer is required to fill in their feedback on the platform and assess each candidate on each of the three: skills, motivation and culture fit. On a scale of 1 to 5 – 1 being a “no go” and 5 a “must hire.” An interviewer cannot give a candidate a grade 3. Grade 3 is useless; it only means you are not taking a position and thus not facing your responsibilities as a recruiter!

Train your Recruiting Team

As an entrepreneurial executive team, you cannot entrust anyone other than yourselves with the training of hiring managers and internal interviewers. It is your duty to empower them with the skills they need to recruit according to the strategy you have set in place. A year after we decided to change our recruiting process to integrate the three evaluation axes (skills, motivation and culture fit), we hired outside consultants to train our hiring managers. We briefed them on our three evaluation axes, and the “good and bad candidate” best practice. The training was not a success (to put it lightly), and we discovered that recruiting is important enough that you need to own the training to get the best results.

So together with Jerome (our CEO) and Claire (our Chief People Officer), we did the training again. As the executives of the company, we knew better than anyone else what we wanted for the future of Scality. And it worked. At least I think it has worked and recruiting certainly seems to be going in an even better direction since then.

Decision Time

Now last, but not least. How to take make the final call? As hiring manager, you must be transparent with your panel of interviewers. In the end, you are the one to decide. They have no right to put a veto on your decision. This also means it is your duty to listen to what they have to say, and sometimes you have to trust their judgment in one way or another.

This is how our VP of Sales for EMEA once hired an employee whom I rated poorly in terms of motivation fit. He was the perfect candidate, he had experience as a sales engineer in our market, and he was recommended by two valuable Scality team members. But it felt obvious to me that I had someone in front of me who wanted to be a sales account manager and not a sales engineer, although he wasn’t ready for sales at Scality. Our VP Sales took the feedback, discussed it with the candidate, and eventually decided to proceed with hiring. This sales engineer has just returned from our Le Club trip, rewarding our most performing folks. His will to evolve towards sales remains strong, and this may be a possibility in the future at Scality.

Recruiting is the most humbling leadership act of all. There is, of course, a bit of science to it, with processes and training that you can implement. However, you can also expect a bit of the unknown, and you can apply creativity. You need to constantly challenge yourself to improve your way of doing things. And there is nothing more fulfilling and humbling than a successful hiring!

[1] Ben Horowitz is a high technology entrepreneur and co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He joined Netscape in 1995 as a project manager and went on to become Vice President for the Directory and Security Product Line. His book, The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (published by HarperCollins) gives advice on running a start-up and has inspired me on many levels.

Follow Erwan on Twitter: @ErwanBreizh

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