A little more human

63 days. That’s how long it took me to get hired at Typeform. That’s two full moon cycles. Of course not everyone took so long. But seriously, why so many days?

A phone screening, two onsite interviews, a two-hour Skype, a final interview with one of Typeform’s cofounders, and several rounds of project-based testing.

Why so many steps? Because Typeform wants what every company wants: competence and cultural fit. It just took ages.

So, how did we reduce our hiring times by 43% in 2 quarters?

Let’s start at our pre-seed beginnings, before things got out of control.

Pre-seed phase: when startup intuition trumps systematic process

Hiring is a typical startup challenge, especially when your brand’s about as well known as the president of Mongolia. In this phase, it’s hard to get people interested in you and your startup dreams.

Robert, our cofounder, took on this challenge in Typeform’s early days. His method? A skills check and a keen eye for the human side of things—people who were passionate, smart, and humble.

It was less formal process, more gut feeling. And his intuition was sharp. Almost all of our early hires continue to play a pivotal role at Typeform today.

So how long was our hiring process back then? Depends on perspective.

Since we weren’t well known, it could take ages to attract the right person for a role. Time-to-fill an open position was slow. But once Robert found that perfect person, he was quick to pull them aboard. Time-to-hire was fast.

Time-to-fill = the company's perspective, Time-to-hire = the successful candidate's perspective

How fast? We didn’t measure back then, but I talked to the early hires to reconstruct the past. Verdict? Most offers came within a week or so of first contact.

But as we got bigger, so did the hiring challenges.

Growth phase: with process comes friction

In September 2013, we got our first round of €550k in seed funding. In a matter of months, Typeform grew from a handful of people to a score.

Rapid growth is one sign that a startup needs an HR person. One of Typeform’s early investors advised us not to wait too long. The solution? Georgina de Solà, the first official HR figure on the Typeform team. I asked Georgina about the hiring process when she started:

They needed a process that would scale. So they outlined a 5-step hiring workflow to make sure Typeform could maintain quality with fast growth. It looked somewhat like the picture I went through.

Then, in the fall of 2014, Typeform got a second €1.2M round of seed capital. Over the following six months, the company nearly doubled in size again.

The clear steps helped a lot. But processes add friction. Having more people involved in the process meant more opinions and schedules to coordinate.

No, we still weren’t measuring hiring times. But everyone knew they were increasing. And when I talked to people who came in around that time, it was confirmed: “about a week” had jumped to “a bit over a month.” Our hiring times could now be measured in full moon cycles.

As Typeform grew (blue) so did our time-to-hire (red)... until we fixed it.

Improving the hiring process in 6 steps

In the fall of 2015, we received our first Series A round of €15M. Translation for HR: we were about to double again. First reaction? Panic! But after a deep breath, we embarked on a our 6-step plan.

As Georgina put it: “This is when we started getting professional.”

Step 1: start measuring

We knew we needed metrics. But where do you start?

First, we focused on days-to-offer—the number of days between first engaging with a candidate and the day the offer is made. Basically it’s our time-to-hire metric that doesn’t count the time between us making the offer and the candidate accepting.

Why days-to-offer? It focuses on getting the right person through as quickly as we can—an indicator of how efficiently our teams are communicating, coordinating, and making decisions. This metric also reflects the time a candidate experiences, something we care a lot about.

How long should it take to get people through the door? A recent Glassdoor Economic Research study talked to over 340,000 job seekers to find out. The average interview process? Around 23 days in the US, and a bit higher in Europe. We had a target.

How long should it take to hire?

By the end of the year we hired 16 new people. And using Workable to keep track of things, we finally had our first hiring benchmark: 35.7 days.

Not bad, but still nearly two weeks over the industry standard.

Key takeaway: Real progress starts with a defined process—stages that can be identified, tracked, and measured. Pick a metric that aligns with your values and needs. And start this as soon as possible.

Step 2: build specialized recruiting teams

In the beginning Robert wore a lot of hats: HR, marketing, product. Then he passed the HR hat to Georgina. But HR is more like an umbrella that covers all kinds of jobs to be done. As Georgina told me:

It started with Vaida and Joanna, dedicated recruiters with experience in the tech industry. Right away, their targeted headhunting led to better quality candidates entering the funnel.

Key takeaway: You can’t do everything on your own and still do it well. Surround yourself with specialists that complement you.

Step 3: streamline existing hiring processes

We had a process in place, it just wasn’t very well oiled. As Vaida told me:

So they worked with the hiring teams to pinpoint inefficiencies and bottlenecks. As they looked around, a couple issues slapped them in the face. After some thinking, and a chat with consultants at Stackoverflow, we made some changes:

Problem Solution Result
Applicants looked good on paper, not nearly as good in person. We added an initial recruiter phone screening. Narrowed down the applicant pool faster with fewer resources.
Nearly everyone passed early tests, leaving hiring managers to do all the filtering later. We dropped tests and interviews that weren’t filtering. Quality of candidates went up. Frustrations between HR and hiring teams went down.
Three interviews spread over three or more weeks = poor schedule coordination. We combined different interviews into the same day, or at least into the same week. Candidate experience improved. Hiring teams had candidates fresher in their minds.

 

All said and done, we’d streamlined our 5-step process into 3 steps, with an optional “only-if-doubts” interview, in case we needed a deeper look. This saved us time without losing relevant touchpoints with candidates.

Key takeaway: Get a process in place, then make it better. Keep what works, fix what doesn’t. This takes constant communication between HR and hiring teams.

Step 4: spend more time defining positions with hiring teams

Toward the end of 2015, we posted a Business Analyst with Scrum position. Good applicants came, but none of them seemed to nail the position. After talking to the hiring managers, the position was relabeled “Technical Project Manager with Scrum.”

And guess what happened? The exact same thing.

More good people applied, but there was always something missing. Back to the hiring manager. After plenty of discussion and reflection, we finally realized the problem—we were actually looking for two different positions: a Product Owner and a Scrum Master. In less than a month, we hired them both.

Key takeaway: To find the right person, you have to know who you’re looking for. And nailing this down takes continuous dialog between HR and hiring teams.

Step 5: save time for reflection

Feedback is the path to wisdom. It’s how we learn, it’s how we get better. As author and entrepreneur Tim Fargo put it:

We’re not old enough to be wise yet. But we’re learning how much we can gain from frequent feedback. So we opened up the feedback floodgates between HR and hiring teams: catchups on open positions, reviews when issues pop up, and an end-of-quarter retrospective.

Key takeaway: Good hiring practice starts and ends with feedback. Hiring can feel like a series of sprints. But in reality it’s more cyclical, with each experience feeding back into future encounters.

Step 6: keep iterating

It never stops. Let me say it again: It never stops!

None of the above fixes leads you to the finish line. Because there is no finish line. So we keep iterating—refining processes, testing options, and communicating between teams.

Moving forward, we’re aiming to be even more data-driven. We’re refining metrics, and we’ve recently added Greenhouse tracking software to get a better handle on additional measures.

We also continue to specialize. We now have Bernat making sure we’re sourcing all the right events and opportunities, and Keysa has come on to ease the employee onboarding experience. Recently, we’ve added candidate experience surveys, so now we have feedback from the other side of the fence, too.

And we keep communicating. At the end of each quarter, our POPs now meet with each hiring team to:

  • Define needed positions.
  • Prepare the job descriptions.
  • Clarify the most important screening questions and characteristics.
  • Post the job using the best available job application template.

Key takeaway: HR processes are made to be iterated on. There is no finish line—there’s always something to improve.

Today’s hiring update

Where are we now?

In the last two quarters, we’ve hired 62 new people into Typeform in an average of 20.1 days. More than 43% faster than our first benchmark.

And we’re glowing with excitement at the quality of human beings who keep joining us. That’s the real goal, isn’t it? To work with humans who inspire us, who make us laugh, who keep us humble. Because after all, it’s about people working together toward a common goal.

I asked Georgina for her take on their progress:

Do you want to experience our hiring process? It starts here.