Jan 27, 2022
Written by Melissa Todd

The Whys and Hows of Applicant-Centered Recruiting at Corgibytes

Picture of a paper job application with a pen laid across it.

Have you ever filled out a job application only to never hear back from the company? Probably more than once. Probably more than ten times, right? It seems like the cultural norm is to ignore job applicants - unless you’re calling them in for an interview.

Let’s be clear. This is awful. It can feel so dehumanizing to be ghosted and ignored. Applying for a new job is an inherently vulnerable process. Putting yourself out there isn’t easy. So when companies don’t even acknowledge the emotional labor you put in, that stress can compound. We know because most of us have been there ourselves.

Recently, I’ve taken up the mantle of managing the recruiting process that Andrea and Scott originally developed. You can read all about the in’s and out’s of our recruiting process by visiting the hiring process page of our website. We go into great detail about the number of interviews, what the process looks like, etc. That’s the function of our recruiting process. I want to talk about the philosophy of it in this blog post. Our process is different, but to me, that’s good. Recruiting, especially in the tech industry, is broken. Too many companies use practices that harm workers and don’t actually help them find the best candidates.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest flaws we see in recruiting practices today to help give you context into why we approach recruiting the way we do.

Personality Tests

Assessing a candidate’s personality using a survey tool is an incredibly common step in the interview process. However, we think the problems outweigh the benefits. According to disability justice advocate Lydia XZ Brown, “Personality tests are by and large constructed to be ableist, to be racist, to be sexist, and to be classist” because they are often “…based on norms devised from college-educated straight white men with no known disabilities. Personality tests are useful for individual people sometimes on journeys of self-discovery. But when they’re used to make decisions by other people affecting someone’s life, they become dangerous tools.”

Andrea and Scott both have invisible disabilities and experienced this challenge first-hand, so they felt strongly that any survey tool we use that measures someone’s characteristics should: 1) only be used after someone is hired, 2) be a tool that has been validated by research, and 3) be one of many informing factors and not a deciding factor. While an estimated 60%-70% of American workers are required to take a personality survey that is uncorrelated with performance, we choose to keep surveys like these out of our recruiting process.

Automated Resume Scanning

According to recent research by the Harvard Business School, there are an estimated 27 million “hidden workers” in the United States. These are people who are highly qualified and want to work, but “experience distress and discouragement when their regular efforts to seek employment consistently fail due to hiring processes that focus on what they don’t have (such as credentials) rather than the value they can bring (such as capabilities).”

One major contributor is using automated tools that are designed for efficiency more than effectiveness. Practices such as scanning resumes for keywords and other specific parameters (such as having a college degree or not having a gap in full-time employment) are often used as the initial step to whittle down who gets a call back for an interview. The problem here is that this practice evaluates candidates by proxy instead of potential performance. When this research came out, we were relieved to see that many of the recommendations on how to prevent this problem had already been part of our hiring DNA from the very beginning. Just because more than 90% of companies approach recruiting this way, doesn’t mean we have to.

“Cultural Fit” Biases

If you are gregarious, excitable, and assertive, research shows that you have an edge when it comes to landing a job. This isn’t necessarily because of cognitive ability or because you are a better fit for the role. It’s because you benefit from society’s (particularly American society’s) strong preference towards people who are extroverted.

However, research shows that being deliberate and quiet has its advantages in the workplace and that in many contexts, introverts tend to be better leaders, even in sales positions, where it is assumed that extroversion is a must-have trait.

You don’t need to be an extrovert to be a good communicator, have empathy, or work with technical excellence. But many organizations inadvertently design their recruiting process to inadvertently put introverts, or other people who may have different styles of expressing themselves and connecting with people, at a severe disadvantage.

In our opinion, there is far too much weight placed on things like body language, eye contact, verbal speech patterns, accents, wardrobe, or perceived levels of excitement. These often get lumped into a vague category of “cultural fit,” which can lead to discrimination and are often the result of confirmation bias more than competency. Instead of trying to get everyone to conform to one particular social norm, at Corgibytes, we are constantly trying to adapt our operations so that people don’t have to code switch during their experience as a candidate, and if they get hired, as an employee, too.

An Applicant-Centered Approach

We believe that people are, well… people! Each person who takes the time to fill out our application has given to us a part of their life that they’ll never get back. We honor that contribution and recognize that behind the words they typed or checkboxes they checked, there is a human being with thoughts and emotions. Each person who fills out an application gets at least two responses: one to let them know we received their application and one to let them know the outcome of their application (either we are offering them an interview or we are going with another applicant).

Andrea’s background in sales and customer experience played a big role in how we designed our process. From the very first employee, she emphasized how even though it’s tempting to defer to practices that feel quick, efficient, and “normal,” we always need to consider the perspective of the applicant in any recruiting decision we make.

Of course, as an employer, we do need to evaluate lots of people and ultimately make decisions about who we think will be the best person for a given role. As a small family-owned company, we can’t hire everyone we interview, but we can design processes where people who do interview with us get treated with dignity, respect, and walk away feeling like their time was well spent. We approach our process with humility and keep in mind that applicants are interviewing us just as much as we’re interviewing them.

Over the years, we’ve gotten feedback from candidates that this approach has made a huge difference. For example, one candidate (who we ended up having to turn away), wrote an article titled “The Best of Remote Unicorn Companies of 2019” where she shared her experience of going through the process:

”I recently had the opportunity to meet with the leadership team while interviewing for a role with Corgibytes. Every single step of the way was an enjoyable experience. I couldn’t even be upset when they went with someone else for the position, because they were all so darn nice and empathetic!

The company checked off every single piece of criteria and more! I was heartbroken when I wasn’t offered the position, but the entire experience could only be described as magical. The ultimate Unicorn.”

When we read this, we were so grateful. This is the experience we try to make sure every candidate walks away with. While we’ll make mistakes and there’s always room for improvement (more on that below) this is evidence that our applicant-centered approach works — both for us and for the people who spend their precious time interviewing with us.

Grounding Our Process in Core Values

One of the ways that we keep our process human-centered is by anchoring decisions to our core values. It brings me a lot of joy to talk to people who are considering working for us. I get to gush about how much I love working here and tell them that the culture on the inside of Corgibytes is consistent with what you see on the website. That’s largely because of our core values. They are alive in our operations and are regularly invoked when we’re consulting with our clients, creating something new, or making tough decisions.

  • Act with Empathy - We put ourselves in the candidate’s shoes. How would we want to be treated during this vulnerable process?
  • Adopt a Growth Mindset - We put aside personal biases (as best as we can) throughout the process by having multiple interviewers involved. A combination of scores allows us to grow our team as ethically as possible.
  • Calm the Chaos - We don’t put pressure on our candidates to make a choice right away. We understand that things like benefits packages and compensation will need to be thoughtfully considered, often with input from other people, before making a decision.
  • Choose Candor - If/when we need to pass on a candidate, we give them the opportunity to ask for feedback. We’ll provide kind but supportive details about what made us choose to go with a different candidate.
  • Communication is Just as Important as Code - Thorough and thoughtful communication throughout the entire process is critical to us. We want our candidates to always know where they stand and what to expect next.
  • Craft in Context - Our application and interview process doesn’t contain a lot of extra fluff. We ask questions with meaning that directly let us know how good of a fit you’ll be for the job. We don’t care what school you went to or how many words per minute you can type.

Making Mistakes

While we certainly strive to meet the ideals and standards we’ve set for ourselves, we’re not perfect. We definitely make mistakes and know there are ways that we can do better. For example, our team isn’t as diverse as we want it to be. The time to go through the process is longer than we’d like. As a small company, synching the timing of making a sale and bringing someone on board is a huge challenge. We recently read some research that a part of our process that was highly recommended as an equitable practice has since been shown to have the opposite effect than what we intended.

There have been communication glitches, too, even though we put so much thought and care into it. We’ve accidentally ghosted a few candidates because we thought we sent an email but we actually didn’t. We’ve also on occasion mistakenly used the wrong name, spelling, or pronoun, for someone, too. We know this can hit at the core of someone’s identity and recognize how much this can hurt, even if we didn’t mean to make the mistake and even if we try to make it better. Impact matters more than intention.

In all of these cases, we do our best to take accountability and learn from our mistakes. We admit when our actions weren’t aligned with our values and try our best to make it right. We’re proactive in looking at industry research and scouting for potential problems. As a team, we support each other. We help each other find grace when we fail so that we can learn and grow and do better next time. We also really value feedback. When we’ve messed up, we’ve really appreciated it when candidates have let us know. Feedback is a gift, even when it’s hard to hear sometimes.

Our sincere hope is that anyone who applies to Corgibytes feels seen and appreciated. We don’t want to be another company that ghosts you as soon as you reach out. That’s not good for you, for us, or for the industry as a whole. Here’s to doing things a little differently in the hopes that it becomes the norm!

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