How Climate Corporation Rolled Out Structured Interviewing

Here’s one of the paradoxes of the modern working world: Not everyone is naturally skilled at conducting interviews, yet pretty much everyone is called upon to interview candidates. It’s a funny contradiction—we wouldn’t ask a salesperson to go into a meeting with a prospect with no advance preparation, yet we ask our engineers, marketers, and customer success people to do the equivalent every time we send them into an interview with no plan.

Luckily, many companies have realized that they can better prepare their employees for interviews, create a better candidate experience, and reduce biased hiring decisions by implementing structured interviewing processes.

We recently teamed up with The Climate Corporation’s Ashleigh Anderson, Director of Talent Acquisition, and Dean Talanehzar, Senior Technical Recruiting Manager, to discuss why Climate chose to roll out a structured interview process and how they did it. If you’d like to hear Ashleigh and Dean discuss this (along with several other recruiting strategies and tactics) in more detail, be sure to watch the full webinar. You can find it here.

The problem: Inefficient interviews & the need to grow

The Climate Corporation was founded in 2006 by ex-Google execs with the mission to help the world’s farmers sustainably increase productivity with digital tools. Climate now has more than 600 employees across several offices in the US and internationally.

When Ashleigh and Dean joined Climate (both were previously on the Talent Acquisition team at Zynga), they saw that the interview to offer ratio was 3.7 to 1, so for every 3.7 interviews conducted, only one candidate would get an offer. This meant that Climate employees were spending quite a lot of time conducting interviews that weren’t leading to hires. Not the best situation for employees or the company on the whole.

Ashleigh and Dean saw a lot of opportunity to make improvements, and one of their main areas of focus was on creating a more streamlined and efficient interview process.

The solution: Structured interviewing

Ashleigh and Dean began thinking about how they could build a scalable process across the organization. They wanted to provide a framework so interviewers knew what to cover and could focus on evaluating candidates’ skills (rather than getting tripped up in the interview itself).

Dean explains that as they developed their approach to structured interviewing, they had the following core values in mind.

  • Scalable: The process needed to be repeatable and easy to manage as Climate continued to grow
  • Climate fit: The approach to interviewing and hiring needed to fit in with Climate’s overall employer brand
  • Cultivate diversity: It’s been shown that using a structured process helps reduce bias in the process, which leads to making more diverse hires, and this was a priority at Climate
  • Collaborative: The Talent Acquisition team wanted candidates to walk away feeling like it was fun and they learned something, even if they didn’t get an offer
  • Care to be better: Climate wanted to stand out in the market by providing a really meaningful candidate experience

How they did it

Here are a few of the tactics that the talent acquisition team used to roll out structured interviewing.

  • Created set of standardized topic areas for each engineer to focus on

They began by focusing on high-level topic areas such as computer science fundamentals, domain knowledge, design and architecture, coding, etc. Then they could plug in functional areas like iOS into to each one. Keeping the top-level topic areas the same across the whole org ensured everyone had a common framework. If you say you did a computer science fundamentals interview, for example, everyone knows what you’re referring to, no matter which team the interview was for.

  • Defined vetted, high-quality questions

Dean got buy-in from engineering leadership and then invited some of the top interviewers to come in and share which questions they were asking. The talent acquisition team then used these questions as the basis for interview guides. Now everyone has a centralized repository of questions they can draw upon.

  • Became familiar with interview pool

One important step for the Talent Acquisition team was getting to know all the interviewers within engineering and how familiar they were with different topic areas. This led the Talent Acquisition team to develop training to help interviewers feel more comfortable conducting interviews on specific subjects.

  • Established distributed interview loops

Another important step was to think beyond the immediate team for the open role. By asking engineers from other teams to interview candidates, the talent acquisition team knew that they could enable a system of checks and balances so that team bias wouldn’t be as much of an issue. This would also help alleviate some of the pressure on interviewers so that the same people weren’t always the only ones being asked to conduct interviews. This is especially important if all the open roles are on the same team!

  • Drive feedback

An important part of the interview process was collecting feedback. This helped the Talent Acquisition team to evaluate people better and help leadership get an understanding of how interviews performed.

  • Develop training

During their conversations with engineers, the Talent Acquisition team heard from a lot of interviewers that they wanted to improve a particular aspect of their own interview skills. The Talent Acquisition team created training to share best practices on structured interviewing and the mechanics of conducting a great technical interview. Interviewers appreciated this opportunity to hone their skills in something that didn’t always come naturally to them.

What they learned from the process

The Talent Acquisition team was able to see some early success from their efforts: Within the space of a quarter, the interview to offer ratio for engineers went from 3.7 to 1 to 2.6 to 1, which represented a savings of 175 hours of precious engineering time!

Dean shares that one of the most important lessons was the value of getting leadership team buy-in. This allowed them to align over the high-level topics for interviews and also to make the case for meeting with individual engineers and encouraging them to share the interview questions that had worked best in the past.

However, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns—Dean expressed a little frustration that rolling out the new approach to interviewing to a 200-person engineering organization took around 6 months, and not everyone was on board from the very beginning. However, Dean was pleasantly surprised that some of the original detractors ended up coming around and becoming some of the biggest proponents of structured interviewing.

And this is just the beginning—Climate already has plans for a Phase 2 that will provide a rubric to help interviewers better evaluate candidates and understand exactly what “good” answers look like. We look forward to hearing what other improvements come along with this next phase of structured interviewing!

Want to learn more from Dean and Ashleigh about Climate’s approach to structured interviewing and strategic recruiting? Catch the full recording of the “3 Strategies for Building a Modern Recruiting Pipeline” webinar here.

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