Aim Higher – Ditch Resume and Adopt a Nontraditional Hiring Approach

In technology, more companies today are experimenting with and getting results from nontraditional approaches to the hiring process. As one of those companies, we thought it would be helpful to share our experiences to provide insight into our unique hiring process and the successes we’ve had as a result of turning traditional hiring on its head. What follows is an overview of our process, including how and why it has evolved the way it has, the results we have seen, and the benefits we’ve experienced that others who adopt a similar strategy can hopefully enjoy.

Collaboration and cohesion
To design our Detroit Labs hiring process, we started by working backward from what we wanted the end result to be and what kind of people we wanted on our team. Then we implemented a process designed specifically to get that result.

As a development company working with the newest technologies, we require highly productive, highly collaborative teams made up of team members that are able to evolve and grow with the latest software and hardware releases. Because of this, we reasoned that it makes the most sense to involve the entire team in the recruiting, interview, and hiring process. By asking for insights from the larger team, we gather quality feedback from a diverse group with a wide range of perspectives, experiences, likes, and dislikes. Aggregating this information gives us a much more detailed and well-rounded picture of an applicant’s assets, personality, and potential contribution.

This strategy works. We constantly discover positive (and negative) attributes of a candidate that would never have been uncovered by keyword scanning software and a shallow and selective pool of hiring managers. Our team members see things that I would otherwise miss. And because the process is inclusive, teams are never surprised by an unexpected and unknown addition to the team—an extremely important aspect of building a trust-based work culture.

The process
When we first interact with a candidate, we specifically ask them not to submit a resume. Instead, we ask potential hires to fill out a Getting to Know You (GTKY) document. This questionnaire includes a customized set of questions based on the role the candidate is applying for. The GTKY functions as our initial screener, and includes all of the information we really want to know before moving forward with a candidate. It provides much better insight than a boilerplate resume submission, gets right to the most relevant and important information, and also serves as a deterrent for candidates that are not passionate about applying specifically to Detroit Labs. We avoid resume bombs, and the contract works both ways: If an individual spends the time to fill out and submit a GTKY, we’ll spend the time to thoughtfully review the submission and respond to that candidate. This can be the beginning of a positive and hopefully productive relationship.

Once the GTKY is returned, our team members have a chance to provide feedback for each applicant. We discuss how a candidate might fit with our organization, we share personal observations, and everyone reviewing ultimately provides their +1, 0, or -1 rating for the applicant. In our world, +1s go to candidates you are excited and enthusiastic about working with, -1s are no’s, and 0’s are no’s as well. In other words, mediocrity is not OK. We want candidates who excite people, create interest and who can wow us. We want the +1s.

And that is just the first screening. If a candidate collects enough +1s and no more than a couple of -1s, we’ll invite them in for a first interview. This is our chance to sit down and begin to get a better sense of how the applicant will contribute to and improve Detroit Labs. It’s also the time for the applicant to figure out if Detroit Labs is right for them. We try to utilize team members who perform a wide range of roles for the first interview, not just those that do the same job as the candidate. This diversity of perspectives is important to us: not only do we want a wide range of opinions, but we believe that what a designer says about a potential project manager in the first interview is just as important as what a developer might say about another developer.

The second interview is our practical or technical interview. No one is offered a job at Detroit Labs without first demonstrating some aspect of the actual skills necessary. Tech interviews are common enough in development roles, but every role does them at Detroit Labs. These practical interviews can be quite elaborate, and may include everything from walk-throughs to more in-depth role-playing. Our Project Manager candidates might run mock project-planning meetings, our Design candidates might redo a screen or experience in an app, and our Sales candidates might run through a cold-call.

If all goes well in all of our interviews, then an offer to join the team is extended. And by that point, both sides of the interview relationship have had ample time to get to know each other.

Higher potential
This hiring process is time-consuming and difficult. It asks a lot of the candidates, as well as our own team members. We do this because our hiring process is attempting to hire for potential, not current ability. In an industry like ours, the tasks we complete day-to-day change very quickly. To build a team that will thrive for the long term, we have to be far more focused on a candidate’s creativity, problem-solving abilities, raw intelligence, and persistence in the face of change than simply their current skillset. The best predictor of success is a track record of success, but for most candidates we have to look deeper.

The results of that focus on people and potential are remarkable. We have programmers who had never touched mobile app development applying to us and being enormously successful once they are in our environment. We have individuals working as designers who had never designed a product before. We have law school grads that decided to work in business development. Our hiring philosophy is grounded in the belief that our company will be far stronger in the long run when we hire extraordinary people, not extraordinary resumes, and that the additional work necessary to select these extraordinary people is well worth the investment of time and resources.

We look for creators. Not just coders, but people with diverse interests who have the capacity, motivation, and drive to bring something to life. We love candidates who write music, create art, or who have passions and pursuits outside of the workplace that inspire them to make something out of nothing. We find that candidates who can create in one artistic field are typically pretty good in others—like app development.
Ultimately, we structure our hiring this way because we believe that the most important ingredient for professional success is who you have on your team. That’s not lip service– we believe it. We are deeply invested in that idea. And, our team’s participation in hiring makes them more invested in each other’s success. There is an ingrained sense of cohesion and collaboration that helps create and sustain strong professional relationships.

It is probably not a coincidence that our turnover rate is exceptionally low. Less than 10 full-time team members have left our company since we were founded in early 2011. No hiring process is perfect, but we are confident that our nontraditional approach has helped us to find and hire truly exceptional people, and has paid lasting dividends for our organization.