When it comes to getting a job at a hot tech startup, most applicants expect to be put through the ringer. But they also expect at some point during the process to speak with their would-be boss before they’re given an offer.
But at Automattic, a startup valued at $1.16 billion that’s responsible for popular blogging platform WordPress, that’s not always the case.
Automattic has one of the most unusual employee cultures of any startup we’ve ever heard of.
It currently employs about 400 people, scattered across the globe, almost all of them working from home, it says. This, even though it has a cool and dog-friendly office in San Francisco.
Remote workers get a $2,500 budget to “trick out” their home offices, plus a new Mac or other technology they may need. The company doesn’t hold meetings or use email. Teams interact via chat rooms, Skype or Google Hangouts, or the company’s own blogging tools. This keeps remote workers (which is just about everybody) from being treated like second-class citizens, CEO Matt Mullenweg once told Business Insider.
What it saves on office space, it spends on travel, allowing teams to meet up in fabulous, exotic locations anywhere in the world.
Given all that, naturally “Our hiring process is a bit different than most companies,” a former Automattic manager, Dave Martin, wrote on on his blog. Martin used to head the design team and the growth team at Automattic. Now he works for “Help Scout.”
“We don’t schedule chats, we don’t fly people out, and we rarely even have a single voice call before people are hired,” he wrote.
The unusual process starts from the get-go: the CEO does the grunt work. Mullenweg screens all applicants, spending one-quarter to one-third of his time on hiring. That way, when a hiring manager gets a resume, it comes from Mullenweg, and the person is already pre-approved by the CEO.
Then the hiring manager invites the person into a Skype chat, telling them to respond when they can. No matter where the people live, no one is doing a middle-of-the-night interview.
The manager asks “strategic” questions, like how comfortable the person is with various programming languages, to share a link/screen shot of their work, their thoughts on things, Martin describes.
If that goes well the person is invited to do a trial project. Coding assignments are pretty common these days. But Automattic pays the person $25/hour and issues no deadline, although most people get it done in about a month, Martin says. People can work on it as they have time and do it while retaining their current jobs.
During the trial, the manager communicates with the person via a private blog, not phone calls.
If the trial goes well, prospects are referred back to Mullenweg for a final chat, where the offer will be made. Basically, they can end up joining the team without ever having had a single voice call with their new direct manager.
How well does it work?
Martin says that during the first year and a half he was hiring people for Automattic, he’s looked at 251 resumes and replied to all of them, sending a “try again” note to the no-thank you’s. (Some of them have actually been hired later.). He’s chat-interviewed 63 people, given 41 of them a trial projects and hired 14.
The trial project “auditions” has even been written about in Harvard Business Review.