Thoughts from over a year looking after developer hiring for the WordPress VIP team

At Automattic, we tend to do things a bit different from many companies. for a start, we are a fully distributed remote company. There is no office and this frees us up to look for the very best candidates anywhere in the world, so to be successful, applicants need to stand out.

We usually include a couple of screening questions in our role descriptions that often tell us far more about the applicant than the CV or resume does. An example may be to tell us about an interesting programming problem you have worked on, and what was it that made it interesting. You can learn a lot about a candidate from their responses. Have they answered the question, was the problem itself trivial, did they either solve a difficult issue or was it really interesting for some other reason. This is a good way to find out what makes someone tick and if they are likely to enjoy the sorts of issues we deal with.

Bias is a two-way street. We are very careful to avoid bias and have resources and training not just for the obvious things, but also for unconscious bias and have a culture of checks and balances on each other. As we don’t have a hiring committee this is quite important so we stop bias creeping in. That does, however, mean we are looking for it and sometimes we clearly see it in candidates, even if they are not intending to express it. As part of what we are looking for is how well do candidates fit with our culture, it can be a warning sign when we see it. Being a female engineer may also mean I see this more than some of my colleagues.

It may sound obvious, but being able to demonstrate skills is a key feature of a successful applicant. Whilst we don’t expect anyone to write code in an interview, as our roles require an in-depth experience of security and performance, being unable to give a simple description of any common security vulnerability is going to lead to us not moving candidates forward.

Being involved in hiring here has been a very different experience from previous roles and there are a lot of things I love about the process. I think the biggest of those is the way using a text-only interview format on slack helps to reduce a lot of potential sources of bias that you experience in face-to-face interviews and allows you to focus on the what and how things are being communicated, instead of who is saying them.


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