Podcast 10 min

Remote Talks with Tigran Sloyan - Improving Interviews and Evaluating Talent Teams

April 6, 2021
Preston Wickersham


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Welcome to Remote Talks!

Remote Talks is a series of video interviews with the brightest minds in remote work and global employment, hosted by Remote CEO Job van der Voort. This week, we welcome Tigran Sloyan, CEO of CodeSignal, a company transforming the world of talent evaluation. Tigran joins the show this week to talk about bias in hiring, the wrong (and right!) ways to conduct interviews, and how to measure the success of talent acquisition teams.

To see the full interview, watch the video on this page or view the Remote Talks playlist on YouTube.

What is CodeSignal?

Tigran: CodeSignal is a tech company based in Silicon Valley, but remote-first. We help companies go beyond resumes and technical recruiting by really enabling them to identify talent directly, instead of relying on proxies such as your resume, where you went to school, or where you've worked.

Think of it like a flight simulator. When you're a pilot and people are trying to understand, are you ready to get on a real plane? They have a whole simulation built for you.

Similar concept here for software developers. We built a flight simulator that can simulate everything from building a front end widget to making database queries, etc. We're able to measure ability directly by simulating all of those scenarios and producing an automated score that essentially allows companies to rely on a very direct and unbiased measure of ability.

Why is talent evaluation such a big challenge right now for companies?

Tigran: People are starting to open up and hire more remotely. You'll literally get thousands and thousands of applications, even as a small startup. And when you have such an insane volume, how are you ever going to be talking to even half of those candidates?

See also: The most common mistakes companies make when going remote

So what ends up happening is before you even get to the whiteboard interview, more than 90% of candidates have already been cut, just based on what their paper resume said. Then you get to the notorious whiteboard interviews, a very poor representation of what somebody can truly do.

Every freshman learns what FizzBuzz is and can write that up without understanding what it is. But I think the core concept behind it, when you're starting to evaluate a candidate, don't just jump straight into a flight simulator situation where your copilot is having a heart attack, somebody is screaming from the back, it's a very complex situation. Like, let's start off from, do you even know where the controls are?

You talk a lot about fighting biases in hiring practices. Why is that?

Tigran: Humans are incredibly biased, right? We're pattern matching devices, essentially, our brains are.Whichever way you grew up, whatever you sort of got accustomed to, even if there is zero pattern, you turn it into a pattern and you make it a rule in your head.

When humans are the primary deciding element in this hiring process starting from the resume, you tend to filter out those who didn't go to school, or they don't fit a sort of standard profile that you've identified as a pattern of people working in the company. So you ended up hiring more of the same, but it gets worse once it gets to the interview. Even without intentionally meaning it, you end up just giving a little bit more guidance, a little bit more help to some of your candidates and not others.

And then you look back, you're like, “We have a diversity problem.” Yeah, of course you do. Because you have a very biased selection process, starting from that very first touch point, looking at the resume all the way down to those onsite interviews and debrief.

So how can interviewers combat their natural biases?

Tigran: There is this concept of people comparing the human brain to an elephant and a rider. Your brain in many ways is like an elephant with a rider on it, where the elephant is more irrational and emotional, the kind of the biased brain. That has certain judgments and just kind of follows a certain path without knowing why it's going there.

See also: How to avoid micromanaging your remote workers

Then the rider is your rational mind. One that tries to make calculated decisions and look at facts instead of just being like, “I feel this way because I have this weird bias about it.” The whole concept behind it is that if the elephant decides to go a certain way, you just can't turn it back. What the rational mind can do is set the right direction from the get-go. So the elephant doesn't get distracted.

If I show you the resume and you don't like the resume, guess what happens? Your elephant starts going down the wrong path. It simply goes, “Oh, look at that resume.” And just chooses down a path of like, “Nope, we don't like this person.”

Now, flip the equation. If I showed you no resume in the beginning, and I showed you someone who's done really well, highly scaled, showed a lot of ability. You're like, “Whoa, who is this person? I'd like to talk to them.” Then, if we overlaid the resume on top of it, you're like, “Wow, they really haven't had that many opportunities, and they’re this good.”

How has talent evaluation changed because of the pandemic?

Tigran: The first thing that brings is a higher volume of applicants. That's just impossible to handle manually. The second piece is a lot more diverse candidates and a lot more diverse backgrounds. It's no longer like, if you haven't worked at one of the top tech startups, or at least a VC backed startup in Silicon Valley.

I think the other piece of it is going beyond resumes to give people more opportunity. Opportunity has been locked away in tech hubs, and remote work truly unlocks this ability to say no matter where you are, right? If you're qualified and if you have the ability, you should have the opportunity to do what you love at a really great company.

Is your company distributed globally?

Tigran: We've always had locations in a few places. We've always had some remote employees, but I've always had the nagging feeling that the coexistence approach, where some members are in an office, others are fully remote, creates this weird situation where some people know more, some people have more context about the company. Those that are in person have kind of stronger relationships, again, because they are based in person versus others. It's like two different companies.

So I've always wanted to actually start being remote first, where we think about everything from a remote perspective. And then sure, if some people have the opportunity to meet in person, that's a bonus, but you shouldn't sort of build processes and do things with the assumption that you're going to be seeing people in person on a very frequent basis.

It's been a fun transition. I always say that no product manager can build a great product if they can't use it themselves. I think it's the same for the culture, right? If you're not remote yourself, trying to design a remote-first culture for your team...you can't empathize enough with what's going on.

Did you cancel your office lease?

Tigran: We tried. We just signed a sublease, so it took eight months or something.

How do you handle working with team members in multiple time zones?

Tigran: We have people all over the world, so the time zone is tricky. The asynchronous communication piece is core, trying to avoid meetings as much as possible and write things down, talking in public channels in Slack. One of the metrics we tend to measure on a weekly and monthly basis is like, what percentage of our communication is happening in private versus public, which is something Slack shares.

See also: Why you should be working asynchronously

I've been making a deliberate push to talk about stuff in public channels. In a real office, you don't talk to people in their ear or take them outside. You talk to them just like we do in a direct message, and people who are around hear.

Why do you prefer to have conversations in public channels?

Tigran: People have a bias of like, “I don't want to bother other people by bringing this conversation to a public channel,” but they forget that in a real world environment, that's exactly what you do. So you turn around and talk to somebody, and there's a bunch of people around you. So the time zone piece for us has been more around changing the communication style.

Job: There's a strong movement online where people say you want to reduce chatter. You want to reduce notifications and things coming in all the time. I understand that movement and I think I agree with it partially, but part of me also feels like exactly what you said. You should also be able to manage yourself and say, “I am tuning this out. I'm putting my noise-canceling headphones on in the office.” In Slack, you're saying like, “I'm going to mute this channel. I'm just going to turn off Slack for an hour or two or the whole day,” if you want to get work done.

What kind of changes can we expect to see in recruiting and hiring in a post-pandemic world?

Tigran: One of the first things that's changing is how people evaluate talent acquisition departments. Unfortunately, talent acquisition departments historically have been evaluated based on costs, like time to hire, cost of hire. How do we make hires cheaper, faster, which is a terrible metric to think about.

It's easier to measure, and people just have defaulted to that as a metric, which inevitably leads to worse hires. Because if that's what you're optimizing for, yes, we'll get it done cheaper, but it's not the talent that we might have wanted to get in. You get what you measure.

The talent acquisition department builds the entire company, right? All the people that are going to be working there over the next few years are going to be broadened by the talent acquisition department. And their impact is the people that they've brought in and the impact that those people have made. Now that's difficult to measure, but it's not impossible.

How do you actually measure the impact of new employees to judge the success of your recruiting?

Tigran: There's multiple ways to do it. Most companies do some form of performance reviews. It could be once a year. It could be every six months. This makes the case for doing at least a half a cycle at the six-month point, so that you can have a more frequent feedback.

Most talent acquisition departments are not being built brand new. You usually already have the data today. Right. All you've got to do is trace it back. How did we bring this person in? Was it the recruiting team, what channel did they find it?

You take some of your best performers, work backwards and ask, how did we find this person? How can we do more of the same? Is this a worker who is just really great at figuring out who is going to be a strong fit at the company? Is it a channel that we're using? Is it a tool that we're using? So you can do it as a backward analysis at any given moment. The fact that the cycle can't be too short is not a reason to say, okay, we're just gonna focus on reducing costs instead of optimizing for impact.

Follow Tigran on Twitter @TigranSloyan and learn more about CodeSignal at CodeSignal.com.

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