The 7-Step Hiring Blueprint that Built Netflix

April 8, 2015

First Round recently put out a great profile of John Ciancutti, Chief Product Officer at Coursera. Prior to joining Coursera, Ciancutti was responsible for building Netflix’s engineering operations from a four-person team when he joined in 1999 to a tech behemoth by the time he left in 2012.

The article offers fascinating insight into Ciancutti’s formula for hiring and competing against the likes of Google and Facebook for the best tech talent.

The biggest takeaway for me were seven tips hiring managers can utilize to improve the way they go about talent acquisition, especially for highly competitive technical roles.

“You’ve got a healthy process if people are sharing recruiting emails with each other, and organically talking about what worked and what didn’t. In the end, the overarching goal is to get better and better at hiring as a team as you grow.”

— John Ciancutti, Chief Product Officer, Coursera

Step 1: Treat every candidate as the candidate (until they aren’t)

The best tech companies make providing an incredible candidate experience one of their top competitive advantages.

“The candidate is evaluating every interaction they have with you, your team, and your company,” Ciancutti advises.  As a hiring manager, make sure you focus on the candidate every step of the way. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand what their priorities are.

Be clear about whether you think they are a match for your company and the role. If it’s not a match, explain why and don’t put the candidate through the interview process. Be respectful of their time and lay the groundwork for networking and other opportunities in the future.

Step 2: Be thoughtful and strategic when creating a sourcing plan

When companies are targeting tech talent, it’s easy for many hiring managers to say something along the lines of, “Amazon and Google have great engineers, let’s start there.”

Instead, take a step back and think about what is required for this role, specifically. What other companies are out there that specialize in similar roles and/or are a good fit from a cultural standpoint? Look there first.

Step 3: Always be recruiting and asking for referrals

You’ve heard this from me before, and you’ll hear it again…and again. To consistently hire effectively, you need to fill the funnel and develop a healthy, robust pipeline.

Even if you don’t have a position open today, meet for coffee, take the call. Get talented people into your network, and look at every interaction as a learning opportunity, not a waste of time. After all, the best candidates are almost always the ones that come from your network.

“Initiate as many conversations as you can, send emails, talk to people at events. Ask your friends to connect you with their friends.”

Spend a couple of hours each week on outreach to candidates, and document your outreach. Whether it’s a quick excel sheet or however you want to track it, know who you’ve reached out to, who interested you, and who didn’t. When a role does open up, you’ll already have a pipeline of warm candidates to reach out to.

Step 4:  Keep the stakes low during the initial conversation

Your goal during an informational call/phone screen should be to understand the candidate’s motives, interests, professional goals, and personal goals. It’s a get-to-know-you opportunity for both you and the candidate, and an opportunity for you to get the candidate excited about working with you.

Keep the conversation informal and low-pressure, but be up front and direct. Here are a few questions Ciancutti recommends to focus the conversation:

  • Why are you taking time to chat with me?
  • What do you love about the company you’re at now?
  • What’s great about the specific role there?

If you like the candidate, put the choice to move forward to next steps in their hands.

Ciancutti suggests proposing something along the lines of, “You know what, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Is there any chance you have a couple hours in the next few days to come in and meet a few people on the team?”

By keeping the invite low stakes and low risk, it becomes much easier for the candidate to say yes.

Step 5: Move quickly

Move quickly. If the person is a fit, set up the next stage of the process for the next day, or within that same week. To compete in today’s highly competitive environment you have to act fast.

“The big guys are slow because it’s a giant process coordinating tons of people. In most cases, speed will be your most powerful weapon.”

Step 6: Hiring Managers, Take Charge of the Interview Process

The hiring manager should own the structure and content of the interviews. Each interviewer should be given specific skills/topics/values to cover in the interview. Interviewers should be the people on your team who can best represent you as a manger, as a team, and as a company.

After the interviews, hold a debrief session. I always recommend getting documentation from each interviewer. Utilizing interview scorecards can be a quick and easy way to get feedback that’s uniform and easily comparable.

Ciancutti recommends the hiring manager meet with the candidate first. In terms of scheduling, I realize this is not always possible, but the hiring manager should always at least meet the candidates for 10 minutes before the other interviews to help them settle and know what to expect. Think of it as a quick courtesy for the candidate to help take the edge off.

Similarly, hiring managers should also close each interview day with a quick check in to determine how the candidate is doing. Take the opportunity to ask them how the interviews went, if they have any questions, where they stand on the opportunity, and where they are in their overall search. If there are other opportunities, ask them what they are, how they compare, and why.

Again, here are a few questions Ciancutti suggests:

  • What are they most excited about?
  • Most concerned about?
  • Which interview that day was their favorite?

Provide a timeline for next steps, which should ideally be within 1-2 days. Tell them that you’ll be meeting with all the interviewers in the next 1-2 days and set a date for a follow up conversation. This will give you the opportunity to have something scheduled to either move forward or let the candidate know the hiring team decided not to more forward.

Step 7: Own the close

At this point in the process, you should know the candidate’s motivations, goals, interests, and concerns. To close the candidate on your opportunity, highlight the things about the company, team, and role that specifically align with those motivations and goals.

“Be detailed about why you want them and why you think it’s a great fit. Explain the relationship between the role and the mission of the company. Speak to their motivations. You know why they want to make a move.”

Before you pick up the phone to make an offer, make sure you know exactly what the offer package will look like and don’t be vague about it. Be direct about what they should expect, break it down for them, and be ready for questions.

For the equity piece, lay out what the percentage is, the current valuation, what the expected multiple is, and tell them why. This is another opportunity to get a candidate excited about being a part of the company, your mission, and your growth.

Give candidates anywhere from a couple of days to a week at the most to consider the offer. Again, offer to be a resource during that time.

If you fail to close a candidates, find out why. If it’s something you can iterate and improve on regarding your process or approach, take that into consideration for the next time around.

“You’ve got a healthy [hiring] process if people are sharing recruiting emails with each other, and organically talking about what worked and what didn’t amongst each other,”Ciancutti explains. “If you’re capturing the data you need to help future candidates choose you. In the end, the overarching goal is to get better and better at hiring as a team as you grow.”

For more from Ciancutti, read the full post from the First Round Review.

Photo by: Timothy Allen

Director of Talent

<strong>Carlie Smith</strong> was the Senior Talent Manager, Sales & Marketing at OpenView. She worked directly with hiring managers and key stakeholders within OpenView and its portfolio to lead vital searches and provided process guidance on recruitment strategy, including talent identification, strategic sourcing, relationship building, and competitive intelligence. Currently, Carlie is the Director of <a href="">Circle</a>.