Slack is one of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley.
Dubbed “the email killer”, the business messaging service is one of the fastest-growing companies in tech, with more than 3 million active users and raising $540 million since launching in 2013.
The tech company is also known for having a great work culture. An example is its blind testing to recruit engineers from diverse backgrounds.
Slack also pays attention. When “Dan from Optus” took a stand against people attacking the telco for advertising written in Arabic in a Sydney shopping centre, they poached him.
“I heard about Dan from my co-workers at Slack,” Slack’s recruiting lead, Marissa Senzaki told Business Insider.
“They were talking about one of the articles they read… Everyone was really impressed with the voice that Dan had and the fact that he was taking a social stance on something he was very passionate about.
“We were just curious to know more about him and he sounded like someone that would really thrive working at Slack.”
Now, Senzaki is back in Australia to speak at a conference, so Business Insider decided to pick her brains on what Slack looks for in its staff.
* The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.
BUSINESS INSIDER: How would you describe the ideal candidate for a job at Slack?
MARISSA SENZAKI: First and foremost we look for people who are passionate. At Slack, we value those who can level up their whole team rather than just themselves, and who have a passion for exploration and curiosity about how things work and what our customers need.
People who are highly collaborative and understand the value of a diverse team with different backgrounds, thoughts, ideas, and lived experiences do very well at Slack, as well as those who take personal responsibility for their decisions and get stuff done.
BI: What qualities do you look for?
MS: In Australia we’re building out a team of 70 mainly customer experience agents. We consider customer experience essential to Slack’s success. We have a healthy roster of high-profile companies that rely on us for their day-to-day communication, and we want to provide the best service possible. Our customer experience team’s top priority is to make our customers successful and ensure that their experience using Slack is a pleasant and productive one. This is a demanding role that requires a broad skillset.
We look for those that care deeply, genuinely and passionately about customer support and about the role it plays in making a customer-centric team successful. We want people on our team who exhibit empathy, tact, and poise under pressure when working through customer issues. Above all, they need to be “human”. Hard skills can be taught, but other more human qualities are more innate.
BI: What is the one question you always ask interviewees?
MS: I don’t have a standard question that I ask every potential employee that I interview. The interview process at Slack is not rigid or strict, it’s about having a two-way conversation with the candidate, and getting to know them and their personality. I want to get the “whole picture”, not just their past experience, but who they are as a person.
“What is something you are passionate about? What is a life lesson you’ve learned from your previous job?” I like to understand their personal journey and story. “What drives you?”
Our CEO, Stewart Butterfield on the other hand likes to ask candidates: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is very humanising question that once again allows us to find out more about the person behind the resume.
BI: Why do you ask it, what do you hope to get from asking it?
MS: At Slack, it’s not just the tech skills we’re after — it’s more about emotional intelligence. We look for individuals who have values that align with ours such as empathy, courtesy, solidarity, playfulness, and craftsmanship. I think technical questions can result in very rigid and “practiced” responses, which doesn’t reveal much about the person at all. I understand that interviews are a very stressful process for everyone, and judging a person based on their performance dynamic in such a situation does not reveal what I really want to know — will they fit in with the company?
Our customer cxperience roles require employees to be able to interact and relate to a wide demographic of customers, all over the world. That’s why it’s critical that we get a sense of their soft skills and ability to relate.
BI: What makes a successful interview at Slack?
MS: Tell me the real you and don’t hold back! I want to know what drives you, things that you aspire to, what you do in your spare time. While other tech companies have gaming rooms, ping pong tables and colourful bean bags as an incentive to maintain work-life balance, Slack’s proposition is more unique; employees should “work hard and go home”.
At a recent event, Stewart said: “The time that we save with productivity tools, hopefully that time is spent studying poetry or making music.” We encourage our employees to work hard while they’re at work, but go home and enjoy themselves doing what they like once the day ends. Everyone at the Melbourne office leaves the door on time!
BI: What is the hiring process at Slack?
MS: We’ve put a great deal of effort into designing our interview process so that it is comprehensive and consistent, fair, and adheres to our diversity policy.
The interview process generally lasts about a couple of weeks from when we receive an application to when we make them an offer. There are two rounds of phone interviews: one with the recruiter and one with the hiring manager, as well as a homework assignment (depending on the role) that gives you insight into what a “day-in-the-life,” might look like at Slack.
By the time someone is invited to an onsite interview we already have a general feeling on if we think they’d be a successful fit for the role. Once they meet the team in-person, we are able to make a quick decision.
As a hiring team, we put a lot of thought and consideration into the conversation we have together, as we evaluate a candidate’s potential hire. If it’s a “yes,” I like to call the candidate the very next day to offer up the good news. It’s an amazing feeling when a candidate tells you that you have just made their day and that they are “over the moon,” with excitement. It’s the favorite part of my job.
BI: What is the one thing you want a candidate to do when you’re interviewing them for a job at Slack?
MS: Just as much as a candidate wants to come to an interview feeling like the company has taken the time to read their CV ahead of time, we want to feel like the candidate has taken the time to prepare for their interview. Take the time to research the company and the people you will be interviewing with. Most importantly, be ready to ask questions! Being inquisitive is good – you are evaluating us as much as we are evaluating you.
BI: You’ve been with Slack right from the start, how has the businesses approach to hiring and culture changed in that time?
MS: Slack has maintained the same approach to hiring and culture from the beginning. We look for people who are emotionally intelligent, and display values that align with the company. This has not changed from the beginning and will not change in the foreseeable future. The most important hiring process we are doing right now is addressing the issue of diversity in the workplace in the infancy of our organisational history.
Diversity becomes a hard problem to solve when it’s addressed too late in the company’s life — at Slack, we began reviewing our workplace policies with an outside diversity consultant when we had only 75 employees on our books, with the primary goal to avoid becoming yet another place where underrepresented groups exit the technology industry. We don’t want to be a place where people give up on their ambition, or do not feel heard.
BI: In the past you also been involved in the hiring sector for Google, Facebook and Skype. What differentiates Slack’s hiring process?
MS: Our value of empathy really permeates everything we do. In Silicon Valley recruiting, I was used to having engineering candidates come in and spend half the day doing whiteboarding exercises. At Slack, we try to be aware of how much time we are asking someone to spend at our office interviewing. Do we need six people on the interview panel, or can you assess the same things with four people?
We also feel that asking someone to program or solve algorithms in front of another person can be nerve-wracking, so we don’t like to take the whiteboarding approach. We want them to be as comfortable and natural as possible.
BI: What is the craziest interview you’ve held, where someone has gone to extreme lengths to get a job at Slack?
MS: I’ve never had an outrageous interview experience at Slack. But the level of fandom we see at Slack is unlike anywhere I’ve worked. We’ve received cookies, cakes, gift baskets, even fan artwork!
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