Remote Hiring and Onboarding Best Practices: A Conversation with Scott Davis, Twilio’s Global Head of GTM Recruiting

 

Today’s businesses face a new normal. When they can’t recruit like they did just a few months ago, how are successful companies adapting their technology hiring and onboarding practices? This was the premise of an insightful conversation I had with Scott Davis, the Global Head of Go-To-Market Recruiting for cloud communications leader Twilio.

 

Chris Beisler: Twilio is a highly respected company in the technology industry. What are your responsibilities like there?

Scott Davis: I lead a team that focuses primarily on customer-facing positions that include sales engineering, solutions engineering, sales, and more. Also, as part of Twilio’s talent leadership team, we’re responsible for all the hiring we do around the world.

Chris: Are you still actively hiring right now?

Scott: Very much so. When the world changed, we paused to ask the right questions and consider what the future might hold. But that only took us a moment. We recognized our aggressive growth plans and, based on our success, decided not to slow down. We’ve continued to hire in every function across our 25 offices around the world, hiring about 100 people since mid-March.

Chris: That’s incredible. How has your interview process changed since COVID-19?

Scott: The process itself hasn’t changed. We still put people through the same interview steps, but how we go about that has changed a lot. Before, we would have an initial phone screen with a recruiter followed by a call with a manager. If that went well, then there would be a series of onsite interviews. That’s where we’ve had to adapt, moving those steps to a virtual interview process using Zoom.

“How we go about that has changed a lot.”

Chris: So, the number of interviews hasn’t changed, it’s just the manner that they’re conducted.

Scott: For the most part. When we had onsite interviews, candidates would meet with different people throughout the day, sometimes meeting with multiple people at once. Now, we still have candidates meet with the same people, but they do so one at a time and don’t need to do so back-to-back.

Chris: Given all the uncertainty in the world, do you find a challenge recruiting people who are currently employed elsewhere?

Scott: What’s interesting is we haven’t had a difficulty hiring those types of candidates, but our pitch has evolved. We talk a lot about how our business is sustainable given current economic conditions as well as what we will look like post-COVID. That requires a bit more work to ensure candidates understand the stability of our business model. However, we do see some people feeling naturally hesitant to make a move right now if they are happy in their current job.

Chris: Do any candidates just go dark and disappear in the middle of the interview process?

Scott: Not really. We’re more likely to see that some people aren’t ready for the next steps, but will still be open to having periodic conversations to stay in touch for the future.

Chris: How do you assure people that they are safe, both from a health perspective and a professional one? Does knowing that they would be an employee with the lowest tenure scare candidates?

Scott: We have acted with an overabundance of caution during this time, maintaining constant contact with health organizations. We won’t open our offices until we are certain everyone would be physically safe. As to the other side of that question, we are very open about our strong financial position and cash reserves. Our first quarter earnings were excellent, so we share those numbers while discussing our overall business plan to present a realistic view of the health of our company. These steps provide a lot of comfort and confidence.

Chris: Have there been unexpected challenges that popped up when interviewing during this time, or have things gone smoothly?

Scott: Things have gone well for the most part. The challenges were in doing a lot more work up front. Hiring managers needed to be educated on how to do things remotely, so we went through a training process to make sure everyone was prepared to conduct video interviews. That entailed making sure hiring managers were comfortable and had the right technology setup to succeed.

Chris: How are you able to showcase your culture and work environment during a remote interview process?

Scott: Our onsite interviews used to excel at doing that. Candidates would walk our halls, watch employees interact, sit in the lunchroom, and see the world from our perspective. Without that in-person aspect, we’ve gotten much more intentional about describing our culture to candidates. I feel fortunate that Twilio has very good media pieces and videos that allow us to show a candidate what life is like here. We also rely on personal interactions, even over Zoom. If someone has enough conversations with a hiring manager, they will learn what our company stands for and how we operate. Based on that, we’ve made sure that recruiters don’t just hand off a candidate to a manager, but stay in communication throughout the process.

 

 

Chris: Did you have those cultural videos prior to COVID-19?

Scott: We did have nicely produced videos before, but, during this time, we’ve had people in our different functions record videos discussing what life is like working from home for Twilio. These have become really great pieces that help share our culture with a candidate.

Chris: With unemployment so high and layoffs making the news, do you find that the candidate pool for niche technology skill sets is larger right now?

Scott: In general, our number of inbound applicants has gone through the roof. Recently, in just one week, we had 8,000 applications. However, what we’ve found is that strong, talented people are still in demand. We are still competing with others for niche skill sets. There are more people to sift through to find the right individuals, but it’s very much business as usual. Salaries have stayed steady as well in those areas.

Chris: What are the most challenging positions for you to hire for?

Scott: We’re always in need of full-stack developers, but our process is more than just matching skills on a piece of paper. It’s really about finding people with the right cultural fit. Finding the right skill set is less of a challenge than finding those who can succeed in our environment.

Chris: Is it more challenging to gauge cultural and personality fit over video interviews?

Scott: Absolutely. Not everyone is comfortable getting in front of a camera, so we’ve had to be very patient. If we really like a candidate in other ways, then we give them more time to acclimate to the remote interviewing process whereas, in the past, we could gauge their personality more quickly. What’s interesting is that the employment market is moving more slowly these days. Before, companies had to act quickly to recruit a talented candidate, but today we feel that we have a little bit more time to put candidates through the process.

 

 

Chris: Once you’ve made a hire, what are some remote onboarding best practices that you’ve implemented?

Scott: Early on, we took the approach of keeping our existing onboarding process as whole as possible because it was so successful. In the past, we used to bring all new hires to our headquarters in San Francisco for three or four days focused on setting them up for success. That included working on access and IT equipment as well as giving them a strong overview of our company and getting to know how we operate. Then we would have a couple more days of function-specific training.

Chris: And how have you adapted that for onboarding today?

Scott: We took the modules for those days, kept them intact, and adapted them to a home environment. Mainly, we utilize Zoom so one presenter can speak to a whole group of new employees at once, allowing for live interaction. Then, we took some of our modules and recorded them. This way, we still gave the same content to people, but they could absorb it at their own pace and at any time during the day to accommodate their personal situation during this time.

Chris: What about offer letters and signatures on paperwork?

Scott: Last year we moved everything to digital, relying on DocuSign for offer letters and background checks and anything else an employee needs to acknowledge.

Chris: Is it harder to get employees necessary hardware, software, and permissions during this time?

Scott: Our IT and infrastructure teams raised their hands right away, recognizing that things would be a little more difficult. They found that some of our vendors were having a hard time procuring things in the same time frame as before. As a group, we knew we had to acknowledge that the process would take longer so we pushed our standard start times out from one week to a minimum of two.

Chris: What’s a person’s first day like at Twilio?

Scott: It’s very structured, even at home. Prior to starting, they will already be set up and have everything they need to log in. That includes some Twilio swag to make sure they feel a part of the team. Once they start that first day, every hour is structured. We started a class of 48 new employees this week, and they’re all meeting each other over Zoom. Each group becomes a cohort, going through the experience together. We also connect each new employee with key stakeholders or coworkers that they might need to chat with during the first week.

Chris: That sounds like a great experience. How are you following up throughout the first few weeks to ensure a smooth transition?

Scott: Firstly, we have a dedicated onboarding team in constant touch. Secondly, we give our managers tools and guidance to make sure we’re getting new employees engaged quickly. Their teams typically bring in the new employee on their second day of work and assign them a tenured coworker as the new employee’s buddy. Training is handled the same way as onboarding where we’ve kept our modules intact but conduct the training over Zoom.

 

 

Chris: Have you had any unexpected challenges with remote onboarding?

Scott: Just like in recruiting, it’s the cultural piece. There are many brand-new people joining such a cool company and they don’t even know that it’s cool yet. It’s a large company, so it can be difficult for new hires to fully immerse themselves in who Twilio is, especially if there are any distractions at home due to the pandemic. Our Chief People Officer recognizes how hard it is to integrate someone into a company without being able to get a cup of coffee together, so we encourage virtual coffee meetings over Zoom.

Chris: What are some things you’re doing to take the pressure off? For example, at BridgeView, we started our summer Friday hours early, we gave people mental health time off, and we’ve played games like Pictionary on virtual happy hours.

Scott: We have a whole team dedicated to this. There’s a Slack channel made for exchanging ideas on how to stay connected. As a result, we’ve done online cooking classes, concerts, game nights, and more. We’ve also instituted a policy of no meetings on Fridays to give people a chance to catch their breath going into the weekend.

Chris: We’ve discussed a lot of changes today. Do you see any of your new practices in recruiting and onboarding carrying forward on a permanent basis?

Scott: There’s been a thread of empathy that’s emerged during this time that has been amazing to see. The human connection in our company is stronger than ever, and will impact the way we interact with each other moving forward. Logistically, since things are working well, I would also expect a higher percentage of remote employees than before. We’re definitely recruiting with remote work in mind and not limiting hires to regions near our offices as much as before.

 

 

Chris: It sounds like you and Twilio really have it dialed in. Thank you for sharing all your insight with us today.

Scott: Thank you. We have many people who have been very focused on this, recognizing early on how important it was to get it right. I’m glad we’re able to continue to operate at a high level, and hope other organizations are able to do the same.

Need more tips for your technology hiring or onboarding? Reach out to BridgeView IT today.

 

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