Hiring is aggravating, tedious, and hard. We startups, against everyone in the market out there, know this too well. But it is gratifying when the result of such efforts make a positive impact on colleagues and to the enterprise. After all, the hiring process helps great employees learn how to find the right company to work for.

I took on hiring key engineers when PearlPay and Unosoft started up. I had recruited software engineers for projects I led in the UK and past ventures here in the Philippines. I embraced the task while my colleagues focused on their immediate objectives at the time.

PearlPay is now scaling up to double its current headcount of around 35 people in its Ecosystem team by summer. We aim to triple that by the end of the year. Unosoft is to scale up with more engineers later too.

We are thankful that driven, considerate, talented people that were looking for a job joined us last year. Our hiring methodology has paid off so far. And we’re to sharpen this up further on upcoming campaigns.

We focused on hiring key people from the start not only with the skills we require but who would also build-up the foundation of our ethos.

Now, all my colleagues are involved in the process with a better idea of what traits in people we should be after and how to go about it.

What makes a Great Employee?

What makes a great Employee

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Technology in our age is like white sand forever shifting under our feet. We stand still at our peril.

Great employees know this well. They know a lot already but may not yet be on things we’d need them for. So they are teachable. They are great at learning what needs knowing when needed. Some even become experts on the next big thing by their own volition. We startups pay close attention to candidates with such dexterity. We give them every opportunity to grow and be influential to the team once on-board.

They possess and express their passion to learn and work, their aptitude to do all these things and the humility to be taught by anyone and collaborate with everyone effectively.

They work well in isolation yet thrive in a team environment too. They know how to work in a team well and what makes great teams work. They communicate their ideas and teach others well. Perfection is their North Star yet they make decisions with practical clarity.

They have skills in both technology and people. Not all possess both in equal measure. So the equilibrium is key by complimenting different areas and levels of their capabilities to each other. This balancing act occurs naturally due to some in the team who possess stronger people skills.

This is why great employees are strict in finding the right company to work for. The chances of good employees turning up on one’s shortlist for interviews are slim at times. But if a promising candidate is foreseen by one to become a great addition to the company one day, to be in a team with the right culture, they will be.

Culture Matters to them Too

Culture matters to them too

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The right culture in a team would be the spirit that cultivates tenacity, agility, diversity, compassion, and camaraderie. These are what make up an organization as one of the best companies to work for. It inspires excellence and respect in one’s self and of each other. It has a major influence on the success of an enterprise.

As a Fintech company in the Philippines, our mission is to make financial services universally accessible. Its reach is vast. Its scope is ambitious. Its rate to scale is to be exponential.

Micromanagement won’t cut it. Instead, the right culture would shape the team that everyone would think for themselves yet take care of each other, would do the right thing, won’t sit on the bench for long and won’t quit.

Of course, one should hire people that match the criteria required by the enterprise to deliver its objectives, another factor that jobseekers look into when finding the right employer.

It pays to holistically look for attributes in candidates that will contribute, nurture the culture and performance of the team – qualities beyond the job description and technical criteria.

Otherwise, such oversight may short-change the enterprise later – even hurt its prospect in the long run.

Also, they are to be ambassadors of the team and its enterprise to everyone out there. With such traits, they serve this role naturally.

And they will volunteer to get involved in the hiring process later too – to screen, interview and evaluate.

Birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes. And hiring people is no different.

Selecting the Right Candidate for the Job

Selecting the right candidate for job

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I’ve found that pair-coding with candidates is the most effective test when hiring for our engineering team.

Technical questionnaires and brain teasers were a waste of time for me in the past. These would tell me what they already know about stuff anyone can look up on the internet. These don’t predict or reveal anything else about the candidate.

Some applicants would not reply back to my email invite for a pair-coding session. The invitation does its job of saving my time from being wasted. The applicants we should care about are the ones up for the challenge, especially those who fear it but do it anyway.

I ask them to bring their own laptops if they have one. A dedicated coder usually would have their own machine rigged with their own software, IDEs, etc configured to their preference.

The pair coding session proceeds after the verbal interview. I give them instructions on what to code. Either I start the build for the candidate to complete it or they start by themselves from scratch. Then I leave them to complete their build; check on them after about 20 minutes.

If they complete it without problems, I ask them to extend their build with more complex tasks like how they would write tests with it or how they would design a business rule enforcement with tests bolted to it, for instance. The level of complexity of what they’re to complete next depends on the level of confidence and knowledge they have displayed so far.

If they haven’t completed their work, I would sit beside them and complete it in front of them. If the technology stack we’re after isn’t my forte, I either delegate the session to someone in the team who knows it or ask the candidate to build one from scratch by themselves and guide me through the stack and their coding work.

I then give a critique as I go through their work; write code with them if need be. Our interaction at this point is the highlight of my evaluation of them.

Half the skill of a great candidate is how well they comprehend what they need to know, what they have to do to deliver their work e.g. skills, knowledge, etc.

The other half is how well they diagnose problems; how their aptitude aids them to solve such issues – like a detective solving a crime.

They don’t necessarily have to complete the work to pass.

But how much did they care about how they did at the session? Did they care when they didn’t complete their task? How well did they use resources like the internet to solve their issues? Their interaction with me at these sessions tells me enough about their level of capability, their capacity to learn (or how well they tolerate it), their communication skills, intuition, etc.

Great Interns make the Difference Too

Great interns make the difference too

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Knowing how to find the right company to work for isn’t just applicable to jobseekers but to interns too. We evaluate internship candidates with exacting criteria on aptitude, passion, and humility just like with job applicants. And they get valuable experience should they come through for their internship with us.

We had an intern who flew in from Switzerland. He learned about PearlPay; how our program for financial inclusion is developed for the rural community.

A documented business case written by another intern attracted attention from potential investors in Japan – one among other assets produced by them at PearlPay.

They too become the team’s ambassadors at their campuses and to their peers.

Making valuable time and due care for young minds – our future leaders, future entrepreneurs – makes the difference to any enterprise. It certainly has for us.

Evangelize the Mission

Evangelize the mission

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And the biggest factor in learning how to find the right company to work for is the company mission. It helps them decide whether or not they want to work with a company or not.

We startups have our mission to accomplish. We evangelize about it to investors and potential partners with great aplomb.

I pitch the mission to candidates as if I’m talking to an investor; attempting to raise capital for the team. I use a visual aid on my iPad – either a pitch deck about PearlPay from the team or a journal in PDF written by our Co-Founder and CEO, Spark Perreras.

I attempt to impress them with our mission; make them understand this is an opportunity of a lifetime for them to be part of. The mission is valuable to us so we don’t just hire anyone – a piece of gem that we don’t just give away. So they have to impress me too.

One candidate was rather taken at her interview that she recommended her colleagues to apply too. “I fell in love with PearlPay”, she said to her ex-colleague who later applied and became a key member of ours. He is now a Senior Engineer at our Ecosystem team.

Another great candidate, a Project Manager, jumped ship to ours – a startup with a humble working capital and workplace in Makati – from a competitor who had been in business a lot longer than us with a plush office floor at an exclusive location in Taguig.

Great people want their work to mean something; what value they will be contributing to.

To cite Mr. Nestor Tan, CEO of BDO Unibank Inc, from whom Spark learned this nugget of wisdom from his time at the bank and shared to us:

Excite them. Keep them interested. Tell them it’s doable.