jade rubick

Bundled hiring to double the effectiveness of your hiring process

2021-08-05hiringdiversity-equity-and-inclusionscaling

This is a part of a series of articles on hiring and recruiting. And a series of posts on what works to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Imagine filling a position in a week

Several years ago, I was asked to build up a new team quickly. We seeded the team with a couple of people, and knew we would need to hire a few other positions rapidly.

Fortunately, we were using “bundled hiring” for these positions. For one of the first roles, I was able to extend an offer within a week!

What is bundled hiring?

Bundled hiring is when you take multiple, similar positions, and use a unified process to respond to all of them.

The simplest form of this is when you merge job postings. For example:

  • Senior Engineer, Services (Java)
  • Senior Engineer, Authentication and Access (Java)

Becomes

  • Senior Engineer (Java, several teams)

Bundled hiring eliminates one of your biggest bottlenecks in the hiring process.

At New Relic, we ran an analysis of our hiring process, and found that the biggest driver of “time to hire” was spent in getting the job written, posted, and finding the initial candidates for that position.

When you bundle up a similar positions, all the sudden you have an “always on” queue of candidates. When a new position is opened, it already has a queue of candidates you can choose from. This is how I was able to fill that position so quickly. It wasn’t always this quick, but it dramatically shortened the time it took to fill positions.

Bundled hiring can improve the candidate experience

When a candidate is looking through your jobs page for positions, they’re trying to map their expertise to roles in the company. They want to know if there is an opening that maps to their skillset.

Most engineers think of themselves in categories. They are a “backend engineer”, or “frontend engineer”, or “full stack engineer”. They may think of themselves as a “Java engineer” or “Python engineer”. Although there are real downsides to these categories (because people can often pick these things up), most positions are listed that way, and most engineers think of themeselves in these categories.

However, most companies surface positions according to their own internal reporting structures, not according to what is most friendly to the candidate. A company might list eight backend engineer positions. The candidate then either applies for all of them, or has to read through each one and figure out which one they care about.

There are some things you have to be careful of with the candidate experience — I discuss those in the implementation section below.

Bundled hiring reduces the workload for hiring managers

Let’s go back to the example of a company that lists eight “backend engineer” positions. Each of the hiring managers typically writes their own job description (adding time to the process before the position is posted). The quality of these job descriptions will vary.

Because the process for the bundle is pre-defined, the hiring manager doesn’t have to design the whole interview panel and interview process. They just plug into an existing system.

In addition, by joining forces, the hiring team for the “bundle” can split up the work. They can substitute for each other when someone is on vacation. They can take on roles they’re more effective at.

Bundled hiring can drive better outcomes for underrepresented groups

We were absolutely stunned by how effective bundled hiring was in improving our ability to attract candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. At New Relic, our bundled hire numbers were much better than our normal hiring process. We saw a dramatic jump in the representation of people we hired — about 50% of the candidates came from an underrepresented background.

Why was it so much better? I asked a lot of people, and here’s what they said:

First, research shows if you have one woman in your candidate pool, there is 0% chance she’ll be hired, but if you have more than one woman in your candidate pool, you’re much more likely to hire a woman. It may be nothing more than just having a couple of people to choose from. Bundled hiring increases the size of your candidate pool, helping to overcome a selection bias (for all types of underrepresented groups).

However, the thing people pointed to most was that our bundled hiring process was just better run and optimized for underrepresented folks. Because it wasn’t reinvented by a hiring manager every time, it was something everyone made better and focused on making high quality. Instead of creating a throwaway process each time for each candidate, we made something better.

When does bundled hiring make sense?

Bundled hiring makes sense once you start seeing duplication in the roles you’re posting. This means it’s typically for mid-sized companies and above. The more uniform your positions, the easier it is to do it.

How to implement bundled hiring

  • It’s important to have a constant driver of the process. The biggest challenge we had implementing bundled hiring was that we let some things happen that should never have been acceptable. One issue we often saw was with candidates not getting replied to — the hiring manager would find the candidates they were interested in, and respond to those people, but then leave everyone else back in the “pool” for everyone else. You need someone with good process chops who can manage the whole process.
  • When I first joined a “bundle”, it was a little disorienting. I was jumping into an existing process, and I had to get my bearings. Make sure you think through the onboarding experience for hiring managers, and have a very clear set of written documents on how to get started and plug in to the process.
  • Whenever a position is filled, the hiring manager should do some sort of retrospective on the process, and incorporate what they’ve learned into the overall hiring process. This needs to be formally defined so people feel encouraged to treat the process as “open source”. Usually it’s good to involve the other hiring managers in those retrospectives. The overall process must be written down.
  • You might consider having each position list the variety of roles within it. So for example, if you have a Frontend Engineer bundle, you can list the three teams that have openings, and describe the types of problems they might work on. This can make your postings be the best of both worlds: specific details to excite people and a less challenging application process (because candidates don’t have to go through many roles).
  • You have to think through who does the interviewing. One way to do it is to have people assigned to “tours” of a quarter or so. This is simpler than having a group of people swap in when their team is interviewing, and gives you a chance to place people who are good at interviewing (or who with experience can be good at interviewing).
  • Once the position is filled, you have to decide if the hiring manager’s involvement ends at that point. We had the hiring managers jump into and out of the process, but you could also do it for a period of time. One thing that surprised me is that hiring managers would sometimes volunteer to help out other hiring managers. For example, one engineering manager would be under the gun on a critical project, and someone else would volunteer to help them hire. Because the hiring process was well understood, it made it easier to help across teams.
  • The part that hiring managers usually resist is having other people interviewing “their” candidates. You can overcome this once the process becomes refined enough that people are seeing good outcomes from it, but you have to be careful in the early days of bundled hiring to get over that gap.
  • You can choose to bundle skill levels together, or separate them into separate bundles. We generally found it useful to bundle close skill levels together, as it gave us flexibility during the interview process. If we found someone was more skilled than we expected, we might focus them on a particular subset of teams.
  • All the hiring managers need to be aware of the needs of all the other hiring managers. We usually did this with an orientation meeting, where each hiring manager went around and described their needs. They also wrote them down, so that the whole team was looking out for each other and looking for the right fit for each candidate. This took some maturity from the hiring managers — if someone was only looking out for their own needs, it wouldn’t work as well. So it’s possible this may not work as well in some low-trust work cultures.
  • We did sometimes experiment with showing multiple listings for the same bundle. That was a good way to test out different approaches to the job description. The most important thing is that the process behind all the postings is the same. But you don’t want to confuse the candidates by having a lot of similar postings, so I would keep this to a minimum.
  • We never found a way to do this with specialized positions. In general, think of this as supplementing your usual approach.
  • One concern people had about this process was that the candidate wouldn’t have the experience of knowing which team they would be on. Usually we would narrow it down to the team or teams they would be eligible for, and then let the candidate choose. We typically would have the hiring manager interview the person as a final interview. That helped ensure there was a good mutual match.

What do you think?

Did I miss anything? Do you have experience with bundled hiring elesewhere? I’d love to hear your thoughts or your experiences as you implement bundled hiring.

Thank you to Darin Swanson for feedback and detail on how the bundled hires were run. Thank you to Amjith Ramanujam for the helpful suggestion to provide an early example of what bundled hiring is. Matt LeBeau shared his experience with me and pointed out some ways it hadn’t worked well and the need for strong process management. Beth Klem had good questions about the candidate experience that helped me improve that seciton.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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