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The argument for a trial day

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Xendit has a distinctly unique and purposeful hiring process.  We have all candidates do trial day(s) where they spend 1-5 days (depending on seniority) with us working on a real life project with us.  The process allows candidates to meet the people they’ll be working with and allows us to see how they’ll perform day to day.  

Background

We used to interview like most did: 3 interviews, a case interview and then offer.  We had our favourite set of questions and would score people across those questions with some veto flags for culture.  If people had work ethic, proven ownership mentality and seemed smart we’d hire. We found that the correlation between our guess and performance in the org over time was about 60-80%.  

I experienced a trial week once when I applied for a job at Coinbase.  They had me come in for a day and plan a strategy for something. An intense day of interviews, then hectic fervour until presentation time.  When I wanted to implement at Xendit in Indonesia we were told that trial days was a new concept for Indonesia and we’d never be able to convince people to do it. There’s nothing like like someone saying “you can’t” to make me want to prove them wrong.  

Since mid-2016, we’ve been forcing trial days.  Over the past 3 years, our ability to predict continued success is closer to 95% and we can normally predict what performance quartile a candidate will end up in.  This uplift has been super helpful in assigning scope of work and knowing how to best deploy talent. We initially faced questions from the market (which self selected for humble people) and now I suspect our reputation precedes us in our high how our bar is for candidates.  

Why

Candidates get to meet a vast array of xenfam throughout their trial via formal and informal ways which gets you a “day in the life of” experience.  We figure if you intend to devote 2 years of your life to a company you should be willing to spend at least 1 day with us to see if you are down for our life.  

We’ve found trial days help on a few fronts:

  • Culture filter – Trial days lets people see our craziness.  Over the years, candidates are amazed by how friendly our people are, how tight the culture is, the noise levels, people shuffle instead of walking (coz we got shit to do and places to be) and inevitably someone gets thrown into pool.
  • Hard skills – We found that interviews biased positively towards candidates who were articulate and could speak out of their ass.  Turns out, that’s useful but not 100% correlated to success. Trial days see candidates actually flex their hard skill muscles, e.g. PMs write user stories, interview customers and recommend features.  This experience is much harder to bullshit through so has been a great predictor of future success.  
  • Soft skills – Throughout the day candidates meet ~10 xenpeeps and have to present their work, ask questions or just chill.  We get to see how these people interact: Are they political? Are they succinct? Are they talkers or do they ask questions? How do they present?  Do they ask the right questions?
  • Self selection out – We’ve had candidates leave after 3 hours and never come back.  We’ve had candidates not bring computers. We’ve had candidates arrive at the presentation and say they couldn’t get anything done because they were overwhelmed.  We’ve also had situations where we had great, competent candidates but thought we were “too crazy”, and so they bowed out. These are great outcomes.  

Execution

If you want to run a trial day, here’s some components to get right (based on 3 years, 200 hires and a few failures :))

Preparation

  • Build a custom trial doc for each role.  We force (it’s painful) new trial docs for a role.  People work on REAL problems we’re having. We tried stock ones but found our team got bored and interviews became a chore.  Instead, with real problems we’re facing, we get the chance to see someone work through at our speed and good ideas roll in. We standardise per role, so we get to compare multiple candidates apple-to-apple.  Our trial docs contain context, tasks, calendar schedules, and lists of people to meet with what to ask.
  • Meet lots of people – we expect our candidates to drive the results and be asking the questions during the meets with xenfam.  This “reverse” interview actually is pretty beneficial. Most people don’t prepare for reverse interviews so we get raw smarts/questions.  The questions people ask are very insightful into how they prioritise, how they approach problems, what they care about. Then we add the sure quantity of people formally and informally (lunches and dinners).  This gives a fairly large base of opinions. A culture veto by anyone means the person isn’t joining.
  • Part of the team – our philosophy is “a day in the life”.  So they sit with us. Laugh with us. Eat with us. Have dinner with us.  This is costly on the existing team’s time. But we follow the golden rule so we do to others what we would want them to do to us.  It means both sides get a real feel what life would be like together.  
  • Admin – in our earlier days we winged this.  Get them Slack access, email access, calendar walkthrough so they know where to go.  This is basic but it’s a waste for a candidate to spend 1 hour ramping up on tools vs thinking through the problem.  The most important bit is to give the formal interviewers the trial doc and context on what task was assigned.  
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