0:00 Intro: Host Raman Frey introduces Rethink and guest Jordan Burton
Raman Frey: Thank you, everyone for joining us, this is Lohika Rethink. And I’m your host Raman Frey. Lohika Rethink is a series of thought-provoking conversations with visionary leaders in technology and culture. The goal of Rethink is to uncover and develop actionable ways to help transform teams, products, organizations, and culture to build the next Big Thing. Lohika distributed engineering teams work with the most demanding technology clients in the world, including Okta Twilio and Airbnb. Lohika helps high growth tech startups engineer the next Big Thing. And I’m excited to introduce today’s guest, our first guest on our first show, our friend Jordan Burton. Jordan is one of the all-around smartest people I know. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and is a former tech entrepreneur himself. Jordan co-founded a VC backed startup back in the.com heyday and he has since consulted at Bain and company and was a partner at ghSmart, which is a boutique leadership advisory firm.
Jordan now has his own practice Burton Advisors, where he serves VCs, private equity firms and many high growth technology companies in their quest to build exceptional teams. His client list includes VCs like Sequoia, Matrix and General Catalyst and private equity firms like Vector Capital. He’s a host of technology companies from series B startups to Twilio and Salesforce. So Jordan’s going to be sharing with us some stories, some advice, some tools, and some tactics as we dive into today’s topic, which is: Turning adversity into advantage new ways of hiring and managing distributed technology teams. Welcome to the show, Jordan, thank you for being our first guest.
Jordan Burton: Well thank you
It’s great to be here.
[02:06] Jordan Burton background
Raman Frey: I think a good first question, just to start off for people to get to know you a little bit is: what exactly do you do at Burton Advisors?
Jordan Burton: I kind of have two answers for that. If a random person on the street asked me, like, what do you do for a living? The simplest explanation is I’m a professional interviewer. I interview people for a living, not a talk show host, more the job kind of interview. But the slightly one level down version is I do executive assessment, which is if you are an aspiring CEO or CFO of a private equity backed company, you would probably somewhere between your first interview and getting the job meet with someone like me, typically at the end of the process to go through your full career history, basically. So I do executive assessments in the private equity world, largely for CFOs and the like, and the other part is I train. I teach people how to interview and how to just broadly how to hire. So the entire hiring process, I consult with a lot of high growth startups, VCs, private equity funds, et cetera, on how to become better at hiring and interviewing. So the assessment side of the house and the training side of the house.
Raman Frey: And that’s very distinct of course, from recruiting. In fact, I think you told me at one point recruiting would be sort of a conflict of interest with you. Like you always would meet the candidates after they’ve been somewhat vetted. Is that right?
Jordan Burton: Yes. If you’re, if you’re an assessor and a recruiter, then you say, you know what, I’m assessing your team. They all need to be changed out and I’d be happy to help you with that. So it’s a little bit of a kind of conflict of interest.
Raman Frey: So yeah, that’s good to know.
[03:45] Turning adversity into advantage: how to hire and manage distributed teams
Raman Frey: So today I think that the inaugural topic is kind of something that’s on everybody’s mind, which is there’s been a lot of change and the best companies are finding ways to turn adversity suddenly a sudden transition for instance, to a fully distributed workforce into some kind of advantage since this is affecting everybody. So how has, maybe you could start with just a little bit of how have you, in your company since March, been able to best benefit from this new context?
Jordan Burton: Well, it’s, it has changed everything and certainly there have been silver linings. It’s obviously a huge human toll from all of this. But initially, you know, around March it turned my world upside down and that everything you do, if you’re interviewing, you’re doing things in person flying around and meeting people, doing in-person training workshops and all of that kind of disappeared. But I think the silver lining was, first of all, you can do assessments. You can do these executive assessments over, video platforms now, very straightforward, very easy process. It’s actually kind of easier to schedule it, cause there’s not a flight involved or booking a conference room. [Raman Frey: it’s become more efficient.] Yeah, it is. It’s easier to get things done more quickly, cause there’s just not all the travel time and all the overheads involved in that. Certainly I would, I would value being in person. I prefer doing things in person when I can, but it’s possible to do it remotely. And it works pretty darn well. The training side was shocking to me because I was the guy who like, if we did a training workshop at your company and you had a couple of people who wanted to come in on video conference, I was like, no, everybody needs to be in person.
Jordan Burton: What I realized is when everybody is on Zoom, you can do really cool things like polls and breakout rooms and all sorts of stuff that you actually can’t do in the real world. So I’ve moved everything over to video based by necessity. And it has been freeing. It’s been really, it’s been really great.
Raman Frey: And you were saying, I think you were saying before, when we were discussing this, you’re actually able to kind of distribute these trainings now to an infinite number of people like you, you tried to keep them intimate when they were in person. And now you could do 50 or 100 people at a time.
Jordan Burton: Yeah. There’s a kind of a natural cap for an in-person training. When I think you get to about 25 or 30 people, you start to make it more of a lecture, more of a keynote and people tune out a little bit, but if you create enough interactivity and polls and whatnot, you can do actually a larger group over a video platform like zoom and keep people’s attention pretty darn well, so I’ve done 100+ person trainings at this point and wow. It’s working pretty well. Right.
Raman Frey: I’m happy for you. Yeah. I know. I know every, everyone I think back in March was like, what’s going to happen with my business. Everything changes and a fair number of my friends are doing all right now.
Raman Frey: So you, you were talking on the assessment side, um, you were sharing with me before the show started about an executive assessment you did that kind of took an interesting turn was really powerful. Can you tell everyone what happened with that one?
Jordan Burton: There’s been a few, so I’ve definitely had the instances of kids or pets or things coming in screen on the other side. And so there’s this fun moment of like being human with somebody where you realize we’re all working from home. But there was just a particular one. My most recent exec assessment, was the first person I’ve seen who was at a standup desk. And just for a little context, when you do this executive assessment, this is not your one hour interview. This is actually about a four to five-hour long interview. We go through a person’s entire career history, all the twists and turns and ups and downs. And I saw at the outset that he was at a stand-up desk and I was like, might want to rethink this. I was blown away. He powered through, but it was, you could tell it was, it was challenging by the end.
Raman Frey: Yeah. He was a very fit, fit executive. Needed some couch time by the end of that.
Jordan Burton: I was just impressed with the stamina.
Raman Frey: I hope you gave him credit for that. Maybe a couple extra stars on whatever you’re marking down.
So, uh, let’s think a little bit about, what many of the callers here are many, with many of the people in this webinar is sort of top of their mind, which is hiring. Like, how do you hire, how do you, onboard and interview, you know, kind of at scale. Like if this is the new normal and you can bring somebody into your company, who’s not going to meet any of their coworkers where you have a bunch of direct reports that you’ve never actually met in person. Like, do you have any tips on how did you that best?
Jordan Burton: Yeah. I feel like, you know, since March companies have had to really think differently about hiring, um, and there is some elements of just getting people used to a new process, getting people to not have bad behaviors over video. It’s a platform that you can win at, or you can lose that if you’re, if you’re one of those people who has your laptop open with the camera pointed up your nostrils, it’s kind of off putting to the candidates. So you gotta get the aesthetics. [Raman Frey: stacked on top of two art books now]
Jordan Burton: So just delivering a high quality candidate experience when it’s video based, it’s just kind of getting all that stuff right. But I think it’s also forced people to really get human and get real. I kind of consider, there’s like a golden age of small talk I do in my workshops. We talk about how to break the ice with, with the candidate to kind of get things rolling and build rapport. And there’s kind of these experiences that connect us.
[09:23] The importance of diversity in hiring
Jordan Burton: And we’ve talked a little bit about March and about COVID, but I would say also may, um, you know, with George [inaudible] on May 25th, that has changed things as well. It’s trying to shine a light on a problem that certainly the tech community has been a problem for a long time. And that light is super bright now and it’s forced companies to say, this is not optional. We have to change the way that we think about diversity and inclusion.
Raman Frey: Yeah. So a number of people, I know, word DEI, they call it diversity equity and inclusion consultants going into this and their work, their business, They’re working 12 hours a day, so I think maybe, you know, before this, it was a priority, but it wasn’t a top priority. Can you actually kind of tell us a little bit about why diversity equity inclusion would be a competitive advantage?
Jordan Burton: Yeah, it’s an interesting point. So it’s always been the right thing to do. I don’t think anybody would challenge that, but I think the rethink that I try to convince companies have is that it is actually a source of advantage if you get this right. And if you think about it from like, think from the perspective of a diversity candidate, if you were looking at the website of a prospective employer and it is a sea of white male faces, um, it is, it’s not a particularly welcoming, uh, appearance. It’s like, I don’t necessarily see people that represent me that, that I don’t feel like I might have headroom room for growth. I don’t see people in leadership that I could see as mentor figures or whatnot. Um, and what that does is that as a company, you have basically locked yourself out of a huge and growing part of the labor pool. So, people of color women, a significant and growing part of the tech labor pool in particular. And if you are not tapped into that market today, if you are not showing that you are actively, you know, an organization that can’t, that welcomes diversity and has people, especially in leadership positions, you are only tapping into one third of the labor pool you have available.
Raman Frey: Wow. Fascinating. Yeah. I think about that also in terms of distributed workforces. Recently I watched Matt Mullenweg, the founder of automatic on Sam. Harris’s making sense. Podcasts was a wonderful episode, highly relevant to everybody who’s on this webinar as well. And he talks about the sort of five levels of autonomous working. So when you think about labor pool, when you give people a lot of autonomy, when you project that you’re diverse and inclusive, the entire world is your labor pool. And I think that’s something that a lot of people are coming to grips with as well right now.
[12:06] Getting a “good read” on hires over video
Raman Frey: So now that we’re all interviewing people on video, um, how do you get a good read on prospective hires? Because I mean, so much of in person, you can see what I’m doing in my hands right now. So much of in-person is body cam is like body language and chemistry, and, you know, you want rapport and trust. So, so any tips on that?
Jordan Burton: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think that there’s an important distinction to make and that yes, body language and chemistry and the light matters, but it’s important that it not be something that is a tool to judge a candidate. It’s not something that you’re using as a criteria. That’s basically a code for prioritizing people that I like, or that people that are like me. So you can introduce bias in your process if you’re…
Raman Frey: There’s a name for that bias, right? Like when you, when you pick people like yourself.
Jordan Burton: Exactly. I mean, there’s a whole very well documented problem around unconscious or subconscious bias that’s created in hiring processes when you’re sort of judging things based on gut feel. And you can tell this, by the way, if you’re in your hiring discussion, you’re talking about a candidate and your teams, you know, the interviewers are saying things like, “Oh, I could just really see them working well here. I just really felt like they would get this or that” Tthat tends to be a good indication that people are basing things on their gut, which is often based on the, how well we connected and how similar we felt in the moment. So my entire approach and what I’m really trying to sort of evangelize is data-driven hiring now chemistry and body language matters for sure. But what it is, it’s important to maintain rapport, to show enthusiasm, to be engaged with a candidate so that you can get the data, but base your decision based on what this person has actually done the actual data, uh, from their career rather than how you feel about them. So it’s an important distinction that it’s not irrelevant, but it’s certainly possible to over-index on things like body language.
Raman Frey: Interesting. Our friend David, who writes for the corner office in New York Times. He recently did an interview again with Matt Mullenweg, who I just think is one of the foremost thought leaders on this predicament, we all find ourselves in. And he talked about having hired several employees entirely through chat. Exactly because of this bias. He never actually saw their face. He looked at the resume, their qualifications had probably had them do some coding tests and stuff like that and hired them without ever seeing what they look like. Which I thought was pretty interesting. I’d never heard anything like that. So ahead. Did you have one more comment on that?
Jordan Burton: It’s amazing that someone could pull that off. You’re certainly holding yourself to the data when you’re only looking at a text. I do think that it’s important to bring some humanity and connection.
Raman Frey: You’re talking about that human element. And I agree with you. I mean, gosh, I miss hugging. I miss big groups of people having family style meals together and not worrying about breathing in one another’s faces. But you know, this is the world we live in right now and at least for the foreseeable future.
[15:17] Company culture: how to get it right
Raman Frey: So, you know, I think about all those vital rapport building activities that you would want to do. I mean, companies spend a lot of money helping people connect just as human beings and doing team building things and stuff like that. And so that’s kind of a culture tool. It is. So I’m curious, like what do you see most companies getting wrong about company culture and then maybe a follow on question to that would be, how can you get it right? Given distributed workforce and our current predicament.
Jordan Burton: Fascinating question. Go on the web and try to find a common definition of company culture. It’s a bottomless pit. There’s a million different opinions. I would say that the best definition is one that is most useful to a company. I guess what I would advise companies to avoid is thinking about culture in terms of good culture, bad culture. There are certainly things like toxic, aggressive, abusive, you know, difficult cultures, highly political cultures. Those are just kind of like bad companies. I like to think of culture… So I mean, that’s a clear steer away from that. But it’s possible to have a perfectly fine, good culture that is a bad fit that are an either side of a spectrum. So take, for example, comfort with giving direct feedback. There are company cultures that are healthy, where people give each other very direct feedback. It’s expected. Like this did not meet expectations and there’s other ones where you’re much more kind and gentle about it. So if you’re interviewing a candidate and you’re not focused on the fact that, Hey, we have a really direct culture, you may not pay attention to the fact that this candidate, especially a leadership candidate, if they’re not comfortable with that culture, they can flame out really quickly. So it’s important to make sure that you codify those aspects of your culture that make you unique, but not necessarily better.
Raman Frey: Yes. Right. So just to sort of recapitulate, like you can be a quiet, gentle kind of a, you could tip toe around feedback or you could be somewhere very blunt, even brutal. Neither one is bad. Both can work fine as long as you get the right candidate, right cultural fit there. I remember when we, you and I first met, you were talking about something like a typology, like a Myers-Brigg for company cultures. And I still think that’s such a brilliant thing. If you can get the Leadership tobe really candid, like, Hey, we really like to do things this way. And we don’t like to do things this way. I mean, I think you said at one point that’s probably the number one cause of good qualified candidates bouncing out of hires. Is that right?
Jordan Burton: So I’ve looked through assessments that I’ve done over the years and it was the most, it was like a plurality. It wasn’t more than half, but it was the most common thing was something related to a bad cultural fit.
Raman Frey: Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. Yeah. Incredible. I’m just watching the time here a little bit. I’m going to skip a little bit. So there’s a lot of competition for great talent. There’s a lot of great talent that’s moving around right now. Especially technology talent. And how do you, how would you make sure to sort of dive deep with the candidate, but also give them sort of a high-quality human experience. So don’t treat them just like, you know, a means to an ends, but actually respect their humanity, respect their dignity, take them through a process. Don’t drag it out but do a good job.
[18:55] Why a rigorous hiring process works
Jordan Burton: It’s interesting. I get some flavor of that question. How do we dig deep without compromising candidate experience? And what is so important to reinforce is that the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, if you look at top talent, especially top technical talent, you ask those people ask great engineers, why they join new companies, why they leave companies. It’s often because of the quality of the people that they’re surrounded by. They want to be around great smart people that challenged them. When they’re interviewing with your company and you decide that you’re so focused on candidate experience, that you’re not going to ask them tough questions, it’s going to be really salesy and fun and warm and lovey… They’re concerned is your team really good? Because if you put all of your team members through this kind of salesy softball process, we don’t have a very good team. So ironically, a rigorous process actually attracts differentially strong performers, especially technical talent. So don’t be afraid of rigor, but there’s a way to deliver a rigorous experience that is very human and that’s through rapport. So you can ask tough questions. You can give them really tough coding skills, exercises to go through. You can ask them tough questions about products that they built teams that they’ve been on, but do it from a place of fascination, of curiosity of we’re exploring this together, of humanity. But they’re impressed by the fact that you’re digging deep and finding out just how great they are. [Right on.] They aren’t mutually exclusive.
Raman Frey: I don’t mean to put you on the spot here a little bit, just first thought best that who, what company comes to mind or, or is there someone you can point out that does a very good job of exactly what you just said, or at least reputationally does a good job?
Jordan Burton: Within my own client base, I shouldn’t share that. I would say in the past, they were a place that I think offered really a really rigorous interviewing experience. I hear that that’s varied a bit in recent years that it’s not quite the way that it was. There also was a little bit of a flavor of brain teaser-y type questions as opposed to really relevant coding skills questions. There are certainly a number of startups that I work with that I would say deliver a pretty darn rigorous experience, and varying degrees of rapport. So sometimes it’s about saying you’re rigor is great, but let’s be really human. In terms of a single best practice, really hard to say, it’s a bit of a moving target right now.
[21:34] Ways to manage remote teams well
Raman Frey: Yeah, okay. So moving from you’re hiring remotely, you’ve onboarded somebody now it’s time to manage them and maybe with a little bit of a bias towards people managing teams of software engineers remotely. Do you have any sort of advice to people in that situation? What do great distributed managers do well?
I think one of the most important things, you have to do it when managing distributed teams. And this is by the way, this predates COVID. So people were managing distributed teams long before this it’s just now teams are completely distributed. So some teams have this really dialed in and they made the switch very seamlessly. Others were much more used to an in person environment, but I think that being human and being real with people, connecting at the outset of any interaction, whether it’s Zoom-based or video-based or whether it’s over Slack or whatever, allowing space for a person’s human situation to play out the surface, yeah. People are struggling with childcare right now. It’s a challenging thing to deal with. Some people have family members who were affected by this. Some people are deeply affected by the race situation. So creating a space for real humanity and connection between you and your teams is critical now more than ever. And I think also just having a workflow and having the right IT tools in particular that allow distributed management of discrete pieces of work, where you can’t actually real-time in-person collaborate. You gotta be able to create artifacts that can be shared, checked in and checked out. Cloud based platforms are making this a whole lot easier than it used to be. Um, I think above all, it’s be human. Yeah.
Raman Frey: Yeah, be human, like allow for that first five minutes or even 10 minutes of dropping in and asking how the kids are doing and sorry about the dog and all of that. Yeah. Dog is on its way. So imagining that this is going to be a long, a more long-term model, imagining that distributed teams in technology are going to be what most people are doing from this point forward. What skills or qualities do you think are gonna matter the most, in terms of managing, especially like medium to large size companies when everyone’s fully distributed?
Jordan Burton: It’s going to depend on the company and what their needs are for sure. So to say that there’s one skill, quality, or attribute that everyone’s going to need would be false. I think, again, it matters very much around your culture as to what you value. It also matters on the role. So in some situations, collaborative working environments are really important and others it’s just not as important. And some may argue that as we evolve, we may be able to see more independent modes of operation when people are distributed. But I would say an ability to quickly connect and communicate with other human beings. Doing it authentically very quickly, is going to be important for almost all companies. This is not about extroversion. So some people, when I say your ability to connect with your teams and connect with not only candidates, but your existing employees is an important sort of skill set to have. That doesn’t mean networking. That doesn’t mean extroversion. That doesn’t mean you have to be a chit chatty. I think it’s about empathy.
It’s about being able to understand where the other person’s coming from and understanding what’s on their plate. Providing a lot of feedback to someone. We work in a little bit of a feedback vacuum. We don’t have a lot of the informal feedback that we normally get in an office. Interesting. In absence of that, you just need to have an extra layer of that humanity and empathy, which enables you to, you know 30 seconds let’s connect and be human, as opposed to having that warm up over the course.
Build the trust. It’s interesting. I had a few conversations recently with people where I could see that you would have to kinda, uh, do things that if you were doing them in person, you’d be like a little bit laying it on thick, but you need to make that I think extra effort with everybody remote and not seeing each other in person.
[26:00] Working with VCs the right way
Raman Frey: So I think, I think we’ll do one last question then we’re going to switch to audience questions. So those have been queuing up down here. That’s why I keep looking down at my phone here. But the last question really has to do with, I mean, you have pretty expensive, extensive experience working with VCs. What’s the number one thing that you feel entrepreneurs get wrong about VCs and what is sort of, what happens when you take money from a venture capital?
Jordan Burton: Yeah, I guess if it’s what they get wrong in thinking about taking on a venture capital investment, there’s certainly there’s a lot of mistakes, but the probably the majority of them fall under a category of viewing it transactionally as opposed to a relationship. I think a lot of entrepreneurs understandably think about brand name of the VC and valuation that they’re going to get. Those things matter. I totally get it but I deal with a lot of entrepreneurs who’ve taken on VC money and sometimes it’s going well and sometimes it’s not, and it’s usually not a function of the term sheet. It’s more a function of the relationship they have with the partner that’s on their board or just the dynamics of that relationship, whether they feel like they delivered on the other promises outside of just wiring over the money. So if you’ve got great rapport with the firm, if they have industry expertise in the area that you’re targeting, if they really have made big commitments around making introductions, providing advisory support, providing perhaps access to talent, when you scale to a level where you need, you know, certain C level leaders yeah. Take, take a lower valuation, uh, you know, that’s, yeah, it’s a long-term relationship and those things really matter. And they matter more, I would say… There’s kind of a mathematical relationship, like think about the prospects of your venture in terms of expected value. Like there is certainly there’s what percentage you’re giving up and for how much money, but what’s the probability that you’re going to succeed? And if you have a firm that really is going to move the needle on that, the expected value may be higher, even if you’re taking a little bit of a valuation hit. So that’d be mine.
Raman Frey: I mean, and so much of this also revolves around tipping points, right? If you get some kind of network effect or feedback loop, just one little tipping point that comes from your, your VC and, you know, you could suddenly have a problem with not enough server space.
[28:38] Q&A What do great distributed teams do well?
Raman Frey: Okay. So we’re going to switch to Q & A. I’m seeing them pop up over here in the chat room. I think we’ll go to this first one. It’s a pretty straightforward example, but it is looking for example. So Aaron Wall asks, what do great distributed teams do well, and can you give an example of something that a great distributed team would do well it’s against sort of concrete practices, great distributed teams, um, communicate.
Jordan Burton: Well, I do think an important part of the communication is that there’s very clear allocation of work where you parse off pieces of work in a way that eliminates or removes a lot of real time dependencies. So if you were to carve off a portion of a product build that had a ton of dependencies on three or four other people, that required something in the nature of like real time connection, you don’t know if those people are going to be available, you could have people stopping and pausing and not being able to proceed because of those dependencies.
Jordan Burton: So great. I’ve seen a lot. It just great engineering managers are, I think, do a fabulous job of saying here’s a discreet piece of work that to the degree possible, I can minimize the number of dependencies that need to be solved in real time. Because some people are going to be working late on a Sunday. Some people are going to be, you know, up super early on Monday morning, you might miss each other. So how can you really carve off your workflow in a way that minimizes dependencies? That’s one. I think providing really transparent feedback to one another is going to be increasingly important with distributed teams to where I kind of, I know whether things are on track or not early. I hear from a lot of product people in particular, product managers who are seeing high levels of productivity, but things go off the rail and they can go way, way, way off, a lot quicker. So, wow, we’re producing a whole lot of code, but we’re kind of losing each other. So having tighter feedback loops to make sure that what we’re building is what we expect to build.
Raman Frey: Yeah, yeah. Again, I keep, I just keep thinking of, uh, the things that Matt Mullenweg said, which, which echo exactly what you were just sharing. I, I was recently, uh, I’m part of the starting of the company. And on day one, the first meeting of the company, there were people in Barcelona, Haiti, Pennsylvania, Taiwan, and San Francisco. And when I looked at the workflow coming on, it was, it was a bit of an ogre and there were a lot of those things that could stop progress.
[31:28] How do you keep remote teams motivated?
Raman Frey: So that kind of leads into the second question from one of the listeners, Kevin Maher. I’ve heard this too, especially in startups, you know, everyone’s like, woo, I get to be autonomous. I’m gonna make my desk here. Just perfect. My favorite coffee, they get really excited about that autonomy. They get really productive and then they quickly lose momentum. Right. So how do you keep those issues as the team’s performing well in an ongoing way?
Jordan Burton: One thing I see where this goes wrong is managers who lead teams in a very one size fits all away, right? This happens in the offline world too, which is a part of dealing with, you know, as Laszlo of Google calls, the smart creatives, part of managing the well is understanding, periods of peak productivity and periods of lack of productivity. It’s not always going to match up. Not everyone should be managed the same way. Some people thrive on shoulder to shoulder collaboration. Others are like, let me just go away and do this. So I think you need to adapt your approach to each individual on your team, especially if you’re managing a large team. I mean, engineering tends to be an area where the sheer number of direct reports kind of the span of control for an individual tech lead can be pretty large. So there’s a high burden on making sure that you are adapting your style to each individual on your team and the largest increases in a remote working world.
[33:00] Favorite interview questions for remote interviews?
Raman Frey: Yeah, that makes sense. Another question from Dennis. He asks, can you provide one or two of your favorite interview questions and why you like to use those questions?
Jordan Burton: Yes. This is what my workshops are all about. And if you’d like to learn more, we can talk offline. I can give you the whole scoop. I think that the general gist of it is: if you’re thinking about a question you can ask, then it’s going to cause a candidate to magically spill the answer you’re looking for, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. If you ever come up with a question that’s so great that gets the right answer, it’s going to be up on Glassdoor. Everyone’s going to prepare for it. The best questions are questions that lead the candidate to an anecdote in their past. It’s an opening of a dialogue and the real juice comes out of the follow-ups in the conversations. So truly my favorite question is what was your proudest accomplishment in your last role or two roles ago? What was your proudest accomplishment or what was your biggest mistake in a prior role? It’s not that they’re going to just answer this big flowy perfect buttoned up thing. But what they’re going to do is they’re going to take you to a story that you can systematically unpack by saying, what did you do? How did you do it? What was the impact? How did that compare to expectations? What was your unique contribution to that effort?
Raman Frey: To pull, sort of pull that thread, right? You, you, you sometimes talk about there were two question words was it “what and why”? [Jordan Burton: what and how] What and how right. Why do you favor “what, and how” Can you just unpack that for us? Just a tiny bit.
Jordan Burton: Sure. What and how are open ended questions. Meaning that they’re not answerable by yes or no. Yes or no questions are inherently problematic because first of all, that they tend to have very short. They don’t really invite a dialogue. Did you get the results you were expecting? Sure. End of discussion. Also they’re leading questions. They’re a hypothesis test. You’re saying I’m testing hypothesis that you delivered against your expectations. Please tell me that that’s true. Otherwise you answered wrong. So if you say, how did it go, as opposed to, did you get the results you were expecting? How question leaves open possibilities in between.
Raman Frey: Right, right. Interesting. Like when you say that too, I think of narrative skills. And one of the things that, Mullenweig talks about in that interview is he talks about, and he’s very forthright about this, even if you’re a coder, whatever your role, any role in this company, because we’re a distributed team, great communication writing skills are a necessary component. Because our lack of in-person time and, and rapport building and all this other stuff, you really need to have highly, highly precise language.
[35:52] Keeping teams motivated, pt 2
Raman Frey: We got another question, from Hammad, which I think is pretty similar. I think we’ve, I think we have touched on now. It was close to Kevin’s question about sort of someone initially contributing a lot and then slowing in their performance and contribution. And also, I mean, frankly, just speaking for myself, I mean, some people are just under pretty crushing, emotional burdens in certain ways. I mean, we fail to remember a lot of people have passed away and a lot of people have gotten sick. So sometimes it’s that. And sometimes it’s, I think you addressed it.
Jordan Burton: I think there was actually one other point to make on this one. One mistake I often see in the engineering world in terms of the interviewing process is throwing tons and tons of coding skills, problems at them where it’s just let me see your brain perform. I see a motivational misfire happened at the end of that sometimes. Which is I spend all my time learning about how smart you are, but then I realized you’re not inherently motivated to solve those problems all day. So you show up, you dazzle me with how well you’re able to solve these problems. And for a few weeks you’re crushing it. You’re doing great. But at some point your motivation wanes. It’s because I never had other kinds of interviews where I unpacked who you are, what fires you up, why you’ve joined the companies that you’ve joined. Why you’ve left the companies that you’ve left. If you have that kind of a dialogue, you can get motivational and will based information instead of being so over-indexed on skills.
Raman Frey: As soon as you think of that as what, what intrinsically motivates you, right? If, if you can do anything in the world, what lights you up, what would you spend your life doing and see how much you can keep someone in that zone of genius.
[37:25] Big picture assessment: where are we headed?
Raman Frey: Let’s take one more question. And then I think we will do a little bit of a close here and then transition to our breakout rooms, uh, where people can do some, uh, more Q&A in those groups. So this question is from Tom. He says it’s a bit off topic. Um, but he would like to hear your big picture assessment, right? Looking forward and thinking about, you know, where the economy, the tech sector, where is this all heading and maybe into 2021? And what can we, as leaders do to anticipate the big changes that are coming. Little crystal ball stuff.
Jordan Burton: That is big picture. I think we all have our own independent hypothesis on what’s happening in the world and they’re probably all equally wrong. I don’t think anyone has a perfect prognostication on where all of this is headed from my perspective. I see, especially COVID as being an accelerator. There are changes that were happening in the economy already, that COVID is simply going to fast forward. And if you look at the, kind of the winners losers and
Jordan Burton: The performance of some tech companies have just been overnight dectupled in size and volume and revenue. And others have fallen away, certainly anyone touching travel, hospitality, retail, et cetera, are struggling greatly. So I think there’s, there’s kind of an accelerated change in the sectors of our economy, likely. But I do think that there is, also a shift around how we spend our time. I think people are realizing that this may be a little bit of psychological projection of me taking my own experience and assuming everyone else is have it, but realizing that this forced quiet, I lived on planes and I was constantly in a car [Raman Frey: frantically moving, moving, moving.] Yeah. And there’s something around this period of pausing and reflecting and also realizing the true human cost of what’s happening in the world right now on so many different dimensions that I think I don’t know that we’ll ever go back to a world where we are so segmented in terms of this go-getter professional persona that we take off at the end of the day. And then for a short period of a couple hours, be our real selves and be human. I think that those lines were already blurry and now they’re just going away completely.
Raman Frey: I always felt honestly, for me personally, I felt there was like some kind of existential angst or pain that a lot of people felt in, in sort of shoring up that facade of vocational perfection and having a firewall. Then you go home and that’s where you can be a full human being and you can cry and laugh and have too much wine and be silly. Yeah. I, you know, a lot of the conversations I’ve had with other, leaders in technology, you know, sometimes they don’t feel comfortable saying so publicly, but privately, I have heard, I hope things don’t go back to the way that they were, which I take as a sign of, of hope that this is an accelerated time and that a lot of the progress that’s happening right now, uh, will be positive. And I also think when you were talking there about big picture stuff, Andrew Yang certainly has a national profile now. And the quote from him that really stuck in my head, he said, we’ve had 10 years of progress in three months.
Raman Frey: And his big thing is universal basic income, which I know is really catching on here in the Bay area. And there are more and more high profile advocates of UBI, universal basic income, because automation is completely erasing jobs and there is no retraining fast enough. And I think if we don’t, maybe I’m inserting my own opinion here, but if we don’t figure out some big, big changes, we’re going to have, you know, a million people. [Jordan Burton: You’ll need some kind of a solution to that for sure] Some kind of solution to that. Yeah. So I think that that’s a good place to kind of start to wind up. Maybe one more question here.
[41:39] Hiring through referrals
Raman Frey: When you are managing a remote, you’re managing a remote workforce and you’re hiring and people are referring people into the company. Is there, is there a good sort of process in, uh, vetting referrals or advantaging referrals versus people who are contacting you cold? I mean, this is, again, I think something that’s shifted a little bit with the fully distributed workforce.
Jordan Burton: Sure. If you look at the mathematics, uh, there’s an ATS software provider has actually done a lot of research on this. They looked at anonymized data from all of their customers and their hiring pipelines. And there was about a 10 times greater chance that a referred candidate gets an offer than someone who comes in from an ad or from the web. So, and I’m a huge believer in network base, not hiring your friends, I think there’s problems with monocultures, but referral-based, hiring referral channels and network based, hiring, hiring via your networks, I think is a very powerful way especially for smaller companies who may not have a huge recruiting brand to attract great talent and build. So I think encouraging teams to do that is important. In terms of the process, I do have some clients who have a separate channel for it may not just be referred, but it may be sort of a VIP. Like you get a couple of silver bullets, if you’re on the team.
Jordan Burton: Like I have, you have two a year that you can fast track to on-sites. We don’t need to know the screen or something like that. I have some that do that. Some that say, no, we want everyone to go through the process. I wouldn’t be scared of putting, you know, really interesting high value, candidates through the same rigorous process that you’d put anyone through. I do think that if someone has a really short timeframe, like you’ve got someone who’s a referred candidate and they’ve got another offer or their employer’s about to wave some big carrot in front of them, sometimes you need to be able to do something differently. I would just caution. I would definitely caution around like anything that looks like, a rubber stamp, check the box, yes, we reviewed them. But come on. It was, it was, you know, it was Sarah’s candidate. So of course they’re great. Be really careful. I see a lot of mis-hires happen that way. Don’t claim to be rigorous.
Raman Frey: So you said ten to one more likelihood of getting hired if it comes through a referral network.
Jordan Burton: Yeah. Total number of candidates to up to a offer. I believe that it was almost exactly 10 to one. It was like 12 to one for one and 120 to one for the other. So it tends to be different.
Raman Frey: Yeah. So, and, and maybe we’ll close out here, but just does that track with performance. In other words, do you tend to have better performing, um, uh, more productive candidates when you hire through network?
Jordan Burton: This totally depends how good your hiring process is. If your hiring process is really, so there’s some companies that I’ve worked with for many, many years, and we’ve tracked this data over time. There’s no difference at all because your hiring your assessment process is really buttoned up. So you can take somebody from anywhere and you’ll just filter out more. If they come from bad sources, I will say for companies that don’t have a great assessment process, yes, referred candidates do tend to at least last longer, right. And that’s often because they don’t have a good process for evaluating candidates period. And they end up kind of getting the benefit of just having better knowledge of this person, that their assessment process couldn’t deliver.
Raman Frey: I have a feeling that these questions are actually on a lot of people’s minds too, because a lot of companies, if they’re sufficiently capitalized, have a real opportunity in hiring right now, there’s a lot of people moving around. I’ve certainly had a lot of friends who suddenly found themselves, laid off often high paid executives and quickly got rehired. Like it wasn’t like it used to be before the pandemic where it’d be like, I’m on my 17th interview, it’s been a year and a half. And it looks like I’m going to finally get that SVP or that C-suite position. It’s like, boom, you know, laid off. I mean, a big example obviously is Airbnb. And I thought, I thought Brian Chesky was a class act in how he laid off, I think 1900 employees. I don’t know if you saw his letter. Very magnanimous. He said, please hire these folks.
[45:55] Top 3 tips for interviewing over video
Raman Frey: Tips for interviewing well on video.
Jordan Burton: Yeah. So in descending order of obviousness: number one is connection. Just have a good internet connection. If you’ve got like three interviews lined up, it’s not a good time to go to your Airbnb vacation house on the beach or whatever, like robust internet, make sure that there’s no latency and all of that. Number two is aesthetics. You want to be front lit, not back lit. You want to have the camera as close to eye level as you can, to where you’re looking straight at the person, as opposed to them looking up at you. The way I set up my screen when I do a video-based interview is to take my notes and move them a tiny little box right up by the camera. Cause I know I’m going to be looking at my notes a lot. I don’t want my notes down in the corner and I don’t want my notes to be a full page in my screen because by the time my cursor gets to the bottom, it’s going to be at the bottom for the entire interview. I’m going to be looking down and not looking at the candidate. So move that up here. I moved the little video of them. I put it in gallery view where I can squeeze her really up high and their resume or other things off on the sides. You want notes and camera, uh, notes and their image up top.
Raman Frey: Thank you. I think that’s going to make me a better interviewer too.
[47:15] Outro: Goodbye and thank you.
Jordan Burton: Well, this was I really enjoyed it. Thanks so much everyone for the experience. Ramen, I enjoyed the conversation and happy to help people with follow-ups, if anyone wants to circle back with me.
Raman Frey: We want to make this conversation ongoing. Maybe even it’ll go beyond these breakout rooms, in terms of building the next Big Thing. Thank you to Lohika for making our time here possible. I’d also like to thank our first guest, our inaugural guest, Jordan Burton. You were wonderful. Thank you for joining us. I’m your host Raman Frey.