Software engineer Aatmaprem Aarya was working on a deadline. He was building a website that could fetch information from a database. For an engineer like Aarya with three years of work experience in a large software product company, it was an easy task.
But his future employer, Boomerang Commerce, an ecommerce enabler startup, for which Aarya was interviewing, tweaked the task.
He had to finish the website using a complex programming language on a cloud computing infrastructure, both of which the 27-year-old programmer wasn’t familiar with. And he had only two hours to finish the task.
“When you interview for a developer’s position you brush up your theoretical and applicative aspects. I was thrown an impromptu project that I had to finish in two hours from scratch including installing basic software, finding out what components could be used and finally getting it all done in time,” says Aarya adding that he knew he wasn’t in for an easy ride.
Nevertheless, he knew that he was being given a taste of what it’d be like working for a startup.
Aarya’s experience is just one example of how startups are relying on real-world practical tests to hire the best talent instead of the more conventional interview format that larger organisations rely on.
With over 22,000 startups coming up in the country in the last ten years, according to startup tracker Tracxn, a lot of millennials are joining these young organisations, and the companies are using unconventional hiring techniques to pick the best, and also the most compatible, talent.
Hackathons, psychometric tests and takehome-problems are all important pieces in the toolkit of the startup hiring manager who has little room for error. Helpshift, a Pune-based startup that provides a mobile customer relationship management tool, gives potential hires a “takehome problem” to evaluate the candidate’s patience, ownership and problem-solving skills.
“A lot of people do well in interviews,” says Baishampayan Ghose, founder and chief technology officer at Helpshift. “But the real challenge is to evaluate if a candidate fits well in the organisation.”
A startup requires its employees to be malleable. So while an engineer with work experience of 20 years in Java language programming might land an enviable offer at a big multinational, a startup wants to know how quickly this engineer can learn other technologies and skills.
An easy way to evaluate aptitude is to ask an engineer to solve a problem in a programming language they aren’t familiar with, says Ghose.
“If you’ve been an oil painter for years, you can make a few good strokes using acrylic paint, too,” he says. Unlike multinational companies, startups operate on limited capital. They also operate in a fiercely competitive space.
So, while an IT giant can recruit 100 recent graduates and train them for three months on a skill, while also having the bandwidth to hold them in a pool until a project requires resources, a startup needs its employees to be functional and contributing from day one.
To make sure the team shares the same passion as the entrepreneur, a culture fit is often assigned a bigger checkbox.
Bengaluru techie Abhishek Goel, 23, remembers discussing his travel escapades at length during his interview for the role of senior software engineer at travel review portal HolidayIQ .
Candidates who want to join the company are asked to share experiences of the places they have visited and write reviews on the portal. They are screened for their enthusiasm for travel and their aptitude to resolve challenges that travelling can often throw up.
“By ensuring that even our software engineers are passionate about travel, we get employees who go beyond just coding and pose questions about what features to add to help travelers. This attitude definitely helps our platform get better,” says Vandana Sharma, chief people officer at the Bengaluru startup.
Most startups germinate with the intent of solving a consumer or industry problem. Startup employees are therefore required to be conscious of their contribution in solving the problem their employer has set their eyes on.
Logistics startup Rivigo, that set out to build a reliable and safer logistics network by organising the freight transport industry, has a team of 1,200 employees chosen with absolute care, says cofounder Gazal Kalra.
Here too, technology solutions are found not by just sitting at a desk but by getting one’s hands dirty in the real world.
“Our tech team travelled with truck drivers and got a first-hand experience of problems like fuel pilferage and driver fatigue. Their experience of the problem at hand resulted in them building the right products,” she says.
The company recently applied for patents in the U.S. for its in-house technology solutions, including, a fuel pilferage detection system and driver-relay mechanism. Hackathons or coding contests have often been door-openers of opportunities for graduates looking for internships in tech giants such as Facebook, Snapchat and Tinder.
Gaining momentum in the country, some Indian startups, like Practo and Inmobi are also looking at Hackathons as a way to find the correct talent. Hackathons, which may not always be held with the sole purpose of hiring talent, “help in evaluating how a candidate works under a deadline, which tells a lot about the person,” says Kevin Freitas, human resources director at mobile advertising startup Inmobi.
A lot hinges on the kind of talent a startup is able to attract. A determinant to check whether a company’s hiring has had a positive impact on their business is to evaluate employee growth: an employee hired a year before should be able to work independently and probably also help mentor a new recruit. “By hiring smart people who can manage themselves, startups can save the overhead of hiring managers,” says Ghose of Helpshift.
In short, what could be deemed a tall order to ask of an employee working for an established company is in some sense a basic requirement expected of a startup employee.
So while Aarya, who since his interview with Boomerang Commerce has joined the startup and worked with them for a year, has got a hang of working in a startup, he says his first experience with the company helped him set correct expectations from his future employer.
“We’re working in a domain where we require engineers who learn quickly, deal with ambiguity, solve challenging problems and ship them under tight deadlines. Our hiring exercise mimics this process,” said Madhusudhan Rao, the head of India operations at Boomerang Commerce.
Image Source Indiatimes.com