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Hiring at Weaviate - finding our perfect matches!

· 8 min read
Jessie de Groot

Over the last few months, we have been recruiting heavily...

Over the last few months, we have been recruiting heavily.

Our successful Series B round both encouraged us to ramp up hiring and focused attention on Weaviate. We’ve also recently been mentioned at Google I/O and a Gartner conference. And of course ChatGPT and generative AI are suddenly pop-culture obsessions, which has increased interest in AI-native applications.

A year ago, few people had heard of us; most didn’t even know what a vector database was or how one might be used. But thanks to all this recent attention, we now hear from many more applicants–often before we’ve even announced a new opening. Instead of looking for people, people are often now looking for us. This has got me thinking about the nature of recruiting, and the challenges of finding the (technical) skills that we need in people who share our values and will fit in here at Weaviate.

So, how have we scaled our hiring process? And what personality traits or “soft skills” are we looking for in prospective employees? If you’re curious about either of those things, read on!

Sometimes its feels as if I am running a dating site

I want to find out who Person A is and what they’re looking for. At the same time, I want to see whether they match up with Person B, who they are and what they’re looking for. (Of course, in this case one of the “people” is Weaviate.)

As in dating, it helps to know what you’re looking for—in this case in a job—and what makes you happy. What are your ambitions?

On the other hand, it's up to us to accurately convey what we’re looking for in any position, what we offer, and the stage we’re at as a company. I’m doing this in a kind and collaborative way that is consistent with our values, so it’s not as if we ask all the questions and the job-seeker answers them. It’s more conversational; a way to see if what you’re looking for and what we’re looking for both match up.

Getting ready for those first dates

Obviously, your preparation should begin with learning about Weaviate. Our website has a lot of information including other posts in this Meta blog. Look at our Twitter account, our LinkedIn page, our website, YouTube channel and, of course, Google us! And as you get deeper into the process, look up the people you’ll be talking to (but don’t get creepy about it ;-)).

From the perspective of the job-seeker, the goal is often seen as simply: Get the job. But working for a company that doesn’t suit you will ultimately lead to frustration. You should have a clear idea of what you’re looking for from us, too. That is why we like it when applicants ask us as many questions as we ask them! Of course we want to avoid a mismatch from our side, too; we think about what we need, and what we find important in a new colleague. In a nutshell, the hiring process is simply a means of determining if there’s a match between the things that are important to you, and the things that are important to us.

Since we’re a fully remote company, we search for team members who we’re confident will do great work with minimal supervision. These are people who share our goals, take the success of Weaviate personally, and are naturally inclined to take ownership of their work. Since they will do their work with little direct supervision, we need them to seek advice when they feel stuck and tell colleagues if they’re not making progress. That makes good communication skills very important to us. So no matter which roles you have at Weaviate, being a good proactive communicator is essential.

Because we’re growing so fast, we’ve streamlined and formalized our hiring process

Generally speaking, most of the candidates we’re seeing now fall into one of two categories: Some are people who are intrinsically fascinated by the vector database space and the potential of AI; others are motivated by our Series B announcement and sense that Weaviate may present a great opportunity for growth and to learn. Until recently we proactively recruited a lot of people but now we’re seeing far more unsolicited resumes.

A year ago, if a resume and cover letter didn’t seem to perfectly match what we were looking for, we gave people the benefit of the doubt and interviewed them anyway. But today we’re pressed for time and we’ve come to realize that if a candidate is really motivated, we expect them to make sure that their skills and motivation are reflected in their resume and cover letter. We’re more selective both because we can be and because we have to be.

For the last year or so, we’ve used a recruitment agency as our partner in crime to help identify an initial pool of candidates for open positions. Since our Series B announcement, the managing director of the agency has been working on our account full time as an embedded recruitment lead. He recruited many of the people currently working here and in an initial chat he can usually tell if a candidate ticks the essential boxes of what we’re looking for. For us this is a perfect solution; he’s been working with us for the past year-and-a-half, and has developed a great sense of whether–besides ticking essential skill/experience/talent boxes–a candidate will be a good fit with Weaviate.

After initial selection, candidates move through a four-stage interview process

It begins with an introductory chat with me. The purpose of this conversation is, again, not unlike a first date. We talk about ourselves and get to know each other. I used to schedule 45 minutes to an hour for this call but to be honest, I found that I had a good first impression in the first 10-15 minutes, so lately I’ve been limiting these calls to half an hour. That still leaves you time to ask some of your own questions.

The next step is a longer interview with the hiring manager. This is a deep dive into both your background and the position on offer. Assuming that goes well, you’ll be given a challenge–this is a work assignment that is realistic for the position; it could take you a few hours. This third interview will again be conducted by the hiring manager but it will also include one or two team members. You’ll talk through your solution to the challenge assignment and discuss it with potential team members. The goal here is to get the best sense of the way you approach your work in a reasonable amount of time and, equally important, to get a feel for a match or natural connection between you and your future team.

The final interview is a cultural interview, again with me. I need to get a sense of how your personal values and work preferences align with our company values. Finding that cultural fit is very important to us. If we have a choice of someone who is 10/10 for technical skills but not the best cultural fit, and another candidate who is maybe an “eight” or a “nine” on skills but 10/10 on culture, we’ll choose the culture match.

Communication and respect are important whether there is a fit or not As you now know if you’ve read this far, this process involves a significant investment of time and effort on both sides. Part of showing respect to candidates is ending the process as soon as it becomes apparent that there’s not a good fit. Next to that, in the past, I typically gave fairly detailed feedback to candidates who were rejected during the process, but I came to realize that people didn’t always value it that much. Now, I usually just tell people that they were not selected, give them concise feedback and offer additional feedback if they wish to hear it.

However it happens quite often that even unsuccessful candidates feel that they had a positive recruiting experience–something I’m very proud of! I recall one applicant who finished his challenge assignment even after he withdrew from the process to continue in his current job. He told us that if we wanted to hire him later, he’d be that much further along in the process. A few months ago, an engineer who was fairly deep into our hiring process changed her mind and accepted an offer from another firm. But she’s stayed in touch and has asked us to let her know the next time that a position opens up that matches with her skills. Reactions like that make me feel that our recruiting process is true to our values–even though by definition we are destined to reject more candidates than we bring on.

Of course for me, this ‘dating’ process brings the most joy when it leads to a perfect match, because while I know we have a great product, our people are the biggest differentiator.

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