Values-Driven Recruiting

No matter what business you’re in, having the right employees on board in the right seats can mean the difference between being an average company and a great company. We’ve found this to be especially true in a service-delivery business like Rackspace, and finding the right Rackers (Rackspace employees) has been one of our biggest challenges since the early years of the company. 

For the first year of the company, I can think of numerous occasions when we had thought we found the perfect candidate for a role. He’d be extremely technically proficient in his area (whether it is was Linux system administration, tax accounting, or software development) but the person just didn’t seem to work out as a Racker. While the candidate could be a rock star in a lot of companies, he just didn’t seem to fit in our unique environment. It turned out that the entire process was focused purely on making sure that the prospect had the technical skills necessary for the job in question. While that was important, it really only told part of the story.

Without understanding how a candidate collaborates with his peers and subordinates as well as what a candidate is naturally passionate about, it is really impossible to tell if a candidate will fit in your company. And in our case specifically, it was critical for the candidate to be able and WILLING to talk to customers and have a genuine concern about solving their problems…whether it was an external customer or an internal customer. In fact, the candidate really needed to have a value system that was very consistent with the value system of the company. So while our interview process was more than adequate for testing technical knowledge, it was sorely lacking in its ability to uncover the candidate’s value set so we could see if it was consistent with our value set and our culture. 

Once we realized this, of course we set out to change the way we selected Rackers to ensure we learned during the interview process what values really drove a candidate. It turns out, however, that there aren’t 10 simple questions you can ask to discover if some one naturally shares your value system. Think about the dating process. You don’t decide to get married after the first date (at least not usually). You don’t decide after the second date either. In fact it sometimes takes months or years of dating before you decide to get married. The whole dating process is about really getting to know someone. To learn about that person and discover if that person is compatible with you, your family, your friends, and your value system. Interviewing a candidate has many of the same characteristics. The only problem is that you don’t get to have a long courting process…in fact, taking more than two weeks is often too long to successfully win a candidate.

What we learned was that the difficult part of building a values driven recruiting process is not just about asking the right questions, but also about the compressed time frame that you must discover this important information. In any company, especially one that is growing fast, it never seems that there is enough time to spend interviewing and recruiting. So even once you figure out the right questions to ask, how do you get that information quickly so you can make a fast, informed, data-driven decision? 

Recruiting is a science. It’s taken us years to build the recruiting machine we have now. We’ve made a number of mistakes along the way and discovered there is simply no shortcut in the selection process. There are, however, a number of tools and techniques that can help you build a structured process that can not only be learned, but can also scale as your business and hiring needs grow. Here are just a few of the things we do to find the right candidates that share our company values:

1. Topgrading – Selecting “A” candidates – We’ve incorporated many of Brad Smart’s Topgrading concepts into our process. This was instrumental in helping us build a consistent, structured process.

2. Reference checks – reference checks are an absolutely essential part of the recruiting process and can provide as much important data about a candidate as the interview itself. Get the right list of subordinate, supervisor and peer references to check.

3. “Sherlocking” – Ask tough questions and dig deep on important, relevant topics. So many interviews are just surface level and simply go through the chronology of a candidate’s career. Ask for details and examples of specific jobs, projects, and accomplishments. After all, you’re looking for a track record of success and a consistent pattern of values that are expressed in the candidate’s work.

4. Budget adequate time – Spend enough time in the interview process. There is not set minimum or maximum time frame for an interview. Split up the work among several different interviewers and ensure that no one repeats the same questions to the candidate. This wastes every one’s time. Get the group of interviewers together at the end and compare notes. See if, as a group, you can answer the questions of whether this candidate is technically competent and whether he shares the company values. There may be debate among the interviewers and this is good.

5. Team Involvement – If the candidate is going to be part of a team, include teammates as well as the hiring manager in the process. Again, split up the work among several different interviewers and ensure that no one repeats the same questions to the candidate.

6. Listen listen and listen – If you’re trying to learn about a candidate in a compressed period of time, you should spend 90% of the interview listening. Sometimes it’s good to have two folks conduct the interview – one to ask the questions and the other to record the answers.

In future posts we’ll talk more about selecting the right folks as well as how selection fits into building a values-driven culture, but in the meantime, I’d like to know if this is familiar to anyone else. I’m curious to know how other companies approach the selection process. What methods have worked for you as you’ve built a process to select employees that fit your unique culture?

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  1. I was interviewed by rackspace in the UK, and did not find any of the rackspace interviewers professional or pleasant in the least. Apart from the fact that I was not offered a job, I found the “2 on 1” part of the interview especially unpleasant due to the fact that after answering questions from either of the 2 (allegedly “management”) interviewers, they would both simply stare like a couple of idiots without saying anything, as if my answer was insufficient, as if they were expecting me to continue, or perhaps, who knows, as if they were trying to psyche me out in some way.

    Similar stories have been conveyed to me even by people who were hired. Apart from that, the telephone interviews organised prior to the face-to-face interviews were extremely badly organised eg. on the “tier 1” interview I was initially interviewed on the wrong topic, and then had to repeat the interview 15 minutes later (how could I refuse?) on the correct topic (even though I also did well on the wrong topic) and for the “tier 2” interview, bad time management and communication on the part of the interviewers meant that I was not called at the correct time, but about an hour later, after various apology phone-calls and schedule reorganisation at the rackspace office.

    Finally, when turned down for an offer, after several years in the business as a technical specialist, 20 years in the IT business, and a fairly good career progression over time, rackspace turned me down with these words: “you are not a level 3, but more like a level 1, and our management team felt that you would not develop or respond well in stressful conditions”.

    So this is rackspace for me, and I try to spread the news as far and wide as I possibly can: RACKSPACE = an UNPROFESSIONAL, INSULTING bunch of CREEPY IDIOTS.

  2. Those are excellent thoughts, Patrick. I’m a new RackSpace customer. is doing my site, and they host all their stuff on RackSpace. I also have all our email accounts and email marketing at MailTrust. So I’ve had the chance to experience your fanatically good customer service, and I’ve been really pleased at how you’ve really fulfilled those promises–bravo.

    But back to your blog post. I work with about 45 new marketing firms a year, looking their companies over from top to bottom. Recently I’ve been telling the principals of these firms that it’s no longer their top job to establish a strong positioning and use it as a platform to find clients. Yes, that’s still important, but even more important is having a marketing plan for good employees.

    I think they’re harder to find than good clients.

  3. I am sorry you had such a negative experience during the selection
    process at Rackspace. Although I didn’t mention it my post, we do elicit
    feedback from candidates that we don’t make offers to. Although we do not
    poll everyone, we do poll a portion of candidates about what they liked
    and didn’t like about the process so that we can improve it.
    Specifically, we ask how likely a candidate is to recommend Rackspace to
    a friend or colleague. Our mission is to have everyone walk away from
    the recruiting process feeling good about the interaction they had with
    us, even if it didn’t result in a job.

    It sounds like we didn’t poll you about this so you didn’t get to give
    us the feedback directly. I can promise you, however, we take your
    feedback seriously and we’ll use your comment here to help us improve.

  4. I just returned from visiting the Rackspace offices in San Antonio. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the positive energy in the office and among the rackers. I’ve been a customer for coming on 2 years and the vibe has always been positive. I just don’t think I realized the extent of it. I applaud Rackspace management for the practices they’ve put in place to build such a great team!

  5. I understand the value system. This is a very important for any company, for me its more important that the candidate have a character which can get along with others in a team environment, than have a emmaculate technical skills. Don’t get me wrong technical skills or good experience of the position is important, but I can teach a person technical skills, can’t (or don’t have the time to) really teach someone people skills, especially if they are set in their ways. Though, being the interviewer myself plenty of times, I’ve realized that it is difficult to ask the right questions at interview time, because you must be politically correct and their are so many HR rules which prevent the interviewer from being too personal or too drilling in the interview.

  6. I also went through the rigorous Rackspace interview process. I have three complaints about the process. First, I was given the name of a specific person that would conduct the interview. I arrived a few minutes early and asked for that person. This person did not bother to even meet with me. He sent two of his subordinates to conduct the interview. The two employees that conducted the interview were very polite but did not have a professional appearance. One of them took the lead and did 99% of the interview. The second employee asked only four or five questions. My second complaint is regarding the insincere email that was sent to tell me I would not be offered the job. The email stated that “While your skills and experience are very impressive, we have other candidates who are more closely qualified.” I would have felt the message was much more sincere without the statement about my skills and experience. The third issue was that the amount of time from when I was first contacted by Rackspace until the final email. The phone interview was seven days after the recruiter for contacted me. After the phone interview it was another 22 days before I had the face to face interview.

    To summarize my complaints. 1)The person that I was to meet with did not bother to see me. 2)The final email did not seem sincere. 3)The number of days between the phone interview and face to face interview was excessive!

  7. I’ve always had some strange desire to work for rackspace and was excited to see that they were hiring when I was looking for employment. I sent in my resume and got a call the next day, breezed through the technical questions and was told I did very well and that I should expect a call at such and such time by such and such person. As stated above, rackspace seems to be terrible at keeping appointments and I received this call two days after I was supposed to. The questions I was asked were fairly generic job interview questions mixed in with some technical stuff. I felt I did really well and sure enough I was set up with an actual interview.

    And that’s when my opinion of the company took a nose dive. Before the interview I was told to complete their 5-strengths survey which consisted of a bunch of nonsensical questions and was as scientific as a mood ring. But whatever, HR loves hocus pocus nonsense. It’s to be expected. But it didn’t end there.

    The interview questions were bizarre and not bizarre in the way that other IT companies’ questions are, like asking impossible questions to see if you can think “outside of the box.” I felt as though I was trapped in some come-to-life Kafkaesque myspace quiz. The worst part about this was that there were to rounds of interviews with ~4 interviewers in each session. The interviewers would ask the same questions, even in the same interview. In the second round I was asked perhaps one or two questions that I wasn’t asked in the first.

    Now, I was offered a beer between interviews and everyone I met did seem nice and like they were probably happy with the company, but I have to wonder why Rackspace’s interview process is so disorganized and why their questions are rather pointless.

    In the end I was sent their generic, “We don’t want you, but we’re too busy to tell you why so here is our generic and uninsulting no,” email. It’s a shame too, because I rather enjoyed talking to their recruiter.

    Anyway, good luck and I hope your final choice turns out well for you. This is my feedback, take it for what it’s worth.

  8. I’ve read the previous posts about the Rackspace recruitment process and have not encountered any of the negative detailed within the posts.

    A Rackspace recruiter called me, went over my IT experience and gave a technical screening test. I was told my resume and test results would be presented to the director of the area my skill set and experience matched. Same day, I received a call back from recruiter scheduling my first phone interview with director. The director called on the correct day and time.
    I was informed by director that the next order of business was to have a 2nd interview with a Lead Technician and that heshe would work with recruiter to schedule the interview with lead tech. Recruiter calls a day or two later asking if datetime will work. I engage in the 2nd interview with lead tech, heshe calls on correct datetime. This interview takes 30 minutes. I am then routed back to recruiter to schedule a 3rd phone interview with another technologist. DateTime is set and just like the previous 2 phone interviewers, the interviewer calls on correct datetime. 3rd phone interview takes about 30 minutes.

    Thus far, I have found the recruitment and screening process by Rackspace to be handled with care, professional and worth my timeeffort.

  9. how long does it take to hear feedback from the recruiter after the interview? I guess I should ask how long did it take to receive the email of “no thanks” or a call about next steps.

    Thank you

  10. I registered just to comment on this thread (and hopefully help balance out some of the more negative posts).

    I applied to Rackspace in Austin, Texas and was contacted for a phone interview, followed by a second phone interview and a technical test. The Rackspace staff I spoke with asked good (difficult), appropriate questions. After making it through both rounds of grilling, I was invited in for a personal interview. I was asked career goal / personality questions and more technical questions by two different panels. In both cases, the questions were thoughtful, challenging, and clearly designed to weed out undesirable potential staff. I was offered a job, but ultimately declined for personal reasons unrelated to Rackspace.

    The point is this: folks who were not extended job offers are going to post scathing reviews about the interview process, but it’s very likely that they were simply not good candidates. It’s natural to feel resentment in such cases. (This goes both ways of course — I have a more favorable view of the company and the interview process because I _was_ offered a job.)

    Keep it in mind as you read through the opinions.

  11. Well,
    Maybe rackspace is nice company but their HR department is the worsted I had to deal. No respect to potential employee. If they say that they will contract with you with feedback after phone TI on let say Monday, they will not do it. I worked with bigger companies and no one treat me like that.
    I’m talking about UK Rackspace branch.

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