Our technical recruiting team at Gem is just four people, but we’ve helped hire a high-performing engineering, product, and design (EPD) team that’s grown the product to 900 customers and a $1.2B valuation in just four years. How did we do it? The answer isn’t really a brag — it falls back on the technical teams we support and their passion for recruiting as a problem space, which shines through in our hiring process as much as it shines through in our product.
Our two teams collaborate constantly, both on the hiring process and the product we use together every day. Through this collaboration, we’ve strived to create a recruiting engine that can serve as a model for our customers, so we’re excited to give some visibility into it! While not every company is a recruiting tech company with our same motivations for deep collaboration, we think it’s something every company could benefit from.
To learn more about technical recruiting at Gem, I sat down to chat with Emil Ibrishimov (VP of Engineering), Iulia Tamas (Engineering Manager), Rachel Bloch Mellon (Software Engineer), Diana Ogbevire (University Technical Recruiter), and Nathalie Grandy (Technical Recruiting Manager). By the way, I’m Ian van Dijk (Technical Sourcer) and the fourth member of our tech recruiting team is Linh-Chi Tran (Recruiting Coordinator). If you’re left with any questions at the end of this article, send us a message!
First off, what drew you to working in the recruiting space?
Emil: I’ve been a hiring manager myself, and I know how challenging and rewarding it is to build a first-class team. This is critical for the success of pretty much every business, so I’m really motivated by the impact we’re having.
Iulia: I believe that recruiters have this incredible opportunity to help shape someone’s life, by finding the perfect opportunity for them at the perfect time. I’m excited to be here because I believe that by helping recruiters be more efficient with our tech solutions, we enable them to spend time where it really matters: building relationships with the candidates, understanding their needs, and guiding them in the interview process.
Nathalie: That’s spot on, Iulia! It’s the human element of recruiting that excites me. I love helping candidates grow in their careers and acting as a strategic partner to a growing business. When you’ve forged a new relationship that spells growth for both the candidate and their new team — especially when you sourced that candidate and you get to watch their impact at the company play out over the years — it’s incredibly rewarding. Plus, you get to talk with so many fascinating people as a recruiter!
Personally, I think it’s important to make the most of these conversations and create a magical experience for candidates. I’ve gone through so many recruiting experiences that felt cold, robotic and impersonal. As recruiters, we’re experts in career growth, and there’s so much value we have to offer candidates as mentors and advisors. So we should have genuine care for the candidates we work with, really listen to their needs and try to meet them honestly, and create little moments that show our care throughout the process.
Recruiters are taking back more time to focus on the human element of their job as the industry shifts and we’re beginning to be prioritized as end users in software. Gem is at the forefront of this huge shift in the industry, so I’m psyched to be here helping the company and product grow. Working at a recruiting tech company, there’s also a unique level of respect and appreciation we get from our peers, and we get to help shape what the future of the industry will look like by sharing our knowledge. Plus, my peers text me all the time about how much they love Gem and how it has up-leveled them as recruiters…folks don’t just go around jumping for joy for software they use!
Rachel: For one thing, I just really enjoy working with recruiters! For recruiters, it’s all about building relationships, so that just makes a really fun person to work with, and I’ve had tons of interesting conversations with recruiters. Another thing that attracted me to the HR tech industry was recognizing that the hiring function has a huge opportunity to drive equity. What would it look like if people coming from backgrounds that have historically been left out of the funnel across industries were able to take a seat at the table? That drives better innovation for companies but it also means access to economic opportunity for people who historically have been excluded.
I started pursuing this mission at Byteboard, where we were working to create a better technical interview. Helping interviewers anchor more on the concrete skills needed for a job, and less on proxy signals like the prestige of universities candidates come from, was an effective way to drive equity in the field of software engineering. I’m excited to continue this work with a broader scope at Gem, where we have an opportunity to promote equity across all industries by giving companies the data and metrics to track diversity through the hiring funnel.
How has collaborating closely with recruiting helped the Gem engineering team build a better product?
Emil: We get product feedback and ideas from recruiters daily. We actually have engineers and PMs sit on recruiting meetings to observe first-hand how our recruiters and hiring managers use the product. We also have a slack channel for ad-hoc feedback and product ideas. This feedback loop sparked Talent Pipeline, which allows users to track candidates through stages of the hiring process from Gem. Customers had been asking for a tool like this and Nathalie and Diana felt the need as well. It is a game changer for me as well, because it makes it so much easier to stay up to date on everyone in process, and it is a powerful way to collaborate with the recruiting team both synchronously and asynchronously.
Nathalie: We really did feel the need! Diana and I were struggling to track a flurry of candidates, so we made a kanban board in Airtable to see where each candidate sat in the process and what our next steps were. This was helpful, but it had serious limitations in that we had to keep our data consistent with Greenhouse manually. When we heard that Gem wanted to build something like this into the product, we were pumped! We ended up working closely with Jillian, a past Gem intern, to create an initial prototype (we called this collaboration Project: Get Nathalie and Diana Off Airtable!) and we were overflowing with ideas. It was so rewarding to see those ideas find their way into the final product and how our efforts to scale our recruiting process paid off, not just for our team but for every team using Gem.
Emil: Now we use Talent Pipeline almost daily in our “Pipeline Review” meetings between recruiting and engineering. Engineers and PMs who work on Talent Pipeline have a standing invitation to come watch us using the product and ask questions — this is not something we can typically do with customers! Aside from generating product feedback, these meetings serve a crucial function for our team. With everyone in the same room sharing a birds-eye view of our hiring pipeline, we can catch opportunities to nudge candidates forward in the process, ensuring no one falls through the cracks, and quickly align on action items. In aggregate, we probably owe a few hires to these meetings!
That raises the next question: how has collaboration between recruiting and engineering helped us hire?
Nathalie: In so many ways! To start, the engineering team goes to extraordinary lengths to close candidates. They are always willing to hop on calls with candidates to share their perspective, and people have told us that it was these open and honest conversations with the team that tilted them toward signing. Engineering also takes candidates out to dinner (we’re always begging Helen to join because she has closed every candidate she has gone to dinner with!) and the team basically love bombs people with emails after we extend an offer. We’ve done zanier things, too…like printing a custom Gem branded cycling jersey for a die-hard cycler. Zooming out a little, what really differentiates our team is the deep personal investment the engineering team makes into hiring, especially when it comes to creating a great candidate experience, and how they support the recruiting team in doing whatever it takes to close a great candidate.
Diana: Yeah, I have to say the relationship between engineering and recruiting is like nothing I have experienced before. We collaborate on the entire process of designing our intern and new grad programs and presenting these roles to candidates, and everyone across engineering and recruiting is empowered to bring new ideas to the table. I work closely with Mike Pinkowish and Alex Rubin to find the best possible projects and mentorship pairings to help interns pursue their growth goals — they’re adamant about making the intern’s experience a focal point in the program, and they’re just as excited about creating a great candidate experience. The engineers I work with have a real passion for the “matchmaking” side of recruiting, finding the best projects an engineer could be working on, and helping other engineers grow in their careers. Lucy Yu (We miss you!!) introduced our really unique Rotational Product Engineering Program for new grads to help them grow quickly as Product Engineers right out of university — which is a rare opportunity — and Alex and Josh Valdez have done so much to keep it running smoothly. Being the sole university recruiter at Gem, I have a lot on my plate, but having a team that is so committed to creating a world-class experience makes my job easy!
Nathalie: While we’re shouting out folks I want to give the floor to Rachel, because she’s just an amazing example of what engineers have contributed to hiring at Gem. Could you talk about the Engineering Hiring Working Group you started?
Rachel: Sure! Thanks Nathalie. Right now one of the main goals of the Working Group is to optimize our interview process before we triple our engineering team in 2022. That’s a huge amount of hiring activity, so we want to be sure we can maintain high expectations for engineering talent and capture a diverse set of backgrounds and skillsets.
My experience designing technical assessments at Byteboard definitely informs how I’m looking at the interview process at Gem; luckily, Gem already hit the nail on the head in terms of what makes a good interview by designing an onsite that is essentially a work sample: candidates work collaboratively with a Gem engineer on a day-long project, designed to be similar to something they might tackle here at Gem, which means that they get to put their real-world software engineering skills into practice.
Even with this great experience in place, when we looked closely at Pipeline Analytics, we found some finer optimizations to our interview process that could be hugely impactful at scale — for example, we noticed that our passthrough rate from initial coding interview to onsite was lower than industry benchmarks, meaning we may be missing people who would be great Gems. From there, we did a deep dive into specific cases and identified some minor changes to our phone screen that could lower our false negative rate and lead to more hires overall.
With 40 hires to make in the next year, that’s great news! So what’s next for the Engineering Hiring Working Group?
Rachel: Well, this is still early, but one thing we’ve been eying is how to efficiently load balance interview time across our engineering team. We’ve also wondered how to make the scorecard information we’re collecting more useful to us as a team. From our conversations with Nathalie and Diana in the Working Group as well as customer feedback, we’re seeing potential value in pulling some of this interview-related data directly into Gem… there’s nothing concrete here yet — we’ll see what 2022 brings!
On that note, 2022 is tracking to be a huge year for hiring at Gem and for the growth of our product. If you’re interested in being a part of that growth, or have questions about anything you read here, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!