Dual Wield Studio Hiring Post Mortem

I always find blog posts explaining information about thought processes when it comes to hiring interesting, so I wanted to make one about that. I also think most people don’t have super intense thoughts about the job and hiring process outside “it’s bad” so if the idea of reading about jobs and hiring isn’t interesting to you – I understand. 

For folks who do find it interesting, I wanted to go over a few things we’ve tried recently with our interview process, what worked, what didn’t and what I’d like to change going forward. 

So, we started hiring for three different positions and each position’s hiring process is broken down below: 

  • [ POSTED ON LINKED IN and social media ] Producer (project manager)
    • Job was posted, listed as FT + benefits
    • Did a round of resume review, sliced 220+ applicants down to 20
    • Short written questionnaire 
    • Progressed 10 to 15 min - 1 hour initial interview
    • Progressed 5 to paid written test
  • [ Only posted on DWS site] Jr Product Developer (licensed partner art approvals wrangler)
    • Job was posted, listed at FT + benefits 
    • Did one round of art checks, progressed 20 of 40 to a written questionnaire 
    • Progressed 10 people to an in-person interview (+ 2 who applied for producer AND Jr. Product Developer, which resulted in a panel interview)
      • One applicant received another job offer during this process and declined an in-person interview with DWS. 
    • Progressed 4 people to a paid art test 
    • Progressed 2 to a team-wide interview

  • [Only posted on DWS site] Social Media & Marketing Coordinator 
    • Job listing, originally at part time
    • Asked for an example tweet using one of our products
    • Asked for examples of what we were doing wrong. 
    • We received 8 total applicants for this position and relisted it with adjustments to the job expectations and duties to obtain better fits in line with what we were looking for.
    • One of the last applicants we received shortly after closing them to re-assess was exactly who we were looking for! 

I don’t, as a rule, like job interviews. I’ve worked so many jobs where you had to put people through a grinder (especially in a call center) and the business forces you lie to them (“it’s GREAT working here!”), ask questions that skirt the edge of legality, and overall were just really gross. 

Obviously, you need job interviews to be able to hire, because your only other option is to hire friends and as a rule: I don’t love that. (There’s a whole other blog post I could write about how you do hiring when you’re in a niche industry like fandom and you know SO MANY PEOPLE that it becomes impossible NOT to hire friends but that’s a later thing.) 

So, interviews are a necessary evil, but when I was setting these up I had a few things in mind that I wanted to do. 

  • We are hiring to address a need – that need is our people are getting close to working over 40 hours and that’s Not Ideal, so we need to figure something out where they’re NOT working over 40 hours. Relevant stakeholders (i.e. those folks who will be working with the new hires consistently) must be in the loop of the process and must have a say in who is hired. 

  • Because we’re remote, a “writing test” of some sort needs to be factored in. I don’t think cover letters adequately act as a writing sample, or as an indicator of how someone communicates online as well as we’d hope.
    • Our writing test later became a small series of questions to learn about the people we were interviewing. Some of the questions we asked were “if you had unlimited time and money, how would you use it to improve the landscape of fandom” and “what fandoms are you in” just to get a sense of a person. 

  • Initial interviews shouldn’t extend over an hour – this is partially to respect our time, but mostly to respect the unpaid labor of those we’re interviewing even if it’s to hire them. The ideal is a 15-20 minute introduction call, which generally HR folks will handle. 

    • As a note, I hate this, too. I want to be the one auditing/vetting all of our potential partners and employees even if I think our HR rep (who loves Critrole and other nerdy stuff) is a lovely person. 

  • For technical positions, a test of some sort should be created and implemented and it must be paid. 

    • There must be a way to limit how much time someone would spend on it (I am a person who will spend 4x the amount of time on a test if allowed and I did not want anyone else to live that life.) 

Over the last few months I’ve also been soliciting opinions from Twitter about interview best practices to try and reshape how we do interviews and hiring going forward. 

Here’s what I think went really well in our process: 

  • I think the questions that we asked in our written questionnaire did exactly what I wanted it to do: we had a sense of someone’s ability to communicate via writing exclusively, and a sense of the sort of fandoms they were in. Here’s a quick screenshot of part of this interview process from the form: 
    an image describing our interview process, along with questions we asked, such as "what are you passionate about"
  • Thanks to a lot of boosting from connections we have within fandom and artist alley, we received WAY more applications for Producer and Jr. Product Developer than I ever anticipated. Having a way to somewhat quickly sort through all applicants and be able to separate them made our lives a ton easier. 

  • We didn’t go with typical interview questions and I think that led us to have much better conversations with people as a whole. I think most base interview questions are terrible at best, and because we do things so different at DWS I really wanted to make sure we were asking the questions that would help us identify people who aligned with the same principles we had. 

  • Scheduling 2 interviews a day kept us from being hugely wiped and kept us from falling behind on the work we are trying to hire for. 

  • Posting on LinkedIn was a learning experience, as in I learned never to post a job on LinkedIn ever again. 

  • Heather and Lindsay managed all of the interviews for Jr. Product Developer, rather than myself and Zara because Heather and Lindsay would be the ones training and working closest with this person – making sure THEY feel like those new hires are a good fit was most important and I think employees having a sense of buy in and feeling like their opinions on potential coworkers is hugely important. 

  • For some positions we sent the meat and potatoes of the questions we wanted to ask in advance – this led to a lot more comfort on the side of our applicants, and led to more well-formulated responses. 

Here’s what I felt really didn’t go well in this process: 

  • A lot of people wrote really elaborate answers to the questionnaire and I worry they spent a ton of time on/in it which is unpaid labor. I think ideally, we narrow the questions down to 3 questions and stress on “please don’t take more than 20 minutes to answer this, your time is valuable.” 

  • I think we may need a way to further whittle down the number of people who we send this to because again, unpaid labor. That said, so are initial calls to talk to someone in a sense, so I’m still considering our optimal way to achieve what we’re looking to achieve while not taking advantage of potential applicants. 

  • The separation and “grading” process I set up was not smooth at all. We received job submissions after the “deadline” and factored those into the process, but the utilization of google tags to track applicants wound up being a nightmare mess even with templates set up. We had situations where applicants needed multiple template emails sent out for things like “automatic response, you forgot to include your portfolio” or just an automatic decline because we knew someone wasn’t a good fit based on experience that didn’t relate at all to the job post, and no history or experience in anything we do. Having so many responses sent out and so many tags became extremely unwieldy and I missed emails, resulting in people emailing to check in and ultimately a really negative process for applicants. 

  • Scheduling 2 interviews a day wildly drags out the interview process for all interviewees, and makes them wait an ungodly amount of time. This sucks. 

  • LinkedIn job posting resulted in 30+ wildly wrong or inaccurate applicants – many VIDEO producers, or MOVIE producers, because “project manager” is a more standard parlance on LinkedIn. 

  • Many, many applicants asked for feedback on why they didn’t receive a job and I genuinely do not have the time to reach back out to each individual applicant. With splitting interviews up (as in I didn’t do all of them) I had applicants asking for feedback on interviews I didn’t conduct and thus had no idea how to respond on how they could improve.  

    • Honestly, in many cases of people asking for how they could improve in the future, an answer of “you didn’t do anything wrong” feels equally terrible to give, even if it’s the truth. We were lucky enough to find people who exactly matched many of our qualifications, and outside of getting a job in the industry to get that experience (which is what they’re trying to do) there’s no way to meet that qualification. Again, this is just a bad process, but not one I have a fix for. 

  • I had hopes that we could do an increased push, especially toward hiring from schools, especially in disadvantaged areas. I actually went to school to do Secondary Education (I wanted to be a teacher for high schoolers, especially special needs and/or in low income areas which is where I did my student teaching!) and so supporting an education pipeline is something intensely important to me. The problem is we needed to hire now, and the process to set this up was so laborious it wasn’t feasible. 

  • Our producer test process was estimated at 2 hours minimum, with up to 10 hours maximum paid. The intent here was to make sure over-achievers who would spend way longer than intended on something (despite being asked not to) would not be penalized for going an extra mile and would still be compensated. 

    • We had an optional checkin point for people to take advantage of during all tests – I found this was unnecessary and dragged the process out longer than it needed to because when folks were checking in at their WIP status, we knew right away whether or not this person had the skillset and abilities needed for these jobs in particular. 

    • This means that we wind up wasting the time of those applicants who are a no and we know they’re a no, but we had to wait for all applicants to turn in their tests before we could send information out as were only hiring a few of the potential applicants. 

Here’s what changes I’d like to implement going forward: 

  • Specifying upfront that we do not want cover letters, or thank you letters; at the size and scale of who we interviewed, this meant a whole slew of new emails we had to sort through, tag, and try to answer without it making the jobs inbox unnavigable. 

  • Streamlining our process down to: 

    • A tighter series of requirements on our job hiring posts to mitigate the number of applicants we get. Nothing insane like 10+ years experience and 6 masters degrees, but I think a lot of the reason we had so many applicants is that our job posts were too lax. 

      • This was also unfair to talented artists and creators who we wound up speaking to and would be great in a different position, but would not have worked in the job we were hiring for. If we had ironed out the process a little better and created more stringent application processes I think we could have saved people some time. 

        • Ultimately: I want a balance that allows for people who would normally self-select out of a process when they shouldn’t because they’re a good fit to still apply, but not so lax that anyone and everyone applies and spends a great deal of time on an application they would just get an automatic no on. 

    • An auto-response email that addresses what we saw most frequently:

      • This email inbox is not a monitored inbox consistently, please don’t send multiple inquiries.

      • Please do not send a cover letter, or thank you letter. 

      • If you forgot to attach or include something in your initial email, please make sure you respond in the same thread, do not create multiple different threads. 

      • Calendar timelines and expectations are communicated in the auto-responder to mitigate the number of emails we personally have to answer.

    • A tight set of dates for when applications open and close and not allowing any submissions after this. 

    • A streamlined set of 3-4 questions maximum in lieu of a cover letter. 

    • A streamlined set of questions during a phone interview (3-4 maximum) and a hard cap at a half hour. 

    • A written or art test after passing an in-person or phone interview, with hard dates and deadlines limited to 4 days rather than a full 2 week spread. 

  • Ensuring that all nos are communicated in a timely manner (<48 hours ideally). Due to how many applications we got and how many supplementary extra emails there were we had to take a batched approach (so, spend an hour sending these template email responses out) which left many applicants still waiting as we had to take care of normal day-to-day emergencies.

  • Having one of the questions be “do you want an option for our video to be off on your zoom interview call” as some people mentioned preferring not seeing responses to questions on our faces. 

  • Creating a series of tags within our jobs email that allows for us to do hiring specifically from applicants that we spoke to who we are dying to hire but don’t have a position for right away, which will mitigate further job posts. 

Overall I think we did the best we could with what we had and I really appreciate all of the feedback, help, and patience that everyone has given us as we worked through these things. We’re adding some new people to our team and I’m SO excited for us to announce them once it’s all finalized. 

If you have any questions about the interview process, or, heck, even any comments on things you enjoyed or really hated in interview processes that we can work into ours, I’d love to hear it! 

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