At FullStory, we use Slack for just about everything — including conducting job interviews.

It wasn’t something we thought we would do when we first started using Slack. But since bringing chat into our interview process, we’ve found ourselves hiring better people, faster, and with less productivity lost.

It’s counter-intuitive, in a way. You’d think that Slack would be a disengaged medium for getting to know a potential co-worker. But Slack has become a cornerstone of our interview process because it makes interviewers and interviewees feel like they’re really getting to know one another.

If you’re having trouble with finding the time for your team to get to know candidates, screening candidates before in-person interviews, or getting a good sense of how potential hires really communicate, using Slack for interviews might just be right for your team, too.

Why hiring is hard (and why Slack helps).

If working at a startup is like putting together a plane that’s falling off a cliff, then hiring is like convincing other people to join that ride with you.

To make things all the more anxiety-inducing, each new hire a startup makes will meaningfully change the number of employees at the company. If you’re a company of 5 and you hire one more person, you just grew your company by 20%. Even for a company of 30 employees, each new person hired is going to impact the culture and dynamics of the organization.

Getting hiring right is of the utmost importance, but hiring the right people takes time and is demanding on your existing team. You’re trying to find people who fit the existing culture, are committed to the cause, and eager to make a demonstrable impact on the company.

At the same time, there’s the everpresent risk of unconscious biases creeping in — or groupthink. And inevitably, team members will end up spending a lot of time interviewing, emailing, and giving assignments to people that never end up getting hired.

For us, we didn’t want to pass up any candidates who showed potential, so we did the opposite and brought too many people to the last stage of hiring, resulting in spending too much time on candidates that didn’t ultimately work out. That meant that a lot of individual contributors — engineers, salespeople, and Huggers — were seeing their precious time eaten up by interviews. Not good.

We needed to reduce the time spent in face-to-face interviews while still keeping the highest quality candidates, so we took a chance and introduced Slack to our hiring.

Slack has allowed us to make our hiring more efficient while still getting the best candidates through.

How the FullStory Slack interview works.

The FullStory hiring process is a funnel designed to test candidates’ skills and assess their fit:

  1. Email questionnaire. The candidate answers a standard set of questions for their desired position — these are designed to assess whether or not the candidate has the qualities required of the position.
  2. Challenge. The candidate completes a relevant project which tests their skills.
  3. Slack interview. The candidate has an interview with team members over Slack. The candidate gets a set of questions and a time limit to answer and discuss all of them.
  4. Face-to-face interview. The candidate completes a traditional interview with the appropriate team members.

Slack is one part of the whole process, but it is one that helps us best assess fit and competence while being as low stress for our team as possible. It does this because it is:

  1. Flexible to schedule.
  2. Standardized for direct comparability.
  3. Constrained to highlight candidate’s communication skills.
  4. A safeguard against our hiring biases.

These are some bold claims so let’s examine them in detail.

Why Slack interviews work.

1. Flexible to schedule.

Flexible scheduling is a key benefit of the Slack interview. Since the interview has set start and end times, and part of the challenge for the candidate is to work within that frame, the interviews stay on a strict schedule.

Certain in-person interviewing challenges are eased because Slack interviews are conducted over the Internet. With Slack, a candidate can be on the other side of the planet or just down the street. Location doesn’t matter.

You can also manage a live interview and do other work at the same time. There’s no need to appear interested while an interviewee is getting their thoughts together and typing answers. Interviewers can sit down and eat lunch, or continue work on other projects and check back in when a Slack notification arrives.

For startups and small businesses, Slack also reduces the need for office space dedicated to interviewing — conference rooms are never double booked due to the revolving door of candidates.

Slack interviews really shine when it comes to scheduling.

2. Interviews become more standard.

Best practices for conducting interviews rely on pre-selected, standard questions. Slack makes interviewing consistently using these questions as simple as “cut-and-paste.”

By extension, interviewers know how the interview is structured, and it is easy for a variety of team members to run the session. There’s a lot of different people who are involved in FullStory’s hiring process, and their skill sets are different. The format of the Slack interview means we don’t have to rely on the time or the know-how of any one person — everyone can comfortably and competently interview a candidate.

The scripted questions ensure that everyone is being asked the same things in the same way. Keeping a written record of responses to these questions encourages an objective comparison of candidates — you are looking at what each actually wrote, not working off of your subjective memory.

3. Constraints highlight candidate’s communication skills.

Whatever is a cornerstone of success for your company, that skill should be tested in the interview process.

For us, clarity of thought and written communication is extremely important. At FullStory, everyone writes, whether over email, Slack, code, support tickets, or articles. Communicating effectively in writing is an integral part of job success.

Slack interviews put a candidate’s ability to communicate through text front and center.

Because of the 45-minute time limit, our written interview highlights how well candidates can organize their thoughts in words. Some candidates may have a harder time answering concretely or managing time and getting all of their thoughts out.

Outside of seeing candidates flex their writing muscles for us, reading answers in a live question-and-answer format helps eliminate some of the more subjective calls you make about candidates. We’re less likely to be impressed by people who can talk around subjects but can’t get to the heart of an issue and we can’t talk over candidates or fill in the blanks for them as they’re thinking over their answers.

Bruce Johnson, FullStory COO, shares further:

Through Slack, constraints require candidates to focus while empowering them to give their best response, on-the-fly, through text.

You can learn a lot about a candidate through their writing, which is a significant benefit of using Slack for interviews.

4. A safeguard against our hiring biases.

There is an ever-growing pile of evidence that hiring bias is a huge problem. From a candidate’s height to their accent to the way they dress, our opinion on a candidate can be falsely shaped by factors that are inconsequential to their job performance.

These biases can impact decisions to take the best candidates because we’re not able to assess objectively who is the best for the job.

Harvard Business Review stated earlier this year that face to face interviews “are fraught with bias and irrelevant information” that negatively affects hiring.

At FullStory, not being able to see a candidate removes a lot of our personal bias by muting some of the subconscious assessments we make about interviewees. Slack reduces the natural, gravitational pull of people who look, sound, and act a certain way, and puts focus on the content of the conversation rather than the less relevant interpersonal stuff.

(Sure, interpersonal stuff matters in the end for any hire — its just much less relevant at the Slack, screening stage in our hiring funnel.)

While the Slack interview hasn’t completely removed all bias from our hiring process, it is an important step to making it fairer, and better for both the candidates and our company.

The interviewer/interviewee experience.

All of this doesn’t mean much if nobody actually wants to use the Slack interview process.

Thankfully, that’s not been the case. We have had positive responses from interviewers and interviewees alike, and as a result, Slack has become a cornerstone of our interview process, making people feel like they’re really connecting with candidates.

Bruce highlights the objectivity that the Slack interview allows and appreciates the focus it puts on the candidate’s work:

It appears Slack interviews go over well with interviewees, too. When you think about it, many of the benefits for the company — flexibility in scheduling, efficiency through constrained communication, and eliminating interpersonal bias — can be just as great for interviewees who are trying to narrow down their options on the job market.

Also, since Slack interviews aren’t common (from what we can tell), they can serve as a differentiating factor that sets your startup apart from the competition, as it did for this sales candidate:

Ben goes on to share that while the process is not perfect, the it helps select for people who might not be a good fit at FullStory:

Using Slack interviews as a filter screens for the kind of people who want to work at FullStory, as Bruce summarizes:

Stepping up your hiring game.

We chose Slack interviews to help screen candidates because doing so fits in with the skills needed to work at FullStory — efficiency, clarity of thought, and being comfortable with communicating on software tools.

With the Slack interview in place, we’ve been able to trim the number of candidates who get from our challenge stage to our onsite interview by about 10%. This small step increases in value with each new hire.

Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and try something a little different it comes to hiring. Meeting your hiring goals might not happen with a Slack interview, but there are a lot of things out there that you can try beyond just a standard resume-and-interview — don’t settle for the way things have always been done!