Prototyping the future of job searches and hiring: get to know the person before deciding to hire them

In December 2017, collaboratio helvetica (cohe) began to recruit some new team members to join its core team. The process was unusual: Over one month, around 25 people were brought together in different spaces, from whom 2-3 were subsequently selected to join the team. Why would cohe do this? Cohe is an organisation dedicated to creating spaces for open dialogue, experimentation and collaboration to create the Switzerland we want to live in. It is an organisation that tries to lead by example: trying new methods and approaches, and learning as it does so. It is also a very small organisation, juggling many commitments, projects, contacts and trying to do big, complex things on a small budget. Therefore, the right team members are crucial.

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So what did we actually do?

Consider the usual hiring process: everyone sends in their CV and a cover letter, trying with tiny differences to stand out from the crowd. You then meet the interviewing team for an hour, maybe longer, and they will meet everyone across one to two gruelling days. Maybe there is some follow-up interviewing, maybe not, but at the end of the day, the decision will be made in a short time based on a couple of hours and some bits of paper. When the person actually starts, there is then an onboarding process, and that is when the character, style and overall compatibility begins to become clear. Sometimes (often) it works out, other times it does not - that is why contracts typically include a ‘probation’ period.  

cohe started their hiring process with a week-long ‘coworkation’, or residential week of thinking, dreaming, planning, cooking, hiking and interacting. At the end of that, the soft skills (i.e. those that are hard to pin down on a written CV) of each person were much more visible, everyone had built both work and social relationships, and the team were able to see who would fit with their needs and characters. The potential team members had also acquired a good sense of the organisation and the people they might work with, and could decide if the match was suitable from their side.

Was the time invested worth it?

The team and applicants took a whole week together to find their new person. The outcome is a small, dynamic group of people who already feel like friends (helpful for working together), and within a month, three team members left and 3 new ones joined, in a relatively smooth process.
For the team members who led the process, it was very powerful to hear people share about why they chose to apply for collaboratio helvetica and to realise that we all have so much more in common than what separates us. Already this set the stage to not only be present in a situation of concurrence, but in a situation of conscious selection - which to us is part of real collaboration. 
For those who joined, it was a fun hiring process: a chance to network with similar people (whilst eyeing them sideways as competition!), to learn and think a bit, to appreciate new ways of hiring which make one feel valued even if you do not get selected (rather than feeling rejected). 

Would cohe do it again?  

Very likely - it has brought together a new team quickly and (relatively) efficiently in terms of the personal interactions - often one of the hardest aspects of joining a new team.  However, it did not solve the usual challenges of joining a new organisation with its own ways of communicating, working and doing things which takes time to become familiar with.

What would they change about the process? For the new team members, a longer overlap with the outgoing team members would have been useful to facilitate the hand-over process of technical and organisational knowledge. The cohe team also acknowledge that there were issues with the process: asking jobseekers to take a whole week in the hope of getting a job is not always easy, and clearer communication about the process and expectations would have been valued.

Overall, is it superior to other hiring methods? Everyone involved enjoyed it - we all met inspiring new people and had some great conversations.  In terms of developing the personal relationships vital to working in a small team, the method is brilliant - everyone quickly felt at home, able to ask for support or whatever was needed.  In terms of the technical and practical aspects of joining a new organisation (filing systems, communication systems, etc) - it did not really make a difference. But we will probably use it again in the future!

What do we take away from this?

collaboratio helvetica wants to drive social transformation - and in doing so, we try to live the future now. The future of work, the values and the well-being of people are the topics of our “Work-Money-Wellbeing Lab” - and by trying out novel methods such as a different way of hiring people, cohe endeavours to show that doing things differently is possible, that the system we live in can be altered.

We prototype - and hope that others feel inspired to try out new ideas too!