Is self-selection the best way to recruit?


The global chief people officer at Atlassian, Australia’s most successful technology company, explains its unique approach to recruitment.

Technology giant Atlassian has been a darling of the Sydney start-up scene since launching its issue-tracking software, JIRA, in 2002. The company’s mission of “unleashing potential in every team” is closely aligned with its people strategy and it consistently ranks among Australia’s top places to work.

Helen Russell is the global chief people officer, based in San Francisco. She came to HR via a career in recruitment and says the experience helps fuel her passion for finding the best talent.

“If you’re a high-performing company like Atlassian, you’re looking for the best and the brightest but, ultimately, I hire for determination and a really high level of integrity.”Atlassian employs around 2,400 people across five global offices and the average tenure is around two-and-a-half years. “That’s due to the fact that we’re hiring about 200 people per quarter,” says Russell. “When you’re bringing in a high volume, your average tenure gets dragged down.”

While Atlassian’s strong employer brand in Australia means many candidates come knocking on its door, in San Francisco, the brand is considered a small fish in a big start-up pond. “Everyone in the San Francisco Bay area knows about our products like JIRA and Confluence but they don’t necessarily associate them with Atlassian,” says Russell. “That gives us very different starting position for recruitment in the US.”

Atlassian has been aligning its marketing and recruitment voices over the past six months. It uses recruitment channels such as universities and sites like LinkedIn to populate a new talent tracking system that manages a list of prospects in a similar way to a sales CRM solution.

“It’s all about creating a community of talent and beginning conversations with them, so when they are ready to make a move, we can more easily convert them into Atlassian employees.”

The process includes sharing articles of interest to potential candidates or inviting them to relevant conferences. “We’re trying to build an emotional connection,” explains Russell. “They may be blissfully happy where they are today, but we need to start talking to them now.”

When candidates apply to Atlassian, the recruitment process starts with a phone conversation to establish their qualifications. After this point, things start to get a little different.

While cultural alignment is vital to Atlassian, the company asks candidates make that initial decision. It builds a culture-based quiz via recruitment software Weirdly that not only enhances the candidate experience but also allows them to determine if the company is the right fit for them. “We don’t see their answers,” says Russell. “I prefer people to self-select at this point.”

Atlassian also uses technology for technical testing. Engineering candidates, for example, are evaluated using HankerRank, which creates automated assessments. “This means we can then double down on conversations around workplace environment,” says Russell.

The company is also dispensing with traditional job descriptions. “We think it’s more interesting and relevant to say that if you’re successful in this role, these are the three or four things you will have delivered in the next 12 months. This gives candidates a better sense of the outcomes they will be measured against rather than the competencies they need to have.”

Russell adds that this approach also helps hiring managers to develop an induction plan as many of the 12-month objectives have already been set. “It makes the work of talent acquisition flow seamlessly into talent development and team building.”


Discover effective strategies for attracting and retaining talent in this AHRI short course.

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Is self-selection the best way to recruit?


The global chief people officer at Atlassian, Australia’s most successful technology company, explains its unique approach to recruitment.

Technology giant Atlassian has been a darling of the Sydney start-up scene since launching its issue-tracking software, JIRA, in 2002. The company’s mission of “unleashing potential in every team” is closely aligned with its people strategy and it consistently ranks among Australia’s top places to work.

Helen Russell is the global chief people officer, based in San Francisco. She came to HR via a career in recruitment and says the experience helps fuel her passion for finding the best talent.

“If you’re a high-performing company like Atlassian, you’re looking for the best and the brightest but, ultimately, I hire for determination and a really high level of integrity.”Atlassian employs around 2,400 people across five global offices and the average tenure is around two-and-a-half years. “That’s due to the fact that we’re hiring about 200 people per quarter,” says Russell. “When you’re bringing in a high volume, your average tenure gets dragged down.”

While Atlassian’s strong employer brand in Australia means many candidates come knocking on its door, in San Francisco, the brand is considered a small fish in a big start-up pond. “Everyone in the San Francisco Bay area knows about our products like JIRA and Confluence but they don’t necessarily associate them with Atlassian,” says Russell. “That gives us very different starting position for recruitment in the US.”

Atlassian has been aligning its marketing and recruitment voices over the past six months. It uses recruitment channels such as universities and sites like LinkedIn to populate a new talent tracking system that manages a list of prospects in a similar way to a sales CRM solution.

“It’s all about creating a community of talent and beginning conversations with them, so when they are ready to make a move, we can more easily convert them into Atlassian employees.”

The process includes sharing articles of interest to potential candidates or inviting them to relevant conferences. “We’re trying to build an emotional connection,” explains Russell. “They may be blissfully happy where they are today, but we need to start talking to them now.”

When candidates apply to Atlassian, the recruitment process starts with a phone conversation to establish their qualifications. After this point, things start to get a little different.

While cultural alignment is vital to Atlassian, the company asks candidates make that initial decision. It builds a culture-based quiz via recruitment software Weirdly that not only enhances the candidate experience but also allows them to determine if the company is the right fit for them. “We don’t see their answers,” says Russell. “I prefer people to self-select at this point.”

Atlassian also uses technology for technical testing. Engineering candidates, for example, are evaluated using HankerRank, which creates automated assessments. “This means we can then double down on conversations around workplace environment,” says Russell.

The company is also dispensing with traditional job descriptions. “We think it’s more interesting and relevant to say that if you’re successful in this role, these are the three or four things you will have delivered in the next 12 months. This gives candidates a better sense of the outcomes they will be measured against rather than the competencies they need to have.”

Russell adds that this approach also helps hiring managers to develop an induction plan as many of the 12-month objectives have already been set. “It makes the work of talent acquisition flow seamlessly into talent development and team building.”


Discover effective strategies for attracting and retaining talent in this AHRI short course.

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