Kévin Duchier, Head of People Operations at Paris-based Germinal speaks to Jack Drury, Principal at Erevena about the challenges and opportunities of remote hiring during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Germinal is a new style Marketing Agency providing ‘Growth-as-a-Service’ through digital marketing with data-driven advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. Their clients range from Fortune 500 Companies, to startups and scaleups, both B2B and B2C. Self-funded, they have experienced very rapid growth over the past 2 years, and are currently a team of 27, with aspirations to hire an additional 20 people by the end of the year.

What hiring are you doing currently?

Before the crisis hit, we had a break in hiring and focused on structuring our company and defining our processes. This turned out to be a good move once the crisis hit, as we had the processes in place to be able to smoothly transition to remote working. We then saw an opportunity to advance our hiring, taking advantage of the number of high-quality people looking for new roles at a time when many companies had stopped hiring. We decided to implement the strategy to ramp up hiring now for our future growth.

How has your process changed since the lockdown?

We’ve taken an optimistic stance and started the hiring process now looking for people to start later in the year, some in June but some even later in September or October.

We’re still really focused on the quality of the people that we’re looking for, but we’ve seen that this is high, plus we’re seeing people from different areas that are struggling, such as sales. I haven’t been in a position like this previously, and I’m very pleasantly surprised by the level of quality of the people that we’re attracting, particularly a number of excellent freelancers who are now looking for security in employment. Three months ago, we wouldn’t have been able to hire them; now they’re knocking on our door.

“The lack of competition is crazy; it has given us a real advantage and enabled us to talk to people who may not have previously been attracted to a startup.”

How are you addressing the challenges presented by remote hiring?

I’ve had previous experience of remote hiring that hasn’t always been positive – often the person from behind the camera isn’t the same when you meet them in person. We’ve taken the decision to run the complete hiring process remotely but not to formalise offers or contracts until we can meet face-to-face. Our main challenge then is keeping people warm and engaged until that time, more on how we do that later. When I speak to candidates for the first time, I’m very clear about how far we can go remotely. So far, it’s working, as the people we tend to hire are risk takers and are happy with this approach.

Any tips on using video communication tools more effectively?

All our interviews are on Hangouts; first we have an audio interview and then follow this up by video. It hasn’t changed our process, but it has made it much faster. So much so that we will keep our process this way once we return to the office. It allows us to have a more efficient and direct conversation, with much more control and a better focus on the candidate for the hour.

Are there any advantages that you’ve experienced?

Our interviews are now more structured, with better note taking because I have the time to do so and the tools for a more structured approach. It’s also easier to pass the candidate to another colleague for interviewing with those notes and insights and the flow is much better. It’s been much easier to implement best interviewing practice such as consistency of questions and scoring across different interviewers when we’re all following the same process. However, what you don’t get is that 5 minutes of informal chat at the start and end of the interview – the soft touches that are so important for assessing cultural fit

How do you think creatively about assessing culture fit?

Positioning the Germinal culture must be done throughout the process and demonstrated by all the people who are interviewing. During the hiring process we make sure that the candidate remotely meets a range of people to gain a good understanding of our culture. Because everyone at Germinal is a culture carrier, we trust everyone’s views on assessing cultural fit, not just mine as Head of People. We focus a lot on communicating the values inside the company but want people to digest them and talk about them in their own way, moving away from the usual model where everyone learns the values by heart. This means that as a candidate you won’t hear the same sentence repeatedly but will be getting a consistent message.

Remember that it’s important that you market your company as you do your product or service. You want your employer brand to not only attract suitable people, but also detract those that wouldn’t thrive in your environment. We are very clear about what we value, and demonstrate this through Welcome to the Jungle, a popular job board in France focused on the start-up community. This provides us with a platform for talking about our culture and demonstrating it through different mediums such as blogs, videos and reviews.

“Everyone at Germinal is a culture carrier and we trust their views on assessing culture fit.”

Any tips on how to establish and keep rapport with a candidate remotely?

We have created a range of content and training materials that we continually share with the candidates that we want to join, we call this pre-boarding. I personally check in with them on a regular basis, so I’m developing a rapport with them both professionally and personally.  We’re learning to invest time to really get to know our candidates and future colleagues, to make them feel comfortable about our expectations of them when they do join. Throughout the process we encourage open and transparent conversations between them, the operational team and the team that they will be working with to develop relationships.

Do you think that this confidence in remote hiring will expand into other areas of the business?

I’ve found that what I thought was going to be a painful process has actually worked to our advantage. We have decided that at the end of this period we will continue to operate as a fully remote company. We will keep our office but also implement a fully remote policy which will allow us to recruit applicants from anywhere in France and Europe. This is also a great way for us to work with family people who often move out of Paris, this is a great untapped workforce, that is very qualified but previously overlooked because they don’t want to be located in Paris. The experience that we’ve had over the past few weeks has given us confidence not just in remote hiring but in running remote teams and a more distributed business in the future.

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