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Blog - Didier Elzinga, author profile

Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp


Hiring is a favorite topic of mine, and my bible on the topic is Topgrading by Bradford D. Smart and his son, Geoffrey. It may well be one of the worst typeset books I've ever read, but they make up for it with exceptional content. This book (and its sequel) taught me a lot about the thinking that goes into finding the best candidate in any situation.

What I like about their framing is the idea that our goal is to hire someone in the top 10% of people available for the money we are paying. The challenge is to go from the middle of the pack to the top 10% of people you can possibly hire for the role.

Culture Amp’s hiring process

As a fast-growing organization, we're still iterating and improving our hiring process, ironing out inconsistencies, and finding what works for us. But one big difference between Culture Amp and most other organizations is that we’re typically looking for people before roles.

Rather than focusing on the roles we want to fill, we focus on looking for the people who fit a particular profile we want to work with, then we work out how to hire them. It's people-focused, not role-focused.

We start with a reason to say “yes” and then a reason to say “no”

We want to hire people for their strengths, not their lack of weaknesses.

At the initial stage, we chat and probe, looking for why and how we could say “yes” to that particular person.

If we can see this person in our organization, they progress to the next stage, where we look for reasons to say “no” to that person. This one’s harder because we’ve already worked out they are a great person we can see ourselves working with, making it a more in-depth stage.

Meeting the team

If a person makes it past that process, we do a team interview involving multiple people inside the company. This is a two-way street for the benefit of both the candidate and our people.

Finally, we do a founder interview. Anybody who joins Culture Amp has to have spoken with at least one of the founders before they start. By that point, it's not about whether we should hire that person (there has only ever been one person that got to a founder interview that we decided not to hire). Instead, we’re much more focused on connecting that person to the company's mission and helping them understand why we want them.

Who we look for at Culture Amp

So, you might ask, who is this person we’re looking to hire? The answer is a complex one, but there are several things we look for:

1. You must be a People Geek

A People Geek cares about people and culture and thinks it needs to be the highest priority in a business. Moreover, they want to achieve that in an agile manner.

If the term “People Geek” doesn’t resonate with you and you’re not rolling up your sleeves ready to make the world culture first, we’re not off to the best start.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re joining us in accounts payable, engineering, sales, or management – if you're not a People Geek at heart, you're unlikely to fit into our culture.

2. Positive patterns of career growth

Asking someone how they got to where they are from where they were can be enlightening. Often it will reveal things that are not on their LinkedIn profile. What I’m looking for are positive patterns.

For example, has that person been repeatedly poached on the recommendation of former colleagues? If so, that's a pretty good sign that somebody else has thought so highly of someone that they are willing to invest in them and stake their own reputation on recommending them to a new employer.

3. Culture fit

I look for a culture fit, but I’m also hyper-aware that “culture fit” can sometimes be code for “people who look like us.” I always push myself to think about how somebody who doesn’t fit the "usual package" might be successful in a role.

In a start-up, you need people who can tolerate a huge amount of ambiguity. So in the interview process, we probe for situations where candidates have not only had to tolerate but actually enjoyed that ambiguity.

4. You’re excited about the challenge

You have to be excited to be here. Culture Amp has to be the place you see yourself succeeding.  It’s not always going to be easy. You're going to be working long and hard, you’re going to be put in situations where you have to make difficult calls, and you're going to have to do the best work of your life.

If you're not passionate about being here and don’t see this as a big part of your career, then it's possibly not the right place for you.

You must be committed to growth, learning, and development. We are going to give you that opportunity for better or for worse. You need to be the type who grabs and embraces those opportunities.

I often say to candidates that if you can’t earn twice what you're earning here, you're not as good as I think. Both sides have to be passionate about working with each other.

Our ambition is world-class

We don’t benchmark ourselves on being a good Australian company – we want to be one of the best technology product companies in the world.

This means everyone joining the company must contribute to that goal. You must be world-class at what you do.

It's not just about finding people to fill roles. It's about finding amazing People Geeks who can grow and build our company and global impact.

If you like the sound of working at Culture Amp, we’re hiring worldwide.

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