Masterclass in remote hiring: A conversation with Kevin Pursel

Gillian O'Brien

In the age of COVID, everyone needs to get good at hiring remotely — fast. Dover sat down via video with Kevin Pursel, the former Head of Recruiting at GitLab (the famously fully remote open-source company), and current Head of Recruiting at States Title, to discuss remote hiring best practices and the realities of leading a fully remote workforce. Here’s what he said:

Kevin’s three keys to remote hiring:

  1. There is an adjustment period, but long term remote hiring can be more effective and efficient

  2. Transparency & clear communication are more important than ever

  3. Candidates’ culture fit and alignment with company values must be weighted even higher than usual

Key #1: There is an adjustment period but long term remote hiring can be more effective and efficient

Remote hiring can be slower initially. Hiring managers are often hesitant to pull the trigger on candidates they haven’t yet met in person if they don’t have experience hiring in a remote environment. If theories that a majority of communication is non-verbal hold, this slowdown is understandable. Without the benefit of non-verbal communication and casual interactions during the interview process, interviewers receive less “data” from each candidate despite the same amount of time spent speaking with them.

To adjust for this, Kevin recommends that in certain scenarios, candidates go through an extra interview with a member of the team or leadership team while they get more comfortable assessing candidates in a fully remote environment. This will also benefit the candidates as they have additional opportunities to learn about the company and team they will be working with. However, it is important to ensure the number of steps in the interview process isn’t excessive, since this can create a poor candidate experience.

It is also increasingly important when remote hiring to hold a debrief session with the interview team after the interviews are complete. Well organized and thoughtful debrief sessions can lead to increased efficiency and better alignment within the interview team.

As hiring managers adjust to hiring remotely and gain confidence in the remote interview process, remote hiring should become increasingly efficient. With fewer logistics to manage (eg. travel time for candidates, conference room availability, more flexibility for interviewers and candidates), the process becomes quick and more convenient.

Key #2: Transparency & clear communication are crucial to hiring and managing remote workforces.

GitLab is in part unique because of its radical transparency. The company publishes salary ranges on their website for all candidates to view. They have hiring process documents available so that each candidate and employee can view every aspect of the hiring process and no details get lost in translation from one interviewer to another. While not every company will be comfortable with GitLab’s degree of transparency, Kevin believes that a public commitment to transparency and communication is non-negotiable when it comes to hiring and working remotely.

With remote hiring, the more transparent the organization can be, the better. Remote candidates will not have the luxury of meeting leadership teams in person or getting a sense for the “office” environment. This means it’s  even more important that candidates have as much information as they can in order to make an informed decision if they are offered the position. In the spirit of transparency, it’s important to be deliberate about the challenges and pain points the candidate should expect so there are no surprises when they join. It’s important to consider what information you can share with candidates at each step of the process. In addition to candidates hearing it directly from the interview team, consider sharing content that  highlights company culture and purpose.  

Internally, clear notes, defined hiring processes, and overdocumentation ensure that everyone stays aligned and the process can move efficiently. Each interviewer should clearly flag hesitations so that the next interviewer can probe further and candidates aren’t asked the same question twice. A well-thought-out interview plan established during the intake session with the hiring manager will pay dividends later in the process. For Kevin, the most important conversation recruiters have is with the hiring manager before the search is kicked off.

Key #3: Candidates’ culture fit and alignment with company values must be weighted even higher than usual.

Kevin advises his hiring managers to allocate more of their interview time (even with technical candidates) to the values alignment, culture fit, and self motivation. Candidates who are not self motivated will likely struggle in a remote environment. At GitLab, the concept of manager of one was baked into the assessment criteria because of the belief that self-motivated employees don’t need to be micromanaged. Freedom and autonomy to execute with clear expectations is important in a remote environment. By the end of the interview the candidate should be well aware of the company values and how important they are, and the interview team should be very confident with how well the candidate aligns with the values.

About Kevin:

Kevin is the current Head of Recruitment at States Title, an insurance tech company leading digital transformation for the mortgage industry. Before joining States Title, Kevin was the former Head of Global Recruiting at GitLab, where he scaled the workforce rapidly from 350 to 1000 remote employees over the course of a year. He spent the first 16 years of his career climbing the Global Talent Engagement ranks at Ebay where he split his time between remote and in-office hiring.