At Scale, we’ve hired more than 200 people. For a long time, I interviewed everyone we gave an offer to. I wrote this memo to the company more than a year ago before a period where we grew the team significantly (from roughly 75 to 150), and I wanted to share it with the broader community because I don’t think people do this enough.
Over time interviewing, I’ve found that I mainly screen for one key thing: giving a shit. To be more specific, there’s actually two things to screen for:
they give a shit about Scale, and
they give a shit about their work in general.
The first is critical, and will only become more important as time goes on. There is no future if we hire people who do not identify with our mission, our product, and our problem. We will become an undifferentiated crowd of uninspired people who will not have a shot at creating a generational company. While it is not guaranteed that someone who gives shit will do great work, it is guaranteed that they will not do good work if they do not give a shit.
One very scary thing to me is Scale becoming a credential rather than a cult. An institution like Harvard or MIT is a credential—people go there because it signals to others that the person is smart, capable, or otherwise prestigious. As an early stage startup, it’s nearly impossible someone would join Scale for credentials—nobody knew who we were, nor did we have any reputation.
But as we’ve grown and will continue to grow, it will be more common for people to interview for the brand rather than the substance. In fact, most growing companies often miss this effect entirely, and simply observe the fact they’re getting far more top-of-funnel. It makes it much easier to recruit raw numbers, but what often is missed is that the ROI of the hires drops dramatically. Before you know it, the majority of the company begins to resemble a university: there’s a constant churn of smart but uninvolved people who stay for a few years, and never dive deep enough to do meaningful work. Unless you actively fight against it, it will happen.
A recruiting team that looks like a college admissions office is certain death for a startup. If you’re built to simply sift through a swarm of homogeneous candidates, then on the other side you will simply get a higher credentialed homogeneous soup. Recruiting done right looks more like courtship. You need there to be a spark, and sometimes that is preceded by months of convincing and pursuit. Ultimately, you’re searching for people you’d be willing to spend every waking moment with, since if things go right, there will be many long nights.
The second (giving a shit about work in general) is equally important. It’s possible to fake fervor in the course of an interview and say the right things to convince us of enthusiasm for Scale, but the proof is in the pudding. If someone is applying to Scale and has never been deeply obsessed about something before, then it’s a bad bet to think Scale will be the first. I have a particular line of questioning around this:
What’s the hardest you’ve ever worked on something?
How many hours were you working a week?
Why did you work so hard? Why did you care?
When were you the most unmotivated in your life?
What’s the thing you’re the most proud of?
Do you think it was worth it?
For an obsessed person, it’s always worth it.
The uncomfortable truth is that most people don’t give a shit. For example, it’s absolutely shocking that the common paradigm for engineers at big companies is to come in at 11am and leave at 4pm. In no world can you be working 5 hours a day and be giving a shit, and so the conclusion is that very little meaningful work gets done at big companies. Maybe a bit of a hyperbole, but not far from the truth. That culture is broken.
One of the worst trends in Silicon Valley is conflating the company’s culture with the company’s cosmetics. The flexible work hours, open desk layout, office designs, lack of office attires, and perks often paint the picture of the culture of the company. But that’s absolutely silly—no perk tells me anything meaningful about the company, other than how comfortable with spending money they are. The company is the culture.