Notes from the nine to five: North America’s recruitment team edition
Read time 13 min
Our blog series takes a deep dive into the Reaktor way of working – giving you a behind-the-scenes view into the everyday joys, struggles, and wonders of working at Reaktor, all over the globe.
Cast of characters: Reaktor North America’s recruitment team
Timo, software engineer
Linibelle, office manager
Rusty, creative director
Reaktor is a unique environment. Especially in the US, our culture and ways of working bring up a lot of questions. What’s it like working at the company? What are we looking for in people? Is it a pyramid scheme?
And we get it – we’re indeed quite distinct in corporate America. We answer these questions often, but most frequently when we’re talking with new, possible reaktorians. This time, we wanted to answer some of these frequently asked questions with and by the very people who are most active in our recruitment.
So we sat down with Timo Jääskeläinen, Rusty Goodman, and Linibelle Minaya to talk about what it’s like to work at Reaktor North America, what makes a candidate stand out, and why people sometimes think a job at Reaktor is too good to be true.
Hi Lini, Rusty, and Timo!
[all in unison]: Hey!
What do people find most surprising about Reaktor?
Timo: The number one thing is probably our corporate hierarchy – or the lack of such.
Basically, the way we’re set up, you’re not really reporting to anyone. When you work at Reaktor, we keep each other up to date with weekly meetings, where teams, sales and back office give updates. Everyone kind of knows what everyone else is doing. There’s no need to report to a manager about every little thing you do.
That’s something many candidates in the first round interviews have been surprised by when I explain to them how the company works. Some people say it’s unheard of, it’s impossible, or that it sounds too good to be true.
Lini: I was surprised too when I was interviewing for my job, I was like, are they punking me right now? Am I on that MTV show Punk’d? Seriously. I thought to myself, let me research this company more thoroughly to make sure I am not joining a scam or pyramid scheme! So, yes, I can totally relate to candidates that initially do not believe in Reaktor’s lack of hierarchy.
In our more unstructured environment, it is on you as the professional to take the initiative and make sure you are doing your job to the best of your abilities. But if you do have doubts, you can also always – and I mean always – ask anyone for their opinion or feedback on a process or task that you are not sure about.
You are actually working with people. You initiate how you will do your job and that means you are responsible for what you are doing. As Spiderman’s uncle said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. That is the truth at Reaktor.
Lini: We’re basically the deprogrammers of Corporate America. We value your work ethic and trust that you know what you are doing.
How do you explain the company structure to someone who’s never experienced or heard of anything like it?
Rusty: Once we unpack that a lot of the void of structure is replaced with trust, people usually get it. Between you and your team, you’re all really smart people who probably want to do the right thing and have a sense for what that is, so you can make the decision without supervision. We’ll get out of your way. But if you ever need help, we’ll be here for you.
The idea is: You seem like a smart and competent person with good judgment, so you’re more likely than anyone to have all the information you need to make the best decision. You’ll figure it out and then you can just have a direct conversation with your client.
That’s a great point about the role of trust. Is there anything else you find hard to put into words when explaining the working culture?
Rusty: Ultimately, we’re a pretty principled organization. There’s a small set of principles that we operate by – mostly trust, autonomy, good collaboration, and the advice process. And it’s this small handful of things that you end up falling back on.
Often people in interviews want to walk through hypothetical situations. What if this or that goes wrong? What if the client is like this? But there’s no rule book at Reaktor where you flip to a chapter and respond according to those set guidelines, because there are just so many variables at play and factors that need to be considered. Those are all going to influence how you respond to the situation. And that’s usually when we fall back on the principles.
Let’s talk about the recruitment then! How’s it set up in New York?
Timo: We have a small core group of people who, among other things, do recruitment. Some are consultants working on client projects, others work on back office activities.
Rusty: Everyone who’s involved sees interviewing as a skill they’re developing, one that they want to get good at. We want to give candidates a great interview experience with lots of opportunity to express their abilities and interests, and understand how Reaktor might work for them.
What’s cool is that all of the interviewers are people who work on our project teams. It’s about discussing and collaborating and exchanging information with other developers or designers – basically the same magic sauce we use in Reaktor projects. This is just a different application of that.
We hear our recruitment process is pretty refreshing compared to interviews elsewhere. There’s a lot of excitement from people who come in.
Right, the candidates get something out of it as well. Can you talk a bit more about how that interview process is conducted?
Timo: Our recruitment process is pretty simple. It has three rounds. Traditionally, all three rounds have been in-person, but now we’re having calls.
In the first interview, we talk about the candidate’s background, about what they’ve been up to, it’s pretty general stuff. We spend a lot of time talking about Reaktor and introducing the company and the culture that we have here, making sure we answer all possible questions about what it’s like to work at Reaktor. We’ll discuss what they’ll do once they get here and what career growth looks like at our company.
Rusty: Then we have a second round where we focus more on the work itself, technical aspects. We’ll email a list of areas of their work that we’re interested in discussing beforehand – usually we’re curious about what they’ve built in the past, what the purpose of it is, how they built it, and who was involved in getting it up and running.
Our third round is less about skills and building, and more about gauging people’s approach to problem solving and collaborating. We try to sort of tie a bow on the whole interviewing process, making sure our bases are covered, and that the candidate has had all of their questions responded to.
Who makes it through to that third round, or what do you look for in candidates more generally?
Timo: The basics are that they possess the skills that we need to get our work done. Generally, for engineers, we’re looking for somebody who is a well-rounded engineer with plenty of experience in the industry; someone who can do a range of things.
And, of course, we look for people who would be nice to work with, who would make good colleagues. Someone we would be excited putting in front of our clients to represent Reaktor, knowing they’re going to be building a relationship.
Rusty: We’re unique also in that our future projects are a bit of an unknown. There are a lot of moving variables and, to be honest, chaos that comes from not knowing who our client will be or how that client organization works.
There are a lot of people who have the skills to do software development or design products. But our projects aren’t a nice neat little ecosystem where you work purely on designing or developing software under the most optimal circumstances. We really want to get close to our client organizations, and how they work and where they’re doing the work. And sometimes the difficulty that they’re having there – their problems – are our opportunity to really be impactful and deliver the most value.
We want people who want to get their hands dirty and get among that, people who are comfortable knowing they won’t be in the most optimal circumstances all the time, who know that’s probably the way to find opportunities as well. People who find that type of work exciting.
In what ways is the interview process similar to working at Reaktor?
Lini: One of the most rewarding facets of the recruiting process at Reaktor, for me, is that we actually learn how to improve the process as we’re doing it. We are so far from corporate America in that we actually listen to each other’s perspectives… not letting egos or titles get in the way. We listen to each other, and make things happen to improve the process from a candidate’s perspective and from our own perspective!
If you look at other companies – regular Corporate America – everyone is so focused on their role, and maybe because of that same Corporate America mentality they don’t feel that they should or can give their input to someone else in the same group. But here, we’re so open with one another that it makes the work and even the recruitment process so much better – every time. And then because of that, we get candidates that are much better, every time.
Timo: We meet once a week to talk about what we can improve. We have our Kanban board where we manage the workflow. At other times we have sessions where we bring out post-it notes and start figuring out a solution to some recruitment problem.
Everyone in the company is free to contribute however they can or want to, and everyone’s free to voice their opinion. So working together as a team, where everybody has a say, solving problems together – that’s how the recruiting improvement process works in the same way as we work in our projects.
What have been some big lessons for you in interviewing and hiring candidates? How do you find the best people?
Lini: Ask questions.
Rusty: One thing that I felt very uncomfortable about, as a really new interviewer, that I got more comfortable with over time, is being really honest about some of the uncomfortable parts of Reaktor. At first, I was maybe over-indexing on selling and trying to impress them with Reaktor. Now I want them to know about the things that might make them regret joining Reaktor. We have so many people with different focuses enjoying their work here, but it’s not for everyone.
Our work has many variables, such as clients and their vendors, or different teams within those client organizations, and with that, comes a lot of what can be challenging communication. That side of the work can be frustrating to a lot of people who just want to get focused on writing great code or designing great interfaces. But those who also enjoy that client-facing work – they can be really impactful at Reaktor.
What kinds of things impress you in interviews? What’s been a particularly memorable interview experience?
Rusty: Recently I was really impressed by, and sent an offer to, a candidate who was extremely candid about their circumstances and some difficulties they were having that were putting some pressure on their life. They basically said, this is why I’m looking for a new job at the moment. It probably would’ve been a deal breaker at a lot of other jobs. But they were so open about seeing if this was the right job for them that it made it easy to see what their needs were, and give them what they needed to know to figure out if this was a good fit for them, and a good fit for us. It gave me a lot of confidence that we were having a really honest exchange of information.
I’ve seen a lot of people in interviews who are really polished. But I’ve never been tricked. I haven’t accidentally hired someone then been like, “Oh my God, they tricked me!” It’s never worked. But the candidness? That’s a conversation we’ll all walk away from understanding how we might compliment one another’s needs.
Timo: That’s such a good point. There are candidates who want to see if the job is the right fit for them. And then there are some candidates who just want to get a job, you know? And there’s a difference there.
Lini: The common thread is authenticity! Time and time again, I see that we hire people that are who they say they are. They are true to themselves and show us exactly what we can expect from them. They feel Reaktor is a place where they can be who they want to be and along the way show us their talent!
Before we go, one last question: What’s your favorite thing about being involved in recruitment at Reaktor?
Lini: My favorite part is I get to work more with people I hadn’t worked with before! Before this it was more back office and HR tasks, but now I get to expand my horizons.
Timo: One for me is I realized I really like talking to new people who are in the same industry and interested in the same things that we are. Presenting Reaktor to them in a candid way – I find that somehow very fulfilling.
Rusty: I really, really like hiring people. By far the most rewarding part is watching our team grow and new people finding their feet at Reaktor. I mean, it’s all we are really, a group of people. It’s a big responsibility to grow our company and to keep this really healthy culture and a place where you can make awesome friendships, get great work done, and provide a great service to our customers. It can take a lot of work to get there, but when you get to see someone you interviewed start, and then they start to take off in the company, that’s when I feel probably most proud of out of all the work I do at Reaktor.
Reaktor is a community of software engineers, UX designers, visual designers, data scientists, strategists, writers, researchers, inventors, mathematicians, artists, coaches, makers, doers, thinkers, and dreamers. We are as strong as we are diverse, which applies to more than just the roles we have. We hire people, not employees. Join us!