We live in a world where the knowledge industry is growing tremendously. We sell concepts, ideas, abstract constructions far more than physical strength or skills. Pixelgrade is no exception. We’re part of a league where design-thinking and skin in the game stay at the forefront of everything we do. This doesn’t imply that implementation is less important. On the contrary. It can make it or break it. Literally.
The reality shows that there’s an abundance of bold and disruptive ideas, but few can find smart, ethical, and performant solutions to transform them into reality.
The way we recruit at Pixelgrade is relevant not only for the local community even though we’re the rebels in an ocean full of corporations or undercover manufactures, but also for the global eyes who keep an eye on us. There are quite a few of the latter: from WordPress themes authors to demanding partners who want to collaborate with us in the long run.
I’ve been going through a lot of explorations, from participating in The Watercooler leadership community as an ambassador for more than one year and a half, to reading tons of articles and books about how to bring the right guys and gals on board. I’ve had countless talks with peers about how they cope with internal team dilemmas while working with consultants to shape a framework tailored to our personality. I’ve been iterating on it heavily along the way, and I even made it (somehow) public. A deep dive by any standards.
Therefore, what I’m going to share is not yet another article where people brag about how they put together a successful process for hiring. In fact, it’s at the opposite side of the spectrum: a transparent yet vulnerable story about how you should look after the right company, and why recruitment is more about you and less about HR people and superficial perks.
For the sake of history
Ten years ago, in Iași, where we have the office, it was quite challenging to find a job, unless you wanted to be an agent for a call center or work for the hospitality industry.
It was damn hard to make a living as a marketer, designer, videographer or any other job within the creative industries.
I still remember the times when I was volunteering for Creative Coffee—a global gathering for entrepreneurs who wanted to share their ups-and-downs with the world and looked after sponsors to sustain our project. I met hundreds of people to pitch how sustaining creative industries are a great strategy for their businesses, and why people are more prone to start making money out of their intellectual property. The results? Folks were raising eyebrows and making a fool out of me.
What’s a creative industry in the end?
Do you think the world needs more dreamers?
Why should we give you money?
What does it mean to be a creative entrepreneur?
How does a community help my business per se?
All these questions were hitting my face over and over again. I found a way to run Creative Coffee for 23 editions in a row and expand the concept across more than ten cities around the world, but I knew I needed to speed up my freelance career to survive.
Being independent and working on my own was one of the smartest things I’ve done, especially in those times.
I learned what it takes to work remotely, how to pack my copywriting services, how to make sure I get my money on time, where to find collaborators, when to delegate tasks, and so on.
Fast forward almost 13 years, and today the local landscape looks completely different. Students are snatched directly from their first or second year of college by big corporations with an inflated speech promising just about everything: top-notch working conditions (you go to work for the sake of becoming a better professional, not to get those free massages, right?), an office in the heart of the city, a growth hacking mindset, dream technologies to play around with, big projects, you-name-it.
The reality shows that most of those students did not volunteer one day in their life; they did not take the freelancing path; they did not practice their know-how or skills in a real environment. It’s what it is. Still, plenty of organizations keep screaming about how much they want them to be part of their company, even without bringing real value at least in their first six months, even a year.
It’s one of the basic laws of economics: the request is higher than the offer.
At Pixelgrade, we don’t do that, and, to be forthright, we’re quite proud of it. We don’t want to settle and accept low standards. We aim for more. We’re looking for people who want to push their boundaries, get out of their comfort zone, and put all their effort and energy into growing themselves. What is definitely non-negotiable is that they need to manifest our core values: excellence, care, and gratitude.
Here’s a real scenario when most companies zig, yet we zag.
Last summer, Vlad, our CTO, put together an internship program for backend development. It was our first time. He started with three students with different level of abilities, and three months later chose Cosmin, the most promising folk.
It was an intense journey where Vlad put his best work on the table and helped these students evolve in ways hard to replicate in other environments, especially if it’s a 100+ people gang.
Thus, what sets us apart is how we deliver this internship, and the care we invest in such challenges. You are not one of many who’s learning the same poetry without receiving feedback tailored to your context. We expect you to embrace the challenge, make the most out of it, and convince us that we’re losing a great fellow if we don’t bring you on board. You pitch us more than we do because you’re at the beginning of your career and need help to grow.
Sounds harsh? Well, let me remember that 10+ years ago I needed to travel the country to find projects, and I was working the hell out of me to prove that I deserve to get the job.
Don’t be fooled by the increased demand in today’s market, where companies have just one (honest) goal in mind: to make money out of our time. Watch your own back.
The moment you are in life matters
Not too many HR people, CPOs (Chief People Officer), or any other professionals who wear these hats tell you about how crucial it is to take a look in the mirror and get a glimpse of the moment you are in your life. By that, I mean being authentic about your current values, your aspirations, your dreams. Start from there. It’s the only place that provides accurate answers.
Do you aim for a sabbatical?
Do you want to build a greenhouse?
Do you want to have a balanced personal life?
Do you value the time you spend with your family more than earning money?
Do you need a big chunk of cash right away to get rid of some debts?
Genuine answers impact your choices. If you’re not honest with yourself and you’re just looking for a place to pay your bills, well, my friend, you are doing it wrong. You know what will happen? You are going to choose the company where you will receive the big bucks, the unbeliable perks, but the likelihood to deliver your best work are quite slim.
And yes, that money will give you fuel to buy more clothes, travel, and publish photos on Instagram next to twenty hashtags, but you won’t be happier because what you do at the office is just crap. It does not help you grow your skills, your knowledge, you are not entertained intellectually, you have teammates who share radically different values, and those 8-9-10 hours spent there start to be a nightmare.
The truth is that you are fully responsible for covering your needs, and you probably should invest more in finding the company which can help you satisfy them.
Don’t leave it to the HR people to watch your back because they have their own metrics to reach, stakeholders to please, and too often their goals do not align with yours.
Invest time, energy, and money in finding the organization where people care about your evolution, and treats you in your fullest complexity. You are a human being with feelings of all kinds, with good and bad days, with anxieties, dreams, and each of them impacts your motivation and performance.
At Pixelgrade, we need autonomous makers who are eager to go the extra mile and accomplish significant results. In daily reality, this means that you need to appreciate deep focus, discipline, assume more duties than those written in job profile, take initiative, keep your promises, and understand that you are a piece from a bigger puzzle. In such a small team like ours if you don’t deliver, everyone will know. You don’t have places to hide because there are no layers upon layers of management.
Yes, we have an excellent office (even more remarkable since we refurnished the first floor), a great taste in design, goodies, lunch on us, a beautiful library, but that doesn’t mean that we’re superficial, lazy, nor that we’re reading all day long. What brought us here (almost nine years later, 30+ products in our portfolio, a role model for some WordPress authors) was the hard work we’ve been putting behind everything we’ve been doing so far.
Therefore, if you need a cozy place, where you have a team leader who delegates tasks, and days where you get bored and scroll on Facebook, please don’t consider Pixelgrade. It’s not labeling. It’s nothing wrong about the company which allows you that kind of freedom, but we’re not part of the same movie. Of course, we have our fair share of moments when we feel a bit lost (it’s part of the journey), we take days off to slow down, we gather to play tennis or drink a beer, but…you get the point.
A hiring process should make sense
I’ve heard about all kinds of hiring approaches and tactics. From the ones where you talk with robots, you receive a huge PDF with the company’s achievements until friendly chats with people who are curious to discover who you are, what drives you, what makes you-you.
Please bear in mind that it’s your responsibility to know where you want to grow, not the organization’s task. I know that most are forced to improve their public speaking skills, to run local meetups or to organize conferences on a particular topic because the company aims for more media reach, but I think it defeats the purpose.
I think it’s far more healthy and balanced if everyone would dig deeper to find their core skills, and the company would offer support reach their creative potential.
At the beginning of Pixelgrade, there was just one rule for recruitment: nice, passionate people. The thing is that most of us are bad at talking about ourselves, overestimate the knowledge and the skills we have, so it became difficult to find these them.
That’s why we worked closely with a professional who knows our team (she’s also a therapist and coach) to develop a blueprint for our recruiting process which matches our values entirely.
- We start by having a coffee and chat about what we do, how we do it, who we are, what experiences shaped our path.
- We continue with a technical discssuon and a test: sometimes it’s a brief (if you apply as a marketer, content writer, etc.).
- Then you have a Skype call with Laura with whom we put all these stages together for a personality test.
- The final lap is about the results of the test (you find out a bunch of insightful ideas about yourself which can help you regardless if you join the gang or not) and the financial offer.
I always describe this experience as a two-ways street where we both have the chance to find out relevant things about each other. There’s no ascendancy, no win-lose relationship, no fake negotiation, no human spam.
If I were you, I would start with my own dreams, ambitions, and goals. I would try to be true to myself and stop the bullshit regarding the rules imposed by everyone else: family, friends, society, companies, ex-employers, etc. Once I gain some clarity about what I need and want, I would write careful e-mails to the companies which I admire, not before doing my research about what kind of people work there, how’s the culture, what is their best work.
At the end of the day, you are the sole guardian of your happiness, both personal and professional, so you should know best what works for you. Be brave and follow your heart.
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