Hiring IT experts based on their kindergarten skills

Written by Sarah Spitz, on 01 April 2020


Menlo Innovations isn’t your average software programming firm. It has a specific way of working: developers program in pairs and are assigned to a partner every week, for example (click here to learn more). They designed a specific recruitment process to be consistent with their culture and to make sure newcomers who aren’t used to this organization fit in.

The hiring process at Menlo is based on 3 main steps during which Menlonians assess candidates on their kindergarten skills.

So what would you experience if you were applying for a job at Menlo?

Step 1: the Initial Extreme Interview Event

2-hour long sessions are organized with all candidates at this stage of the recruitment process. Let’s say you just applied at Menlo. During this first step, you are assigned to a partner, who is also a candidate, to work on a sample exercise while a Menlonian observes the interactions. As a pair, you’ll have to work on a task on paper and pencil for 20 minutes. 3 different tasks are assigned to you, but every time you will be partnering with a different candidate, observed by a different Menlonian. A lot of filtering is done this way, just by testing different pair combinations. They don't really look at resumes: anyone can come for this first trial, as multiple employees are self-taught.

When the final task is completed, the candidates leave and then the Menlonian observers make decisions about the candidates.  How is the decision made? The decision-makers ask themselves: "would I pair with this person for a week?", or “do you make us want to hire your partner?” During the interview, one Menlonian from the hiring team will stand across you and see how you work with your partner: do you share the pencil and the sheet of paper? Do you work on your own or together from the start?  Do you make your partner look good? This set of skills is what Menlo calls kindergarten skills.

Menlo Innovations run these interviews whenever they need more people based on the work coming in from new projects. It is typical to run an Extreme Interview once or twice a year.

For the sake of this article, let’s say you made an outstanding impression and passed the first test (yay!). Let’s move on to Step 2.

Step 2: the One-Day Interview

Step 2 involves a one-day long interview session. You’re paired with a Menlonian (let’s call that person ‘A’) in the morning and then paired with another one (‘B’) in the afternoon to work on real client-billable work. Only this time, you will be assessed on your ability to transfer knowledge you got from A in the morning to B in the afternoon. The team also looks at how you’re engaged throughout the day: do you ask good questions? Do you add value even while you’re just beginning to learn the Menlo culture and projects? At the end of the day, A and B share theirs observations with other team members and the group makes a decision.

Since this day of work is billed, you get paid for that day, whether you pass or don’t.

The candidates are informed that we are looking for both a cultural fit and some technical aptitude.

Step 3: the Three-Week Trial Contract

Finally, the 3rd step of the process consists in a 3-week trial period, (it can actually go from 1 week to 3 weeks depending on your skill level). This time, the question is: do you want to work in the Menlo environment, and does Menlo want to work with you? You get feedback at the end of each week from your partner (once again, at this stage of the process, you buddy up with Menlonians), which is not only a way for you to improve or get a sense of how you’re doing in the process, it’s also a way for the team to see how you take that feedback and how you react to it. All the partners you have been partnering with during those 3 weeks take part in the decision to hire you, as well as project managers and any other person involved in the project(s) you’ve been working on.

Once again, you get paid for the work you’ve done, even if the hiring process comes to an end at some point.

What benefits does this hiring method involve?

Menlo uses this process because they find it more effective at evaluating the characteristics that actually matter to them about the candidates over time.

This method is a pretty good way to avoid doing what most other companies do: hire based on a skill set. Menlo will never hire the most skilled candidate, because Menlo doesn’t look for great people who will work independently: that would be against their culture. They’re looking for people who can seek value in partnering up every week with someone new.

The turnover rate is at industry average at Menlo, however, probably because of this unconventional hiring process and its specific culture and way of working as a whole, they get more applications than their competition.

Menlonians seems pretty happy with this process: it has in fact been extended to all the roles within Menlo, not just developers.