The secret to hiring a ‘stud junta’ team

Deepinder Goyal of Zomato believes people make a company's cultureand that's why a leader must spend time handpicking them

Over the last 30 days, Deepinder Goyal has posted two different kinds of job openings on Twitter and LinkedIn, the last one just six days ago. “About 90% of company culture comes from how you hire," says Goyal, the 35-year-old co-founder and CEO of Zomato, a restaurant search and discovery service platform that operates in 23 countries, including India. Zomato’s culture, he says, is all about “you have to get to outcomes and you can’t give excuses".

It certainly seems to be working. According to a 31 March Mint report, revenue at Zomato Media Pvt. Ltd doubled to Rs399 crore in the year ended 31 March 2017. At the same time, net loss fell to Rs389 crore in the year ended 31 March 2017 from Rs590 crore in the previous year,

Alternate Saturdays at Zomato are supposed to be non-working days—and sometimes they are designated as hiring days. Staff members sift through résumés and conduct one-on-one interviews with potential candidates all across the office. “Between Monday-Friday, we don’t normally conduct interviews. We believe in focus on business (days) and focus on hiring (day). It’s easier for us and it’s easier for people to come in and meet us on Saturday because they don’t have to take time off their regular jobs," says Goyal, who is dressed in a grey T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, ready for interviews on a Saturday morning.

Zomato’s workforce is young, in the 24-26 age group, and Goyal likes to be actively involved in the hiring process. “At senior levels, I tend to interview 100% of the applicants for at least 15 minutes. For other positions, if it is in Delhi and a Saturday, I meet everyone."

Almost 99% of the hiring happens through social media reach-outs, like posting messages and referrals, but Goyal says responses that don’t follow the process aren’t treated as applications. “Questions about the position are okay but otherwise responding or posting your résumé on my LinkedIn makes no sense because there is a process to follow, an email ID where you should send your application to," he explains.

He is quite categorical when it comes to flexible work hours: “I don’t know this phrase. We have an external image of being a tough place to work at, so it keeps people who have those kind of expectations out anyway."

According to Goyal, these are the hiring practices that have made all the difference:

Don’t hire for the job description

Goyal believes more in conversations than formal interviews. “Within a conversation, we try to get as much of the sense of a person," he says. He does add that candidates who are willing to share why they are who they are are the ones who tend to linger on in memory rather than those who sound perfect. “It can be something on the lines of why you grew up to be a certain kind of person because perhaps you had a certain kind of relationship with your dad. It’s the backstory that helps us to know why a person is the way he or she is," he says.

Deepinder Goyal at the Zomato office in Gurugram. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Deepinder Goyal at the Zomato office in Gurugram. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

So take time out to draft your life story and be honest about your failures while highlighting your achievements.

Goyal, who believes he is a better communicator on email, adds: “Usually, in interviews, interviewers spend about an hour to get to know the candidate but if the candidate can do that job in an email, it just cuts the time. One example that stands out was this person who had a start-up in Bengaluru and it had failed. He had succeeded at something else but did not find it worth doing. He wrote us quite a long but very honest email in 2012. At that time I did not have a role for him, but a couple of years later, when a position opened, I remembered that email and reached out. He works with us now."

Look for the straight talker

Quirkiness in résumés or email introductions for the sake of it do not work for Goyal. What tops the chart for him is honesty in communication. “Honesty is the most important criterion when it comes to hiring. So tell the truth, even if it is uncomfortable truth. For example, if someone lies on their CV or over-exaggerates about a project or campus initiative, I don’t hesitate to call them out. Sometimes, people just participate in an initiative and make it sound like they drove it. Once you dig deeper as an interviewer, you can find out how much of second-level details the person knows beyond the final outcome," says Goyal, adding that such a candidate would not make the cut.

He says candidates shouldn’t hold back on any tough questions they have about the company. “An interviewer does get to sense that a candidate has a question. That’s where honesty comes in. If people have a question at an interview and hold back at that point, when they are not even part of the organization, when they do not have much to lose, then it indicates they will hold back a lot more when they join the company. That is not going to work," he says.

Think you deserve a raise? Frame it right

An advocate of the win-win formula of negotiating, Goyal is also clear that interviews should be a process between equals. “For talented people, there are always lots of jobs. Some companies think they have leverage because they are offering jobs but that is not the case if you are looking to hire talented people. If an interviewer from my end has bossy body language, we don’t let them interview further," he says.

He believes any offer or deal has to be fair. “When we make a job offer, we make sure it is fairly balanced. For example, if someone comes in and says that I was getting X at my last company, so to switch I should get a 40% hike, I don’t really understand that. Why should you get a salary hike simply because you are switching? Are we incentivising switching? That’s not cool. However, if someone tells me that I am being undervalued at my previous position and I want you to value me fairly, then that’s a very different conversation," he says.

Goyal is not a fan of bargaining. “It’s not about maximizing what you can get because if you start getting more than what you deserve, things will not work out in the long term anyway," he says.

Prioritize people who use your product

The minimum requirement for any applicant before applying for a job at the company is to at least use their products or services. “Candidates don’t need to always have the app on their phone but they should have had it at some point of time. They should be able to clearly tell us why they don’t use it now and should be able to give us feedback," Goyal says, adding that these are indicators of candidness and ability to give feedback.

As someone whose aim is to hire people better than himself, Goyal believes he too would not be able to sail through Zomato’s hiring process—and that, he thinks, is a good thing. “I do try to up my skills, but lowering the bar to accommodate myself is not something that will work."

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