How Uber Changed The Way They Hire

With a little introspection and fine-tuning of the interview process, Uber found the right people to accelerate its growth.

As Uber worked on disrupting the transportation market with its technology-based approach to catching a ride, the company needed good people fast.

So, the management team did what most companies do. They recruited through various channels, found suitable candidates, and interviewed them. Three to five interviews and a series of typical behavioral questions later, they’d make a hiring decision.

But soon, head of global operations Ryan Graves, who was overseeing much of the personnel growth, found this approach wasn’t cutting it. He wasn’t getting candidates who had the best combination of skills needed to contribute to Uber’s growth in an "intense" work environment. At the same time, the company was rolling out a lean growth model and getting a better understanding of the skills needed to find the best talent. It was time to tinker with the process to get the right people.

Creating a team model

As Uber grew, the team relied on a three-pronged leadership model in each new city. A general manager heads up the team and is in charge of the business’s growth there. Graves saw that his most successful market heads were entrepreneurial, agile, and knowledgeable about the culture and quirks of their regions. The GMs are supported by a community manager that handles marketing, social media, and local business development, and a driver operations manager oversees driver relations and ensure that they’re on the road where and when they need to be.

From there, teams are built out based on the needs of the city. The Los Angeles team might need more people focusing on media, movie and television partnerships that you wouldn’t find in Minneapolis, Graves says. This model also gives teams more clarity in hiring because they’re looking for specific skills and regional knowledge.

"Most of our teams are from the cities where they work," Graves says. "It’s not just, ‘Let’s evaluate this as a customer,’ but it’s more like, ‘These are my people, this is where I’m from, [they are] like my family and friends.’ So there’s a cool mirror about the city team cultures relative to the city that they serve," Graves says.

Changing the interview

Charisma, humor, and charm can go a long way in an interview, but at its core, Uber is an engineering company fueled by data, Graves says. The team needed people who were comfortable with analyzing the multiple data points that the company pulls from various sources, including its apps and software platforms. These range from driver utilization and efficiency to supply levels and underserved city regions.

"Use your imagination. We’re probably measuring everything," he says.

Successful Uber employees also have a very strong work ethic and thrive in high-pressure, dynamic situations. Graves realized they would have to dig deeper to make sure candidates had personalities that could handle the pressure instead of "tweaking out in that environment," he says. With those realizations, the interview process started to change.

"Instead of asking fluffy tell-me-a-time-when kinds of questions, we just put people in scenarios that will most closely [resemble the] job that they will do and then create a real-world and real-time conversation that gives us an insight to their ability to handle problems on the fly," Graves says.

While the Uber team won’t disclose specifics about the exercises, they do put candidates in real-world situations by using exercises and tests that gauge both creativity and analytical thinking. The exercises can be highly quantitative in nature, and make candidates think through real-world business problems.

Graves says these changes has upped its hiring game and helped them zero in on exactly the right people to fuel its growth because they have the skills to solve the challenges Uber faces. That has helped the company grow to more than 600 employees in 80 cities in 30 countries. Graves says that when it comes to finding the right people, the key is to find your own hiring process instead of following someone else’s.

"In our business, we have a combination of creative and analytical. It’s very hard to find those people who have a mix of kind of left and right brain but plenty of businesses need different skill sets. I would say discount people’s previous experience but put a heavy premium on their ability to prove to you in the interview process that they have the right skill sets to solve the problems that your business has," he says.

[Image: Flickr user Helgi Halldórsson]

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15 Comments

  • So basically "specialize" team to determined detailed culture and skill fit within Uber. This is basically how recruiting should have been done from the start. Which it is great to see that Uber is taking the time to specialize and refine their approach based on those that will be working directly with the potential future employees. The next step is to create an effect streamlined assessment/ guideline to determine enough of the cultural/skill fit just it meets the baseline requirement of the company. From there you can adjust and improve the approach to meet higher standards.

  • Great insights, Uber, and Gwen. As "everyone's private driver," Uber is poised to remedy transportation needs in the 21st century. And with these insights into hiring, you KNOW Uber will bet the best and the brightest to make things work!

  • Sorry I'm not buying this one. Uber's biggest challenge is expanding its customer base rather than finding people with local knowledge. Sure New York is not the same as Boston but if you can make it in either city you can make it anywhere. I think Uber are set to become a "chew up and spit out" company rather than a progressive, sought after employer. Sorry Gwen I think you fell for the ultimate con by penning this article on their behalf. The date of publication says a lot!

  • Its really good plan, because knowledged people are needed for this job to pick up the passenger who gave request for trip. Most country's cab firms believes uber is a safe app for taxi dispatch needs. You may discover another application for dispatch needs here: http://www.taximobility.com

  • Did Uber spread this hiring process in the other cities outside the U.S.?

    I recently applied to Uber in Paris and I can say that nothing from the mentionned above happened in the hiring process... After a first email stating that the CV caught their interest, a 24h exercise was sent to the candidates with different questions asking for marketing ideas, event ideas and partnership ideas for Uber. On one hand it is a way for the candidate to express his creativity. On the other hand it is quite an easy way for the company to snatch ideas from here and there without having to pay a dime... Quite a shame I would say.

  • I work at Uber, and I can safely say there's far more value in executing an idea than coming up with one. Chances are we've already had the same or similar idea as you did - they key is for you to explain how to make it a reality. Ideas are cheap; intuition for logistics and execution is rare.

  • It's an interesting thought-yes, the execution is the most important thing....but let's not act like the creative element is flowing everywhere. Very few people ever have that one truly disruptive idea

  • Daniel Kim

    True, but it is also an easy way to crowd source ideas and focus energy and attention to those areas. As this article mentions, each market/city has unique nuances the team must learn, react and provide service to. Yes, you may have the list of ideas, but it would be great to crowd source the trends and ideas people in the market view as important and how they would go about executing on it. The article says Uber analyzing all data, so this would be a great, easy cheap way for Uber to analyze this data and prioritize while interviewing. I guess kill two birds with one stone. Why not!?

  • Certainly true, and we do get some good ideas coming in - it's just not the focus of the interview. Maybe we're missing an opportunity :)