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.
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.
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.