Hiring and Growth

This Startup Doesn’t Look at Resumes—Here’s the Genius Hiring Hack They Swear By

Annie Siebert Freelance writer and editor 
Rocksbox Maia Bittner

What if resumes were extinct? It sounds like a radical idea, but for entrepreneur Maia Bittner, it’s hands-down the best way to hire.

She started the resume-free process after co-founding Rocksbox, a subscription jewelry service, and continued using it after launching Pinch, an app that helps renters build credit and savings.

We sat down with Maia to chat about her surprising process, why it works, and how other small businesses can follow her lead.

So how does it work?

Instead of resumes, prospective Pinch candidates are asked to send in a project or something they’ve built. For engineers, it’s usually a web app or a bit of code. Maia says they look at the projects blind—they have no idea where the candidate went to school; what their work history looks like; where they live; or their race, age, or gender identity.

Once they pick their favorites, the team invites prospective hires to come in and, well, work. All candidates are brought in on a contract-to-hire basis, whether it’s a one-day session working on a feature with Pinch’s lead engineer for a few hours a day throughout the month.

Why does it work?

Resumes only get you so far.

“We don’t look at resumes at all because it’s not really helpful,” Maia says, noting that resumes are little more than a list of tasks and skills. When an engineer lists a project on their resume, “it’s so hard to know which pieces of the project they were responsible for.”

It attracts competitive candidates.

Engineers are in high demand and constantly hounded by recruiters. A quirky hiring process tends to be a “competitive differentiator on the recruiting side,” Maia says. Instead of a formal interview, engineers are asked to do what they lovebuild something.

Job-seekers dig it.

While some candidates might be apprehensive because they’ve spent their entire adult lives “optimizing for the way things are,” once they get into the process, they’re excited about it, says Maia. The goal is to spend enough time for everyone to get comfortable. “The way people are when they’re nervous is not reflective of how you are when you work with them,” she says.

Plus, candidates get to come in and work on a low-risk, low-cost project and get a sense of what it’s like to work there. “Everyone is more informed when they choose to take the next steps,” Maia says.

It’s flexible.

If a candidate already has a full-time job, it might be a challenge to arrange for a work session of more than a day or two. But for a candidate who’s freelancing or between jobs, it’s possible to work for longer stretches. When Pinch was seeking a chief compliance officer, they brought in a candidate on a contract-to-hire basis before offering them a full-time gig. Maia says that a candidate ideally comes in every afternoon for a few days in a row, but they’re open to remote work, too.

It can level the playing field.

Maia notes that the process is better for hiring women and underrepresented minorities because they choose who to bring in based on blind projects, not resumes. According to Maia, Rocksbox at one point had an all-women engineering team, and Pinch’s engineers are a 50/50 gender split—a rarity in the engineering world.

It showcases candidates’ resourcefulness.

Maia says the number one thing she looks for in prospective candidates—particularly engineers, though it applies to anyone—is resourcefulness. For engineers, the technology is moving so quickly that it’s impossible to be aware of all the roadblocks you could run into when, say, building an app.

In interviews, Maia notes, you’ll get a good answer to a question if the candidate has run into that particular problem before. But actually observing how a candidate builds something and works through problems is a more practical test of their knowledge. “Can you get yourself unstuck?” Maia asks candidates.

Even if you don’t hire that person, you might get something.

Maia says an engineer was brought in on a contract-to-hire basis and asked to build an Android app. He ultimately decided he didn’t want a full-time job, but he got paid for his work. “Even though we didn’t hire an engineer, we got an Android app,” Maia says.

Maia admits this method probably isn’t scalable, noting that if they were hiring 10 new engineers a month, it’d be “unreasonable to coordinate.” But for small businesses, treating resumes as a relic of the past might be the best way to find candidatesand see what they’d actually be like to work with.

“Nothing gives you an idea of what it’s like to work with someone like working with someone,” Maia says.

Annie Siebert
Annie Siebert Annie is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor. When she’s not behind the keyboard, Annie enjoys cooking, baking, running, and hiking.
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