How Stride has worked towards a more equitable interview process

Stride places emphasis on providing an equitable, compact interview process focused on vetting for skills you actually need to do the job.

Our interview process for software engineers used to be different from what we now have in place. Back then, the interview began with an eight-hour, take-home coding test and (if the candidate successfully completed that test) a subsequent in-person pairing interview that didn’t take place until at least several days after the test was finished.

Although this approach did bring some remarkable talent to our team, as time went on and we accumulated more feedback from candidates, our own review process of that data led us to realize we needed to make a change.

 

A culture of learning

Our chairwoman and former CEO, Debbie Madden, founded Stride with a focus on learning. As a result, we gather a lot of data—from annual sales to release schedules to hiring rates—that we can use to continuously learn and improve. One of the areas in which we regularly assess and evolve our approach is in our interview process. 

As Stride’s Senior Talent Acquisition Partner, one of the tools I use to evaluate our hiring practices is a candidate survey of every person who goes through that process with us.

In looking at the results of that survey for Consulting Software Developer (CSD) candidates, the pass-through numbers were not what one would expect of an interview process that was working as well for our candidate base as it should have been. Drilling further into the feedback, we found two significant issues:

  • Candidates reported that the eight-hour take-home test was not equitable for those with dependents, without access to a quiet space, and/or who could not set aside significant blocks of time to work. For candidates who did have these advantages, the take-home test was a lower barrier to entry than our applicants without them.
  • Even when planned as efficiently as possible, the time from when a candidate entered the interview process until we made a decision frequently took several weeks, which was inefficient for all involved.

Based on this feedback, we realized that it was time for our interview process to evolve. Fortunately, continuous improvement is built into Stride’s philosophy, so rather than scrapping the entire process altogether and rebuilding it from scratch, our team was able to differentiate between what already worked well and what needed to change.

We maintained the fundamental belief that candidates should be evaluated on metrics based off of Stride’s core values, but we updated those metrics to reflect a more detailed, standardized definition of those values.

Stride has always emphasized real-world capabilities in our interview process. That’s why we build all of our interviews based on the skills a candidate actually needs to do the job. As the next step of the revision to our old interview approach, we worked directly with those employees at Stride who were already doing engineering, to define the capabilities of the job across each proficiency level. Once we had the capabilities in hand, it was easier to articulate the skills we expected a candidate to demonstrate during an interview.

We also asked our internal antiracist working group—a panel of individuals who are knowledgeable on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics and best practices—to review this list of capabilities. We wanted their feedback and validation before moving to the next step of creating a more equitable, compact interview process built on these capabilities.

 

Equity in practice

Based on the work we had done to define, test, iterate on, and validate the job-specific capabilities of a CSD, we shifted our eight-hour take-home coding test to a two-hour, in-person, paired programming test. In the new pairing test, as in the previous iteration, candidates get to work side-by-side with a Stride engineer. Teaming is a central part of Stride’s company culture, so this approach represents a real Stride work environment. We also found that it allows us to better understand our candidates’ thought processes and to more clearly see their strengths in action. 

Based on feedback we collected from candidates who went through this new process, we found that this approach to interviewing was assessed as more fair than the old one and was actually fun—for both candidates and Striders! 

We also addressed the problem of interview timing. In our new process, candidates who successfully complete the paired programming test are asked to return right away—usually the following day—for interviews with representatives from other roles. This results in the total time of the interview process being condensed from weeks to only a couple of days.

 

Applying lessons learned

Feedback matters to us. That’s why we send a post-interview survey to every candidate who moves through the process, whether or not we extend an offer. Based on comments we received about the new CSD interview process, we decided to apply the same format to our new design practice role. In our design practice interview—just as with the engineering interview–designers are brought in to participate in a paired exercise with a Stride designer, so that a candidate’s first experience at Stride is with a current employee who speaks their language and can most accurately evaluate that person’s capabilities.

No matter what the role, all interviewers and our Chief People Officer participate in internal round-table discussions shortly after the interview. Each person offers feedback on the candidate and justifies their recommended hiring decision. After everyone has spoken, together the group decides whether to make an offer. 

We now do this for every department, for every position. And the capabilities we invest time in defining are used beyond the interview process. We employ them in our onboarding process, our talent review, and in our interactions with fellow Striders, clients, and the larger community.

 

Investing in growth

Standardizing our hiring practices across the board helped us restructure our focus in such a way that we were able to add in a welcome benefit: every candidate we interview, regardless of whether they are hired, receives feedback from Stride within 24 to 48 hours after concluding the process. We believe in extending our culture of learning beyond Stride, as well.

During this feedback meeting, we share with candidates what went well during their interviews, and what we felt could be improved, and we offer suggestions of books or other materials that might contribute to their learning in those areas. Sometimes, in the case of a candidate who showed promise but to whom we ultimately did not offer the job—we even invite them to work on developing the capabilities we identified over the next six to nine months and then interview with us again.

 

Conclusion

We know there is still work to do toward greater equity and we are excited to continue improving our processes. Growth and learning are fundamental to Stride, and the evolution of our interview is only one example of those values in action. 

We welcome candidates who also believe in teaming—who can collectively solve problems in high-performing, cross-functional teams that have a foundation rooted in inclusivity, psychological safety, and a growth mindset. 

We “collaborate like the work depends on it” to make sure that every Strider has what they need to succeed from the first moment they engage with Stride, starting with our more equitable, compact interview.


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