HubSpot’s Jim O’Neill on Debugging Tech Recruiting at Scale

Few companies have put as much thought into culture as HubSpot. Don’t believe us? Check out the company’s Culture Code, a not-brief manifesto that outlines the company’s deeply rooted commitment to transparency and employee autonomy. Corporate transparency is a popular catchphrase these days, but HubSpot has taken the concept further than most by sharing everything with its employees, from financial data to customer feedback. Post-IPO, the company even registered all employees as insider traders so that it can continue to share as much information as possible. HubSpot encourages its employees to “think like founders”, an invitation that not only engages employees in their own work, but in efforts like recruiting where engineers specifically play an active role.

Engineering a people-first approach

      Jim O'Neill, CPO @ HubSpot 
      Jim O'Neill, CPO @ HubSpot 

The company has succeeded in its engineer-inclusion culture in part because of its rockstar Chief People Officer, Jim O’Neill, who came to HubSpot after a long CTO stint at SunGard Omni. Jim spent time as HubSpot’s original CTO, then its CIO, but more recently made the unusual shift to leading all human resource and recruiting functions. Jim’s presence in this role - certainly not the typical background for an HR leader - is a testament to HubSpot’s unique approach to talent management. At a recent fireside chat that we hosted for some of NYC Tech’s engineering leaders, Jim gave us the skinny on this nontraditional paradigm, and on the company’s commitment to transparency at all costs, which can be seen from the very early days of HubSpot.

HubSpot’s co-founders met at MIT; Dharmesh Shah dons the CTO hat (and still spends half of his time writing code), and CEO Brian Halligan leads the company’s go-to-market efforts. Jim was one of the first few employees, brought on as an engineering lead. A master storyteller at heart, Jim eagerly turned his attentions to the recruiting arena as the company shifted into hyper-growth mode. This unique focus on both culture and engineering at the top of the org chart laid the groundwork for the company’s innovative approach to its people.

All hands in the recruiting pool

Nowhere is this approach more apparent than when it comes to recruiting; at HubSpot, engineers lead a substantial part of the talent selection process. Primary’s own Talent Partner Cat Hernandez has long believed in the democratic approach to recruiting: “Recruiting is not rocket science,” she says. “It’s a craft that requires true alignment with business goals and a high level of care and diligence. There’s no secret formula. In fact, the best environments I’ve worked in make hiring a widespread company responsibility and privilege.”

In the very early days at HubSpot, a large percentage of engineers were required to spend up to one-third of their time recruiting. This included going to meetups or other networking events; scouring their personal networks for individuals who might be good additions to the team; interviewing and evaluating candidates; and onboarding new team members.

But as HubSpot grew, its autonomous recruiting process became increasingly difficult to manage, and a few cracks began to emerge:

  • Hiring for team fit became harder and harder as the number of small, autonomous teams increased
  • Not all engineers wanted to be involved in the recruiting process and, in some cases, management realized that not everyone should be forced to be included
  • The engineers who most loved recruiting spent the majority of their time hiring and started losing focus on shipping code

A data-driven approach to keeping the bar high

To accommodate for the issues that arose with scale, recruiters, hiring managers, and leadership worked together to make some practical adjustments that keep the system moving forward without losing that autonomous spirit. Most notably, the team implemented some critical checks and balances to ensure a consistent standard in hiring across the board.

  • Performance metrics are tied to hiring practices to ensure that everyone maintains the same lofty thresholds for hiring
  • Interviewer quality is benchmarked against the percentage of offers made, employee retention and overall team member mobility
  • Interview processes are calibrated across the company to maintain consistency

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HubSpot’s unique approach to recruiting is a heavy resource commitment, to be sure, but the company believes there is no activity more strategically valuable to its success. Jim explained that engineers’ involvement in the recruiting process from the very first point of contact with a recruit improves their overall engagement in the team, and helps to ensure that every candidate is a good fit and is additive to the organization.

Reflecting on HubSpot’s history and success, Jim points out that culture is not about massage chairs and happy hours; it’s about creating an inclusive, diverse and open environment that pushes employees to do their best work daily. HubSpot has succeeded in these efforts largely because of the unique chemistry of HubSpot’s founding team - a blend of a business-driven and technical co-founders who have placed a strong focus on both sides of the business from the get-go. The company’s “people-first” ethos is a powerful reminder for every company, regardless of stage, that being committed to employee engagement and company culture is good for business.