Creating a Candidate Experience that is Inclusive, Transparent, and Innovative

Creating a Candidate Experience that is Inclusive, Transparent, and Innovative

Recently, we interviewed Tianna Johnson, Head of Talent Operations at Notion, on the Talent + Tech podcast.

Before joining Notion, Tianna worked during the early days of GitHub back in 2015 when it was just 200 employees. Then, in 2017, she helped take Lyft from 700 employees, scaling it to 7,000. In May of 2020, Tianna was recruited to join Notion as their first Talent & People employee. She’s been fundamental to building a strong foundation for the talent teams at Notion and has played a critical role in scaling Notion from 35 employees to now 150. 

During our conversation, which you can listen to via Talent + Tech Episode 35, Tianna gave us an inside look into what it truly takes to foster an inclusive talent culture of excellence and curate an enjoyable experience for candidates who apply to join your company. 

Here are 11 ideas you can apply today, to create an inclusive and transparent candidate experience (which we all know is fundamental to standing out in a candidate’s job market). 

1. Bring the Aloha: Being from Hawaii, Tianna uses the phrase ‘Bring the Aloha’ when referencing her philosophy on candidate experience. She explained that it’s important to build culture, from the first interaction, by actively coaching and investing in others—most importantly the people who won’t get the job. You can show this sense of Aloha at your company by replying to, and investing in, each candidate who applies—whether they get an offer or not. For example, Tianna actively writes personal messages to every single person that took the time to put in an application at Notion.

2. The Early Days For People & Talent: When you are first starting out, especially if you are bootstrapping, you can create your own processes, build an in-house talent operation by ‘duct-taping’ processes and products together and/or work closely with an HR agency. The important thing here is to understand the drawbacks and benefits of each approach and when to transition out of them. 

3. Leverage VCs and Investors as a Support Network: If you’re a venture-backed company it’s really important to lean into your investors as mentors as they can provide you with the necessary resources, help you source talent and engage a plug & play for your HR functions. 

4. Knowing When to Have a Talent Team: The rule of thumb for Tianna of knowing when it’s the right time to bring in a ‘Talent & People’ person to your company is when you can’t learn from your investors or the agency you are partnering with anymore. When you’ve hit that point, you need someone to build out your talent strategy—someone who can build your operations, someone who can help you to think about compliance, someone that gives you reporting and data, someone that can help you figure out your tech stack and essential training from start to finish.

5. Strengthen the Four Pillars of Talent Ops: There are four pillars to Talent Operations that you will need to reinforce at the various stages of your scaling process:

  1. Formulate a clear talent strategy This includes shaping how your operational efficiency, your compliance, your metrics, and unique talent insights are all functioning together.
  2. Find the right tech stack – Finding the best tools for your team to do their best work.
  3. Implement critical programs and training – Discovering the kinds of programs and training you need to implement that gets everyone to do their best work.
  4. Invest in the candidate experience – You have to make sure what you are doing is making the candidate feel special.

6. Treat Candidates As Users: You must be users first, think from a problem-based, not a solution-based standpoint. Give candidates the attention they deserve. Show that you value their time and effort. Provide them with the resources to be their authentic selves throughout the entire process. Tianna recommends creating interview guides for every stage to show the candidates what the process looks like and what to expect. 

7. Recruiting Funnels Done Right: Vet thoroughly upfront as much as you can. This will save both the interviewer and candidate time. Place candidates in front of a decision-maker as early as possible—someone who can decide whether this person will be an actual fit for that person in that specific role—to move to the next round. Limit your interviews to five rounds. 

8. Analyzing Resumes and Cover Letters: Ask yourself questions about motivations and why they are applying to the role. If they don’t have the prerequisite skills in the resume, make sure to look carefully through to their cover letter to figure out if there’s something you missed. Try to understand how and where the person has made a difference in their professional lives previously.

9. Design Intentional Interviews: When interviewing a candidate you have to think through which attributes are the must-haves for the role you are recruiting for. You have to structure your questions intentionally to give you the right data point so you can measure the specific attributes. For example, on a scale of 1 to 5, what answers would give you an indication of hitting those markers you are looking for.

10. Spotting a Great Candidate: Tianna has noticed the best candidates come to the interview prepared, they know what the product is, they know the mission of the company. Their personal values closely match the company’s values. They understand that job searching is a matchmaking process, as a result, they interview the company as much as the company interviews them. 

11. Spotting Great Recruiters: They have strong soft skills—they are warm and truly care about helping others, they’re people who can really think through a diversity and inclusion lens. Great recruiters are passionate about matchmaking people to the ideal jobs that the candidates seek and, in particular, are able to have an honest conversation with candidates and ask, “Is this the right thing for you?”

Bonus Idea: Tianna’s favorite question to ask during an interview is: “How do you decide and prioritize your time? On a busy day with tons of different commitments and obligations, how do you determine what gets done?” This allows her to see the candidate’s thought process in dealing with time management and gauge how they would fare in their fast-paced work environment. 

Companies that truly excel at this experience will attract the best candidates and stay ahead of the game. As you create an inclusive, transparent, and innovative candidate experience, you set a powerful foundation for your company to thrive and scale dynamically. 


Learn more about Avra Talent, an exclusive network of top Talent Professionals in America here to support your hiring needs and enhance your candidate experience.

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