How This Hot Startup Tackled Its Candidate Experience Challenges

August 4, 2016

Sam Shank should have been over the moon. His company HotelTonight, an app that connects travelers with last-minute hotel deals, was surging in popularity on both the App Store and Google Play. But this sudden growth was a double-edged sword.

Shank and his team were beginning to notice friction in their hiring processes. Interview experiences were becoming less personalized, and the company was struggling to find the rare type of person who could come on board, change the status quo, and provide impeccable customer experiences.

“As we grew, we didn’t have a formal interview process,” says Shank, CEO and co-founder at HotelTonight. “It had become unwieldy because there was no real structure. Conversations were informal. We weren’t giving our candidates the level of attention and tailored experiences that were representative of our company’s values. And, we experienced a bottleneck in our recruiting process. So we stepped back and asked ourselves, ‘how can we build a candidate interviewing process that’s consistent with our high-quality, tailored and impeccable customer experiences?’”

Over the years, HotelTonight has created a framework to streamline their candidate experiences and ensure that every potential hire experiences a smooth process. Here are five steps they follow:

1. Prep both interviewers and candidates for on-site interviews

To begin, every candidate receives a detailed itinerary that shows the name and title of everyone they will interview with. This helps set the stage for the day, and gives them the opportunity to research and learn more about the team.

“On our side,” says VP of People Operations Jeffrey Ehrenberg, “managers get the interview team together to review goals, key attributes needed in the role and what questions each person will ask during the interview. This way we can share a realistic preview of what the role is with the candidate and ask questions that help us best evaluate their fit for the role.”

As a result of this preparation, conversations are more productive. There’s less time spent discussing details that can be found on a LinkedIn profile or resume.

2. Create a memorable, hotel-like experience for candidates 

When candidates arrive at HotelTonight’s office, the first thing they see are the company’s values, right on the wall, which Ehrenberg and Shank think of as analogous to hotel branding.

Not to mention, the office is designed to look like a hotel lobby.

“We want every candidate who passes through our office to feel like a valued guest,” explains Shank. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t ask tough questions or invest the energy in understanding whether that person is going to be a great fit for the role—but we do it in a way that gives each candidate the respect and sense of value that he or she deserves.”

Like a hotel, HotelTonight prioritizes every last detail to ensure strong candidate experiences.

“We try to find small ways to make the experience special when people are here,” says Ehrenberg. “We ask candidates to stay for lunch. We ask Sam and other members of our leadership team to check in with an informal meeting, to make sure that everything is going well. We conduct our interviews the way we work, in an open floor plan, and leave candidates a tray of snacks and drinks like you'd find in a hotel mini-bar.”

3. Carve out time for fun when candidates aren’t interviewing

In addition to a detailed itinerary, candidates receive tips about local restaurants and coffee shops, to make sure they enjoy their time in the neighborhood (for candidates already based in SF) or their visit to the city (for candidates commuting in). All local recommendations come straight from the in-the-know HotelTonight team.

HotelTonight also invites some candidates to happy hours, where they can get to know the broader team and really experience the culture and vibe in the office.

“Remember that the interview process is not just for us,” says Ehrenberg. “It’s equally for the candidate who is looking to make a decision about whether they’ll join, whether they’re a good fit and whether they want to work with us.”

4. Give candidates a test drive

For some roles, HotelTonight also conducts what its team calls a “test drive” so that both parties can get a first-hand account of what it’s like to work together. These are collaborative working sessions, where HotelTonight gives candidates an exercise or scenario. The goal is to work through the problem together and for the candidate to experience what it would be like to be in the role.

“We ask people to actually come and take a problem that they would really face in their role and then present their perspective in a collaborative way,” says Ehrenberg. “It allows us to gauge how they would work with the team and gives us a glimpse into their thought processes and problem-solving abilities.”

5. Collect candidate feedback and improve the inteview experience

For new hires, the HotelTonight People Operations team collects feedback on day one, specifically about the hiring process, and at day 60 on why the candidate joined, how their experience has been and how well this matched what they expected based on the interview process.  

“We use that data to better understand what we need to place extra emphasis on; this perspective allows us to continually improve the overall interview experience,” says Ehrenberg.

Although HotelTonight’s interviewing initiative is just a few years old and Ehrenberg is less than a year into his role, he has noticed, qualitatively, that the quality of hiring and strength of culture fit has continued to improve across teams.

"Our goal is to provide a great experience that closely reflects what it would really be like to work here,” says Ehrenberg. “This helps us get to know each other and make the best hiring decision.”

*Image from HotelTonight

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