Initial Chat Interview For Events Wrangler Application: Part 2

[This Part 2 post title is worded slightly different from the Part 1 post. Liberal application of literary license…Also, for any blog readers who ended up on this post because it was linked from The Daily Post’s prompt for A Storybook Day, I’m trying to figure out how to fix that. You should have seen a link to yesterday’s post, “A Storybook Day: An Events Wrangler’s Promptly Published Post.” I put a storybook link on yesterday’s post, but The Daily Post for some reason pointed people to today’s post as well as yesterday’s…]

Didn’t Find Canonical “Automattic Chat Interview” Post

As part of my quest to become an Automattic Events Wrangler, I’m writing posts about the company’s hiring process. This post relates to the first part of that process: the chat interview.

automattic logoIn the time since I wrote the “Initial Chat Interview With Automattic: Part 1” post, I haven’t found that special post I said I was hoping for — one which would give me lots of detailed information about initial chat hiring interviews with Automattic. No worries, though. I’m pretty comfortable with what I’ve read so far about the chat interviews and the type of people Automattic wants to hire.

In Part 1 of this series, I ended by saying, “I’ll continue my research on the initial chat interview and summarize my findings and thoughts on the topic in a few weeks.” Since my continued research didn’t reveal any striking new insights or especially helpful tips about the initial chat interview, for this Part 2 post I decided to briefly summarize my understanding of Automattic’s initial interviews, then present a few thoughts about two issues related to their initial hiring interviews in the upcoming years.

Chat Interview Summary

As of June 2016, here’s a quick bullet point list of what I think the chat interview is like.

  • Invitation to do asynchronous chat interview.
  • Chat on Slack, probably with two Automatticians.
  • Answer general questions.
  • Answer questions about your experience with WordPress.
  • Answer questions about your outlook or philosophy on topics related to good cultural fit with Automattic, such as customer service. (Customer service questions could be primarily for people applying for the Happiness Engineer position, and I might have questions related to events wrangling.)
  • Be informed whether your chat interview went well enough to move to the next stage of the hiring process.

If the initial interview went well, it sounds like you’re given a short project to work on, one that only takes a couple hours. Based on posts I’ve read about the Automattic hiring process, doing a short project is new within the past year or so. As Aaron Douglass put it, “This small unit of work will show the applicant’s domain knowledge and ability to communicate.”They likely added that after having too many applicants make it through the chat interview but then not do well on the paid trial project. If you do well on the short project, you have another chat discussion, then move on to the paid trial project.

Now let’s take a quick peek at how the hiring process might change in the future. Two questions related specifically to Automattic’s initial hiring interviews in upcoming years are:

  1. What are the pluses and minuses for having more transparency regarding the chat interview questions (and other parts of the hiring process)?
  2. How might the initial chat interview (and the rest of the hiring process) change as Automattic scales 10X, from a company of 500 to a Big Company of 5000?

Hiring Process Transparency: Pluses And Minuses

chart with upward trendAs a company, Automattic seems to lean heavily toward transparency. As they scale from 500 up to 5000 employees, many things may need to adapt or change.

Transparency, both internal and external, is highly valued at Automattic. That’s likely a legacy of Matt Mullenweg’s personal style and a result of living the open source philosophy. Transparency will need to remain strong, and the focus on it probably needs to be increased in upcoming years. Transparency is a lot easier with a couple hundred people than in a company of a few thousand people. If the inner workings of the company are confusing to employees, avoidable conflicts will happen, and employees will be unsure where their efforts should be taking the company.

One company issue affected by transparency is the hiring process. Here are potential pluses and minuses regarding bringing more transparency to the hiring process.

  1. Plus: Allows Applicants To Self-Select Out.
  2. Plus: Applicants Are More Qualified.
  3. Minus: Easier To Game System.
  4. Plus: Easier To Improve Process.
  5. Plus: Standardizes Process.
  6. Minus: Applicants Less Passionate About Automattic.

[Almost every one of my blog posts ends up being longer than intended, so to counteract that, I’ll just comment briefly on the first three points above.]

Allows Applicants To Self-Select Out:  If people who consider applying for a job at Automattic know the questions asked during the chat interview, they’ll be better informed about the job and may decide to not apply because the job wouldn’t be a good fit. If the hiring process is less transparent, that may encourage people to apply who might not if they were better informed. I’ve seen quite a few postings online from people who said they won’t apply to Automattic because of the trial work requirement. That’s an example of applicants self-selecting out because of transparency.

Applicants Are More Qualified:  Automattic has a reputation for encouraging people to apply again in the future if they lack certain qualifications when they first apply. Transparency in the hiring process means people would know the criteria for qualified applicants. So if they’re passionate about becoming part of the Automattic team, they can work to achieve the minimum criteria before applying, resulting in applicants who are more qualified.

Easier To Game System:  A downside to transparency can be making it easier to game a system. If the criteria for passing the chat interview includes knowing answers to specific technology questions, it doesn’t make sense to publicize those questions. An applicant who doesn’t really meet Automattic’s intended minimum criteria may be able to answer widely-known chat questions. Whether transparency makes it easier to game the chat interview depends on what questions are being asked and what other aspects of the chat are evaluated by Automattic.

In his post about applying for a job with Automattic, William Kowalski said,
In the interests of fairness to new applicants, as well as to Automattic, I won’t get into the details of that here, but I will say that it posed a challenge.” When he mentions fairness to Automattic, he may have been referring to applicants potentially gaming the hiring process.

500 ⇒ 5000: Hiring Process Changes

  1. Chat Interview: Ensure Consistency.
  2. Chat Interview: New Chat Criteria.
  3. Other: Matt Must Clone.
  4. Other: Better Understand Each Hiring Step. What works and what doesn’t. Feedback re: why employees who aren’t good fit were hired, why employees who probably would be a good fit didn’t get hired.
  5. Other: Additional steps in the hiring process such as have the applicant create a blog, use a “hire candidate” O2 blog to simulate Automattician O2 interaction, use IRC for part of the hiring process if 25% of internal communications is via private chat in IRC. Experiment and figure out a couple more hiring process activities that are good predictors of successful Automatticians.

[As with the transparency list, I’ll only address the top three points about hiring changes as the company grows.]

Ensure Consistency:  To develop a repeatable and reliable process, the chat interview needs to be consistent from one interviewer to the next. As the company scales from 500 to 5000 people, a lot more chat interviews will be needed, which means a lot more people will probably have to do chat interviews. Those chats need to have a certain amount of consistency if they’re going to be an effective hiring tool.

In my mind, it’s essential to have the chat interview done by someone representative of the people with whom the applicant will be working. That means you can’t have one or a bunch of HR people do chat interviews. The reason for the asynchronous chat mode of interviewing is for Automatticians to get a feel for how well the candidate will communicate with them after they’re hired. Having an HR person do chat interviews all day long is unlikely to help ensure the candidate will communicate well with his fellow Automatticians.

New Chat Criteria:  I don’t know what the criteria currently are for successfully passing the chat interview. But if that part of the hiring process is going to remain relevant as the rate of new hires increases, maybe different or additional criteria are needed. The best people to come up with additional chat interview criteria are the people currently doing the interviews. They can develop a large set of potential criteria and rate applicants on them, then see which criteria turn out to be good predictors of applicants successfully doing the short project and the paid trial work.

Matt Must Clone:  A third hiring practice that will have to change as Automattic scales in size is having people other than or in addition to Matt be the initial reviewer for applicants’ emails. This may have already changed, but I have yet to read an account of the hiring process that doesn’t say “…the first step is Matt Mullenweg reads every applicant’s email…” The super-high quality and good cultural fit of employees that Matt has hired have been instrumental in making Automattic successful. That was a strategic advantage for Automattic when they had 10 employees and when they had 50 employees. I don’t think having Matt be the sole gatekeeper for all applicants’ emails will be a strategic advantage when Automattic has 5000 employees. I don’t know where the shift occurs between 50 and 5000, but Matt only has 24 hours in a day…

I’m Ready

The Part 1 post and today’s post have covered the topic of the chat interview pretty well from an outsider’s point of view. I’m looking forward to the next post I write about this topic being from an insider’s point of view.

I’m ready for my initial chat interview! 🙂

** If you’re ready, consider applying today to Automattic. They’re hiring! **


blogging fundamentalsIf you’re a blogger who hasn’t taken a Blogging University class , consider taking one. They’re free, and they’re mostly fun. As fun as anything can be that takes a scalable generic approach to helping thousands or millions of people become better bloggers and internet authors. I’ve been blogging for over ten years, and I’ve acquired new knowledge and skills while taking the Blogging: Fundamentals virtual class. Here’s my assignment for today:

Day Twelve: Make Some New Connections

  • Go to The Daily Post’s Prompts page and look for the prompt you used for Day Eleven.
  • Click on the prompt and scroll down to the grid. Those are the other responses.
  • Look for post titles that catch your eye. Read six other responses to the prompt you wrote about on Day Eleven and leave comments on at least two of those posts.

After I publish this post, I’ll head over to the other Storybook Day posts, read six and comment on at least two…


Initial Chat Interview With Automattic: Part 1

Typical Automattic Interview Questions?

In the past couple weeks I’ve read 20+ posts and articles that talk about the initial interview for the Automattic hiring process. I know more now about what various people say the initial interview is like, but I still haven’t found the “here are the twelve standard questions Automattic asks during the initial interview” type of post.

It would be nice to find a post, comment or article that clearly spells out the “twelve standard questions,” aka the “What” of an Automattic job interview text conversation. For tech companies that hire hundreds or thousands of employees each year, there are often fairly detailed descriptions of the interview process, including specific questions that are asked. Not so much for Automattic, which in May 2016 appears to be a company of almost 500 people.

Why A Chat-style Interview

But I think I pretty well understand the “Why” of the initial interview text conversation. Matt Mullenweg has talked about the need to hire people who are a good fit with the way his company works — distributed, asynchronous, minimal voice or face-to-face discussions, communicate well with a lack of visual cues, and generates a good vibe with current employees of Automattic. In a Harvard Business Review article he said:

“…We used to hire people the way most other companies do. We’d screen résumés and conduct interviews…A candidate might interview with five employees, and we’d all take him or her out to lunch…Inevitably, some of those hires didn’t work out, which was a big disappointment…As we considered the situation, it became clear that we were being influenced by aspects of an interview—such as someone’s manner of speaking or behavior in a restaurant—that have no bearing on how a candidate will actually perform. Some people are amazing interviewees and charm everyone they talk to. But if the job isn’t going to involve charming others, their interview skills don’t predict how well they’ll do as employees…”

A primary way Automattic employees communicate, as remote members of a globally distributed team, is with a lot of asynchronous chat. Voice communications between Automatticians and their customers, or for business discussions amongst Automatticians is non-existent. Because chat communications don’t convey the same audio and visual cues as voice or video discussions, it makes sense to get a feel for how well prospective hires communicate via chat, whether they understand what they’re being asked, and whether current Automatticians see them as a good fit for a remote team which relies heavily on asynchronous chat communication. Below are two post excerpts that talk about applicants’ experiences with the initial chat interview with Automattic.

Two Discussions About Interview Process

William Kowalkski successfully passed the initial interview but was not hired by Automattic.

“…They contacted me to schedule a preliminary interview, which was to take place over Slack, a chat application I hadn’t used before. This felt like a novelty–a job interview in a chat room! How futuristic and internetty!…The interview was with two people, a man and a woman, who came across as friendly and professional. They asked me general questions, including my experience with WordPress and my philosophy of customer service. Our conversation went well enough for them to move me on to the next phase, which was a test that involved some basic website work. In the interests of fairness to new applicants, as well as to Automattic, I won’t get into the details of that here, but I will say that it posed a challenge, and I was pleased when I was informed that I’d passed that hurdle, too. A second chat interview followed, after which I was offered a chance to work as an HE for $25.00 per hour [the trial project]…”

Like William Kowalkski, David Clements passed the chat interview and did the trial work, but did not end up being hired by Automattic.

“…The jobs page at Automattic indicated that you should hear back (one way or the other) with a couple of weeks of submitting your application. After six weeks had passed, I sent a follow-up email in case my email had got lost somewhere. Another several weeks had passed before I just decided they probably weren’t interested and forgot all about it. Shortly thereafter, I finally received an email, saying that they were interested in talking to me, so we set up a time to chat on Skype.

I chatted with two of their employees, who both work on the Happiness hiring team, and introduced myself to them, while they asked a few questions of me, exploring my technical knowledge and customer service skills. After an hour with them, they were sufficiently happy for me to do a mini-project for them so that they could evaluate my writing skills. They tasked me with writing a support document that outlined how a user could create a new post from their WordPress app. I spent a couple of hours on it and sent it back to them, after which they asked me back for a second interview (again, over Skype), which happened just a few days later. At the end of that interview, they evidently decided that I had what it took to explore my abilities further and offered me the opportunity to work for them on Trial…”

I’ll continue my research on the initial chat interview and summarize my findings and thoughts on the topic in a few weeks.


Here are a few more links which discuss the initial interview process: