July 5th, 2023 at 3:59:46 PM

Hiring insights from the CTO: interview with Timur Hassanov

In our previous interviews, we have discussed hiring from the perspective of an HR and a Software Engineer. Today, we are talking to Timur Hassanov from Bob W. to get a perspective of a CTO on hiring.

Timur Hassanov, Bob W

💡 Please tell us about Bob W and why is it important for a hospitality company to be technologically advanced?

Bob W is a venture capital-backed, tech-enabled hospitality company that merges hotel-like consistency, services and amenities with the authenticity and livability of a home. With our beautifully designed and authentic living spaces, we offer a home away from home for leisure and business travellers alike, no matter if you’re staying for a few nights or a few months. We currently operate in multiple markets in Europe, including United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Finland, and The Netherlands.

About five years ago, when we started Bob W, we quickly realized that using software extensively was crucial for scaling and delivering an amazing experience. Initially, we relied on market tools, but soon discovered that developing our software in-house was the way to go. That's when we started hiring software engineers, about three years ago.

Our software offers a range of functionalities, from the booking engine to the check-out process. We also create tools for our internal teams, like operations. Our main goal is to optimize and automate processes. Let me give you an example: When booking through Airbnb, you usually have to meet someone for the keys. It's not ideal because you get just one set, which can be inconvenient if you're with friends or family.

We do things differently. Our check-in process is entirely self-service, no staff inside the buildings. Don't worry, if there are any issues or emergencies, we're there for you. But under normal circumstances, even at 2 AM, you won't need to meet anyone. It's all possible thanks to our tech and the user experience our team has crafted.

The hospitality industry, including big hotel brands, often lags behind in technology. We've surpassed them in many ways. For example, during our virtual check-in, we offer automated upgrades to better rooms. Imagine being at a hotel counter, and they offer you an upgrade. We offer the same, but completely automated. When you check-in at our building, our system presents you with a free or paid upgrade to a better room. If you accept, you get instant access through our electronic locks.

We've implemented time-saving features that reduce the need for a large operations staff while enhancing the guest experience. Our aim is to ensure customers return to us, and so far, we've been successful.

💡 The talent makes a huge difference in any user-centered company like yours. What is the hiring process at Bob W like?

We have departments in Tallinn, Helsinki, Madrid, London, and other locations, and the hiring process varies for each role. But for all positions, we have case studies and reference checks.

Plus, every new hire gets to talk to an executive. Usually, it's one of our co-founders. We believe joining a new company is a big decision, so we want to make sure candidates have all the information they need. These conversations give them a better understanding of our company. If we hire engineers and they only talk to people from the Engineering department, they might get a one-sided view. We want to show them the real picture and answer any questions they have.

When it comes to engineering roles, after speaking with me or other hiring manager the candidates do a case study, followed by a tech interview.

💡 What does it take to get hired to Bob W from the culture fit side?

We consider cultural fit on every step of our interview process:

  • Even the candidate’s CV, LinkedIn profile, and cover letter can give a sense of how they align with our culture

  • We kick off with an introductory interview led by the hiring manager. It's an opportunity for us to showcase the company, role and product information, and assess soft skills and cultural fit. At this stage, candidates also evaluate if our culture matches their expectations.

  • Next is the case study, where candidates complete assignments and communicate via email. We pay attention to their responsiveness and how they handle deadlines that they set for themselves.

  • Technical interviews involve potential future colleagues evaluating both technical skills and cultural compatibility.

  • During reference checks, references recall how candidates made them feel when worked together, and intangible aspects that shape culture.

  • And the CEO interview also considers cultural fit.

Bob W’s culture revolves around 5 core values:

  • Hospitality is vital as we care deeply for our community and go the extra mile for guests and colleagues.

  • Sustainability drives our environmentally responsible choices.

  • Meritocracy: we prioritize skills and expertise over internal politics. It doesn't matter how long someone has been with us; what matters is their excellence in their field.

  • Open-mindedness is crucial for us, given the diverse range of countries where we operate. As we serve customers from various backgrounds, it is essential to be receptive to new ideas, even if they challenge our own perspectives.

  • Radical transparency is key, sharing information openly to make informed decisions and address shortcomings.

In engineering, we prioritize hiring mature people. By maturity, we do not refer to age; it is irrelevant. We have engineers of various ages in our department. What matters is their ability to take responsibility for their work. Whether they are seniors or juniors, we seek individuals who take responsibility and make autonomous, responsible decisions.

While cultural aspects vary, alignment with our core values is crucial. In my experience, even if a candidate may not fit our requirements, I still strive to have meaningful interviews with them. I make an effort to sell the company and ensure they have a positive experience. However, there is one exception: if a candidate says they know nothing about our company. This is a red flag for me, indicating a lack of maturity. Unfortunately, in such cases, I have to conclude the interview early as it becomes a waste of both our time.

💡 Which brings me to my next question: what techniques do you use at your own interviews?

First things first, the interview actually starts before it officially begins: being on time is important to me.

In the beginning, I introduce myself and talk about my role. I also share a bit about my career before joining Bob, why I decided to join and what keeps me here. Talking about which, one of the biggest reasons is that I get to work on a product I'm an end customer of, and that means a lot to me.

Before diving into the details, I always ask candidates what they already know about us. It helps me see how familiar they are before I share more information. Most candidates have some knowledge, and some have even used our services. That context makes it easier for me to give them more insights.

I talk about our unique business model that sets us apart from platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com. It's important to explain our business model, where our offices are located, how big our company is, and how many properties we manage. I also go into why we're expanding our software engineering and product departments, the teams they might join, the nature of the work, the colleagues they'll have, and the technologies we use. Throughout this process, I make it clear that candidates can ask questions anytime. I prefer a dialogue over a traditional interview format.

Then I give candidates a chance to talk about themselves, their journey in the IT field, and why they're interested in opportunities with us. Understanding their motivations and any frustrations in their current role helps me assess compatibility. We want people who are not only technically skilled but also self-motivated and open to feedback.

During the interview, I often ask about the fuckups the candidates have faced, which is especially relevant when interviewing potential managers. It's important to learn from your own mistakes, which aligns with our values of maturity and openness to feedback. If someone claims they've never encountered problems or refuses to admit past mistakes, it shows a lack of self-awareness and may not be a good fit.

I also ask candidates to make a case for why they might be a good fit and, on the flip side, why they might not be. Exploring potential mismatches gives me valuable insights into their self-awareness. To sum it up, I aim to have engaging conversations by asking open-ended questions, allowing interruptions, and focusing on how candidates can leverage their previous experiences to contribute to Bob W.

💡 Do you use any tricky Google-style questions like “how many windows are there in Manhattan”?

I think that when it comes to asking questions in an interview, there should be a good reason behind asking any specific question. Some people just look for the "best questions to ask in an interview" without really understanding why they're asking them. I guess a trend with this type of questions started with Google a while back, as you mentioned, but I don't think even Google relies on that approach as much anymore. Sure, it might show how well someone can think outside the box, but honestly, I don't find it very effective in the grand scheme of things.

Timur, thanks so much for sharing the insights of hiring at Bob W and your interview style! It was definitely an interesting conversation for me and I’m sure for our readers too.

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