Hunting for a job in the software world can be a lot. It starts with the pressure of tailoring a resume that makes you look perfect for the position. Next, you need to craft a cover letter that makes you sound eager but not voracious, confident but not cocky, experienced but not overqualified.
We take a nontraditional approach to hiring here at Detroit Labs. As one of our founders, Nathan Hughes, laid out in this 2015 piece for Corp! magazine, we don’t accept resumes from prospective team members. Instead, we ask applicants to fill out a series of essay questions (we call it a Getting To Know You form, or GTKY), and their answers are made available to everyone in the company — yes, everyone, from the founders to yesterday’s new hire — to read and vote “yes” or “no” on.
After a traditional job search, coming across the DL GTKY, which has all these questions where we want you to talk about feelings and failure and other stuff that would be taboo on a typical job app, can be intimidating. More than one person has told us they stared at the screen for a long time wondering, “What do they want from me?”
A lot of people approach the GTKY like the final boss of cover letters, acting as though every answer needs to circle back to technology and include bullet points about why they’re absolutely perfect for the job. But we’re not really interested in hearing from Job-Candidate You. If we were, we’d have a form for your resume and cover letter like everyone else.
So, what makes a good GTKY? We’re looking for honesty and a good sense of the personality of the person behind the keyboard. We don’t hire for cultural fit. Here we understand that culture is what we do, how we do it, and why we do it as a team. That’s why we place such weight on questions like this one, which appears on every iteration of our current suite of GTKYs for jobs in our Services arm:
We actively believe in, advocate for, and work towards creating a just and equitable work environment for team members of all races, colors, religions, gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, and levels of physical ability. We want our team members of all backgrounds to find success, safety, and satisfaction at Detroit Labs. Tell us a story about a time you have helped foster this type of environment or steps you would take to help foster this kind of environment at Detroit Labs.
We recently had an extensive internal conversation about that very question: Does it favor people who have the privilege and social capital to have effected change in previous workplaces? If an applicant doesn’t already know about DL’s culture of openness and egalitarianism, are they likely to take this question at face value and give an honest answer — even if that answer is “I haven’t worked in environments where I was able to foster inclusivity…” — rather than telling us what they think we want to hear?
This may be a little off from the norm — a lot of people who do hiring would rather hear a “perfect” answer than get an honest response, something that triggers a “yes” from an algorithm so they can rubber-stamp the candidate on to the interview process. But we decided that we go into the hiring process in good faith, expecting good faith from our applicants. Think of it this way: In a traditional job search, the hiring entity is using your communications as a way to trap you into giving them reasons not to hire you. With the GTKY, Detroit Labs is giving you a chance to give us reasons to hire you.
We’re rooting for every GTKY we receive to belong to our next great new hire. Will it be yours?