A quick guide to finding talent in strange places

Prioritise potential, says Slack's SVP for people Robby Kwok.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 18 Nov 2019

Business is, at its heart, about applying people to problems. Having the right people is therefore nearly as important as leading them properly. 

The obvious thing to do is to focus on the candidates who went to the most prestigious universities, who got the highest grades, or who worked in certain positions. 

The problem with this talent pool is that it’s too shallow. While you may get a plethora of extremely capable people who fit in with the company culture (because everyone else also went to the same universities and had similar work experiences), you risk ending up with a homophily - a group of people who think and act the same - which means you miss out on fresh ideas and risk groupthink.  

A quick glance over Slack’s diversity report suggests that while the Californian workplace messaging business has some way to go before it is fully representative of the society it operates in, it has made notable gains in creating a diverse workforce. 

Robby Kwok, Slack’s SVP for people, says that this is because of the company’s open minded approach to recruitment. He is a testament to that - he heads up the firm’s global recruitment and HR despite having never worked in the function at a junior level. The secret, Kwok says, is not to label people by their background, but that takes an element of risk. 


"We obviously have requirements for jobs that are very clear cut, for example that a manager needs to have had experience managing people. But we don’t actually limit ourselves to a select number of schools or companies. We really don’t care whether you’re from a top rated university or a community college.  

"We ask hiring managers to look for potential rather over skills. Candidate trajectory is just as important as experience. People who really show they’re willing to try new things and adapt to new situations. We try to assess them more fully than just by what’s on their CV.

"There is always diversity across our interview panels - so for an on-site you cannot just have all males and it should represent the makeup of the team so you can show the candidates that diversity. 

"What ends up happening is we actually have computer engineers for example who don’t have a computer science degree - there are some with art degrees or philosophy degrees who have then become engineers because they wanted the career switch. Then there are computer engineers who have become salespeople.  

"We're pretty open and make sure that we interview these people and give them chances if we think they have the potential.

"How do you know whether someone has that? Demonstrating a growth mindset is super important for me. That means they’re never satisfied with what happens, they’re always asking ‘what can I learn from that?’ 

"So we ask questions like ‘Tell us a time you have failed at something’. How they talk about that is very revealing; some candidates might try to shift the blame to other teams, but the people with a growth mindset own it and explain how they tried to correct it."

Image credit: Slack

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