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Help My Career: Applying for a job? This company wants you to meet the board—even for entry-level spots

As Ethan Tandowsky reached the final round of the interview process with Adyen NV, his meeting took a unique turn.

Chief Financial Officer Ingo Uytdehaage, who was interviewing Tandowsky back in 2016, paused the chat to check whether the payments company’s chief executive, Pieter van der Does, wanted to join the conversation as well, which he did.

Only four or five years out of college, Tandowsky wasn’t applying for an entry-level finance role, but he wasn’t vying for a particularly senior one either. And Adyen
with perhaps 450 employees at the time, wasn’t exactly a tiny startup.

While the Adyen interview marked the first and only time that Tandowsky got to meet with a CEO in the hiring process, the high-level attention is standard at Adyen, which has required that all candidates, even the most entry-level, meet with a board member like the CEO or CFO before receiving a job offer. It’s a practice that executives say helps Adyen ensure it gets high-quality workers who fit with the company’s enterprising culture.

Adyen has come a long way since Tandowsky’s 2016 interview. Now with more than 2,500 full-time-equivalent employees, the nearly €50 billion financial-technology company is the fourth largest public company in the Netherlands by market value, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Even as the company has grown, executives have sought to maintain their stamp on the hiring process, though board members have tweaked the inner circle a bit so they wouldn’t be tied up too much of the day in job interviews. While most Adyen employees still meet with one of Adyen’s six board members before their official hiring, Adyen now allows several senior leaders to also qualify as final-round interviewers.

“This is about the curiosity to find really great candidates,” van der Does told MarketWatch. “We are looking for a combination of people who are bright and want to flourish in an environment with a certain amount of uncertainty.”

By the time van der Does meets with candidates, he’s not looking to assess their technical skills, but rather to figure out what kind of workers and people they are. While some people like to be given tasks to compete, van der Does says Adyen is looking for future employees who can assess what is needed and run with it.

Instead of asking candidates to solve a difficult technical problem or describe their proudest moment, he might ask them how they plan to manage a move to the Netherlands or how they’d define a good day.

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Board members don’t unilaterally reject candidates at Adyen, but they will flag issues that need to be discussed further among the team involved in hiring. Van der Does said he’ll have chats with managers about whether a candidate just had an off day or whether issues that cropped up during the board interview reflect concerns that the hiring team already had but might have been willing to look past in order to get someone to fill a necessary role.

“Sometimes if you’re running a department and you end up being busy, the short-run strategy is to fill the team with lesser people, but in the long run that doesn’t work,” he said, in part because it has an impact on future hiring.

“If you have too many 6s and 7s, it becomes very difficult to hire those 8s and 9s,” he added, because candidates are more likely to take a role if they look around and can say, “this is a smart team.”

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Tandowsky, who’s risen to become the company’s group head of finance, now sees the interview process from a new dimension as board members will bring up questions about candidates he’s looking to add to the team.

“They’re really good at checking people’s intentions for joining,” he said. “People maybe talk a bit differently when talking to a board member, so it’s really helpful to have their perspective.”

Van der Does said that about 8% of candidates he meets with won’t end up getting hired. Adyen board members typically conduct six to eight interviews a week, with Uytdehaage, the CFO, saying that the company’s recent earnings date earlier in August was an “exceptional” day on which he didn’t speak to any potential new hires.

The executives say they’re carving out that time not just to vet candidates, but also to emphasize the flat organizational structure of Adyen, where senior leaders sit in an open floor plan directly next to the coffee corner so that they can have spontaneous conversations with workers. The hope is that employees, having met with a board member during the interview process, will be more likely to go up to that executive when they cross paths in the halls or cafeteria, which could lead to discussions about company projects.

Tandowsky said the strategy worked on him in his early days at the company, and it had the same effect on his team as well. “If I would see Ingo or Pieter at the lunch table, it wasn’t an introduction, it was: ‘What are you thinking about? What are you focused on?’”

He also said the high-level interview made him feel important and like he’d be part of a successful endeavor.

“After those last conversations with the board, I was really convinced that Adyen was going to be very successful and that I was going to play a big role in that,” he said. “In what’s been a pretty hot market, [candidates] usually have other options. Hearing that vision and opportunity for the company going forward really helped solidify that this was the right place to go from opportunity perspective, next to the cultural piece, which was very important.”

The interview process is so critical to Adyen that it earned a mention in the company’s latest shareholder letter. Van der Does told MarketWatch that he’s received questions from investors about whether the interview strategy was sustainable alongside Adyen’s rapid growth.

“The board continues to spend significant time on the recruitment process and meets the majority of new colleagues before they join the team,” the company said in the shareholder letter. “To maintain a hiring pace that allows us to best seize the opportunity ahead while operating at ever-growing scale, we added multiple members of our senior leadership team to the group conducting final interviews during the first half of the year.”

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