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Code is Easy, People are Hard: Developing Meebo’s Interview Process

Location: Portland 255 Level: Novice
Average rating: ****.
(4.21, 19 ratings)

This talk aims to give practical, real-world advice for engineering teams hoping to grow quickly in a competitive hiring climate. Based upon our first thousand hiring days, Wherry will discuss Meebo’s mistakes and growing pains as they grew their initial engineering team. This will include learning how to find talent, balancing project schedules with interviews, evaluating candidates, and how they evolved Meebo’s interview process based upon their experiences.

Meebo’s hiring history:

  • Winter 2006: A small startup needs engineers
  • Spring 2006: HotJobs and CraigsList don’t work
  • Summer 2006: Developing a one-day interview process
  • Autumn 2006: Coping with 100 resumes a day
  • Winter 2007: Interviews take up coding time
  • Spring 2007: Well-qualified candidates with no team skills
  • Summer 2007: Managing our first misfit, the 10% rule
  • Autumn 2007: Sourcing the sourcer, training in-house recruiters

What we learned:

  • The truth about contingency recruiters
  • Developing phone screen questions
  • Creating interview puzzlers and worksheets
  • Developing the simulation
  • The curse of the first candidate
  • Defining candidate metrics
  • The art of the soft neg
  • Evaluating cultural anomalies

Hiring urban legends:

  • “I can tell if I like a candidate in the first 15 minutes”
  • “I shouldn’t admit I am networking”
  • “Everyone has to like a candidate immediately to make an offer”
  • “Let’s hold on to this candidate until we see a few others”

Our three interview criteria:

  • Tech fit
  • Team-skills
  • Motivation

Meebo’s favorite interview questions

Meebo’s favorite reference questions

Overview of Meebo’s current interview process:

  • Puzzlers
  • Phone screens
  • Interview worksheets
  • Four-hour simulations
  • Team lunches

Practical interview tips

  • Screening resumes
  • Scheduling the interview
  • Creating a non-threatening interview
  • Question checklist
  • The first and last question

New team members

  • Fostering organizational excitement
  • Making it easy for new members to shine on day one
  • Defining clear success points at 7 days, 14 days, 28 days, and 90 days
  • Developing interview skills throughout the team
Photo of Elaine Wherry

Elaine Wherry


Elaine is a co-founder of meebo.com in Mountain View, California. She majored in Symbolic Systems at Stanford and upon graduating, joined Synaptics and led their Usability team for several years. In 2005, she started meebo with two friends from Stanford, Seth Sternberg and Elaine Wherry. Shortly thereafter, Nielsen/NetRatings named meebo the fastest-growing IM destination in the US – ahead of Google Talk and Skype Messenger. Investors include Sequoia Capital and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Elaine plays the violin and migrated west to California after growing up on a goat farm.

OSCON 2008