in People

Working with recruitment agencies: assessing effectiveness

Every company wishes that all potential candidates find them directly. However, that isn’t always the case. Although we want to keep recruitment spend to a minimum, we also need to face the fact that external agencies are one part of our sourcing strategy.

The scenario we found ourselves in about 6 months ago will be similar in other startups. We needed to grow fast and we saw numerous agencies come on board, either through contacts from hiring managers, referrals from other companies, or direct contact with the talent team. We suddenly realised we were working with about 25 agencies and we couldn't manage them effectively. It became frustrating for all parties involved.

Therefore, we decided to rethink our approach and put in place steps to get to know each agency properly, to understand how they will represent GoCardless, and how we can assess their performance. Moreover, we want to work with and manage a realistic number of relationships.

Getting to know the agency

Recruitment agencies can be a helpful additional source for finding talent. Although a good relationship can lead to mutual gains for both parties involved, a poor fit can be very detrimental, wasting time for the team, hiring managers and even the recruitment agency itself.

Therefore, before starting to work with an agency we want to understand if the way they work fits with our company values. We’ve created a checklist of key points about GoCardless (e.g., who we are, our interview process, other logistics) and what we need to know about the agency in our initial discussion. For example:

  • What is the agency’s recruitment style & procedures?
  • Do the agency’s recruiters understand us as a company?
  • How do they usually prefer the interview process to be managed?
  • Do they care about candidate experience?
  • Will they be good ambassadors for our employer brand?

Sometimes, even if the agency is a good fit for a company we know well, it might not be a good fit for us and vice versa – it’s ok, not everyone is!

Agency Management

When we start working with an agency, we try to set up a short call every week or two. Although the call might not always be needed, it’s a useful reminder in case there are any issues we need to discuss, for example:

  • Particular feedback – positive or negative – on a candidate that might be more appropriate over the phone.
  • Particular feedback on profiles submitted, for example, if we’ve noticed a trend in the kind of profile that does/doesn’t meet the role requirements.
  • General updates on role requirement, compensation, or the interview process.

Once we achieve a good working rhythm, we agree with the agency on a number of profiles submitted per month. Although setting a number is not always feasible, it gives us a rough idea of the amount of CVs we can expect to receive from this source.

Assessing agency performance: the performance index

We decided to create an easier way to objectively assess agencies’ performance and keep working with only those that perform well on the things we care most about. The assessment is based on 3 criteria, assessed quarterly:

  • Rate of candidates advanced from CV screen to initial interview
  • Conversion rate of candidates from CV to offer
  • Rate of candidates rejected on what we call the GoCardless fit measure

The CV to initial interview rate: We expect that 70% of candidates submitted by the agency will make it to the initial screening call. We are more lenient with new agencies or new roles as we know initial CVs might be more exploratory.

The CV to offer rate: We expect to make an offer to at least 10% of candidates submitted by external agencies. Also, depending on the time and number of candidates the agency has submitted for a particular role, we expect to make at least one offer per quarter.

The GoCardless fit rate: One of the main advantages of using external agencies compared to job boards is that they will have pre-screened candidates. They should be able to evaluate whether candidates’ motivations and goals align with GoCardless’ values and what we can offer. Therefore, we expect that no more than 20% of candidates who make at least the first interview with us will be rejected based on these criteria.

The final index

Our index is split by department (e.g., engineering, marketing) and shows us how the agencies we’ve been working with in that quarter performed in these three criteria. Once the data is added, it updates the decision field to “Keep working with agency” if:

  • The agency has positive scores on two out of three of the criteria, and
  • The agency has a positive score on the GoCardless fit rate.

Looking at these criteria has allowed us to focus on the relationships we value most and end relationships that were not mutually beneficial (e.g., focus on quantity vs quality).

How can this system be beneficial to agencies?

We keep working with the agencies that are most successful in placing candidates. When we see a drop in performance, we’re able to look into it together and find ways to improve the relationship. We have done this in the past with two of our best performing agencies in which we noticed a drop in performance. We were able to discuss our and their challenges with the roles, understand where the profiles submitted were lacking, and have a general refresher on the role and teams.

How strict were we when implementing this system?

It took us a while to implement the assessment system, at least a quarter of trialling it to find if it aligned with our own empirical experience, and it is a process we're continuously working on. Initially we thought about making a “make-it-or-break-it” system in which the agencies should meet all 3 measures. However, we found that agencies might not meet all the criteria for extraneous reasons (e.g., changes in role requirements) and there is a level of flexibility that should be considered.

The only criterion we’re not flexible with is the ability to bring in candidates who demonstrate a good GoCardless-fit, giving candidates a good experience throughout the process, and building and maintaining a good relationship with our Talent Partners. The latter two fall outside the Performance Index, but are easily picked up either in our day to day work, or in the survey we send to all new joiners.

Key take-aways

Assessing the agencies we work with is mutually beneficial. For the Talent team, it means working with fewer agencies and getting to know who we’re working with and how they can help us. For the external agencies, they know we might consider them whenever we’re in a position to reach out for external help, and we will invest our time to make sure the collaboration is productive.

When we implemented the measure we stopped working with 5 agencies. In the past 3 months of trialling this measure we’re now getting to the point in which we know the 1-2 agencies we want to work when we open a specific role and that we trust will fill it in a timely manner.

NB: this is not a promotion piece for working with agencies! We wish we could always hire directly and that is always our preferred way to find new talent to join our team. However, we work with some agencies we’ve gotten to know well. If you are from an external agency who we don’t work with, please do not call or email. We only work with agencies whose introductions are done by referrals from trusted sources.

in Engineering

Building our new developer experience: Part 1

Our API is at the heart of everything we do. Not only does it allow developers to build powerful Direct Debit solutions, but it also powers the GoCardless Dashboard along with our integrations with partners like Xero, Teamup and Zuora.

As engineers, we know firsthand the importance of having great resources at your disposal when you’re getting started with an API. So back in September we kicked off a major project to revamp our developer onboarding experience. We wanted to build something we could be really proud of and which would also delight our customers.

In this blog post, the first of a series of two, we’ll take you through the journey of building our new developer site from idea to delivery.

Where we started

From the earliest days of GoCardless, developers have been a major focus for us. We’ve invested a lot of time in building an intuitive and powerful API with great tooling.

When we were building the current API in 2014 we learnt lots of lessons from our original legacy API from 2011 - we sought to provide consistency and predictability, implemented versioning from the get-go and made pagination the default.

One of the biggest problems with many APIs is that the documentation and libraries get out of date all too easily. When you’re moving as fast as we do and trying to continuously add value for customers, you’ll always be making improvements to to your API. Making regular changes every few weeks means that your developer resources quickly become stale. Typically, this means lots of manual work, painstakingly and manually updating documentation and libraries when the API itself changes. For instance, when we add a new optional attribute when creating a payment via the API, within minutes it’s mentioned in the documentation and supported within our API libraries.

To reduce friction in making changes to the API and help developers stay up to date, we’ve automated this process as much as possible. We describe our API in the form of a JSON Schema, embedding all the different resources, attributes and endpoints available. We then use an internal tool to apply this schema to templates we’ve built for our documentation and each of our client libraries.

Every time either the schema or one of these templates changes, we re-generate the resulting source code and automatically deploy it to our website or push it to GitHub.

This has provided a great base to work from for building documentation that we could be proud of and delivering what we saw as the bare minimum: up to date and complete documentation. We heard from satisfied users every week who found our docs great to work with. But we were aware that we didn’t have the right experience for people entirely new to the API - beyond a blog post, there were no code samples or step-by-step walkthroughs to help developers hit the ground running.

Working out what to build

With a basic understanding of the problem, we needed to decide what to build. To help us make the right choices, we defined three goals for the project:

  1. Help developers see the value in our API and reach that “aha!” moment as soon as possible
  2. Make it easy and seamless for people to transition from our sandbox environment to a live integration when they’ve finished building
  3. Identify the right developer leads and pass them to the sales team, so they can reach out and offer help at the right time

With the APIs we know and love, we can all remember the time when we first grasped their power. But as things stood, we were doing almost nothing to bring users to that point - after signing up to our sandbox environment, developers were just pointed to the docs and left to their own devices. We knew we could do better.

With that in mind, we started researching onboarding flows for other APIs, taking a look at Intercom, Stripe and Clearbit, amongst others, seeking to learn from what they did and didn't do well. For example, Clearbit did a great job with their “quick start” documentation, but it was frustrating that the flow didn’t remember your choice of what platform you wanted to integrate with.

I also spent time with our Sales and API Support teams internally - they spend all of their time talking directly with customers, so they could give us great insights into what our customers found most confusing and unintuitive. Both teams flagged up demand for code samples, which we weren’t providing beyond the readme files of our libraries.

Talking to the sales team made us all the more conscious of the importance of great documentation in the sales cycle - when large prospective users of our API are weighing up options for managing their Direct Debit payments, they’ll tend to get their developers to have a look.

The API Support team were able to give us great access to customers who had recently finished building integrations. We reached out to them and got direct feedback on what they found hardest in working with our API and what was least clear.

Considering our own internal feedback, chatting to real users of the API and our own intuitions as developers, it seemed clear that the biggest source of value would be adding a dedicated “getting started” guide for developers new to our API, supported by in-product messaging to guide them to and through it.

Delivering the new developer.gocardless.com

The first improvement we made was to add code samples to our reference docs. We did think about automating this, but decided it would make it harder to provide contextually relevant code examples.

These examples made a big difference in terms of making our libraries easier to use but they didn’t do much to help customers understand the underlying concepts behind the API or point them to what they should be doing first. For this, we decided to write a “getting started” guide, separate from the reference documentation. Trying to merge the two together didn't make sense - they’re very different kinds of content: for example, a guide is naturally read start-to-finish whereas reference documentation is something you dip into as required.

First, we had to decide which steps should be in the guide. We wanted to introduce users to the basic concepts of Direct Debit (e.g. mandates and payments), help them set up their API client and then take them through the key API flows: adding customers, taking payments, and handling webhooks. This gave us what we needed to decide on a rough layout for the guide:

  • Setting up your language’s API client
  • Adding a customer using the Redirect Flow
  • Collecting payments
  • Listening for webhooks
  • What to do next (how to go live, further resources for more advanced integrations)

We decided to write a prototype guide with PHP code samples (our most-used language) as soon as possible, so we could test it out with real users and iterate, before writing code samples for all of the other languages we wanted to support.

From the beginning, we emphasised conveying best practices in a way which didn’t really fit with the reference documentation. For instance, we wanted to encourage developers to use a package manager, store their credentials in environment variables and take advantage of our API’s idempotency keys. We also wanted to show people ways to test their code and iterate quickly - for example by using ngrok to test webhooks locally and testing code snippets in a REPL like Ruby’s irb.

Having written a first version, we put the draft in front of two developers completely new to the API who were considering an integration with us. We thought at this stage it’d be really useful to work with people who’d never used the API or Direct Debit at all, since the code is not just about showing you what code to write, but explaining the structure of GoCardless and the underlying Direct Debit system. We learnt a huge amount from this - not only about minor mistakes (like missed syntax errors in our code samples), but also where we’d not conveyed concepts as clearly as we’d hoped.

After iterating on our draft, we added code samples in other languages. Knowing that the quality (and thus copy-and-pastability!) of the samples is vitally important, we implemented automated syntax checking of our snippets as part of the continuous integration (CI) process, alongside a bunch of other automated tests (like checking the validity of links and making sure all our images have alt attributes) using HTMLProofer.

In parallel, we also wanted to bring the design of our developer content up to date with our current website and brand to provide a consistent experience from first discovering GoCardless to integrating with the API to landing in your Dashboard. So James and Achim got to work on designing and implementing a brand new look for the site.

Our developer homepage

When trying to get the guides looking and feeling perfect, we spent a lot of time on our code samples — which are in many ways the heart of the guides. On the page, you can instantly switch between languages, with your choice remembered between pages. Many hours of painstaking effort went into the apparently simple and non-consequential task of stopping the page from jumping around when you switch languages - but we felt that this attention to detail was hugely important in providing the experience we wanted.

Similarly, we wanted to make it easy to link to and bookmark parts of the guide, marked by subheadings. Eventually, we managed to get the behaviour just right so that the anchor in the address bar changes as you scroll up and down the page, whilst maintaining great performance.

Having finished and launched the “getting started” guide for the API, we had demand from elsewhere in the business to go further so we also built and launched a guide to our Partner API for our partnerships team and a guides to our developer tools for our Developer Support team.

Our getting started guide

As a final icing on the cake, while getting inspired at the Write the Docs EU conference in Prague in September, I translated the guide into French, with a member of the French sales team, Côme, helpfully proofreading my work: a great way of carrying over the great new experience and showing our commitment to the French market.

What we’ve learnt

We’re hugely proud of what we’ve built: a beautiful new site for developers which not only includes up-to-date reference documentation, but also provides step-by-step help for developers using the API for the first time.

Through the process of building the new site, we learnt two key lessons which will feed into how we work in the future on our developer experience and the rest of our product:

1. Attention to detail is key

When we reviewed others’ API documentation as part of research for this project, the difference that love and attention to detail makes was clear. The small touches are hugely impactful - for instance, the animated transition when changing languages on the Stripe docs brought a real smile to our faces and was something that we wanted to show others on the team.

These small touches - things like stopping the page jumping when you change language - often take a disproportionate amount of time but are a key part of a polished final product and demonstrating just how much we care about our API.

2. Talk to users as early, and as often, as you can

It’s difficult to write a “getting started” guide as someone who is already familiar with an API and the concepts behind it. You can try and put yourself in the shoes of another developer but this will never be as effective as actually putting your work in front of someone.

We used the experiences of people who had just finished working on integrations to inform our first draft. We then showed that to people who’d never used to API or Direct Debit at all, to get a real sense of how effective our guide was for a complete beginner.

This project has given us a clear reminder of just how important it is to talk to customers, in terms of getting an awesome end result that delivers real value. We’re going to double down on this and make sure that our engineers as well as our Product team get regular developer-to-developer contact with our users.

Coming up next: building an in-product experience for developers

In part 2 of this series, I’ll introduce our new in-dashboard developer experience which guides developers through building their integration with real-time feedback, as well as generating valuable data which we can use to further improve the onboarding experience in future.

Interested in joining GoCardless?
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We team up with QuickBooks to help small businesses get paid faster

Success for small businesses in the UK is more elusive than ever these days thanks to a weakened pound and intense competition in all markets.

Thousands of the UK’s small and medium enterprises have told us that managing cashflow is a constant struggle. In some cases it can take up to 13 days for an invoice to get paid.

Cashflow is the lifeblood for any organisation, so waiting a fortnight for payment can wreak havoc on a company’s finances. Time spent chasing late-paying customers could instead be used for growing the business.

GoCardless has joined forces with QuickBooks to help small business owners reclaim those 13 lost days, while providing a new way to increase cashflow. This in turn allows for better insight and decision making.

By teaming up with QuickBooks, we can remove the burden of small businesses chasing clients for payment. The integration with QuickBooks allows payment to be taken directly from the client’s account on the day stated on the invoice. This significant change means that businesses can slash the amount of time they spend trying to improve their cashflow.

“Our partnership with QuickBooks brings accounting and payments together into one powerful platform. The integration empowers SMEs, enabling them to manage all their invoicing and Direct Debit payments in one place, saving them significant time and money so they can focus on growing their business,” said Hiroki Takeuchi, GoCardless CEO and co-founder.

For both GoCardless and QuickBooks, saving precious time for businesses is of utmost importance. Setting up Direct Debit payments in QuickBooks with GoCardless couldn’t be easier. What’s more, reconciling becomes a breeze as Direct Debit payments are automatically brought in and categorised on the QuickBooks platform.

“We’re delighted to work with GoCardless to bring Direct Debit functionality to QuickBooks. As a leading UK-based payments company, GoCardless will significantly reduce the time it takes for small businesses to get paid, which is critical to any business’ success,” said Dominic Allon, Vice President and Managing Director, Intuit Europe.

GoCardless and QuickBooks believe that the combination of smart payments and online accounting will enable small businesses to evolve in new and exciting directions, supported by a more efficient and transparent way of getting paid.

Find out more about the partnership or get the app now.

Use GoCardless with QuickBooks to get paid on time, every time
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in Announcements, People

Customer Support Interview Process

We take a lot of pride in our support team here at GoCardless. 😛

If we see a ticket that's close to breaching our service level agreement (SLA), we'll jump straight on it. Or if we notice a product update that's caused an unexpected issue, we'll quickly follow up to resolve it.

We're constantly working to improve processes, increase efficiency, and share more knowledge. Whenever our users get in touch, we have the right tools to provide a quick resolution that will minimise any disruption to their day. If we can put a smile on their face while doing so, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

We're also a team that knows how to have fun. Our Slack channel is widely revered across the company. If there were a prize for inexplicable overuse of giphys and non-stop banter, we’d win hands down. We all love getting stuck in at our company events…and the weekly Friday evening pub drinks.

Together we’ve sampled our fair share of bars and restaurants near the office, and we’ve competed in laser tag, bubble football, beer pong, and more – all in the name of creating a great team spirit.

Anyway, before we get too carried away, let’s get back to what you came here for – insights into our interview process.

It all starts with your CV

We know that great ‘supportees’ can come from many different backgrounds (our team is no exception!) so don’t be put off from applying just because you don’t think yours is relevant.

Your CV and cover letter give us an initial impression of you, along with your experiences, skillset, motivations, and perhaps one or two oddities that make you unique. Remember, we receive quite a few applications. Think about how you can best present the information in your CV and cover letter to ensure we won’t miss the best bits.

If we like what we see, we'll arrange a phone interview with you.

Phone interview

This is our first chance to get a sense of you as a person; what you’ve been doing up until now, and why you want to work for us.

We want to know what excites you about GoCardless and the world of fintech, and how you see your potential future with us.

Depending on who calls, you might also be asked about your baking prowess. (We have a bit of a sweet tooth here in support - contributions are always welcome 😋).

But this isn’t just our chance to find out more about you. It’s also your chance to ask us questions, whether about the role, our product, company culture, or how many giant marshmallows Jess can fit in her mouth at once. (She’s said it’s important to reiterate that they were ‘giant’ ones).

Don’t forget, this is your chance to make a great first impression. Try to relax and let the real you shine through.

Face-to-face interviews

Having nailed the phone interview, you’ll then be invited into our office to meet some of the team. We’ll show you around so you can get an idea of the environment you’ll be working in. You'll also experience how we work with a few example tasks to complete while sitting among our friendly support team.

Once you’ve been shown around our office you’ll begin the first of two face-to-face interviews.

Role Fit:

Lasting approximately half an hour, this first face-to-face interview is where we aim to find out if you’re a good fit for a support role. We’ll ask questions that identify your strengths, expose areas you can improve on, and assess whether you possess the key competencies we’re looking for.

We’ll also delve more into your motivations for joining a support role at GoCardless, your own experiences of customer support – good and bad, and how you see support fitting into the wider company vision.

Culture Fit:

The second interview is where we find out more about you and the values you hold dear. It our chance to see if we think you’d be a great fit within our support team and the GoCardless community as a whole.

We’re a varied mix of personalities so there’s nothing specific we’re looking for; we just want to know if we’d enjoy spending 9 hours a day with you. (This is similarly your opportunity to decide this about us as well!) We want to know what gets you up in the morning, what makes you tick, and most importantly what it is about supporting customers that you find irresistible.

Support Tasks:

Once the face-to-face interviews are completed, you’ll move on to the support task. This is a short exercise where you get to sit with our support team and experience what it would be like to work with us. You’ll be given a few short tasks, example emails, and a couple of role play phone calls. They’re all very straightforward and not designed to trip you up, so don’t worry. We’re more interested in seeing how you interact with the people sitting next to you, how you approach the tasks, and how you formulate your responses.

Supporting our customers over the phone is an important aspect of our work. The role plays allow us to test your phone manner, your ability to explain information, and how you deal with situations when you don't know the answer.

Once you’ve completed these tasks you finally get to head off home, hopefully with an air of renewed confidence having just knocked this stage of the interview process out of the park.

Executive Interview

If you’ve made it this far you’ve done extremely well. You definitely have some of the characteristics we’re looking for.

This is the final stage of the interview process. You’ll be invited back to our office to meet two senior members of our team, most likely our Head of Support alongside another head of department.

This might seem daunting - I remember the nerves I felt as I walked into the interview room for the final time - but it needn’t be. Even our most senior team members here are really cool and easygoing. This is an opportunity for you to meet the people responsible for managing you and your progress within GoCardless.

They'll want to find out more about your motivations for working with us over any other potential employer. Also, they'll want to know how your experiences will help us in achieving our company vision. They'll ask about your expectations in working for GoCardless, what you want to learn during your time with us, and where you see your career heading in the future.

The key difference between this and the previous interview is that your responses are being considered through the lens of our most experienced team members, the ones who can pick up on things that others may have missed.

The best advice I can give you is to think about what you’re really looking for in your next job role before you come in.

  • How have your past experiences led you to where you are now?

  • Why do you want a career in Support?

  • Can you see yourself working with us for the next couple of years or more?

If you’re confident you’re in the right place, going in the right direction, and with the right motivations, then just relax and remember, above all else – be yourself!

Notes about the process

Questions:

At any stage in the process you're more than welcome to ask questions. We may prompt you at certain times to ask us questions, but our aim is to make the whole process as open as possible. As such, there’s never an inappropriate time to ask us something.

How we decide:

For each interview stage you undergo, each member of the team involved in that stage will meet afterwards and discuss how we think you got on. We'll keep discussing until we agree on whether to progress you to the next stage.

Hearing back:

With each stage of the interview process we'll do our best to let you know our decision within 48 hours. If there have been a lot of applicants though this may take us up to a week. If a week has passed and you still haven’t heard from us please feel free to get in touch.

Interested in joining GoCardless?
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Bacs Processing Calendar 2017

It's that time of year again and we don't just mean Christmas. The Bacs Direct Debit 2017 processing calendar is now available, so you can easily check the dates when Bacs will process Direct Debit payment submissions in 2017. The calendar also shows which days Bacs won't process payments, bank holidays and weekends, so you can plan around that.

If you're using GoCardless, there's no need to plan your payments submissions with the Bacs processing calendar. We take care of submission dates for you and we'll automatically submit your payments to Bacs on the relevant day. This means you simply choose on which dates you'd like to charge your customers, and we'll do the rest.

Feel free to get in touch with us at [email protected] if you have any questions about the timing and scheduling of Bacs payments.

Looking to automate Direct Debit collection timings?
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