Talent leaders at Duolingo, Vox Media and Acquire share their hiring success stories

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When you step into a new role as a talent professional, you have to be prepared for anything. You may be the only person serving any sort of HR or people function at your company. You might discover that there are zero tools or processes in place (there’s a reason why we say hiring in these situations is Chaotic!). Or your well-meaning coworkers could be reluctant to change because your company is in a state of hypergrowth and they’re scared to slow down.

How do you overcome these hurdles and set your company up for hiring success? Greenhouse President and Co-founder Jon Stross recently sat down with three hiring leaders to find out. Jon spoke with Jocelyn S. Lai, Head of Talent Acquisition at Duolingo, Christopher Clermont, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Vox Media, and My Doan Cong, Vice President of People at Acquire, to do a deep dive into their Hiring Maturity success stories. Catch the highlights from their discussions below.


Jocelyn: Building a strong talent acquisition foundation at Duolingo

When Jocelyn joined Duolingo, she was beginning with a clean slate. There were no existing tools or processes in place, so she had the chance to build the talent acquisition (TA) function from scratch. Her first order of business? Building out the tech stack and helping leadership understand her vision for TA.

Getting everyone aligned to new ways of thinking about hiring wasn’t easy. But Jocelyn says she discovered the key to success when she tapped into the company’s mission. “If you hire folks who are aligned with your mission and values, when you explain you’re doing something because it makes sense for the business, it’s much easier to get buy-in,” she explains.

One of Jocelyn’s biggest points of pride is Duolingo’s astronomical retention rate. Hovering right around 95%, it is a testament to the strong TA foundation Jocelyn and her team have built. Jocelyn is also thrilled with the license this gives her team to get creative. “If you don’t have backfills to worry about, you can truly grow and do innovative things in TA,” she says.

Looking to the future, Jocelyn wants to focus on a few key areas. First, she’ll continue adding automation behind the scenes (like Greenhouse auto stages) to make life easier for recruiters and more seamless for candidates. Next, she sees a wide world of possibility when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). “This is an ever-evolving space and we’re thinking about how we can infuse every effort as recruiters to reflect our values of DEIB,” says Jocelyn. Finally, Duolingo has begun to enter different markets, with offices in Beijing and Berlin. Developing a deep understanding of the people in each new market is paramount. “If your approach doesn’t feel relevant to candidates, they won’t be interested,” says Jocelyn.


Chris: Committing to diversity, equity and inclusion at Vox Media

As a head of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), one of Chris’s ongoing challenges is expanding people’s understanding of these values. While it’s often relegated to top-of-funnel talent acquisition activities like expanding the pool of candidates, Chris explains, “We need people to see DE&I as part of everyday decision-making.”

Chris says the events of the past year – the racial reckoning, pandemic and economic downturn – have shown us that how we feel, how we show up and even our mental health are tied to who we are (and who we say we are) in the workplace.

While there are a lot of good intentions when it comes to DE&I, Chris says people often want to solve for the discomfort they feel. They’re quick to jump to solutions like anti-bias training. And while there’s nothing wrong with this type of training, it might not always be the best way to solve the problem at hand. Chris emphasizes the power of asking bigger questions: “You have to tie it to people’s behaviors and the systemic problems happening here. Where is there bias in the system? How do we create inclusive hiring?”

If you’re just getting started on your DE&I journey, Chris recommends starting with your core values. What is the purpose and intent of your organization? What is it that you value about different experiences? For example, since Vox Media is in the business of storytelling, employees and company leadership see the value in representing different voices.

Finally, Chris reiterates the importance of thinking of DE&I beyond talent acquisition. Consider ways to be more inclusive in your candidate experience, onboarding and everyday work and decision-making. “If you can say, ‘This is why we need this representation and experience,’ then it becomes more meaningful and impactful,” says Chris.


My: Prioritizing operations to activate big picture thinking at Acquire

Reflecting on what hiring was like when she joined Acquire, My says it was very much a “firefighter” situation. With no set process or talent acquisition team, hiring often felt frantic and ad hoc. “We needed a really strong process for how we source, how we decide someone is right or how we even decide what role we need. And Greenhouse was a really important part of that,” says My.

My used Greenhouse to organize and add more structure to the hiring process at Acquire. This helped everyone appreciate the different stages that were involved and take a more intentional approach. Creating interview kits and scorecards also streamlined the feedback collection process after interviews.

While it took a few months to get everyone used to the more structured way of interviewing, it was worth it. “It’s painful to put a process together, but that pain lessens when you have a process to put people through and you can start to see that your hiring time shortens,” says My.

There’s still plenty of work to be done – Acquire’s technical team is looking to double in size within the next year – but My also sees how far they’ve come. “A year ago, we were focused on the question of how we hire. But now that we’re operationally strong, we can look at the bigger picture.”


Hiring Maturity journeys: A few key takeaways

While everyone’s hiring journeys are different, some key themes emerged from these conversations. Alignment to your company’s mission and vision is key, whether you’re introducing a new tool, process or mindset. Sometimes you have to slow down today in order to speed up tomorrow. And there’s always room for improvement. Rather than worrying too much about getting it right, it’s about focusing on a small step you can take right now.

Wondering where your own company is on your Hiring Maturity journey and what steps you can take to progress? Take the assessment today to find out.

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Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.