Envato is an innovative business that provides a variety of services for people who are driven by the passion to create something great. Envato offers five core services — Envato Market, Envato Studio, Envato Tuts+, Envato Sites, and Envato Elements.
Not long ago, we had an interview with Michelle Ridsdale, who is the Chief People Officer at Envato. She shared a great deal about the recruitment and retention tactics Envato uses to compete with large tech companies for talented software engineers. It appears that these tactics are definitely the decisive factor in the company’s extraordinary success.
Q: How did Envato get started? Have the people management principles Envato follows today been the same from the very beginning?
Michelle: When Envato was launched almost 12 years ago, the goal was simple: to build a space for creators to come around a shared passion for creativity, learning, and design.
For Envato, the principle of having absolute trust in our employees and giving them the autonomy to do their job well has been the same from the beginning of the company. It’s something we’ve held, even as things have changed and adapted as the company grew. If anything, it’s more structurally engrained now.
For Envato, the principle of having absolute trust in our employees and giving them the autonomy to do their job well has been the same from the beginning of the company.
Q: How big is the software development team at Envato and how is it distributed?
Michelle: Envato has 114 developers. The vast majority of these is based in Australia, and a small number is in the US. While almost all developers work from our Melbourne HQ, we also have a number of software engineers who work remotely interstate in Australia.
Q: Envato is a well-known brand today. Which tactics in your opinion have helped you attract the best engineering minds and compete with big tech companies during the early days?
Michelle: A lot of our tactics focus on promoting the benefits of working at Envato, of which we believe there are many! One of the big motivating factors for new developers is that we’ve routinely attracted the best minds to work here—people who are leaders in their field and have a reputation for being industry heavyweights. We’ve found many people want to work with, and learn from, this group of experts.
Also, Envato attracts many software engineers who are interested in working with Ruby.
And finally, our developers are encouraged to expand their skills outside of any core role while simultaneously improving capabilities in their core role too.
One of the big motivating factors for new developers is that we’ve routinely attracted the best minds to work here — people who are leaders in their field and have a reputation for being industry heavyweights.
Q: Could you share the main principles that Envato follows to hire and retain top talent these days?
Michelle: Candidates meet a lot of people during the interview process. We do this to ensure that they’re a good fit not just in terms of skills but in terms of values too.
With regards to retention, as noted above, we focus on creating an environment where people can grow and develop, with ample progression opportunities. Our results in the annual Australian Great Place To Work survey prove this (Envato was ranked 12th in 2017 — editor).
"Our developers are encouraged to expand their skills outside of any core role while simultaneously improving capabilities in their core role too."
Q: Is it true that at Envato the candidate is treated like a client? Could you talk about it in more detail?
Michelle: We prefer to think of it as a customer relationship. Each candidate we speak to receives feedback, whether they’ve progressed in the recruitment stage or not. We treat our applicants with respect, as we appreciate the time they invest in putting forward their applications to us. This principle helps people carry through the multiple steps we have, as they receive feedback at each step.
We try to make the process as efficient as possible, without having extra steps just for the sake of it. But it’s a bit like journey: our future developers meet many people, so the process gives them a lot of insight about what it’s like to work here. It helps provide clear expectations about what kind of environment they’re joining.
We ensure the candidate is a great team fit by getting them to meet with a diverse range of stakeholders within our business, which also allows the candidate to ask questions and learn more about us.
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Q: How is the software engineer interview process organized at Envato? How long does it usually take to make a hiring decision? How do you make sure that the candidate is a great team fit?
Michelle: The software engineering interview process here at Envato is composed of three stages. The first stage involves a Values & Technical Interview, the second is a Technical Coding Challenge, and the third stage is a Technical & Behavioural Interview.
We ensure the candidate is a great team fit by getting them to meet with a diverse range of stakeholders within our business, which also allows the candidate to ask questions and learn more about us. This is done via a number of behavioural and value questions throughout the different stages of the process. We aim for the process to take two weeks to provide a successful outcome for a candidate that has applied. However, the timeframes depend on a number of competing factors including availability, time zone, home task completion etc.
We want to have The Right People in the Right Environment, and we pledge to give everyone who works at Envato A Fair Go.
Q: How does the retention policy align with the company's goals and missions?
Michelle: Our approach to retention is directly aligned with our company goals — we want to have The Right People in the Right Environment, and we pledge to give everyone who works at Envato A Fair Go. You can see these goals in more detail on our recruitment page.
Q: Envato has a great list of benefits for employees. How do you identify which benefits will be useful for employees and will improve retention?
Michelle: We only introduce the benefits that we think our staff will actually use; we’re not interested in having something “just because.” We think thoroughly about what people here would both enjoy and find useful. That’s why we ask our staff regularly through focus groups or surveys, and use their feedback for future ideas.
Q: Could you share any lessons about hiring engineers you’ve learned the hard way? In other words, what mistakes would you recommend to avoid if you want to build a great development team?
Michelle: 1. Don’t base your hiring decisions solely on skills; this can potentially create issues with workplace culture and collaboration, so look at values-fit as well.
2. Provide technical assessment tasks to applicants after the first face-to-face interview; you must be conscious of your applicants’ time.
3. Remember to hire diversity of thought; you don’t want to accidentally end up with one homogenous group.
- Invest in high-quality recruitment from day one to create a great team — this way, you won’t have to search for developers later, they’ll find you themselves.
- Make sure candidates meet as many team members as possible — it helps provide clear expectations about what kind of environment they’re joining.
- Don’t focus solely on technical skills, look at values-fit of each candidate as well.
- Trust your employees and they’ll show you their best performance.
- Treat each applicant with respect, and provide them with feedback regardless of whether you end up hiring them or not.
- Make sure recruitment takes no longer than two weeks.
- Hire different people — diversity of thought will facilitate the development process.
- Encourage your software engineers to learn and apply skills that don’t belong to their core responsibilities.
- Focus on creating an environment where people can grow and develop, with ample progression opportunities.
- Introduce only those benefits your employees will actually use.
- Conduct regular surveys among the members of your team and implement the changes they need.