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Deconstructing the GoJek Hiring Playbook used to hire Product Engineering Stars - FirstPrinciples

Deconstructing the GoJek Hiring Playbook used to hire Product Engineering Stars

Published on October 11th, 2021

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Anyone hiring right now in tech understands the challenge of finding the right talent! The market is flooded with demand from cash-flushed companies while the hiring pool for senior and high-quality individuals is low, especially in mature markets such as India. 

Most people in tech (especially in Asia) also know that GoJek scaled fast and built a world-class product engineering organization. They did so by building an incredible employer brand that led to all-stars wanting to work at GoJek.

We connected with ​​Adithya Venkatesan, former Brand Head @GoJek, to understand the playbook they leveraged to hire A-Players in an insanely competitive market.

Watch the complete podcast here.

 

Here are the top 5 learnings from our conversation with Adithya

  1. Approach hiring like you are selling a product. Build a narrative of why people should work with you
  2. It’s all about authentic storytelling and letting people into your world see your side of the story. Share your failures as well
  3. Find a way to get engineers, product managers, and designers to contribute and be the leading force of the stories you tell
  4. You can’t fake company culture and a marketer can only take what exists and let the world know about it
  5. Be audacious in your distribution! If you do events or run any marketing initiatives, do it with a bang! Take over events or Twitterverse for the day

Why Work at GoJek?

We usually talk about brands in the context of customers. If you want to hire the right talent you need to treat your employees as your customers. Branding is focused on simplifying your company’s complex message and then communicating it clearly with your target audience – your customers as well as your employees. Once you find a way, to sum up, what your company offers and what it will be like to work with you in a few emotional words, you’ve found your brand. GoJek branded themselves as the ‘cool nerds’ who have a team-first approach to solving complex problems. It was about high agency and giving people unlimited responsibility

Gojek Mastered Storytelling

Once you know what your brand needs to represent, it’s about spreading that message through storytelling. Why spread the word with stories? Because that is how humans are hardwired. We learn, remember and lean into people sharing ideas, anecdotes, and opinions. It builds trust and authenticity.  And these stories need to be about both successes and failures.

A lot of people say that failure is good and it’s a stepping stone to success, but no one talks about it. Gojek did exactly that – spoke about our mishaps.~ Adithya

Gojek truly took the mantra of sharing failures to heart.  They micro-storyed this out on platforms like Instagram with a series called Version Infinity, which is about infinite problems that Go-Jek has, and all of the mess-ups they did. Some of them were so basic and obvious that their team, at first, hesitated to share them but they eventually came around.

Let Your Team Be at the Forefront

The stories that you share need to be authentic and need to be the voice of the people. This removes the factor of marketing that engineers, product guys, and designers absolutely want to stay away from. It becomes less about selling something and more about co-learning and sharing an experience as a tribe.

They shared thematic stories around how they messed up, how they dropped the production database, how their apps disappeared from the play store, and so on, and more importantly, they let their team talk about it. The marketing team helped them with the flow, the structure of the article and ensured that its clickbaity whilst they could focus on the story they wanted to share.

I took care of the editorial sanctity of the piece which alienated the idea of them being judged for bad language and grammar, so they got a lot more comfortable.~ Adithya

Gojek eventually pushed some heavy-hitting posts that went viral.

You need a culture before you do this!

Figuring out a brand and having your team sharing stories can only take you so far. A marketer can only put lipstick on a pig for so long. Your team must actually have the culture you are telling the world about! So for those of us who are starting to execute on this, before building a brand narrative and building out stories, think first about the culture that you have and the culture you want. 

Adithya says, “in 2018, when you walk around the floor, most engineers, most product managers I met, they were, they were de facto CEOs of the company. Everyone would walk like I own this company, which was just kind of good because they felt so deeply about the product. And that was because ownership was given.”

The Employee Brand Team at GoJek was successful because the strong culture that matched their brand narrative existed! People had high ownership and the scale at which GoJek was solving problems was truly massive. 

The question that you want to truly answer for yourself is, does the brand narrative that we are going out with exist? If not, loop in core members of your team who can help you build the culture that you want and focus on that first. Your brand message and stories will organically start trickling from there. And this requires time. 

Be Audacious about your Distribution!

Gojek, a popular app in Southeast Asia, was largely unknown in India even though its scale for things such as food delivery was larger than Zomato, Swiggy, and Fresh Menu combined. The Gojek Employee Brand team needed to go an extra mile to inform people about the impact and scale that GoJek was functioning at.

When GoJek would participate in events, they ensured their presence was felt; so much so that people told them that they cannibalized the event. They ensured they had the best-looking booth, the best brochures, and were the big daddy in the room. 

As a team, while attending events, conferences, or even a 30-minute meet, the Gojek team also came in prepared, “if you ever approach a product or an engineering person from the employer branding team, you are carrying the legacy of this team and what it’s built, so never walk into a meeting unprepared and if you don’t understand core engineering terms, Google it, read about it.”

Final Notes

You need to ensure that your target audience gets that feeling whenever they interact with your brand. All you have to do is to get to the heart and soul of your target audience and your company to create a successful brand.

People work with other people and people leave other people, they don’t leave companies, and engineers are very similar. They want to be surrounded by really challenging, interesting people. They are a close community and when someone who’s been there, done that, talks, people will listen to that.” ~ Adithya

And also remember this takes time. “In 2018 it seemed like we did nothing. Um, by the end of 2018, if someone were to track my OKRs and said, what have you done? Like, there’s actually nothing, but again, kudos to the senior leaders at Go-Jek who just looked at that and said, we want to trust the process, we understand what’s happening. Things will work out. It certainly seemed like Go-Jek became an overnight success, but yeah, at the roots of that was doing difficult janitor work no one cared for. ~ Adithya.

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