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February 19, 2014

Why culture trumps everything else in hiring

By stopdrivingbillboard

“Appeal your desk sentence.”

“Stop driving to a place you don’t want to be in the first place.”

“Don’t let your career head south” (on southbound I-15 in Utah).

Can you relate to these statements? Hopefully not, and you find joy in going to work every day. That’s our aim for every Pluralsight employee, and why we’re currently looking for the right people to join our team in a variety of areas.

To help with our recruiting efforts, last week we launched a billboard campaign with these one-liners, along with a few more, near our headquarters in the Salt Lake City, Utah area. The billboards are meant to be thought-provoking and show we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we also hope they speak to how much we value our culture—that we want a career at Pluralsight to be looked at as anything but a “desk sentence.”

When you’re growing as fast as we have over the last year, going from less than 20 employees at the start of 2013 to more than 100 today, it’s tempting to rush the hiring the process. But we believe it’s far more important to take the time to find people who embody our core values and are a cultural fit than to staff up quickly.

A big reason for this is because we believe we have an obligation to protect our current employees and culture by only hiring team players who bring out the strengths of everyone around them. To define the characteristics that would help us identify these A-players during the hiring process, we needed an outline of what was most important to the company’s future success.

Defining our core values

In August 2013, our executive team met for a weekend offsite with one major goal: to come away with an executive playbook, a definitive guide to why we exist, how we behave, and how we’ll succeed. One of the first steps in this process was determining our core values.

How did we select them? It wasn’t about picking words that would sound great on a T-shirt, or stringing together a set of generic traits that any company would want every employee to have (think hard-working, customer-oriented, innovative, etc.). Our values emerged from the people who had already made Pluralsight so successful: our top-performing employees.

We wrote down the names of key players on our team, and looked for the qualities they had in common. Eventually, we identified three attributes that we believe will lead to most successful and healthiest employees at Pluralsight.

We are truth seekers, entrepreneurs and eternal optimists.

Applying values to the hiring process

Now that we’ve identified our core values, we obsess over them when considering a new hire. (Just ask anyone who’s recently interviewed with us!) While job history and other credentials are important, they weigh far less than if someone will fit in culturally. If they possess these values, we know they’ll be dedicated to continuous improvement and will grow with the company for years to come.

When we interview, we use our core values as a guide:

Truth seekers. In a startup-like environment, it’s essential that people feel empowered to ask questions and challenge the status quo and our fundamental beliefs in strategic ways. It’s also important to keep an open mind and listen to others in what we like to call “healthy conflict.” We look for people who we think will make decisions quickly, learn from mistakes, and pivot as often as necessary. Ultimately, we’re seeking people who are genuine, sincere and thoughtful in how they communicate with their peers.

Entrepreneurial. Successful employees will do whatever it takes to get the job done and are also resilient and adapt well to new challenges. The entrepreneurial spirit is ultimately about being able to identify a need and fill it quickly. We try to determine if a candidate has the hunger and drive to act this way in their work. Are they willing to take risks? Do they take ownership and lead? Can they wear multiple hats simultaneously?  With how quickly things evolve in a fast-paced environment like ours, the most successful employees are the ones who push themselves to continuously grow and try new things in line with our company purpose.

Eternal optimists: Having a positive outlook not only makes for a more pleasant work environment, but it also impacts an employee’s effectiveness. There’s a great TED Talk by psychological researcher Shawn Anchor that explores how positivity activates all learning centers in your brain, so you’re able to think more clearly and solve problems more creatively. We look for people who see the positive in every situation and view stress as a challenge instead of a threat.

As you can see, all three of these values are somewhat intertwined and related to continuous improvement, an open mindset, and lifelong learning. These are the things that have made us successful up to this point and what we believe will contribute to our future progress.

As we build out our team with people who epitomize these values, the rest of the culture that we’re striving to create falls into place organically. We also do what we can to provide our employees with as healthy of a work environment as possible, so they don’t have to worry about benefits for their family, get plenty of time off in order to reboot and relax, have resources available to extend their education, and can take advantage of social activities to connect with their fellow coworkers. Ultimately, we do our best to optimize for happiness.

Whether you’re looking to make a job change or wondering how to evaluate culture fit for prospective employees at your place of work, the starting point is the same: the company’s core values. If it’s not a fit from both sides, it’s time to move on.

If our values resonate with you, we’re glad you now know where to look.

About the Author

is the President/CEO of Pluralsight. He works every day to deliver more value to Pluralsight's growing number of subscribers by publishing relevant, high-quality courses each and every week along with new product features to improve the modern online learning experience.