How to Hire Like an $8 Billion Software Company


Taking a Page from
the Qualtrics Playbook.

I was a 20-year-old college student at Texas A&M when I first learned about Qualtrics and its experience management software. Fast forward three years, and Site Leader Taylor Safford is guiding me through their new office in Dallas.

You could feel it then: there was something really special about this place. I had been pursuing Qualtrics as a client for a solid year (and had read everything publicly available about their leadership team, culture and hiring mindset), and now we were finally about to start working together! As one of my very first customers, Will Reed grew up with Qualtrics in many ways. Over the last three years, we’ve had the chance to see their hiring approach up close. I’ve noticed three key practices that have made them consistently great at hiring:

1. The “Welcome Mat” Mentality

When Qualtrics opened their Dallas office, they did a couple of things really well. They hired amazing internal recruiters (and one really good external recruiting agency...shameless plug) who became brand evangelists to prospective candidates. “The Q” became famous through all of our individual touch points across the metroplex.

Peter Clarke, Talent Partner at Accel Partners, one of Qualtrics’ largest investors, shared this directive came from the very top of the organization. Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, and the rest of the leadership team thought long and hard about how to build and evolve a great culture. They put a lot of emphasis on who they hired for the recruiting function because they understood from the get-go that having the right hiring strategy and the right people as the “face” of the company were crucial elements to building a phenomenal culture.  (Shout out to Natalie Aubin!)

Additionally, their talent team, headed by Dave Gilbert, designed an interview process that reflects their product and culture. With Qualtrics leading the customer experience software space, Dave and his team felt it was crucial to train their global organization on placing the same emphasis on their hiring process as is placed on their customer experience products. They want every candidate to leave their Qualtrics interview as a net promoter of the company, even if he/she ends up not joining the team. This principle has likely been a contributing factor to Qualtrics success in scaling from 800 to more than 2,200 employees under Dave’s leadership.

2. The “Holistic Person” Mindset

Qualtrics’ interview process is structured to uncover both EQ and IQ, not just quota attainment and major deals closed. They want to find people who share their core values: Transparent, All-in, Customer-obsessed, One team minded, and Scrappy (or belovedly referred to as T.A.C.O.S).

To ensure they consistently hire for these values, they adhere to the adage: “there’s wisdom in crowds.” Practically speaking, candidates go through a multi-step process with different interviewers who utilize a consistent grading rubric to help prevent human bias. Ultimately, all prospective hires are reviewed by a hiring committee who meets weekly to discuss how each candidate aligns with their core values.  Dave Gilbert put it this way, “Everyone at the company from the most senior leaders to the newest managers use the committee hiring approach to make sure we arrive at the right answer.”

Despite having a rigorous interview process, Qualtrics stays candidate-centric by creating an environment that strives to know the candidate and allows the candidate to really know Qualtrics. Dave explains a good interview process should be “bilateral and mutual with the candidate vetting Qualtrics as much as we’re vetting the candidate.”

At a very senior level, Peter shared how having a “holistic person” mindset enabled them to hire the right COO. Rather than just writing a catchall job description for the role and then force-fitting a hire, Ryan and team did a gap analysis for what they felt was needed and then used that as a framework (versus a recipe) to hire the best person for the job. If the best person did not meet all the individual requirements in the job description, they were comfortable hiring additional roles to support the position, rather than setting someone up to fail.

3. The Win Commitment

As a recruiting agency, Qualtrics is the best/worst kind of customer. They have an exceptionally high hiring bar on which they will not compromise, which makes finding qualified people very difficult. However, when Qualtrics finds someone they want, they will absolutely go the distance to win that person, including getting senior executives involved in conversations, fighting for what’s most important for that candidate and even adding additional steps to help the candidate feel confident about his/her decision. That’s invigorating for us, for the candidate, and for the Qualtrics team. It invokes passion for future colleagues that carries over into shielding their culture from tribalism and cliques.

Dave summed it up best, “each new person will either add to your culture or subtract from your culture. It’s not a neutral decision.” It’s why Qualtrics takes their hiring so seriously and even its most senior leaders are willing to hop on a call with a prospective candidate to bring on the next great person to the Qualtrics team.

Thank you Peter Clarke + Dave Gilbert for your time! It was fun to reflect on a client I love. It will be fun to watch your success in this next chapter with SAP.