The “Boom” hiring playbook

Boom is one of the most ambitious start-ups I know – their mission is to develop supersonic planes and make the world more accessible. As you can imagine, you need incredibly talented people to achieve this goal. So when Blake Scholl, Boom’s founder and CEO, recently shared insights into the company’s hiring playbook in an investor update, I asked him for permission to publish his email on our blog – “the Boom Way of hiring” is a great blue print for start-ups to take their recruiting processes to the next level. Enjoy!

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We like to say that our vision is to remove the barriers to experiencing the planet, but our mission is actually about company building: we aim to make Boom the place where the best people on the planet can be inspired and enabled to do the best and most meaningful work of their careers. If we succeed at our company-building mission, we’ll realize our vision. But if we screw up the team, culture, or management structure we most certainly won’t.

Recruiting is at the heart of what we do, and it’s everyone’s job.

This month was epic for recruiting. We extended 18 offers, of which 14 were accepted, 3 are still pending and only one intern declined*. Including accepted offers from folks not yet started, Boom is now 96 strong—and we expect to be over 100 by the end of the year. We did this with a dedicated recruiting staff of one (!), which is both a testament to how hard our one recruiter is cranking as well as the dedication of our hiring managers, who take direct responsibility for filling their roles.

I’d like to highlight one of those hires: Chris “Duff” Guarente, who is joining as our second test pilot, behind Bill “Doc” Shoemaker, our Chief Test Pilot. Duff comes to us from Scaled Composites where he was Chief Test Pilot and has a deep background in flight test of new-design aircraft. Duff flew 100% of missions on Northrop’s T-X “Swift” and was the first test pilot to fire AIM9X guided missiles from the F-22 Raptor.

In other words, we hired the #1 pilot from the #1 experimental aircraft company in the world… to be the second pilot at Boom. Since the founding of the company, we’ve said that we should be able to raise the talent bar as we go. How’s that? In part, our access to talent improves over time: The number one thing great people want is to work with other great people—and the more we attract, the more want to be here. Additionally, as our success becomes more visible, more people are willing to make the leap to a startup—broadening our access to talent.

Success in recruiting requires process discipline and checks and balances as well. We’ve learned from Amazon, SpaceX, and Google and developed a Boom Way of hiring. Here are some of the pillars:

  • Before we start recruiting, hiring managers write a formal job description. These aren’t cookie-cutter HR speak but describe in plain English what the person does, what success looks like, and what kind of background we’re looking for. When roles are unusual, JDs include “exemplar candidates”—real profiles of real people who would fit the role. This prevents us from developing a “unicorn” profile that exists only on paper.
  • Job descriptions define the “competencies” for the role—the key skills and aptitudes we’ll need to interview for. Competencies are assigned to interviewers—so everyone knows what they’re assessing and we don’t forget to probe something important.
  • We filter for mission alignment early in the process. If you don’t share our vision of mainstream supersonic flight you don’t make it past phone interviews. Using this filter early results in a downstream lift in offer accept rate, making the whole recruiting process more efficient and preserving the bedrock of our culture—an intense passion for expanding our world.
  • Each candidate gives a presentation to the interview team. This gives the whole team a common background on the candidate, saving what would be repetitive background in 1:1 interviews. Additionally, the presentations test the candidate’s ability to give (technical) presentations—and an opportunity to see what it’s like to interact in a group setting.
  • All interviewers write interview notes and evaluate the candidate on a 4-point scale (strong yes, yes, no, strong no—being on the fence isn’t allowed). Written interview notes force interviewers to think objectively about their interview experience and to provide evidence for their conclusions. They also provide a mechanism for us to quality-control interviews: one can tell from reading interview notes whether a high-quality interview was conducted and lets us know who would benefit from additional training or coaching.
  • We conduct reference checks—including backdoor reference checks—before extending an offer. Recruiting supports scheduling of reference checks but hiring managers are expected to conduct them themselves. Reference checks never flip us from no to yes, but they can flip us from yes to no—and can provide additional insight on concerns uncovered during interviews.

Lastly, we have a Founder interview as the last check before a candidate gets an offer, after the interview team has decided to move forward. The Founder interview is a QA check on the whole process—we read the interview notes, look for yellow flags and check whether they were addressed in the debrief. We check culture fit and look for key characteristics, like a history of being curious and being a self-starter. Additionally, the Founder interview is a pre-close: we ask: “assuming the numbers work, what are the barriers to accepting an offer?” and then sell until we’ve overcome all the non-financial objections. Importantly, we help frame the candidate’s decision process and work to focus them on making a decision based on fundamental characteristics that will truly matter to their happiness: do you believe in the mission? Do you believe you’ll be able to contribute meaningfully? Do you like and respect the people you’re working for and with? We remind candidates: “You have to love the vision. It’s really hard—and there are going to be ups and downs. If you don’t love it—and you’re sane—you’re going to give up.”

The result is both a high offer acceptance rate (near 100%) as well as a low regretted attrition rate.

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