ITA Spotlight: Maria Drake, Regional Director, Karat
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Posted by: Abbey Kwiat
Maria Drake, Regional Director, Karat
In 25 words or less, what is Karat all about?
Karat’s mission is to make every interview predictive, fair, and enjoyable. This lets engineering leaders make quality hires, reduce bias, and deliver exceptional candidate experiences.
What problem do you solve and how do you solve it better than the competition?
Software engineers are essential for business growth. But, most interview processes tax engineering productivity, fail to achieve diversity and inclusion goals, miss hiring targets, and produce new hires that don’t meet technical expectations. This often occurs when companies lack the time and/or expertise to conduct the interviews needed, creating what we call an “Interview Gap.”
Karat is the only company that offers remote, human interviews for software engineers at scale. In terms of competition, clients usually bring us in to either fix their internal process, or to replace some kind of automated code test that is usually riddled with inconsistency, cheating, bias, or poor sign-up rates.
What makes Karat stand out?
The human touch! Being a human-centered company is key to creating enjoyable interview experiences for candidates. I love the empathy we have across our company--from top to bottom. It would be easy to treat job candidates like numbers, but then we’d be no different from the automated code tests that we’re replacing.
How did you get started?
Our co-founders, Mohit Bhende and Jeffrey Spector, were both approaching the problem of interviewing from different sides.
Mo was a product strategy leader at Xbox and couldn’t find the engineering time to interview enough candidates to fill his open roles. They had an Interview Gap! So Mo ended up hiring a bunch of retired Microsoft engineers to conduct the team’s interviews. At Karat, we used a similar approach to professionalize the interviewer role. Now we have a global community of dedicated Interview Engineers.
Jeff was the Chief of Staff to Melinda Gates at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They were conducting research on how people get jobs, and how interviews are such a critical moment in peoples’ lives. The empathy behind that led Karat to treat interview candidates like customers. So we built an unbelievable network of customer experience managers and a top of the line coding/interview studio to make sure our candidates are as comfortable as possible and ready to highlight their strengths as engineers.
And that’s how Interview Engineering was born.
What are the biggest challenges you face as you scale your business?
One early challenge we faced as we expanded into different industries was learning how to align our interviews and results with each company’s unique hiring bar. Karat ended up inventing an entirely new discipline called Alignment Engineering.
The team is led by Shannon Hogue. Shannon is a Chicago-transplant living in San Francisco (but you can still catch her accent slip on the occasional video, it’s amazing). Shannon’s team goes into each enterprise account, meets with the engineering leaders, reviews job descriptions, identifies the competencies that hiring managers need to assess, and works with our content team to develop interview formats and questions that match the client’s needs.
We’re also able to use the data and feedback from onsite interviews and hiring decisions to refine our questions and hiring bars over time, so as our clients’ teams improve and mature, their interviews grow with them!
What’s the number one thing on your to-do list?
We’ve been talking a lot about fairness over the last few months. It’s really heartening to see so many business leaders making commitments to change, and we realize that as a company that sits at this pivotal moment in peoples’ lives and careers--the interview--there is a lot that Karat can, and must, do to help improve diversity in tech.
Earlier this summer, Karat shared our commitment to the Black community. One of the things that our partnerships and research have taught us, is that people get better with interviews the more they practice. But at the same time, less than 40% of computer science students who graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have exposure to technical interviews before entering the job market.
So last month we kicked off a $1 million practice interview initiative that is designed to make sure the engineers coming out of HBCUs are coming into their first job interviews on equal footing with the kids coming out of traditional top-10 CS schools.
What’s the coolest perk Karat’s office has?
That it’s empty!
We were actually getting ready to open up a big new headquarters in March, but as COVID-19 hit, our leadership team didn’t hesitate to pull people back from the field and go to an all-remote culture.
We got to tour the office once as a company back in February as we were getting ready for it to open. It looked amazing, so I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision. But really do live our core principles, so instead of moving in, Karat added a bunch of WFH benefits to help employees set up our home offices, and here we are for the foreseeable future.
It will be nice to see people again, though...I miss all the dogs (we’re pet-friendly) and the group lunches!
What motivates your employees to come to work every day?
Technical interviews are broken. And we get to fix them!
Also, I love how quickly we are able to help drive results. Not only with our clients by saving them tons of time and money, and helping them hire quality engineers, but also with the candidate experiences. We have a feedback loop where every candidate has the opportunity to review their interview experience, and some of the responses there are really incredible to see--even from candidates who didn’t perform particularly well on their first try.
It's so rewarding to see how quickly we are able to make a difference from both a material, and human standpoint.
What is the one thing Karat cannot live without?
We pretty much live on Slack. For better or worse. Sometimes worse. For instance, I’m not looking forward to seeing how many DMs I have after this interview!
What are the growth and scaling opportunities within Karat’s industry?
I love that question! Honestly, it feels like we’re barely scratching the surface. To date, we’ve conducted 70,000 technical interviews for companies hiring software engineers, but it’s easy to imagine the concept of Interview Engineering expanding to other roles, other industries, and other geographies.
What’s most exciting for me is that our mission isn’t to make every “technical” interview predictive, fair, and enjoyable--it’s to make every interview predictive, fair, and enjoyable. We’re changing the way every company interviews!