A Win-Win Way to Recruit in Silicon Valley

May 22, 2013
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

rocket fuel palindromePutting candidates on the spot with weird questions that have no real answer has been a hallmark of Silicon Valley recruiting for years.

Google made Glassdoor’s list of oddball questions with this one: “How many cows are in Canada? Salesforce made the list, asking, “If you could be anyone else, who would it be?”

Now, though, Rocket Fuel has kicked it up a notch, with a recruiting billboard along heavily traveled Rt. 101, the Valley’s main artery. It lists the company’s Internet address with an X. To get to page X, you need to solve this puzzle:

X=The largest 15 digit perfect square palindrome.

Malak Moon, Rocket Fuel’s global recruiting lead, pointedly ignored my plea for the solution while explaining that the idea behind the campaign is “to provide an opportunity for enthusiastic applicants to engage with us directly in a way that demonstrates not only a willingness to engage, but a certain level of aptitude that will be worthwhile not only for Rocket Fuel, but ultimately the applicant, as well.”

In other words,  don’t look to us for the solution. We want problem solvers. It’s a pre-qualifying technique that screens out those of us not interested enough or skilled enough to solve the problem, while building an employment brand for the company.

It makes sense, not only because puzzle-solving is a staple of engineering, but it’s sort of a natural fit for a media advertising automation company that services some of the largest consumer firms in the world. Rocket Fuel’s  400 employees include software engineers, data analysts, and marketers. Based in Redwood City, California, the company is growing fast enough to have a nine-person recruiting team that competes with hundreds of other firms for exactly the same skilled talent.

Putting if up on a billboard along a road traveled almost daily by much of the Valley’s best and brightest is a sure way to attract their attention. And that much is working, Moon said. Traffic to the company’s careers  is up 50 percent since the campaign started.

It’s also attracting the kind of applicants the company wants. Explained Moon:

We’ve found that our best engineers — the people we hire that turn out to be the best cultural fit and grow into their roles, becoming leaders in the organization – strongly correlate with our most curious and enthusiastic job applicants. So, the more we can do to encourage a specific type of employee to seek us out and get excited about the application process, the more likely we are to create a hiring pool of candidates who are talented and more likely to be the best fit for our company.

Just recently, she said, a computer science PhD solved the puzzle by writing a bit of code. The solution took him to a special careers page, and from there, he applied for a job.

Would something like this work anywhere else but Silicon Valley? Moon didn’t commit.

“Some learnings we can apply broadly,” she said, “and some hiring strategies require a more delicate, nuanced, and specific approach.

“For us, it’s a win-win because it builds positive brand recognition, and that’s relevant no matter where you are.”

Here’s a little help if you want to attempt to solve the puzzle.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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