Faces of HR, Recruiting

German Hiring Practices Can Teach Us a Lot

Note: Jessie was an HR Works Podcast 5-Minute Friday guest. Listen to that here.

I was recently speaking with Jessie Lajoie, People Operations Lead at Doodle, an international organization. Lajoie is stationed in Berlin, Germany, where employment laws differ greatly than in the United States and have a strong focus on protecting the employee. It was particularly interesting to me that many of the unique requirements of managing talent in Germany lead to universally applied practices that have been very successful.

Jessie Lajoie

How did you find yourself in the field of HR?

Us HR professionals wear a lot of hats, right? When I was studying, there were too many things I wanted to do on the creative side or communications or marketing. But I wanted to work with people and be creative and be in an environment where I try to make things better. Then I stumbled upon HR naturally. It really fit my personality. By studying many different topics at university, then starting to work part-time as a recruiter and moving up the ladder, I began to see that going into HR was what I wanted to do. I liked the business aspect, but I also wanted to create change with people. I thought that was really fulfilling. And here I am.

Recruiting really gives you a sense of the importance of such a critical aspect of organizations. It’s so critical to get the right people in the door at the right time with the right skills. And it helps you see the whole company. You can learn so much about a company with the way it recruits.

Absolutely. I think it also helps you to understand different behaviors and different mind-sets and really understand people a little bit more thoroughly. It’s a good step into the door of HR. I believe it’s good to have that experience when joining the HR field.

I’ve never done recruiting, but sometimes I like to think these conversations are sort of recruiting conversations. They are a natural discussion about whatever and see where things go and try to make people comfortable because everyone’s always super nervous in job interviews—or at least a lot of people are.

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve seen that. During the pandemic, all our interviews were virtual. I’ve seen a shift in the types of interviews we give and an attempt to just make it more casual. I like also that we can see into each other’s lives in a way. I find it really nice to be able to see people in their home. And even if there is, I don’t know, a crying baby or cat, that’s fine. It actually adds this personal touch, which I find nice.

Who knew that it would take a global pandemic for us all to start looking into each other’s lives a little bit more, huh?

Yes, exactly. It feels like just yesterday, but it’s changed so much, and it still is changing. I don’t think we’re prepared. We’re currently understanding where it’s headed, but I still think there’s so much more to it that we’ll keep with us from this whole experience.

It’s going to take years and years to sort out the implications of everything that’s happened over the last 14 months. It’s widespread through every aspect, not just in HR but also in every aspect of employment. One of the things I’m struggling with is this desire to allow things to slide back into the way they were before. I don’t know if you’re experiencing that at all with your colleagues or people you talk to.

What’s interesting is that before the pandemic, people were already requesting to work from home a bit more, and we were exploring that. We were thinking that people could have five days a month where they work from home. And we used to think it’s better for people to be together. Then the pandemic hit, and at first, people were really enjoying working from home. But then people were going a bit crazy being surrounded by their four walls, where they’re just at home and there’s no cutoff. People started getting really tired of being home. Also, you never know what’s happening in the background with families and so many things going on, too. People sometimes need to escape.

Now we have started saying that we can allow people to start coming back to the office. We have a majority of people who want to come back, though not fully. People are really looking forward to being back in the office and having this human connection with people. I think people really couldn’t wait for this to end, to be able to come back to their normal lives and have a cutoff between work and home. It’ll be interesting after they’ve gotten used to coming back to the office and balancing it to see how it will end up a few months down the road.

One change I’ve seen since the pandemic involves new ways to slice up the workforce. For example, we saw a slicing up of remote employees from essential employees in a way that maybe didn’t exist before the pandemic. Now we’re seeing research about how people fared during the pandemic when they were working from home. As it turns out, people who are introverted were fine, and they enjoyed it and appreciated it. (I’m one of those people.) We also saw that people who are extroverted really did suffer from the lack of seeing people and being cooped up.

I think it’s really important that HR folks understand there is more than one way to slice up your population because to me, the idea of going back is very stressful. It was such a relief not to have to worry about commuting and not to have to worry about so many other things.

I relate to all that. And think of the time we used to have to take in the morning. It’s funny, this morning I had a chat with a colleague, and she said, I can’t even imagine the time I used to take just to get up, go to the office, get ready, brush my hair, things like that. It’s just, yeah, crazy the time we saved from doing that.

Let’s change gears. How did you find yourself in Germany?

When I left Montreal in 2012, I worked abroad for quite some time. I jumped from country to country, running HR projects or operations here and there on a project base. Then I stumbled into Berlin, and I actually cofounded a foundation right before joining Doodle. I realized I really wanted to get back in there. I saw the Doodle job ad, and I just clicked it, connected with it, and sent my application, and had a chat directly with the CTO and the CEO. And then Doodle and I just hit it off, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s a great place.

Did you already speak German at that time?

No, not at all. Luckily, Berlin is very easy to live in even if you don’t speak German. Of course, I took courses to advance my language skills. But definitely not. I would never consider myself fluent. We offer German classes to all employees. We have tons of ex-pats here from abroad. It’s very international.

How long have you been there in Berlin?

For three and a half years, which is pretty much for as long as I’ve been working at Doodle. Doodle keeps me here, which is great. I love the city.

Would you say there are certain idiosyncrasies when it comes to doing HR things with German people?

It’s very different. We’re quite spread out at Doodle with offices in Switzerland, Germany, the United States, and Belgrade. We have one in the United States and also in Belgrade. In Germany, the law is very people-oriented. For example, when people want to join, usually it’s three months before they can start because they have to terminate their contract with their last organization. It’s a long wait and a very long probation period. And it’s very strict. I think it’s good for the people. We’ve never wanted to go in the direction of terminations, and people want to avoid that. Here in Germany, it’s very, very secure for the employees. It’s nearly impossible to terminate someone for no reason. There are a lot of things that I find are extremely different.

I guess that would make you really focused on getting the right people in the door in the first place, huh?

Absolutely. And I think with quite a long probation period of three to six months, that’s really helpful for us.

That is so different from here. We do have a sort of probationary period at most organizations whereby you have to work a certain number of months before you are awarded benefits. Additionally, most states have an at-will policy—terminate at will. While that’s not the carte blanche the name implies, it does give employers a tremendous amount of power when it comes to letting people go. What does the interview process look like there? Do you do a lot more due diligence when you’re hiring?

We have a pretty nice structure. We’ve also started experimenting with the first initial interview as a video of a Doodle in which the CTO is kind of saying, “Hey, welcome to Doodle. This is our office.” Because we couldn’t be in the office to get people interviewed so they can get a vibe of the culture and how we work, we decided to try that out, and it’s actually worked well. We’ve gotten good feedback from the initial screening. Then the hiring manager has the potential to look at the number of employees and candidates who come in and then kind of select. Then after that, we do a virtual interview with the hiring manager and HR and then meet the team and other people. So we have a nice recruitment process at Doodle. And yeah, we pretty much align that throughout all our offices.

What’s a big project you’re working on? What is something you’re particularly looking forward to?

Well, one that I think is really important at the moment for us is the learning culture. We already have an education budget for every new joiner. We have a great onboarding system, but I think what we’re lacking is the learning part of teaching people about the product and really training them on the products we use internally, as well as the learning culture. I think between every department, there’s a different learning path, so that’s really my priority right now, just to make sure people keep learning and developing themselves and keep growing in the company. So that and mental health awareness are our top two priorities at the moment.

Getting training right can be one of those things that a lot of people just want to buy off the shelf, set it, and forget it. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t work. Everything is changing constantly. Over time, different groups of employees start gathering idiosyncrasies, and it can be hard to get a handle of it all. It really does take someone like you with dedicated effort to keep that flowing and make sure it’s going exactly where it needs to go.

Yeah, definitely. I think people really crave it, too. Even with our pulse surveys, that’s a topic that’s number one. People just want to keep learning. And I think it’s healthy for the company.