While I know this is our engineering blog, we get many questions about our hiring process, especially when it comes to technical roles. I thought it would be good to write everything down in one place and share a bit of philosophy in the process.

At Proton, data are our bread and butter. It sits at the core of our product and it’s the bedrock of our strategic thinking behind the scenes. We’ve also brought this empiricism to the way we hire.

We want to find the best person for the job, not the person with the most polished CV or nicest looking business card. So our process is a little different. I thought I’d write a few words to explain how the process works, and, if we’ve successfully piqued your interest here on the engineering blog, what to expect when you apply.

Step 1: The Sift

Everyone from the most junior engineer to the most senior tech lead begins by filling out an application in our hiring software, Applied. We collect diversity information — which the software won’t let us see except in aggregate — to help us make sure we’re on track to build a diverse team.

Then, you’ll need to fill out three or four short answer questions. Your answers to those questions are really like a first interview. We get a read on your actual skills, of course. But the questions are also designed to give you a flavor of the job. When we ask you how you’d write an email to a CEO, it’s because you’ll need to be able to do it! The sift questions are just as much a way for you to figure out if you’ll enjoy the work as it is for us to get a read on you.

These questions are reviewed by three actual human beings at Proton. We don’t outsource it, and we don’t skimp. Plus, we review these questions blinded and anonymized. When a reviewer is looking at your answer, she doesn’t know who you are, or even get to see the answers you gave to other questions.

You may also notice we don’t ask you for a CV, résumé, or cover letter. This too is intentional. We get hundreds of applicants for most of our postings, a number that would be even higher if we didn’t require people to answer a few quick essay questions. There’s no way we could comb through three or four hundred sheets of paper without having to resort to heuristics like where you went to school or where you’ve worked in the past. We want to hire based on what you can do, not where you’ve been. If your education or work experience has really sharpened your skills, it will show through in the rest of our process.

Step 2: The Interviews

If you’ve impressed us with your answers to our sift questions, good news: you move straight to a full-on interview. You won’t have to suffer through an endless cascade of phone screens or other hoops.

Our interviews focus on what matters. We spend lots of time writing questions taken from actual experience designed to evaluate specific skills, not your friendliness or whether you also enjoy reading political philosophy for fun. Everyone applying for a given position is asked the same questions. You won’t get unlucky if someone’s in a bad mood and decides to ask a really tough question. You can also rest assured someone else isn’t getting an easier one because the interview team was in a good mood last Tuesday.

We keep the questions very open-ended and gimmick-free as well. Most of our lines of inquiry aren’t designed to have one answer. They’re designed to get as deep as we can as time allows. We won’t ask you trivial questions like whether you happen to have memorized a particular sorting algorithm or if you can guess how many piano tuners there are in Lisbon.

For most of our technical jobs, we start with a technical interview, typically around an hour. After that, we typically have a second interview to get at softer factors or deeper experience. That might be a portfolio review or case study for a user experience job, or a leadership interview with technical or company leadership for a more senior role.

Every interview panel has at least one person from the team you’d be joining, and another from a different team, to give perspective.

Finally, we encourage you to come prepared with questions. Just as in the sift, we want to give you a chance to interview us and make sure it’s the right role and right place for you to work. We always leave a little time at the end of an interview for you to ask us anything. Importantly, we also don’t grade you on those. The time is there for you to ask what’s useful to you based on what you care about, not to prove you did your homework or show “passion.”

Step 3: The Offer

Once you clear all the interviews, we like to give people as much scope as possible to ask even more questions, whether through an informal chat with the team they’d be joining, or a one-on-one call with someone interesting in the company. We like to make sure you get to chat with senior leadership, such as myself or our CEO, Benj, too.

From there, we’d negotiate an offer — they’re very competitive! — and bring you on as soon as possible.

A Word on Feedback

Not everyone makes it to the offer stage, of course. We still strive to give everyone at least a little bit of feedback if they don’t make it to the next stage at any point. It’s only fair: you’ve spent all this time talking to us, if you don’t get a job, you should at least learn something useful.

Anyone who doesn’t move forward will always get a feedback view with at least some information on their performance. Unfortunately, we get a lot of applications, so it’s not always possible to give super detailed notes on every answer to every question. You will actually hear from us, even if you don’t move forward. We won’t keep you endlessly in limbo.

Intrigued? Excited? We think this is a way better way to hire. It saves us a huge amount of time and has found us amazing folks across the company. We also have reason to believe candidates love it too. If this has gotten your interest, head over to our careers page and get started!

This is the first part in our informal series on how we hire. For the second, check out David’s blog post on what we look for in interviews.