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Hiring at Booking.com: How to recruit for doubling your yearly growth

June 14, 2017

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Hiring at Booking.com: How to recruit for doubling your yearly growth

8 min read

Do you know that Booking.com is the biggest e-commerce company in terms of revenue after Alibaba and Amazon? Headquartered in Amsterdam, Booking.com’s technology team has 1.600 people with 80 nationalities. That is a challenge for the team of Keiran Dodd, Senior Recruiter, and James Robertson, Technology Sourcing Recruiter at Booking.com: to hire a thousand people in technology and bring them to Amsterdam.

Why does Booking.com have to hire abroad? Robertson did a simple search on LinkedIn for people with the title “software developer.” There were only about 26 thousand people in the Netherlands compared to 1.4 million globally. “The local market has some serious challenges. First of all, there is a shortage of tech talent in the Netherlands. Many tech companies in Amsterdam are vying for the same talent. Next to that, neighbor tech hubs like London and Berlin are also competing for those. When we decided to hire the best people we could find, we found ourselves going up against the biggest tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft,” says Robertson. “We had to really think about how to get on the playground out there. We have a presence in 228 countries and territories. That is always tied with diversity and we need to rethink how to go from there and make our referrals as diverse as possible.”

In this talk with the HR tech community in Amsterdam, Dodd and Robertson share the key elements that help them build the stellar team behind Booking.com today, along with three points to keep technology recruitment fresh and relevant.

Diversity gives strength to international businesses

With a diversified customer base in 228 countries and territories, Booking.com needs to make sure that everyone in the technology team understands how the users use the product. That means hiring people from different countries and figuring out which countries have available, high-quality developers. Robertson referred to data from HackerRank – a platform where developers share their codes and solve problems together. “You can see that there is a shortage of strong talent in the Netherlands. This is an indication of where we might invest more time in building a strategy to attract more people from,” says Robertson.

 

For example, there are a lot of outsourcing companies with plenty of talented developers in Eastern Europe. This is a good source to headhunt from. Likewise, there are many product-focused startups emerging in Europe and Booking.com can tap into this. From most of the companies that Booking.com is recruiting from, there are a lot of e-commerce companies. Because people working there often know Booking.com before being approached.

Of all hires in 2016, Booking.com had most of them coming from Europe. With the global headquarters in Amsterdam, it’s fairly easy to get tech talent from other European countries to there. “Amsterdam is great. We sell it as a great place to work,” says Dodd. “If someone wants to move to the U.S., they have to be in the queue with 50.000 people per year. It’s much easier to go to the Netherlands in terms of visas. It’s really in favor of working in the Dutch culture.” Having Europe as their own backyard, Dodd and Robertson strive to look further at areas where they can invest more in diversity.

“Diversity is a core of Booking.com and one of our main principles.” – Keiran Dodd

Another take on diversity is the gender gap. It’s an issue that every single company is pouring more resources in at the moment. Booking.com currently has more women in tech jobs than the industry’s average. And they are working on making it even more equal. They have been sponsoring events as well as organizing their own events for women in tech. “Another reason why we invest a lot in this is that more than half of our customer base is women. Diversity is basically a core of Booking.com and one of our main principles,” says Dodd.

Do what is proven by data, not what everyone else is doing

To hire people from so many different countries, you need a strategy. For headhunting in general, LinkedIn is the biggest tool and everyone is in this saturated market. So Dodd and the team try to avoid it all together with other platforms that many companies also use – Stack Overflow, GitHub, Dribbble. That is a challenge in itself. How do you communicate with engineers who don’t know your platform? How do you interact with them? “Events” is Booking.com’s answer. “There are a lot of tech meetups and conferences you can come. Conferences are a big one for us. We attend conferences from other communities and we also set up our own conferences, including worldwide hackathons,” says Dodd.

One example is the two hackathons Booking.com did in Nairobi, Kenya and Manila, the Philippines. They looked into the market and saw indications of strong startup communities. Then they went to universities to do more research upfront and decided to invest more in the communities. The hackathons were set up with a couple of recruiters and four developers and they were able to hack into Booking.com and came up with good ideas over the course of three days. “We made good hires from these events. They bring a better ROI than the traditional ways of recruiting,” says Dodd. At the same time, events like this are long-term investments in communities to overcome the skill gap. They definitely take more time and effort than just posting to job boards, but the results are definitely worth it.

Another data-driven strategy Dodd and Robertson use to recruit are referrals. “Over the course of a year, we see referrals perform really well. It’s a clear indication that we should work with the right people to find more right people,” says Dodd. “We look at data to decide where we should invest time and money. For example, referral works better for us than job boards. So why would we need to spend more on job boards? You need to spend money where you will get the best candidates.” To encourage referral, Booking.com organizes many different events, like sourcing parties. Every employee is invited to have pizzas and drinks. “We share with them how we reach out to people and encourage them to have that point of view and get involved,” says Robertson.

“We have follow-up surveys to understand and ensure that candidates coming to Booking.com would enjoy it.” – James Robertson

Great referrals also come from great candidate experience. Dodd and Robertson want to make sure that this would never fail under any circumstances. “I think no matter how big a company is, it’s really important to take candidates seriously. That’s one of the things we invest in highly,” says Robertson. So Booking.com has emails sent to candidates after every stage of the hiring process with NPS scoring. That is one of their OKRs for recruitment. Besides that, they do training for their interviewers. An SLA was also set up stating that candidates shouldn’t wait for more than two days after applying to get a response. After the face-to-face meeting, they shouldn’t wait more than three to four days. When he needs to reject candidates, Dodd calls them. “We do our best to give constructive feedback as long as they are into that.”

With recurring applicants, Dodd and Robertson welcome them with open arms. From the logged data about what they were lacking – craftsmanship, commercial awareness, or something else – Dodd could see whether they have improved. “It is one of the easiest ways to hire potential candidates. Sometimes people just fall short on one point but the can improve again.”

Three points to keep technology recruitment fresh and relevant

“The big thing in technology is that it’s not sexy,” says Robertson. “We have to find ways to attract people and make it jazzier.” For an international company like Booking.com, there are three things that make their talent acquisition strategy effective.

First, you have to be agile. The tech market moves fast with lots of changes. You have to move in line with time.

Second, you have to be innovative in order to move forward in a competitive market.

Third, be pragmatic. You can think outside of the box and be as agile as you want. But is it going to work in real life? Is it going to justify the investment? How do you measure results?

An example of achieving all three is the AI game Hack-man. Booking.com built it last year to attract developers around the world. Developers were invited to play the game where they coded to control an avatar to eat bugs. They would then be paired with other developers inside the game. The result was impressive: 22.000 people visited the site and 700 developers signed up within 6 weeks. What Booking.com achieved here is not only the diversity of developers but also a boost for their employer brand.

Established in 1999 in the Netherlands, Booking.com is now an international business with their headcount clocking in at around 15.000 employees. However, this seems to be just the beginning for the international expansion of Booking.com. The secret behind this e-commerce rising star? A diversified workforce, as Dodd and Robertson say: “Diversity gives us strength.”

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Would you want to learn more about the hiring practices of successful tech companies? Or do you want to recommend an excellent company to be on stage for our next talk? Let us know in the comment below or email us!

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Hagi is an experienced content professional with a passion for Recruitment and HR Tech. She has written about everything from talent sourcing tips to data security guidelines.
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