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How this DC startup got 90% of applicants to accept job offers last year

Prefect COO Sarah Moses opens a window into the company's hiring process, which begins well before it invites candidates to interview.

The Prefect team. (Courtesy photo)
2021 was a year of remarkable growth for the workflow automation startup Prefect.

The company, which began in DC but is now largely remote, works on dataflow automation tasks. What that means, according to company leadership, is that it creates software to remove “negative engineering,” or anything on the orchestration side that leads to unnecessary headaches and frustrations. Prefect’s software automates tasks like scheduling, monitoring and retries that put extra stress on data scientists and engineers.

The company, which was founded in 2017, raised not one but two rounds in 2021, totaling $33.5 million.

Since those raises last year, COO Sarah Moses told that the team has added about 50 members — up from 20 last year. But the company’s data, Moses said, suggests that this hasn’t been a typical hiring process: Prefect saw 90% of its job offers accepted over the past year.

“I, of course, am a big believer that because we’ve invested so much in the operating system — a.k.a culture — and eliminating negative engineering on the people front, we’ve been able to hire really incredible, smart, enthusiastic people really quickly,” Moses said.

The COO added that Prefect’s hiring process actually starts far before any resumes are collected. When the company is looking to hire someone, managers have to create a 90-day plan of outcomes from that position. Then, when interviewing applicants, the hiring manager can very clearly outline expectations and what the role will look like.

Prefect has been doing this since it had only 10 employees, Moses said. After hitting 25 employees, the company added a director of people to help maintain culture and keep up the hiring process. The result, she said, is that candidates know exactly what position they’re accepting, what they’ll be expected to do in their first few weeks and how they’ll fit into the larger company, which is appealing to candidates.

“When we actually make an offer to a candidate, sure, sometimes it might take a while, but we are very confident that they will sign because we’ve had a chance to really fairly assess: Is this candidate the right person for the right problem?” Moses said. “And they’ve also had a chance to assess: Is Prefect the right place for me to be, and are these the problems I want to be solving?”

Something else that the company tries to convey to candidates, she said, is that it aims to hire creative people who want to solve problems. Prefect probably will not suit someone looking to be told what to do every day, and the company tries to make that clear during the hiring process.

Prefect COO Sarah Moses. (Courtesy photo)

“When we work with candidates, we do make that very clear throughout the entire process of: Here’s the outcome that you have to achieve,” Moses said. “Your manager is there to support you. You’re not here to support a manager, they’re there to lift you up, and we make that really clear. ”

The COO noted that the company continues conveying this culture even after the candidates come aboard. New hires are put through a robust training process in which they work with different people across the company. They also get coffee with almost every single colleague.

Moses attributes Prefect’s strong hiring numbers and retention to this clarity of expectations and removal of negative engineering. If people don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing or have a role that changes all the time, they’re more likely to leave, Moses said. This dynamic can make employees both frustrated and afraid to ask for help.

For those managers looking to boost their own hiring numbers, she has one big recommendation: Make sure everything is clear and upfront with your candidates, which means putting the time and effort in ahead of hiring.

“Your culture really is the operating system of the company,” Moses said. “That’s how everyone interacts with each other.”

Companies: Prefect

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