The Job Interview Now Comes With Startup Perks, Like A Lunch Date

By Kristen V. Brown
San Francisco Chronicle.

The tech world is famous for shunning hierarchy and structure in the office. But now one startup is turning the job interview into a casual lunch date.

Lunchcruit matches job hunters with tech companies that are hiring. And in an industry where free lunch has become an office perk, why not do it over lunch?

“Our platform is less a recruiting platform and more a way to create these organic professional relationships,” said William Hsu, co-founder of the San Francisco startup.

The idea is to make the process of looking for a job less formal (and intimidating) by approaching an initial interview as a no-strings opportunity for both parties to get acquainted.

A company simply posts a blurb about itself (“Our people are passionate, talented and know how to get (stuff) done”) and the positions it’s hiring for on the Lunchcruit website; job seekers can request to pop in for a bite. Companies are not allowed to post specific job requirements — only that they are looking for, say, a back-end developer or product manager.

Really, Lunchcruit functions more like a matchmaker setting up two pals on a blind date than it does like a recruitment agency.

“Lunch is a more intimate way to get to know someone,” said Hsu. “A lot of first dates happen through lunches.”

Kim Pham is using Lunchcruit on her own hunt for the perfect job. Pham is a 26-year-old freelance software engineer who recently quit a job in finance and moved to San Francisco to go to coding boot camp. The most important thing she wants in a job is a team of cool co-workers.

“Culture is really important to me,” she said. “I know a lot of people say that, but it really is important to me.”

Pham was impressed by NerdWallet, a personal finance startup that was her first Lunchcruit date. Ultimately, though, they were both looking for different things. NerdWallet needed senior engineers and Pham is in the market for a more entry-level position. (They’re staying in touch, though, she said.)

Her second lunch interview was at the fitness startup Fitmob.

It certainly seemed as awkward as a blind date. At times it was unclear who was wooing whom, or whether anyone was wooing anyone at all.

Pham’s lunch was with Adam Ahmad, the company’s energetic head of partnerships. While waiting for lunch to be set up by Zesty, a catering startup, the two made small talk about Lunchcruit, the company’s makeshift fitness area and their work histories. Pham came dressed in business casual attire — sparkly tweed blazer, black pants, flats. Ahmad, in jeans and a rumpled palm-tree-print polo, still had music blaring from the headphones slung around his neck.

Since Lunchcruit started two months ago, 65 companies in eight cities have signed up for the site. More than 350 lunches have been scheduled, resulting in three offer letters. A company profile on the site costs $400 a month (less than the $500 to post a job on LinkedIn.)

Ahmad said Fitmob does about three Lunchcruit interviews every week, and is now in serious talks with three Lunchcruit candidates. Most people, he said, just want to get an inside look at the company and see what it’s like before deciding whether to apply for a job.

“It really takes the stress off a candidate and makes it more fun for the employer,” said Ahmad. “It’s a very casual way to meet people. I like that.”

Over stuffed peppers and chicken breast in a tiny concrete-walled conference room, Pham and Ahmad chatted more about the company.

Pham asked Ahmad whether employees at Fitmob are all into fitness. Ahmad said that he himself is not.

The company founder, Ahmad offered, is “a party animal.” This, he said, has resulted in a “down-to-earth” work culture — there are frequent happy hours and company outings like a recent kayaking/clubbing trip to Tomales Bay.

“There are no politics here really,” he said. “Everyone here is an entrepreneur.”

Ahmad pitched Pham on the company’s mission statement before eventually asking her about her own engineering experience. Fitmob sells monthly passes that allows a user to attend fitness classes at any gym or studio that’s a member of Fitmob — the idea is to fill up all the empty spaces that a yoga or boxing class might typically have.

“What’s exciting to me about startups is the fast growth,” said Pham.

“We’re about to double in size next month,” Ahmad said.

“In people or revenue?” she asked.

“Everywhere. Things are moving so fast,” he responded. “We have 60 people now, but we are still moving fast and breaking things.”

By the end of the interview, Ahmad had seemingly given Pham the green light.

“Culturally it sounds like you’re a good fit,” he said, and offered to put her in touch with the company chief technical officer.

“What would you say your interest is like?” he asked. Pham said that based on their hour-long chat, Fitmob seemed like a nice place to work.

She went in with little expectation of a job. After the interview, she said coming to Fitmob actually made her more interested in working there than she was before. But Pham already has other interviews scheduled; next week she’s slated to meet with Ventures I/O.

The real question, though: How was the lunch?

“It was a good healthy lunch,” she reported, “on par with other startups.”

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

To Top