Case Study

Course Hero Named a “Top Workplace” After Making 22 Hires In 14 Months


5+ million Course Hero members

7+ million Educational resources

“Top Workplace” Named as a 2015 Top Workplace on the Bay Area News Group’s prestigious annual list

80+ Employees

Course Hero is an education technology startup that delivers supplementary educational materials to college students, who upload class notes and other resources to share. When a student has a question, the answers can often be found on Course Hero—in the form of notes, flash cards, study docs, online tutoring, and Q&A.

After joining the company as VP of Engineering and Design in 2014, Josh Tyler revamped the hiring process. The engineering team went from spending hours sifting through unqualified candidates to making about two hires a month. Since then, the company has expanded from 40 to more than 80 employees. In this case study, Josh Tyler shares how he helped Course Hero become a hiring all-star. You can read more in his new book, Building Great Software Engineering Teams: Recruiting, Hiring, and Managing Your Team from Startup to Success.

Growing Pains

We Needed Great Engineers Fast

“I joined Course Hero when they were in a growth phase. With 9 engineers and 40 total employees, they needed to hire 5 engineers as soon as possible. I’d built out engineering and product development teams in the past. It seemed like a good opportunity, and I was especially drawn to the collaborative culture.”

Bombarded with Candidates

“When I got here, recruiting was a bit of a mess. The engineers were doing the best they could. But they were getting bombarded with candidates from 12 to 15 different recruiters, and most of the candidates weren’t very good. Screening those candidates was wasting engineers’ time. They were tired and disenchanted with the process.”

A Clean Slate for Recruiting

“I decided to start fresh. So I cancelled all our contingency contracts. I was a little nervous about telling the team, ‘Please trust me. There’s a better way.’ But I believed in The Sourcery.”

Making the case to the CEO

Lower cost per hire.

“We did some estimates on how many people we’d hired and how much it cost. It looked like if we had reasonable success using The Sourcery, the total costs per hire were going to be a lot less than the 25 percent bonus you’d typically pay.”

Contingency recruiting wasn’t working.

“They had already tried the other model of using contingency recruiters and paying for results. It was not working. It was the right time to try something different.”

Evangelical persuasion.

“I’d done my research and felt very strongly that this was going to work out. Equally important, our CEO was willing to trust me. In some ways, I put my career on the line by saying, ‘Let’s go all in on using The Sourcery.’ We’re going to pay a lot before we see any people, but I feel strongly it’s going to work.’ I’m glad it did.”

Setting realistic expectations.

“I said, ‘In my experience, in this environment, if we can hire a good engineer every two months, then we’ll be doing well.”

Moving to The Sourcery

“After cutting ties with contingency recruiters, I spent a month doing all the hiring myself. I sourced candidates. I spent all day looking for people on LinkedIn and AngelList. I wanted to know what was going to work for this company. Once I was confident about the kinds of people who would be a good fit for Course Hero, I got in touch with The Sourcery to help me refine and scale our hiring process.”

How we built a great hiring brand

1. Started Small.
“We originally committed to doing two positions with The Sourcery to see how it went. By the time we got through the process of hiring those two, we were convinced that we wanted to keep working with The Sourcery.”

2. Looked for Emotional Intelligence in Engineers
“We’ve seen that people who do the best here exhibit emotional intelligence traits like self-awareness. So we’ve relatively de-emphasized some of the technical parts of our interview process for engineers, and increased the importance of emotional intelligence. The Sourcery helped us rewrite our job descriptions to highlight those qualities. For example, our job descriptions used to read: ‘We are looking for a senior engineer who has the skills of PHP, MySQL, and 3 years of experience in blah blah blah.’ The Sourcery helped us rewrite those to say things like: ‘Some of the challenges you’ll help us tackle include: Rolling out our new educational platform for universities; helping us ship the next version of our mobile client.’ We start by focusing on the projects they’re going to be working on, and the accomplishments they’re going to have. We then get into the nuts and bolts.”

3. The Sourcery Became Our Hiring BFF.
“I talk to my contact at The Sourcery every day. She’s like my work best friend. Every time she suggests something, I feel confident it’s in our best interests. When a contingent recruiter suggests something, I have to be at least a little bit suspicious. I know they’re thinking, ‘Is this person good enough to get hired so I can make my fee?’ Meanwhile, The Sourcery is thinking, ‘Is this person really what the company is looking for, and will this person make the company better?’ It’s a subtle difference, but I think it’s an important one.”

4. Constant Iterating and Testing.
“Some people assume The Sourcery will be able to craft a job description that attracts the right people right away. That’s not true. It took about two months of giving feedback on the profiles before we had a realistic idea of the kinds of people we really needed to find.”

The Results

So Much More Than Sourcing

“The Sourcery really did a lot to improve our hiring process. They are so much more than just a source of candidates. If you want to have success with recruiting, you need to think of the whole process. The Sourcery helped us rewrite our job descriptions, reposition ourselves on our website, master the interview process, understand the stages of the candidate pipeline, and communicate with candidates.”

Consistently Hiring Great People

“Over the past year, we’ve managed to hire one engineer a month. In fact, it’s even increased a bit. We’ve found that whenever we want to add a couple more positions, The Sourcery can respond quickly. I keep telling our CEO, ‘I think we can keep this up, but it still feels better than I expected.’

We’re Moving to Add an In-House Recruiting Team

“We’ve reached a point in the scale of our operations where we feel it’s time to start building an internal recruiting team. We believe this company is here to stay, so we want to do things like build our brand on college campuses to recruit top students, get involved in developer conferences, and sponsor industry events. Our product has great awareness among university students. People who are just coming out of school have a much better interest in working with our company. This has actually turned out to be a competitive advantage.”

22 Candidates hired in 14 months, since starting with The Sourcery

11 New hires sourced by The Sourcery in 14 months

100% Candidates screened by The Sourcery

Be patient. You don’t have to settle.
Great people are hard to find. They don’t just sit around waiting by the phone. They’re already busy. They’re probably fully engaged on several things already. Embrace the fact that to find people, there’s going to be a lot of work. Working with The Sourcery will be a much more efficient use of your time. There’s no magic solution, but The Sourcery knows how to do it the right way.”

- Josh Tyler, VP Engineering & Design, Course Hero

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