<!–:en–>Interview with Natalya Klimenko, HR Director at Zfort Group<!–:–><!–:de–>Interview mit Natalya Klimenko, HR Director der Zfort Group<!–:–>

What is the most important ingredient of success for any company? Is it sales, marketing, IT? Of course, your company is a system that consists of many components which need to work together in perfect harmony, like a Swiss clock. To ensure that all the different departments and divisions of your company work together, you primarily need a state-of-the-art HR team. So Human Resources is by far the single most important department in your company.

HR is responsible for attracting, filtering, selecting, recruiting and training all your company’s staff. Whether or not your company grows faster than your competitors largely depends on how successful and effective your HR team is. Think about it: Everything we do or say has somehow to do with people. No matter what industry or business you are in, your ultimate goal is to help make other peoples’ lives easier and more pleasant.

The IT industry grows and changes lighting fast. It develops at Internet speed. New web technologies and processes emerge almost on a monthly basis. This causes a lot of challenges for IT recruiters because they constantly have to search for new talents that blend in perfectly with existing teams. The average age of web programmers is very low because web software programming requires a high level of concentration and a permanent willingness to learn. Successful IT companies grow at rapid speeds which means that the Human Resource departments need to be innovative and effective.

One of the fastest growing IT outsourcing companies in the world is Zfort Group, Ukraine whose HR Director is Natalya Klimenko. Natalya has already given several interviews on Zfort’s recruiting and human resource development techniques because many IT recruiters want to learn from her expertise and experience.

English-Team is glad that Natalya Klimenko has agreed to give an exclusive online interview that will reveal some of Zfort Group’s success secrets.

English-Team:
Natalya, you are one of the most successful recruiters and HR managers in the IT industry worldwide. According to your Linkedin profile you have been working for Zfort Group since July 2010. How did you get hired by Zfort? Did you apply proactively or did they approach you?

Natalya Klimenko:
In 2010, I was actively looking for a job. I got interviewed a few times and after awhile it was up to me which of those companies to choose for furthering my career. At the time, Zfort had an HR Director opening and it seemed like a whopper of a challenge and something really exciting… I sent them my CV and was invited for an interview almost at once. Soon after another interview followed, at which I met Zfort’s dynamite top management team I’m still working with. To be honest, if it hadn’t been for their friendly attitude and great atmosphere at that interview I’d have accepted an offer from another company. Now I’m very happy it all stacked up so I’m currently working with some of the IT industry’s best experts.

English-Team:
How many people worked at Zfort’s HR department when you joined and how many HR people do you have now?

Natalya Klimenko:
When I joined Zfort Group, the company had only one recruiter. Currently, the company’s HR Department employs three recruiters and one PR manager. We are now capable of solving personnel sourcing and recruitment, brand promotion, and PR tasks of any degree of complexity.

English-Team:
Please tell us a bit more about Zfort’s recruiting process. I saw the interview you gave at Rabota.ua and would like to hear some more details. What phases has a candidate to go through before you hire them?

Natalya Klimenko:
Zfort’s recruitment process isn’t too complicated. Normally, a candidate is interviewed just once, after which we try to make a decision on whether he or she should be employed and contacted for this purpose. However, sometimes, we arrange for another interview if the candidate is applying for a top management position. The entire selection procedure, from receiving a CV to interviewing the candidate, takes no more than 2-3 days. We’ve tried to simplify the recruitment procedure as much as possible. This allows us to respond to the changing employment market quickly and flexibly and make timely decisions.

English-Team:
What kind of skills and characteristics do you look for in a candidate? What does it take to join the Zfort team?

Natalya Klimenko:
While selecting personnel, we try to balance between the candidate’s professional qualifications and personal traits. If the candidate is a qualified professional but he or she has difficulty mingling with the team it’ll be hard for this person to do his or her job well. The same happens if the candidate has good communication skills but lacks professional qualifications, – he or she is unable to do the job well. Actually, we try to be balanced throughout the recruitment process.

English-Team:
What is the female/male ratio at Zfort?

Natalya Klimenko:
The mankind’s better half is lucky to work at our company – there are more guys here than girls. Talking of the percentage ratio, 20% of our employees are females and 80% are males. Ladies normally hold manager, QA, and recruiter positions. The guys tackle more difficult tasks: programming, analytics, and building of processes. Overall, everybody seems to like the divide).

English-Team:
How important are English language skills and how do you measure them?

Natalya Klimenko:
For our company, knowledge of English is highly important. All our customers are overseas companies and the communication with them is mostly in English. All our employees use English to some extent for communicating with our customers, doing business correspondence, creating functional specifications, etc. Even the incoming CVs are in English and we here at the HR Department have to know and understand this language. We also try to continually improve our command of English. For example, the company offers an English acquisition course any of our employees can take gratis to improve his or her grasp of the language.

English-Team:
Do you expect programmer candidates to submit code samples?

Natalya Klimenko:
As I’ve already mentioned, Zfort’s recruitment and interviewing process is not too complicated. We try to have an interview and make a decision as soon as possible. However, sometimes, when we have our doubts regarding a candidate and we can’t make a decision quickly enough, we ask him to provide code samples to be able to better gauge the person’s qualifications.

English-Team:
If you had to decide, which would you say is more important — soft skills or technical and professional qualifications?

Natalya Klimenko:
If one had to choose between the different qualities of a candidate, we’d most probably focus on his or her technical and other professional qualifications.

English-Team:
Does Zfort Group’s recruiting and HR strategy differ from that of Kharkov based IT companies with German or EU branches such as Qualium Systems or Intetics?

Natalya Klimenko:
There are no major differences between the recruiting strategies of the IT companies with a business presence in Kharkov, be it companies originating from Germany, the UK or some other country. There can be differences in the requirements, deadlines, numbers of the personnel to be recruited, but the recruitment strategy always remains the same. All the companies want to source qualified, motivated, and inexpensive workforce.

English-Team:
What is Zfort’s staff turnover, how long does an employee stay with Zfort on average?

Natalya Klimenko:
The reasons for which our employees leave the company can be different. They can be external reasons, when an employee, for example, is not happy with the project, company, or setting he works in. There can also be some internal reasons. For example, an employee can make a decision to move to another country, start his or her own business, and so forth. On average, the time period spent by an employee at Zfort constitues 2.5 years. We believe this to be quite normal and have no worries in this respect. We also try to stay on friendly terms with all our former employees. Quite often, our former employees return to Zfort.

English-Team:
What value do you place on language skills and how do you measure them?

Natalya Klimenko:
English skills’ evaluation is quite a difficult task for all IT companies. There’s no clearly formulated standard upheld by Ukrainian IT companies. There’s no requirement at Zfort that our employees pass the TOEFL test. However, we can gauge a candidate’s grasp of English by using our own tests or by conducting part of the interview in English.

English-Team:
How does Zfort Group motivate its employees to achieve to stellar results?

Natalya Klimenko:
Zfort has a large-scale social program. One can get familiar with it by visiting our Ukrainian web site http://www.zfort.com.ua/company/about/. The program is based on three principles: the highly professional managers who are always willing come to an employee’s aid, qualified employees capable of solving even the most difficult tasks, and a friendly atmosphere.

English-Team:
Apparently Zfort Group uses a very flat organizational structure with little hierarchy. Can you please tell us if there are any hierarchical levels within the company? Also, do you divide your staff into coders, programmers, web developers, quality managers and project managers?

Natalya Klimenko:
Yes, Company has quite a flat hierarchy. Actually the company is divided into production departments and office support departments. The production departments are the following: Development department; QA department; Front-end developers and creative designers; project managers. The office support departments are: Research & Development Department; Technical Department; HR Department; Financial Department and Maintenance Department. All departments have direct managers and are coordinated by the Chief Executive Officer.

English-Team:
I take it you use Russian as the means of internal communication and English when you communicate with clients?

Natalya Klimenko:
Yes. Internally, we communicate in Russian and all our external communications are in English.

English-Team:
Do you face any internal conflicts from time and to time and how do you solve them?

Natalya Klimenko:
I’d suggest that we refer to internal conflicts as work-related issues.

Almost Definitely got as article.

We don’t have any pronounced conflict situations arising at Zfort. The company has endeavored to come up with a methodology for resolving various work-related issues. For example, we have our “Piggy-bank for Ideas,” to which any of our employees can submit a proposal of any kind, a complaint, or just thank the company or a specific employee for something. All the workings of this system are absolutely transparent. Also, we have a number of different forms of communication with our employees: one-to-one, in teams, with one of the managers participating… We try to discuss all problems openly and resolve them together. Any employee can freely visit and of the company’s top-managers, including the Chief Executive Officer, and openly discuss any issue at hand. Openness and friendliness are the two approaches that help us avoid conflict situations.

English-Team:
On your website I saw that you engage in a lot of different team building exercises such as paint ball shooting and white water rafting. Who organizes those events and how often do you have them?

Natalya Klimenko:
Yes, we just love outdoor activities! Moreover, we come up with a new kind of activity every time. And it’s not only paintball, soccer, table tennis, or rafting. We love trips and we’ve recently been to the Krasnokutsk arboretum. A team of our employees has also recently visited Instanbul. All these events are initiated and organized by the company’s HR Department. On average, our team building activities take part once-monthly. Currently, we are preparing for our Helloween celebration that will include a consumed party with treats and various different competitions.

English-Team:
When we visited Zfort’s headquarters earlier this year, I noticed that you decided against an open plan office. Instead, you have many rooms in which your teams work together. How many people work in one room on average and how do they communicate with other teams during the day?

Natalya Klimenko:
As we were looking for new premises for Zfort Group, one of the requirements was that the new premises consist of small and cozy rooms that could each house one project team. Indeed, we tried to avoid open space and we have succeeded in that. Now all the members of one team are all seated in the same room, which is quite helpful in solving he various issues related to the working process. I can’t really say the average number people on a team as it depends on the project requirements. The numbers can range from 3 up to 15 people. The internal communications are done using email, an internal messenger, or just with the help of a personal visit which is normally fun here too.

English-Team:
How many of Zfort’s staff smoke?

Natalya Klimenko:
Just like anywhere else, we do have smokers among our employees but it is a pleasure to know they are a minority here.

English-Team:
I saw many of your developers listen to music while they work. Do you happen to know their preferences?

Natalya Klimenko:
Yes, music helps our developers do their job well. Their tastes range from light pop music to heavy metal. Our employees are different and so are their tastes. I wouldn’t be able to define any common preferences.

English-Team:
Zfort is one of the most bicycle friendly employers in Ukraine. How many of your staff come to work by bike? What about the rest, do you have a car sharing program in place?

Natalya Klimenko:
Yes, in 2012 our company became the winner of the Kharkov Bicycle-Friendly Employer competition based on the voting results from several social networks. Around 15 of our developers come to the office by bike. There is a special bicycle parking lot and a shower room set up for this purpose. Unfortunately, we have no car exchange program in place as yet and I haven’t really heard of any other IT company having it.

English-Team:
So what are Zfort’s plans for 2013? How many staff are you going to add over the next year?

Natalya Klimenko:
We do have great plans for 2013. Currently, we are making preparations to welcome 50 more employees into the company. Next year we are also starting a new round of cooperation with technical institutes of higher learning by offering courses to young professionals. Redesigning our Russian website http://www.zfort.com.ua/ is also part of our plans and you will shortly be able to see its new version online. The company office is due to be redesigned to include work rooms and corridors. A gym and a shower room are part of the redesign plans too.
We’ll continue with the projects that have become popular with our folks: the Basketball Cup, taking part in the IT soccer league, and, in particular, the Charity Program, which is especially dear to us. We have a great
many plans but I can say with confidence that all of them will be implemented in full.

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