Bayzat’s HR Head Sevla Serbest talks about their hiring process, work culture and more [Interview]

Co-founded by Talal Bayaa, Bayzat is a Dubai-based tech startup that provides insurance & HR solutions to individuals and businesses. The company has raised $7 million in funding with $3 million of it coming earlier this year from unnamed investors. That makes it one of the best funded startups in UAE.

Since founding in 2013, Bayzat has been able to grow its team to 70 people who work from its office in Dubai. It’s because of these people that the company has been able to achieve great success in such a short time. It was not easy to hire these people. The company has always been very careful when it comes to selecting the candidates to work for them. Their difficult and long recruitment process has helped them hire some of the best minds in the region.

Bayzat has built a work culture that encourages people to be creative and take initiative. This has helped the company acquire and retain top talent across different functions.

Sevla Serbest is the company’s driving force behind building this great work culture and acquiring best talent to work for them. The Head of People & Culture joined Bayzat one and half year ago and has taken different initiatives since then to make Bayzat an employer of choice. We had a chanced to chat her to learn about company culture, its hiring process and a lot more. Here is the full interview:

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started your journey with Bayzat

I was born in 1981 in Istanbul, Turkey where I lived for most of my life. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Guidance and Psychological Counseling from Bogazici University in 2005 and completed my master’s degree in the same department in 2010. With over 11 years of HR experience, I have worked across various industries including venture capital, Internet, e-commerce, media, and advertising.

Before joining Bayzat, I was lucky to work with one of the biggest venture capital firms in Turkey. During my time there, I acted as a strategic business partner to each company within the group by cooperating with the founders to help them implement an effective talent acquisition strategy at all levels and functions within their organization.

I was looking for a new challenge when by chance I met with BECO Capital – one of Bayzat’s main investors. Shortly after, they introduced me to our CEO, Talal. His vision and mission for Bayzat was different, inspiring and innovative. He showed concern not only for his bottom-line, but was for building a company culture that bested all others.

How has it been so far? What have you liked the most about working at Bayzat?

There’s never a dull moment at Bayzat. Our challenges vary from day to day – making it difficult to plan or predict what’s coming next. But we have built the kind of team that wholeheartedly believes in our company’s vision, culture and strategy. Regardless of the challenges ahead, we work together to help Bayzat grow, and rally when our clients need our support. The team is what makes Bayzat great. We are all in the same boat, and it inspires us to support one another in times of need.

What’s the headcount of the company? Can you also share the no. of nationalities you have at work and what’s the gender ratio?

70 team members and counting. No of nationalities is 23. We have 26 female & 44 male members in the office.

Tell us about your hiring process. How does it work? 

The main structure is similar to companies, but God is in the details. The first step is determining the need of a new position. We are not the type of company to fill a warm body just because there is a potential need for it. We are meticulous when it comes to opening up new positions. Once we’ve assessed that we require a new joiner, we create a recruitment plan, set up the job description and decide where and how we want to capture applicants, and who will participate in the selection process. You see, at Bayzat we have a different hiring committee for each role.

Once we’ve received a batch of applicants, the HR team reviews and screens candidates with the first round of interviews, which can be conducted in-person, on Skype, or over the phone. Qualified applicants go on to the next stage. During this time, other parties (including team leaders, department heads, and peers) are invited to interview their potential colleague. While interviews are ongoing, applicants will be sent assignments (depending on their role) to assess their skills and experience.

Candidates can expect three to four steps in their hiring process. If they are successful, they will at some point sit down with our CEO, Talal, who is deeply investing in maintaining our company culture and screening applicants before deciding. If candidates pass all stages, we check references and HR makes an offer.

It should be noted that we don’t place a large emphasis on specific industry experience. We have an extensive onboarding program that will help newcomers familiarize themselves with insurance, technology, and what to expect from the role.

What does a non-engineering candidate need to have to be able to land a job with Bayzat?

Firstly, I’d like to emphasize that as a company, we have two main goals when it comes to growing our team:
– Ensuring that we are hiring capable team members who fit our company culture
– Helping candidates determine if Bayzat is the right fit for them both personally and professionally

We set a high bar for quality. We only hire the best because we believe that those who are already working here at A-players, and deserve colleagues of equal regard. What we look for are candidates that have a thirst to learn, a keen ability to think out-of-the-box to challenge the status quo, have skills related to their job, and as we mentioned, a good cultural fit.

What do you look for in engineers?

We are always on the lookout for engineers who have reviewed Bayzat’s company culture and are eager to join – whether they’re engineers or not! Whether you’re in the UAE or out, whether you’re looking to work remotely or not, we have a myriad of different options and don’t want our candidates to be restricted by time and space.

Specific to the role, we do look for candidates with a strong technical background, engineering knowledge, a desire to learn, problem-solving abilities, critical thinking/analytical thinking, teamwork, and of course, enthusiasm.

We’ve heard many people complaining about how most of the startups hire referred candidates only. What they post and share on job boards and their career pages is done only for the sake of it. How true is that?

Referral is one of the best tools at a HR’s disposal when making a hiring decision, and that goes for companies of all sizes.
Our team have all proved their right to be Bayzlanders. Naturally, they want to work with equally dedicated people who understand the uniqueness of Bayzat’s company culture, and appreciate the work we’re doing here. Given the delicate balance of our company, our team members are trusted to refer individuals who would nurture that culture, not hamper it. That being said, being referred is not a ticket to employment – we pride ourselves on objectiveness, and will treat all applicants – referred or screened – equally.

At the end of this process, all parties that would be directly impacted by this hire come together and make the decision. It is never down to one person – not even the CEO. It is a decision made by all the team members that will work closely with this new colleague.

If an applicant doesn’t get shortlisted for an interview or doesn’t make it to next round of interview – do you share any feedback with them?

We recently started to use an Applicant Tracking System. Through it, we are able to share the feedbacks with our applicants, even though they haven’t made it to the next round in our hiring process.

Have you received any unconventional applications from candidates? If yes, would you please share details about some?

We had one sales executive candidate who prepared a full deck about Bayzat & our platform when coming for the first interview to role-play pitching Bayzat to us. We encourage unconventional applications as it shows passion, creativity and a willingness to go the extra mile.

How would you define Bayzat’s work culture?

We have a unique company culture. We have principles and core values that are the soul of the company and define who we are, and who we will become. I firmly believe that above all else, our company culture is why new hires and customers choose us.

We look for compatible qualities in all our team members. These are the principles and guidelines that drive our business and influence our strategic decisions, and goes so far as to define our team’s identity.

What we set out to do when we designed Bayzat’s culture is to build a customer experience that is different from anything our clients have experienced in the Middle East. We call it the Bayzat experience. In order to foster this level of understanding, we care for our team members as we would want them to care for our clients; thereby crafting an empathetic culture where we are each trying to do the best for each other – teammates, clients and all.

Do you consider Bayzat a great place to work at?

Definitely. We treat our team members as adults – they are given full reign of their role and responsibility. They are the CEO of their own territory. We respect and care for their needs, offer opportunities to learn, develop, and grow, and are always on the lookout for new ways to delight them.

They can improve their job-related skills and at the same time their soft skills, and are paired with great leaders that rejoice in mentoring, listening, coaching, empowering and inspiring their team at every point in their careers. What we’re truly passionate about is providing a transparent and open environment where we are welcome to discuss our experience, talk about our mistakes, and celebrate each other’s achievements. I think everyone here values this accepting atmosphere.

See Also: A look inside Bayzat’s cool office in Dubai

It’s not easy for startups to match salaries with big companies esp. when they’ve not secured significant funding. What did Bayzat do in its early days to attract talent?

Our biggest offering is immense growth and learning opportunities, which allows every member to take complete ownership on what they do – its true meaning of proactivity. This paves the way for higher job satisfaction & skillset growth that they wouldn’t be able to nurture in big corporations.

Tell us about perks received by Bayzat employees.

Very comprehensive health insurance (of course!)
The ability to schedule work from home
Foosball table
Lively Pantry & National Anthem singing competitions
Off-site events
To name a few

How strict are the policies and procedures in the company?

Like all companies we have policies and procedures that ensure we are treating everyone equally, but we are flexible and always try to find a balance that suits everyone.

How do you conduct performance appraisals? People at startups normally love numbers. Do all of your employees have clearly defined KPIs with targets?

We don’t conduct performance appraisals, nevertheless, some teams like sales, have KPIs, targets and quantitatively defined expectations. Instead of performance appraisal, we believe in more frequent feedback. We are in a very dynamic industry and instead of waiting 1 year to sit down with our employees, we give feedback when it’s necessary, and conduct peer reviews where every team member has a chance to give feedback to their colleagues and leaders.

How do you help your employees in their career growth? Are there enough opportunities within the organization for people to grow?

We have Trainee programs for fresh graduates, where we train them, help them improve their skills and promote them to different roles.

We always consider our own team members for the new roles in the company. i.e., if we have a team member who exceled in his job in sales role or has shown a real talent for it, we’ll promote him, or create a role that befits his skillset.

As a company, we are always encouraging our team’s professional development. We hire people who will become the future leaders of Bayzat. Right now, we are working on a mentoring program to help them learn and gain encouragement and support in their careers.

What does the company do to develop their talent?

Our department heads provide frequent one-to-one coaching. With our frequent feedback system, they are constantly reviewing and mentoring their teammates on the areas they need to improve. We leverage problems are opportunities to learn and develop – not times to wallow in their mistakes.

How do you retain your top talent?

Again, it all leads back to culture, surroundings, and binding people with equally hard-working and like-minded souls. Top talent wants to be facilitated and supported by top-talent. If we let the quality of our team slip, it’s without question that employee superstars will look elsewhere for an office that befits their caliber.

Employing a level of individualism is essential in this day in age. People are not clogs in a greater network. They want to be seen and known for their accomplishments and personal skills. Regardless of their role and achievement, we celebrate their achievements. Milestones for people come in different sizes and we revel in them all.

We also try and ensure everyone at Bayzat is connected. We don’t try and force friendships, but we always provide opportunities (outings, birthday celebrations, ‘Bayz-Perk Days’ where we have treats come directly to the office, like coffee and cupcakes, and more). We want everyone to feel involved and appreciated.

Being HR Head of a Tech Startup – why do you think a fresh graduate should choose to work for a startup instead of taking a corporate job?

It’s the fastest way to grow and develop – no doubt about it. Working in a fast-paced, dynamic company (in technology, which perhaps is the fastest growing of them all) will mean you are constantly picking up new skills, and working alongside upper-management directly (as opposed to being seated with other executives in the foreground). Additionally, in a startup you will find that you’ll:
– Have more responsibility
– Learn from entrepreneurial people
– Have your contribution personally recognized
– Feel like an essential part of the team instead of a substitute
– Find that culture is much more important when the companies are newer and smaller

Do you hire candidates who are available in the UAE only or from overseas as well?

We are open to hire candidates from everywhere – UAE and overseas. Actually, we are very proud of the diversity in our team; it is wonderfully multicultural.

What would be your advice to people applying for jobs at startups like Bayzat to stand out from the crowd?

Do their research on the company, its products, culture, and startup environment. If you want to dazzle your HR, show that you’re here for more than just a salary – show curiosity. Memorizing generic answers off by heart is not a safe route, either. Instead, show your creative thinking process, your personality, and perspective. Bayzat prides itself on hiring colleagues that are dedicated, observant and hardworking. Let those kinds of traits shine through in your interview.

You can learn more about Bayzat by visiting our website or feel free to get in touch on social media: LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook.

Zubair Naeem Paracha
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