Learn what Elizabeth has to say about Ontra’s hiring philosophy and how we maintain a healthy, positive culture.
As vice president of Talent, Elizabeth Black has played a pivotal role in growing Ontra from 20 employees to over 300 in just a few years. The consummate team player, she loves that Ontra provides endless opportunities to develop in her role as she helps the company continue to expand. When Elizabeth’s not enjoying the excitement of riding the waves of change at Ontra, she might be at a local brewery with her dogs Growler and Boo (though things may look a little different now that she and her husband just welcomed their first baby).
What core skills do you call upon in your role and where did you learn them?
While earning my degree from UCLA, I worked as a student-athlete recruiter. I studied the competitive landscape and identified where we stood apart. As I guided prospective recruits on campus tours or met them at special events, I learned about their top-choice schools and motivations and consolidated that information in a trackable way in our database.
Those are the same skills I look for in my team today: Who are our competitors? What motivates candidates? How can we pull information from a candidate in a conversational – not transactional – way? How can we use all that data to determine whether Ontra is the right fit for a candidate?
It’s about interacting with people and quickly figuring out what motivates them and makes them tick. Then it’s determining whether we are the right fit. I’m comfortable passing on a candidate because no one is served by a match that doesn’t work.
How did you decide on a career in Talent, and how did you find your way to Ontra?
I started in legal recruiting, and moved into international admissions when my husband’s job took us to China. Admissions and recruiting are similar: You must figure out what matters to people making a major decision, understand the competition, and evaluate candidates.
When we moved back to the U.S., I joined a tech recruiting agency. I learned about software engineering, product management, fundraising, the high-growth startup scene, etc. but I missed being in-house. So I returned to the legal world, sourcing and screening lawyers at Paul Hastings LLC. That’s where I met Sara Eng, who oversaw the firm’s West Coast offices’ attorney recruiting and development operations. When Sara left for Ontra (then InCloudCounsel) and discovered the company needed to build a recruiting function, she encouraged me to apply.
What is Ontra’s approach to and philosophy about hiring?
Our approach is thoughtful, data-driven, and cross-functional. When I joined, Ontra had fewer than 20 employees, but we immediately invested in a top recruiting tech stack with Greenhouse as our applicant tracking system and LinkedIn Recruiter as our primary sourcing tool. Those tools established the infrastructure to hire intentionally, providing a way to track and measure our candidate pool, solicit feedback confidentially, and enable the hiring committee to review candidates and make strong hiring decisions.
Our average annual growth rate has been over 100% since I joined Ontra in 2018. Now we hire hundreds of people in a year and that stack has scaled along with us.
From the start, Ontra’s C-suite instilled in me a sense to always look for better ways of recruiting. I’ve had their support from day one, both philosophically and in terms of financial investment in the systems, tools, and team. I’ve never been told to just get butts into seats. I’ve been told unequivocally that we cannot sacrifice culture for anything.
We ensure hiring is everyone’s job and leadership sets the example by dedicating significant time to interview.
Our teams also don’t hire in a silo. We try to ensure cross-functional representation on our interview teams. We look at candidates holistically and from different perspectives, and that carries over into the employee lifecycle.
How do we make sure prospective candidates are a good fit?
We want people to bring their whole selves to work. While that covers a variety of qualities, we look for kindness, good judgment, trust, and the ability to work with autonomy and ownership.
When we make a hire, we instantly welcome them to join us under an umbrella of trust. We trust people from day one with a huge job. We’re very comfortable hiring people assuming they may know more than we do about the area we hired them into, and we look for people with a learning mentality and a willingness to educate others.
We also think of every person in the company as an owner of Ontra. With every action we take and every dollar we spend, each of us should be asking ourselves how it impacts our colleagues and the company. With that in mind, we seek people who care deeply about their work and other people and about how their actions impact the collective group that’s working toward hitting Ontra’s goals.
What stands out about the employee experience and culture at Ontra?
We’ve avoided the cultural fallout that so many companies experience with scale. Our employees care about and respect each other. So much comes back to the intentionality of hiring. It’s not just who we hire; it’s how we hire. We are very intentional about every hire we make and how they will meaningfully contribute to our business goals and company culture.
Our management team cares about bringing in the best people and ensuring that they’re intellectually stimulated by the work they’re doing, that they’re learning constantly, and that they feel supported. That support comes in a variety of ways: critical feedback, positive shoutouts, competitive compensation and benefits including an annual learning stipend, and transparent all-hands meetings twice a month.
These investments, large and small, help maintain Ontra’s culture. They also enable employees to better work together and enjoy who they spend the majority of their waking hours with.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your five years at Ontra?
I’m proud that our management team doesn’t have to worry about hiring being a barrier to growth.
Many companies struggle to hire. But because of our hiring intentionality and the investment in hiring as a function, we’ve nearly doubled headcount every year I’ve been here. We recently reached 300+ employees at Ontra, and nearly half of the company has been hired in the last 12 months. At the same time, many of Ontra’s earliest employees and managers are still with the company.
We experience very low turnover at the employee and management level. The major department heads are all still here. And they are managing teams at least triple in size from when they started.
It’s fantastic to see the company and our leaders evolving while maintaining our culture. Our management team is intentional about investing in every employee so that we learn and grow. It’s about growing as individuals and as leaders as we expand these teams.
What excites you about Ontra’s future?
In some ways, the same things that excite me about Ontra’s past – that there is so much opportunity and every year has been a different challenge and exciting ride. I know that this year will be another adventure vs. feeling repetitive. After five years at one company, that’s something special.
We are primed to grow because of the strength and talent of the people at Ontra. We have fun working together and really building a business together. We’re making huge investments to further our product offering for current and future customers. We already work with some of the top players in this space and the fact that there is more runway with them is very exciting.
We are still growing our teams globally. And how lucky are we to still be growing, considering all that’s going on in the macroenvironment? This is no accident – we have incredibly smart and thoughtful people leading this company.
It’s exciting to know that we’re probably going to be a different company by the end of this year in terms of what we look like and what we’re providing our customers and legal partners. We are so confident in our business and in the incredible team we’ve assembled to continue on our rocketship trajectory.