If you have been struggling to find a job and feel that the hiring process is backward or broken, you’re not going crazy. Although hiring practices have been seen steady improvement due to the rapidly changing market and cultural shift on candidates, it is far from fast enough. As a result, companies, and teams have been struggling to catch up and adapt. And the unfortunate consequence of this is that, well, if you are a manager, you’re probably hiring wrong.
So, here I am, writing a long and loopy article about the current state of the industry’s hiring practices and how to tackle them.
This article will tackle the interview and acquisition process of hiring a candidate, focusing on engineering, as it is my area of expertise. I will address the whole process: from profile creation, resume screening, initial contact, subsequent interviews, and contract close. Additionally, I will be addressing some of the most common pitfalls and caveats that most hiring managers fall for and how to avoid them.
You can see this piece as a collection of general guidelines for the hiring department to identify the needs of the interested party and find the most appropriate fit.
I know this is a bit outside of our usual content. Still, as a business owner and an engineer myself, I think I’m at the right intersection of status, expertise, and experience to have something to say. I believe this article will have something to offer you whether you are a hiring manager or just looking for a job and want to understand how the process works.
Here we go.
Why are We Hiring Wrong?
As a candidate, you probably have been passed by great opportunities you were a good fit for arbitrary reasons. And, as a manager, it seems like keeping your team productivity when adding a new member is an exercise in compromising.
The process of hiring the appropriate resource for your team can be a very daunting task. Nowadays, the complexity of hiring is getting a bit out of hand. As a result, most companies have to resort to team leads or fresh managers with little to no experience hiring talent.
Let’s be honest. Being a team manager is hard. Beyond the obvious requirements of a specific position, many complex dynamics and cultural aspects can affect a team’s synergy. Understanding these aspects might be a bit above most managers’ capacities. In most cases, it would be ideal that the person most affected by hiring a candidate is responsible for carrying it through.
Nevertheless, the responsibility must be burdened by someone.
Don’t worry tho; I got you. Let’s start with something seemingly simple but with a significant impact on the whole process.
Profile Creation; Do your Research!
Even before posting the vacancy, the first thing to consider is what you are communicating to the potential candidates with your job listing. Unfortunately, most HR departments tasked to look for engineering talent tend to produce very lousy job listings.
Either because of poor communication or just pure laziness, the text describing the wanted profile for the position is terrible. Usually, a template is used, which reads like a child’s Santa wish list, full of wildly unrealistic demands and out-of-touch metrics with laughable results.
Although these are pretty entertaining to read, it isn’t very likely that they will yield the talent expected.
Thankfully, addressing this issue is not difficult.
- Firstly, you must make sure that the needs of your team are adequately translated into the profile of the candidate you’re looking for in your listing.
- Secondly, avoid recycling profile templates and make an effort to sit down with your team and figure out the culture of your team.
- Thirdly, empathize with their needs, identify the members’ shortcomings, and complement them with the new potential candidates.
- Lastly, prioritize the culture and existing dynamics of your team. Focus on how this potential new member can contribute to the atmosphere of the group.
Look for team players above superstars.
And please understand that looking for a fresh graduate or an intern with five years of experience in a technology that came out three years ago is absurd and should be a reason to reconsider the employment of whoever wrote that requirement. Do your research.
On the other hand, if you are a candidate looking for a good opportunity, don’t hesitate to try if you think you might be a good fit. Do your homework and research the company. Take the requirements stated with a grain of salt.
Resume Screening; Know your Team Needs
Alright, you have produced a concise and accurate profile, published it on some sites for candidates to see, and have received dozens of resumes. It’s time to screen the potential candidates and find who is worth your time.
Commonly, an engineering position tends to yield an unmanageable amount of interest from candidates. As a result, a significant majority of these candidates must be weeded out. It is now your job to discern who is best qualified for the job.
Lately, this process can be streamlined with some screening solutions that can process resumes so only resumes that closely fit the criteria are seen. However, not all companies use these solutions, and most of them don’t produce results that satisfy companies’ standards. Nevertheless, they exist and, in my opinion, should be used sparingly and with caution.
In terms of screening, you must:
- Identify the critical requirements of the profile.
- List the must-have skills, technologies, experience levels.
- Have a clear idea of the kind of history you want your ideal candidate to have.
When defining the profile, think of the following questions:
- Are you looking for someone who has worked mainly with new technologies or more established ones?
- What kind of role do you want this candidate to fill in the group?
- Are you looking for someone with leading experience?
- Are you looking for a specialist or a generalist?
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a good idea of what to look for in a resume.
As a rule of thumb, you should consider every resume unaccompanied with a cover letter or some additional documentation as a low-quality candidate. If the candidate did not make an effort to research the position, company and point out what he can offer, they are unlikely to be a good fit.
Additionally, prioritize the history of the candidate above their credentials. Look for the projects that they have worked on and what role they had in them. Focus on the outcome of these projects and how their career history progresses. Is this person moving up in their career?
Bonus points if they point out what technologies they used and how they implemented them.
Proceed to the next stage once you have found a few candidates you want to reach out to.
Initial Interview; Bring the Interested Party
Commonly, the initial interview is performed by an HR representative who contacts, arranges, and meets the candidate for an initial in-person screening to validate the information provided by the candidate. This process is pretty standard and rarely results in elimination.
However, I have found that having this interview with the candidate’s potential manager speeds up the process and helps the candidate assess if they are also a good fit for the position.
Before this point, the amount of information available for the candidate to assess their fit was limited to the job listing and company info. However, once both parties can interact, they can better understand what is on the table.
You might consider this a waste of the manager’s time. But, in my experience, this has saved many headaches and misunderstandings later on, especially when a candidate realizes that the culture is not a good fit.
Follow up Interview; Experience > Testing
The follow-up interview usually revolves around the testing part of the process and assessing the quality of the candidate’s skills. Unfortunately, this is also where most teams end up hiring the wrong candidate.
The reason behind that is simple. For most engineering interviews, the assessment method of a candidate’s skills is, you guessed it, a timed whiteboard programming test —and more recently, a timed live online test.
The issue with whiteboard tests, and timed tests in specific, is that they are a terrible indicator of an engineer’s capacity and skill level —especially seasoned engineers with years of experience.
You might assume that having the candidate develop a solution to a programming challenge based on an obscure mathematical concept or an abstract logic puzzle will tell you their capacity to solve problems. And you would be wrong.
The truth is that 99.9% of the programming done in 95% of companies does not require you to have advanced knowledge in mathematical concepts at all. This also extends to other fields and careers where a skewed idea of the actual requirements for a job makes the hiring party have warped or unreasonable expectations from the candidate.
- Involves dexterity and experience with the tools and framework you work with every day.
- Requires comprehension of the methodologies and cultures that are common in the development team.
- Demands research and self-drive skills that are second nature.
- Commands the capacity to have effective teamwork and communication skills with team members and leadership.
Being a productive and talented developer has absolutely nothing to do with how much you understand quadratic equations or puzzles.
Additionally, the candidates who usually excel at these tests are fresh graduates with little experience in real-world work. However, their knowledge of programming challenges and quizzes is still fresh and available, so of course, they will dominate on these tests.
Moreover, the hypothesis that assessing a candidate’s capacity to handle pressure with a timed test is myope at best. Rarely an engineer working on a project runs against the clock to produce a quality solution and ship. And if this is the atmosphere you have in your team, you should reconsider your culture and workflows.
So, unless your company works programming TI89’s or building processors, reconsider choosing a university-level programming question for your interview.
A more effective test plan should involve:
- Providing a custom programming test created by the team.
- Ensuring that this test accurately represents the task and level of expertise currently faced by the team.
- Give the candidate a day or two to solve the issue.
- Ask for detailed documentation on the reasoning behind every choice.
Measure their thinking process and culture, not their memory capacity.
Final Interview; Culture, Culture, Culture
One of the most important aspects of hiring is culture fit.
If a recruit cannot engage with the culture or actively works against it, it can result in loss of productivity, morale, and sometimes even other members. So the candidate must have a good fit for the established team culture they are intended to join and have something to offer to work for the momentum and not against it.
Additionally, suppose a candidate is incapable of formulating a plan on how his talent and skills can be of value to the company. In that case, significant productivity might be lost trying to assimilate this candidate into the company. Having a clear vision of how your strengths and skills complement the team is a strong indicator of independence and direction that can be the difference between a lackluster team and a star team.
What’s more, when a candidate’s interests and values align with the mission and vision of the company, they are more likely to work harder, for longer, and be more loyal to the company.
Finally, the best hiring methodology in my experience has been an interactive interview discussion.
- Sit down with the candidate and ask them about their history, inquire about their past projects and ask them to specify the challenges they faced and how they overcame them.
- Examine the way they talk about their previous teams and press on the culture they had. Look for indicators that the candidate is a team player and willing to adapt and learn.
- Prioritize motivated learners over stagnant geniuses.
If you absolutely have to test them, create a custom test representing what the company works with, and examine their thinking process.
See how they face challenges and offer observations. If they are stuck but still make suggestions about how to address the issue or have an idea of who to ask or where to find the information, then you have a winner.
In the end, it’s up to you. But remember that the quality of the hired candidate is as much of your responsibility as the candidates themselves. So, learn how to hire better.