A huge part of making any business better is taking a hard look at who is on the team, what holes exist, and how to fill those holes. Hiring is one of the most important skills to be great at if you’re in the business of building a great company (or, if you’re in the business of taking on a life partner, aka dating, being able to identify the right person is a pretty good skill set to have). In other posts on this site, we have covered that planning, organizing and coordinating resources are three of the necessary duties for managers – team building sits at the cross section. However, hiring is difficult and time consuming. There are a dozen or more job boards in the US alone that are supposed to help connect employers and employees, but most of them send resumes into a blackhole. Over a hundred billion dollars (yes, billion, with a b) is spent each year on staffing and recruiting services to help land the right people in the right roles. Clearly, there are some issues here. This is another one of those areas where it may look and feel like an HR problem (not an engineering problem), but there is a process here that can be defined, standardized, and thus improved on.
Assuming your business has expanded beyond hiring friends and network connections, it takes a significant amount of time to identify and vet candidates. Writing job descriptions, communicating with inbound applicants, sending outbound messages, keeping candidates interested throughout the interview process, scheduling phone calls, video calls, tests, on sites, and any other step takes time and the balancing of multiple people’s schedules. All of these steps need to be defined before recruiting begins, everyone that will be involved needs to have their role determined, everyone should have some training in how to interview well, and there needs to be a priority placed on the recruiting process. Having an internal recruiter that can manage this process is a good step when your business can afford it but it’s possible to get by without one. Taking the businesses stated goals in conjunction with the current team should point to the skill sets that are necessary to hire for. The byproduct being the hiring roadmap.
What’s the cost of not having someone hired? If the answer is not much, then a recruiter (internal or external) is probably not necessary. If your business will lose out on expansion opportunities, lose customers, or fail to ship new features fast enough, it’s probably a good idea to have dedicated resources though.
One of the ways to streamline the job interviewing process is to write more telling job descriptions (JDs). Looking at similar job postings across companies, it’s easy to see that most JDs are just copy and pasted off one another. The same vague, fluffy language surrounding the duties of the job are used repeatedly. The worst part of fluffy job descriptions is that the real work and expectations are left unstated. Clear descriptions of what the job really requires are more value-adding and set better expectations up front. One option here is to be more explicit in sharing the quantifiable information. E.g. if hiring a software engineer to work on multiple projects, define that further. How many projects are they expected to juggle? How many clients are they reporting into? How long are the expected timelines for projects? What is the expected outcome from the new hire? The numbers may not be 100% accurate, but they will paint a more clear picture of what the expectations are.
A growing trend in hiring is sending out job postings via company branded distribution channels. A newsletter, Twitter followers, a YouTube channel, email subscribers, SnapChat stories, Instagram or Facebook groups as a few examples. By using social channels to build an audience for your business, you’re curating a large group of fans; people who are genuinely interested in your company. When it comes time to hire, using the group of fans will bring in applications from people who are already interested in your company. People who know your story and respect your brand. When you have fans, your hiring will go much more smoothly.
Part of being excellent at hiring is creating a great candidate experience. Personal follow ups, genuine interest, being on time, clear expectations, and honesty all need to be taken seriously. When interviewing candidates, put your cell phone away, turn off notifications- be present. If a candidate is no longer being considered for a role, let them know and be ready to give feedback. Automated messages are not a substitute here. Ghosting candidates (discontinuing communications with no warning) will turn them off to your company and may result in them telling others not to work for your company as well. Effectively, treat candidates with respect. If and when sharing the news with a candidate that it’s not going to work out, offer honest feedback.
Live, in person interviews are the best way to gauge mutual interest. Incorporating a written portion into the interview process has a lot of value as well. After speaking to a candidate at least once (phone is fine), send a Google Form with a few questions for them to answer. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking, and clear thinking is a great trait to have in an employee. Plus, their written communication can be evaluated and easily compared to others who answered the same questions. Open ended questions with no correct answer are generally the best option. Some examples are;
- What is something you learned from the last book you read? How will it be useful?
- What will be different in 15 years?
- If you were to add a product to our company, what would it be? If you were to take away a product we sell, what would it be?
- Are flying cars practical? Why or why not?
- What is your superpower?
Ideally, an interview process should take no more than four total interviews. If a decision cannot be reached in that amount of time, the interview questions should be reevaluated. To make sure quality information is being gathered, here is a small list of interview questions that can spark deeper conversations.
- Teach me something. You have five minutes.
- Tell me about a piece of feedback you’ve received.
- Tell me about a time someone didn’t deliver what they said they were going to. What did you do about it?
- How would I know if you were stressed?
- What do you do when you’re avoiding work (procrastinating)?
- What is a habit you’ve broken?
- If you could waive a magic wand and solve any problem, what would you solve?
- If you wrote a biography right now, what would the title be? (substitute album, play, tv show, movie, etc.)
- If you opened a letter today, written by an older version of yourself, what advice would it have?
- Tell me about a time you failed at something. How did you overcome it?
- What’s surprising about you?
Note, these are not questions that will determine someone’s ability to perform in a certain job function. The more technical, specific questions will rely on the job itself.
Creating a great employee experience starts with having a great interview process that properly represents the business and the role. By being honest and clear about what is expected, you’ll have a better time hiring employees that will stick around. There are dozens of factors that can contribute to a person leaving a job, but bad expectations set during the interview process should not be one.
Everyone involved in the hiring process should have formalized training experience in how to interview. Many hiring managers, especially in small companies, don’t get many attempts to learn how to interview people well and the result is a bad interview experience for candidates. Accountants, Scientists, Engineers and other technical people are more often than not the introverted type (not a bad thing). The more introverted someone is, the harder it will be for them to interview candidates well and provide a comprehensive description of the day-to-day requirements while selling the opportunity. A two to four hour training course on how to ask appropriate questions, what to be on the lookout for in the answers and how to ask intelligent follow up questions should be mandatory for everyone that is involved in the process. This is one area where this should not be overly scripted; following a formal script is a sure way to dissuade candidates from joining the company. Being able to uncover the appropriate information, sell the role and have a fluid conversation is not an easy thing to do. A local consultant can likely fill in the training gap.
When an offer is being extended to a candidate, make it count. In hourly positions, pay more than minimum wage. Paying the minimum wage implies you value the position so little, you’d pay less if it were legal. Make employees feel valued by paying them more than the mandated minimum. Salaried positions should come with personalized offer letters. You already spent hours getting to know the person, use what you learned in the offer letter to make it personal. Pay 5-20% higher than market rate if you want people to stick around. It’s no secret that the fastest way to get a raise for most people is to get another job. Losing people over a couple thousand dollar raise will cost a lot more in the long run.