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The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring

A practical, expert-reviewed guide to growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates.
440 pages and 891 links


Updated August 24, 2022
Original Author
Osman (Ozzie) Osman (Monarch Money, formerly Quora and Google)
Contributing Authors
Aditya Agarwal (formerly CTO, Dropbox)
Alex Allain (Dropbox)
Jose Guardado (Alpha Talent)
Jennifer Kim (Inclusion at Work, formerly Lever)
Aline Lerner (
Joshua Levy (Holloway)
Viraj Mody (Convoy)
Kevin Morrill (formerly Mattermark)
Jason Wong (JWong Works)
Scott Woody (formerly Dropbox)
Contribution and Review
Laurie Barth (Gatsby)
Juan Pablo Buriticá (Splice)
Joe Cheung (Craft Ventures)
David Connors (Sequoia Capital)
Ryn Daniels (Explosion)
Tammy Han (Emergence Capital)
Robert Hatta (Drive Capital)
Zack Isaacson (Sweat Equity Ventures)
Kellan Elliott-McCrea (Dropbox)
Pradeep Muthukrishnan (TrustedFor)
Benjamin Reitzammer (Freelance CTO)
Aaron Saray (More Better Faster)
Dave Story (Next Level Leadership)
James Turnbull (Glitch)
Jon Volk (Unusual VC)
Sam Wholley (Riviera Partners)
Haley AndersonResearch, definitions
Jennifer DurrantDesign
Rachel JepsenEditor
Joshua LevyEditor, design
Sakhi MacmillanProofreader
Courtney NashEditor
J. Marlow SchmauderCopyeditor
Nick StoverGraphics
Titus WormerPrint engineering
And 13 more


Software engineering has a unique place in the economy. Directly or indirectly, software touches almost every aspect of modern life. Most of the world’s largest public companies are in the software industry, which far outpaces broader economic growth.** In the United States, seven out of the ten largest STEM occupations relate to computers or information systems; software developers are the largest group.* Job growth in that sector is projected at a remarkable 21% between 2019 and 2028.*

Behind each software product or service is a team. Software development is a technical and creative process that relies on varied roles and rare combinations of soft and hard skills that develop with years of education and experience. The fluidity of software allows a single talented engineer, with the right support from their team and company, to have unprecedented impact. On the other hand, poorly functioning teams frequently lead to expensive and ineffective engineering efforts, flawed products, and lost opportunities, sometimes with dire consequences. The choice of who is in each role on a software team is arguably the most essential factor for its success.

However, hiring engineering talent is a struggle for most companies. Since the 1990s, the ever-growing need for engineers has consistently outstripped supply.* As software grows in economic importance, more companies with more money compete for a pool of talent that is still scarce, shifting the balance of power in favor of candidates. The software industry has the highest turnover rate of any industry in the U.S., due in large part to the competitive hiring market.** These factors can make the hiring process a demanding and intensive search for the right matches. A 2018 poll of thousands of C-level executives revealed access to developer talent as one of the top obstacles to growth.*

Candidates, too, face challenges. Job-seeking is a high-stakes process, both materially and emotionally. Frustrating interactions with recruiters and hiring managers are a common complaint among candidates, and tight competition exacerbates sloppy or aggressive behavior by some companies. A long-standing absence of diversity leaves many potential candidates neglected or feeling out of place, or subject to hiring practices that exclude—or fail to retain—underrepresented groups. In some cases, the search for a job can become a stressful or soul-crushing experience that even motivate some to opt out of the process altogether, depriving themselves and potential employers of opportunity.

The Challenge of Hiring Well5 minutes

Every professional software engineer or manager has seen a hiring process at some point in their career. If you’ve worked on a software development team, you’ve been interviewed, interviewed others, and maybe hired team members.

Hiring creative, specialized, and skilled workers like software engineers is an inherently challenging matching process, where the variables and possible combinations are numerous. Companies and teams consistently struggle with goals that are often in tension:

  • To find the right quality, quantity, and diversity of candidates.

  • To make hiring decisions fairly and effectively.

  • To do all this efficiently, at reasonable cost in time and money.

Flaws in hiring processes—including inadequate assessment, slowness in hiring, and noise and bias in evaluation—incur a major cost to companies and can have a significant toll on job-seekers and employees.

Three common pitfalls make software engineering hiring a unique challenge:

  • The difficulty of assessing skills and fit. The factors that make a software engineer effective in their role are complex. Engineering requires significant skill and years of training, but (perhaps unlike in some fields like medicine or law) ability and fit for a role is usually not indicated by specific certifications or academic degrees. Great teams routinely include PhDs, college dropouts, and those who’ve learned to code mid-career. Resumes, phone screens, and interviews do measure skill, but are all highly imperfect. Interviewers often have strong opinions about candidates, for example, but evidence generally show these assessments are not reliable indicators of job performance, and most experts believe that structure, calibration, and a combination of signals is the best mitigation for noise and bias. As we will discuss, fit depends on alignment on both sides.

  • Ineffective and unfair processes. Hiring requires making crucial decisions in the face of ambiguity. The goal is a fair, efficient, and effective process for decision making that’s right for one team or company. But few people understand the technical hiring process deeply enough to design these processes well. Multi-stage hiring processes, from resume filtering to complex technical interviews, can go wrong in surprising ways. Interviewers and hiring managers may not be properly trained, or may not appreciate the importance of time spent on recruiting. This can lead to spending too much—or too little—on hiring, and ineffective or unfair hiring decisions. The fact that typical tech teams do not reflect the diversity of the population is also indicative of an uneven playing field for job seekers. Much of the “wisdom” around hiring amounts to replicating things that have become customary at other companies, but may not apply to your stage or needs.

  • Poor candidate experiences. Companies very often underestimate the importance of the candidate experience (due to a perceived asymmetry of power) or don’t even realize that their candidate experience is poor. While it’s easy for a company to feel like it holds all the cards when hiring, the most desirable candidates often have many options and will self-select out of that company’s process if it doesn’t take their needs and values into consideration. In fact, if your company is holding a high bar for hires—as it should—it’s safe to assume that any candidate you’d want to hire has multiple options.

dangerWhen thinking about recruiting, both startups and larger companies often look to other, often famous, companies for inspiration. But you are (probably) not Google, and “hire like Google” can be dangerous advice. The kinds of people you want to hire may not be the same. Each company is in a unique position—its size, growth, philosophies, and financial outlook may be very different from companies you compare against. Finally, well-known companies often have different kinds of leverage, such as a prestigious employer brand, which means that some of their practices may simply be things they can (seemingly) get away with due to their desirability. We can learn a lot from large, successful companies, but we shouldn’t blindly copy them.

What Is Covered

This Guide covers all stages of the hiring and recruiting process for software engineering and software engineering management roles.

Hiring is the process of finding and building alignment between the needs and values of professionals and organizations. Recruiting is the process of attracting professionals that an organization might consider hiring.

This Guide covers the end-to-end hiring process of full-time software engineers including everything from sourcing candidates to interviewing to extending and closing offers.

We do not cover post-hire tasks, such as on-boarding or general engineering management. We do not offer technical preparation guidance for candidates wishing to prepare for the interviews. A few other topics we have not covered yet, but may cover in future updates include:

  • Hiring hardware engineers, product managers, project managers, and other technical roles that are not software engineering roles. That said, many of the principles and ideas will apply to these roles.

  • Contract roles and engineering contracting firms.

  • Direction on talent acquisitions, or “acqui-hires,” where a company is bought by another primarily for the purpose of acquiring its staff.

Who May Find This Useful

This Guide includes material of interest to anyone involved in the hiring process, including hiring managers, founders, interviewers, recruiters, engineers, and candidates. As a hiring manager, you might find this Guide useful if:

  • You work at a startup. You might be a founder or one of the earlier engineers or engineering leaders. You may have been a part of the recruiting process at other companies, but have never had to design and build out a process yourself and are not sure where to start.

  • You work at a larger company. You likely have a more developed recruiting process, and want to understand how to best be effective within that process and how to improve that process—why your company recruits the way it does.

Recruiting processes might look very different at small startups and large companies, but the principles we present can apply at any stage of company or team. We believe it is valuable for small, growing companies to understand the structure and processes of larger companies, and that it is equally valuable for large companies to learn from the resourcefulness and lean practices of startups. Practical advice may differ depending on the size and stage of the company as well as the needs of the team.

startup Startup-specific strategies and concerns are marked with this icon.

  • Engineers usually want to understand how their role fits in with the broader technical recruiting and hiring process. Most likely, engineers will act as interviewers or otherwise be involved in the interviewing process. We cover interviewing and interview training at length, helping engineers be more effective and engaged at this important part of their job.

  • Recruiters and other non-engineers involved in the hiring of technical positions also care about hiring process. Pitfalls often stem from lack of a shared understanding of best practices or clear communication between recruiters, hiring managers, and candidates.

  • Candidates seeking a new role can read this Guide to understand the systems they will be navigating and how companies make decisions. We consider candidates full participants in the hiring process, not as passive receivers of the systems of companies.

candidate Areas that are specifically important for candidates are marked with this icon.

What Makes This Guide Different

Much hiring and recruiting advice is anecdotal or specific to a particular type of company. It can be contradictory, even when coming from experts. It’s also spread about on blogs and articles that focus on specific aspects, such as building a brand, interviewing, or closing a candidate. We believe there is a need for a consolidated and shared resource, written by and for people on different sides of hiring decisions, including hiring managers, founders, recruiters, and candidates. This reference exists to answer the needs of beginners and the more experienced.

This Guide is not perfect, but aims to be the most inclusive and practical Guide available to the subject. Every candidate and every company is unique. Whether you’re a hiring manager or anyone else who’s involved with the hiring process, we want to supply you with both the principles and the tools to empower you to build great teams.

Our approach to building this Guide has been to:

  • Draw knowledge from multiple experts. We are not replicating any one company’s practices or one person’s perspective. Our authors and editors have drawn on the input of dozens of experts and practicing hiring managers.

  • Start with first principles. To begin, we give a framework for thinking about the challenges of hiring, candidate-company fit, and describe a set of principles for designing a hiring process. Even experienced hiring managers can find it useful to remind themselves of the goals and first principles of hiring, and then how those principles should be applied in the specific situation.

  • Give practical guidance on each part of the hiring process. We’ve covered background knowledge and practical, in-depth guidance for every step of the hiring process. Our goal is to encourage a candidate-focused, fair and inclusive, and effective hiring process that fits a companies’ needs.

We’ve been involved in recruiting on both sides of the table. We’ve been at sprawling, successful companies and tiny, unproven startups. We’ve seen success stories and the impact and sense of fulfillment that comes with finding good fits between candidates and companies—and we’ve been humbled and frustrated when things haven’t worked out as well. We’ve had interesting and tough conversations, reviewed what’s been written before, and done our best to reconcile and present the most helpful expert advice and experience.

The Holloway Reader

The Holloway Reader you’re using now is designed to help you find and navigate the material you need. Use the search box. It will reveal definitions, section-by-section results, and content contained in the hundreds of resources we’ve linked to throughout the Guide. Think of it as a mini library of the best content on the subject of technical recruiting and hiring. We also provide mouseover (or short tap on mobile) for definitions of terms, related section suggestions, and external links while you read.

We’d Love Your Help

A reference like this cannot be perfect or complete. Please suggest improvements, add other helpful comments, or call out anything that needs revision. We welcome (and will gladly credit!) your help.

important Most of the contributors to this Guide have worked in the United States, in the Silicon Valley job market and at growing, engineering-focused companies of various sizes. The principles and high-level advice apply much more generally than these constraints, though culture, values, and the dynamics of the job market may vary in different geographic areas and across the industry. If you have experience in other contexts, we’d love to hear from you.

Part I: Foundations

Candidate-Company Fit28 minutes, 15 links

Aditya Agarwal provided framing for this section.

Candidates and hiring managers might imagine the recruiting and hiring process fairly simply: a company describes the desired role, somehow sources people or solicits applications, filters and interviews these candidates for the role—and then picks the best. Rinse and repeat, right?

This way of thinking is dangerously oversimplified: it describes a process, but not the goals. A company or hiring team has needs. And candidates have needs. The goal of a good hiring process is to find common purpose between the candidate and the company.

Definition Candidate-company fit is a hiring goal and philosophy that emphasizes the importance of alignment between companies and candidates. The primary factors considered in candidate-company fit are company needs, candidate motivations, and the values each party holds.

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Candidate Motivators

I think a key to a happy and successful career might be simply working somewhere you’re wanted. It’s easy to talk about working somewhere with great perks and strong culture, et cetera. But if your abilities are underutilized you’ll just burn out doing things nobody appreciates.Tanner Christensen, co-founder, HelloShape*

When it comes to whether a candidate will accept an offer from a company, or even pursue a particular role, consider the candidate perspective—what motivates them? Motivators, which you can also think of as candidate needs or deciding factors, can be extrinsic or intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivators include title and compensation, and practical necessities like location. Intrinsic motivators include a sense of purpose, satisfaction from working toward a mission they believe in, feeling valued, working with a team they respect and that inspires them, and the way the work challenges them to improve.

Breaking down candidate needs into internal and external motivators is inspired in part by the work of business psychology author Daniel Pink. In his book Drive, Pink breaks down what motivates our work into these two categories. Pink’s thesis is that for nonroutine, creative work (like software engineering), intrinsic motivators are much more powerful.* In fact, over-relying on extrinsic incentives like money to motivate people in those roles can be counterproductive.

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Company Motivators

The hiring team is wise to have a few careful conversations to be sure what they’re looking for truly aligns with the company’s goals, and that they can articulate this clearly to candidates. Knowing what differentiates your company is the inner work you need to do as a company and team, even before you decide what abilities are needed. Both selling and knowing your needs depend on knowing who you are. Three questions can help with this:

  • What are we building? Every hiring manager or leader should be able to describe what their team is building and why it matters. When you’re hiring, you and your team are going to have to explain this over and over to candidates.

  • What differentiates us? What makes your company or team unique or different? Talented people do not accept jobs lightly or quickly—they need to know why they’re joining your company over others. This could be what you’re building, the impact, the approach, the team, the growth or traction, or even just the compensation. But you need to know what sets this team apart from others.

  • What abilities are needed on the team? The first part of this is fundamental: Do you even need to hire? Hiring excessively is just as dangerous, if not more so, than hiring too slowly. Assuming you do need to hire, what unique abilities of employees are needed to achieve the team’s goals?

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Values Alignment

The terms company values and culture are often used interchangeably to refer to a company’s beliefs about the world and their “way of doing things.” But they are not the same. Mixing up values and culture can lead to inefficient and unfair hiring practices. When your goal is candidate-company fit, it’s essential to focus on values alignment rather than “cultural fit.”

Company values (or company core values) are the foundational beliefs that are meant to guide a company’s behaviors and decisions. They often reflect a view of how the world is or should be.

Having a clear set of company values is tremendously important to the success of a business. These values guide decision-making in all parts of the company, whether high-stakes strategic or ethical decisions or smaller day-to-day decisions (which, in aggregate, are just as important). Clearly stated values also provide a structured way to resolve disagreements.

Company culture is a description of the traits and behaviors of people at an organization; it is defined by the set of behaviors that are tolerated, encouraged, or discouraged. Culture may or may not be founded on a set of company values, and company culture and an individual team’s culture may differ.

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How Strong a Fit?

Joining a company full time is a big decision. Even in an age when engineers switch jobs frequently, a successful hire will be spending years of their life, at 40 or perhaps 60 hours a week, working and thinking about their work. It usually takes months or even years to ramp up and learn the context and technical details to be successful.

Technical software hires can also be in high demand, especially for the most talented engineers. The best candidates may have many options. They are not just deciding what company to work for; they are deciding what other opportunities they are giving up. If it’s not a good fit in terms of the work, the manager, the role, the mission, or values of the team, people are likely to move on quickly.

These considerations show how important it can be to focus on finding a strong fit for both sides.

A strong fit in hiring occurs where the candidate feels fulfilled with the job and role, and the company is deriving significant value from the candidate’s performance.

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On Hiring “The Best”

Much conventional wisdom around recruiting centers on only hiring “the best” (or the “rockstars” or “A players” or “10x engineers”—terms many engineers dislike!). Under that model, companies should hold a high bar and reject candidates whenever they are in doubt.

In reality, this advice oversimplifies the complexity of hiring well. “The best” is hardly as precise a concept as we’d like to think it is. Technical software roles can be highly specialized in both hard and soft skills, and teams vary widely in values, expectations, and style of work. In spite of technology stacks and qualifications being listed succinctly as if they are menu items—“3+ years of Python” and “GraphQL and Node experience a plus”—an engineer with those specific skills might excel at a large enterprise company, but struggle to meet expectations at a small startup in a role that has a seemingly similar job description. Or they might excel at the startup but find the lower cash pay or the stress of uncertainty incompatible with their life—someone with “the best” experience may not be the best fit for your company.

There are recruiting advantages to specificity around what makes a great engineer. If you define “the best” the same way many other companies do (by traditional pedigrees like a four-year degree from a top school and time at a FAANG company), you’ll end up competing with a large number of companies for a small pool of mostly homogenous candidates. Will you be able to win those candidates over? Can you pay the top-of-market compensation that those candidates expect? Are they actually the candidates most likely to help your company succeed and to succeed in the role? What qualifications are actually essential for success?

Rather than battling the forces of supply and demand, you could rethink what attributes you really value. You might also explore other, creative ways of hiring great candidates that are underappreciated in the market, like candidates that other companies might frequently overlook, or looking in adjacent markets. For example, when Lyft was building its self-driving car team, technical talent with familiarity in that space was in short supply (the self-driving industry is young) and high demand (due to competition from both larger companies and up-and-coming startups in the self-driving space). Rather than just compete for the same candidates as everyone else, Lyft realized that the much more established gaming industry employed many people with similar skills and interests, and tapped into that much larger and less-competitive pool of candidates.

Do You Need to Hire?10 minutes, 10 links

The most important thing you can do is to figure out a way to have as few people on your team as possible. The fewer the people, the less you need to recruit. Recruiting is really hard and it takes a really long time. Recruiting one hire can take up to 100 hours of your team’s collective time. That’s time that is not spent making the product better or getting customers.Auren Hoffman, CEO, SafeGraph*

One of the biggest mistakes companies can make is hiring for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time. Whether you’re a founder at a two-person operation or a hiring manager at a larger company, the first question you need to ask yourself when creating a hiring plan is this: do you really need to hire? Recruiting is an immensely time-intensive task. Just because you might have the money or budget to hire and some work you think needs to get done, that doesn’t always mean you necessarily should hire someone new. Given the financial costs and risks to teams and infrastructure, hiring should not be taken on just because you think it’s time to scale up.

So before you define specific roles and start writing job openings, it’s a good idea to work back from what your team or company needs to build or deliver, and then ask:

  1. What is holding (or could hold) your team back from accomplishing those goals?

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Hiring to Overcome Risks

You want to identify the key risks in what you’re trying to do, then you hire for those risks.Vinod Khosla, founder, Khosla Ventures*

In standard approaches to hiring, teams focus on what it will take to accomplish their goals and be successful. However, in situations that require high innovation, these goals might need to change very quickly over time. In his essay “Gene Pool Engineering,” Vinod Khosla writes “It is easy to hire to boost a team’s strengths without addressing a team’s weaknesses. Fundamentally we believe that a team can be ‘precisely engineered’… to manage the risks and to take advantage of opportunities to create disruption without running afoul of key requirements of the industry.” Khosla argues that in these situations, a team should hire based on both opportunities and risks. The steps he recommends (which we reproduce here) are:

  1. Identifying the five biggest risks a team is facing.

  2. Defining the skill-sets necessary to address those risks.

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Hiring Opportunistically

I always have a role for talented people.Mark Suster, Managing Partner, Upfront Ventures*

Say you come across a fantastic candidate, but they just don’t fit into any of the open roles you have right now. Should you try to hire them? Exceptional talent is rare; exceptional talent that is attracted to your company is even scarcer; exceptional talent that is attracted to your company and at a serendipitous moment where they would make a move requires the stars to all align. Can you miss that opportunity?

Stripe CTO Greg Brockman had a philosophy of hiring for people, not roles. He suggests that “If you can think of one thing this person can do, then there’s probably ten more you’re not thinking of that he/she can do two months from now.”*

I encourage entrepreneurs and CEOs to create positions for strong candidates—even if that position doesn’t exist.Vinod Khosla, founder, Khosla Ventures*

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Principles16 minutes, 7 links

The overall goal of your recruiting activities is to hire the right candidates for your company’s objectives now, in a way that’s as efficient, timely, and fair as possible.

In this section, we’ve distilled the most effective and practical hiring advice from dozens of highly experienced managers to create a list of principles that will guide your hiring process toward candidate-company fit, regardless of your company’s stage or specific needs.

The Candidate Focus Principle

Think about the way each candidate experiences your hiring process. Everything you do gives information to the candidate: the speed and level of professionalism of your process, the attitude and background of your interviewers, the types of questions they are asked, and anything else they are exposed to. A positive, professional experience for candidates is much more likely to lead to an accepted offer. It will reap benefits in the future through referrals and good word-of-mouth. A negative experience, on the other hand, will repel the very candidates you might want to hire, leaving you with just the ones willing to tolerate your process. In addition, putting your candidates under stress or adverse conditions will probably affect your ability to accurately assess them. A candidate-centric approach is crucial in all stages of your funnel.

  • Consider every interaction with a candidate to be a two-sided evaluation. You will be assessing the candidate, but they will also be assessing you. It’s a common mistake to think that some touchpoints are purely for you to evaluate the candidate (like interviews), and others are solely to sell them on your company (such as at the offer stage). But in reality, every step and every interaction should serve both purposes.

  • Start selling or advocating early. Don’t wait until you’re extending an offer to convince a candidate that your company is worth joining. Candidates may drop out of your process if they’re given no compelling reason to join, especially if other companies have won their interest and respect much earlier. Both the company and the role must offer something valuable for candidates: make sure you know what it is and communicate it early. Remember that each individual candidate may have different motivations and find different parts of your value proposition compelling.

  • Set expectations up front and meet them. Let candidates know early on what your process entails, in terms of speed, steps, and expectations. Try not to deviate from that, but if you have to, inform candidates about the deviation and the reason behind it.

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The Effectiveness Principle

Urgency around a hiring decision shouldn’t diminish the team’s focus on finding candidate-company fit:

  • Define what you’re looking for and decide how you will evaluate for fit before you begin recruiting. You can iterate on your criteria and assessment methods over time, but don’t bend them inconsistently on a candidate-by-candidate basis. This includes what you’re willing to compromise on (nice-to-haves) and what you’re not (must-haves).

  • Assess candidates in a way that’s as predictive as possible of on-the-job performance. There are many ways to assess candidates; choose the methods that will demonstrate how a candidate will perform in your role and at your company.

  • Align your assessment methods with your company’s processes. Recruiting methods should be consistent with onboarding processes and the expectations of the people you hire. For instance, if you attempt to hire for certain skills, but then judge performance based on a completely different set of skills, you are setting yourself and your hires up for failure. This also applies within the various stages of recruiting. If you screen applicants looking for certain qualities, but then interview for completely different qualities, you’ll be wasting your and candidates’ time.

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The Fairness Principle

Design a recruiting process that is fair. In reality, a lot of the techniques that result in an effective process can improve fairness as well (like using structure, defining what you’re looking for ahead of time, assessing candidates in a way that’s predictive of job performance, and being mindful of bias), but fairness requires even more diligence.

  • Be aware of unconscious bias. We mentioned bias above, but we mention it again here because it can impact both effectiveness and fairness. Everyone on your team who is interacting with candidates or assessing them should be aware of and undergo some unconscious bias training.

  • Compensate fairly. Differences in compensation among engineers at the same level can be driven by unconscious bias and conscious discrimination. Having some structure and discipline around how you determine compensation can help prevent unfairness to creep in and build over time. Be careful about sources of pay disparity.

  • Hire with diversity and inclusion in mind. We discuss many practices for building a fairer hiring process—and the benefits of doing so—in Diversity & Inclusion.

The Efficiency Principle

Keep your recruiting pipeline efficient. While recruiting is an extremely high-leverage activity, an inefficient process will waste resources and create a frustrating experience for your team and your candidates.

  • Move quickly and carefully. Testing the efficiency of your process will protect you from losing out on the most desirable candidates to companies that move faster. The primary goal of efficiency should not simply be speed, however. An efficient process creates a better candidate experience, and minimizes the number of candidates that your team has to juggle at any point in time. Don’t cut any corners, but ruthlessly identify and weed out any sources of delay like poor communication between recruiters and hiring managers, slow scheduling, or a lack of internal alignment.

  • Have clear cut-offs in the hiring funnel. Knowing when to let candidates out of the pipeline will help minimize the cost and effort spent on candidates who are unlikely to make it through to the end of the hiring funnel. This is also mindful of candidates’ time, since you won’t be dragging candidates through the funnel when they’re clearly not a fit and will inevitably be rejected. We’ll discuss throughout this Guide how to fairly evaluate candidates at different stages of the funnel.

  • Ramp up. Use low-effort methods earlier in the funnel, and only increase investment and effort (from both sides) as you both gain more confidence. Many hiring funnels are designed for quick screens at the beginning, then larger investments culminating in a full day or a few days of onsite interviews.

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The Improvement Principle

important Underlying each of these principles is a commitment to measure the success of your hiring process on an ongoing basis and over time, and make adjustments and improvements where necessary. As companies grow, measuring and improving the process can become a major area of focus. The sooner you can start understanding why, when, and how you hire, the more likely you’ll be to build an unstoppable team.

  • Focus on both the process and the end results. Recruiting is a complex activity, and most hiring managers are strapped for time. It might take time for changes in your process to yield results. A lot of time spent on recruiting might be repetitive, and it might be frustrating as you realize that most candidates don’t end up being a fit and joining your team. Paying attention to the trees instead of just the forest can actually help.

  • Break your process down into day-to-day activities. Each activity should be clear and concrete. Most of these activities will involve moving candidates from one stage to the next. It should be clear who is responsible for each activity.

  • Keep an eye on metrics. Metrics help ensure that the entire pipeline is healthy. You should be able to tell whether each stage of the pipeline is functioning. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall victim to the “activity trap” (where you view activity and time spent as your primary performance metric, even if that time is not fruitful).

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Cast of Characters22 minutes, 10 links

In most companies, many people in various roles are involved in the recruiting and hiring process. You may work with a few or all of these roles depending on the size and stage of your company—if you’re a founder or early-stage hiring manager, you’ll likely be establishing most of these roles. Learning more about the roles will help you determine whether it is time to establish a recruiting function, and how best to establish and maintain a partnership between the hiring manager and recruiter.

candidate If you are a candidate, understanding these roles will help you better manage your own progress through the process.

Who’s Involved in Hiring?

Definition The candidate is the person being considered for employment at the company. Some companies refer to candidates as applicants, but we use the more expansive term candidate, since not all candidates apply directly. At the top of the hiring funnel, candidates can be either inbound or outbound.

Definition The hiring manager is an employee, typically a manager with an open position on their team. The hiring manager is also usually a key interviewer, and they will be a crucial voice, if not the sole decision maker, in determining whether to extend an offer. They may become the candidate’s manager if the candidate joins the company.

Some companies employ a “bootcamp” or “team-matching process” that allows for some flexibility in final team placement after the candidate joins, and in these cases the term hiring manager is used more loosely to refer to the primary decision maker.

Definition The recruiter is a specialist in the hiring process who partners closely with the hiring manager to find and attract candidates. A recruiter contributes to crafting a job description, sourcing and screening candidates, conducting informational chats, delivering offers and rejections, and negotiating compensation packages, among other activities. Companies split responsibilities between hiring managers and recruiters in different ways, and as a company grows, recruiters may become increasingly specialized. Internal recruiters (or in-house recruiters) and external recruiters differ in their relationship to the hiring company. An internal or in-house recruiter is a full-time employee at the company, an arrangement which is common at companies that are growing quickly or have achieved a certain size.* An external recruiter is a contractor, typically has more limited duties, and may work with many companies.

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The Hiring Manager-Recruiter Partnership

An effective recruiting process requires the entire cast of characters working together toward a common goal: successful hiring. A crucial part of this process is the relationship between hiring managers and recruiters. Hiring managers (and their teams) are the ultimate beneficiaries of successful hiring, so they’re particularly motivated to take the process seriously every step of the way. They also know the team’s needs, values, and expectations better than anyone. On the other hand, it is a recruiter’s job to recruit. In addition to (theoretically) being able to devote more time to the process than a busy manager or founder, recruiters often bring insights and skills to the process based on their role-specific experience and qualifications. This may include natural talent or personality; your recruiter will likely be extroverted and describe themself as a “people person.” Additional practical knowledge may be accumulated through years of experience spent figuring out what people need and want, what attitudes or motivations they respond to, and what they will or will not compromise on, because a recruiter may see more candidates and hires in one year than a hiring manager might in their entire career. The relationship between both parties can make or break the entire recruiting process.*

startup A great recruiter is an invaluable partner to many hiring managers and teams, though not every company needs or wants to employ an outside party in their hiring. For most early-stage startups, having a full-blown in-house recruiting team may be unnecessary and too costly. Initially, hiring managers (or, very early on, the founding team) might take on most or all recruiting activities, simply out of necessity. Other functions may pitch in; for instance, company admins may also serve as recruiting coordinators. As many companies grow, however, they begin shifting recruiting activities onto a specialized team.

Never forget that hiring is the most important thing you do. Lots of people say this, but then they delegate hiring to recruiters. Everyone—EVERYONE—should invest time in hiring.Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Alphabet*

confusion When should you hire in-house recruiters, and when should you outsource? How should you outsource? This article from First Round discusses the different types of recruiting support you can get and provides a few frameworks for deciding when, what, and how to outsource.

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Overview of the Hiring Funnel12 minutes, 11 links

Between posting a job ad and onboarding a new employee, it takes many steps to help a company gain confidence that a candidate is a good fit and for the candidate to decide the company is right for them. This fundamental part of the recruiting process is called the hiring funnel.

Definition The hiring funnel (or funnel) is the series of stages through which a candidate’s consideration for employment progresses. It’s called a “funnel” because of the shape and by analogy with the traditional purchase funnel: many candidates enter the funnel, but few proceed through all the stages and are hired. Candidates enter at the top of the funnel through multiple sources. At the bottom, they accept an offer you have extended for them to join your company. A candidate’s exit from the funnel at any stage can be prompted by the candidate themself or by the company. Moving forward at each stage occurs by mutual agreement.

For each role, a company will typically have multiple candidates in the funnel at different stages. And many of these candidates are likely to be exploring and interviewing with several companies at the same time.

Figure: An Example Hiring Funnel

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Stages of the Funnel

The funnel might look different from company to company and even candidate to candidate. For instance, at a small startup, a founder or CTO might simply reach out to someone they have worked with closely before and convince them to join the company. The entire process may be a few meetings and a lunch with the team.* At a large, mature company, the process will likely be more formal and involve the following:

  • Sourcing and selecting. You source candidates who might be a good fit for your company, and/or select from a pool of applicants.

  • Screening. A quick assessment (for instance, a quick call with a recruiter or hiring manager) that can help rule out cases where there is an obvious lack of fit.

  • Interviewing. A deeper assessment of the candidate’s skills, experience, traits, and values.

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Data and Metrics

It’s important to have a set of metrics that you can use to evaluate, diagnose, and improve your hiring funnel. Metrics can also help you predict whether your activities are putting you on track to hit your hiring goals. There is no single metric that encompasses the health of the funnel. We present several commonly used metrics that, combined, can help you understand how your recruiting process is functioning.

General Metrics

Reviewing the number of candidates, or volume of candidates, at each stage gives a broad sense of your hiring funnel. Because this metric is easy to calculate, and it’s hard to have any insight without it, most companies will review their volume regularly.

Conversion rates (pass-through rates or yields) measure the percentage of candidates who move from one stage to the next—for example, the percentage of candidates who make it to an onsite interview after a phone interview.

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Part II: Diversity and Inclusion

This section was written by Jennifer Kim, with Jason Wong.

The Tech Industry: By the Numbers11 minutes, 31 links

The tech industry is increasingly powering businesses around the globe, and creating products that dramatically impact people’s lives. And yet, it is an industry that does not reflect the broader population. Women make up 57% of the U.S. workforce as a whole but only 26% of the technical workforce. Black, Latina, and Native American women make up 16% of the U.S. workforce and hold only 4% of tech jobs.* Pay gaps by gender and race persist. While 83% of tech executives are white, only 10% are women.** Asian and Asian American men make up 32% of the tech workforce, but only 20% hold executive positions; while Asian and Asian American women make up 15% of the workforce, they hold only 5% of executive roles in tech.

The problem, however, goes beyond race and gender, and is more pervasive than the statistics presented by Information is Beautiful. Data on race and gender are the easiest to collect, but harassment and discrimination affect workers based on their caregiver status, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability status.

In a 2017 study, 43% of people in tech worried about losing their jobs due to their age;* in a more recent 2019 study, 80% did.*

Figure: Tech Industry Diversity Stats

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The Role of Bias

The above statistics speak to a much deeper history of systemic bias and discrimination toward people from all these underrepresented groups.

Definition A bias is an inclination in favor of or against a particular person or group based on factors such as race, ethnicity, age, educational prestige, appearance, and so on. As a type of observational error, bias leads to unfair and ineffective outcomes when it affects decision-making. Bias can operate systematically where an individual’s decision-making is persistently affected or on a systemic basis where a process or group dynamic produces biased decisions. Explicit biases (or conscious biases) are inclinations about particular people or groups that an individual has and is aware of. Implicit biases (or unconscious biases) are inclinations based on subconscious associations that influence our decisions without us being aware of them.*

Biases are a kind of mental shortcut; rather than treating everyone as a complex individual, we pick factors by which to group them and assign that group certain expectations, with no evidence that those expectations are borne out in individual behavior. Implicit or unconscious biases are especially difficult to deal with because we don’t know that we have them, and they may even contradict the views we consciously hold. For example, a group of physicians may not consciously believe that Black patients feel less pain than white patients, but nevertheless recommend less pain medication for their Black patients experiencing the same injury as their white patients.*

There are many types of unconscious bias that affect people in general, and thus also affect hiring processes. Harvard developed a free online tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to help people become more aware of their unconscious biases.

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The Consequences

Systemic bias and discrimination are a broad problem that affects not just recruiting and hiring, but also people’s willingness to remain in a given industry that does not represent them or treat them fairly. The Kapor Center’s landmark Tech Leavers Study reported in 2017 that nearly 40% of people who left the tech industry cited “unfairness or mistreatment” as the major reason they left, with men of color the most likely to leave due to mistreatment; 78% reported having experienced unfair treatment. In 2016, the departure rate for women was 41%—more than twice that of men, which was 17%.*

Underrepresented men and women of color experience stereotyping at twice the rate of their white and Asian peers, while LGBTQ+ tech leavers report bullying and public humiliation at significantly higher rates than other underrepresented groups. However, 62% of tech leavers said they would have stayed had their employer made efforts to create a more inclusive work environment.

Along with the negative consequences for candidates and employees, homogeneous and inequitable, unfair work environments also pose significant risks to organizations.* The Tech Leavers Study concluded that the industry stands to lose more than $16B per year in employee replacement costs.* Companies also may face backlash and negative brand associations for not dealing with potentially harmful features and unforeseen consequences of their products.*** For example, Facebook’s “real name” policy—which failed to realize the importance of privacy concerns of people from marginalized groups—was so controversial there’s an extensive Wikipedia page about it. When Twitter was in the running for acquisition, a number of potential buyers apparently balked at the company’s inability to deal with the harassment issues on its platform.

I observed a company of mostly white, affluent iPhone users delay shipping on Android because Android users reportedly earn less money, and later regretting the choice after discovering their Android users are more engaged. I’ve watched helplessly as another company used the data they collected on users in discriminatory ways, which not only erodes users’ trust but also the trust of the employees who have been subject to discrimination in their lives. If these teams were more diverse, especially among the leadership, I doubt the same choices would have been made.Leighton Wallace, engineering manager, Lever*

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Benefits and Opportunities

Anyone who owns a company or runs a hiring process has the power to help bridge the opportunity gap that has been created through years of institutional discrimination of marginalized groups. There are also countless advantages—to your company, to candidates, to your industry, and to your customers—to embracing and supporting diversity. The rules of business-building have changed. Building a technical product today requires enormous adaptability, creativity, and global reach—all of which improves with diversity.

Research extensively and consistently bears out that diversity positively correlates to better financial performance.* McKinsey has conducted some of the most robust, oft-cited studies on a direct correlation of diversity and better business outcomes. Among their findings: “Gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to have better financial performance. Ethnically diverse companies are 33% more likely to financially outperform their counterparts.” A 2013 report by Harvard Business Review found that companies that had more diverse workforces were “45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”* Researchers also found that more diverse companies announced, on average, two more products a year.*

In addition to correlational studies, diversity seems to have a causal relationship with innovation. Numerous psychology studies have shown that diverse teams shine a light on organizational blindspots, solve problems faster, and are more creative.** Diverse teams have the ability to see and solve problems that might otherwise be missed or mysterious, and increase returns for the business by doing so. In early 2019, Pinterest released a widely applauded inclusive search feature. Development was driven in large part by feedback from employees and diverse members of their customer base who were looking for beauty tips for a wide range of skin tones. When it comes to the business argument, the research is conclusive: diverse teams are more productive and effective at making decisions,* and diversity is markedly better for a company’s bottom line.

Finally, as a recruiter or hiring manager, expanding your hiring pool gives you an advantage in an increasingly competitive market. When you’re no longer competing with Google and Facebook for the same set of people, you have the opportunity to find more candidates in general, adding volume along with diversity to the top of your hiring funnel.

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What Is D&I?6 minutes, 10 links

Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.Vernā Myers, VP Inclusion Strategy, Netflix*

Diversity and Inclusion (or D&I) is an approach taken by organizations to building diverse teams and promoting an inclusive workplace, in order to set underrepresented groups up for success. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Diversity & Belonging, and other variations are also common.

Understanding the differences between diversity and inclusion is essential, because both are necessary to building and fostering a workplace where all employees can thrive. As noted earlier, diverse teams perform better and contribute to longer-lasting, more successful companies. But having a demographically diverse team does not automatically lead to these benefits. It’s not possible to reap the benefits of diversity without inclusive practices.

Diversity is a condition of reflecting demographic differences in a group of people. Elements of diversity include age, caregiver status, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, immigration status, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background.

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D&I in Hiring28 minutes, 28 links

Whether you work at a large company with a robust hiring processes already in place or you’re a startup founder figuring out how to make your first technical hires, it’s never too early to start thinking critically about diversity in hiring. You may be approaching this feeling out of depth and anxious—“I know it’s a problem, but who am I to help solve it?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “It seems like someone else’s job.” Or maybe you’ve seen past efforts to incorporate diversity and inclusion into hiring practices fail.

important The principles behind effective recruiting with diversity in mind are the same as great recruiting, period. Lack of diversity in an organization signals a need for better recruiting practices. Hiring with diversity in mind is the most effective way to find and recruit talent to your team, because it will help you build a process that’s better for everyone, while building toward a workplace that makes employees want to stay.

story “In 2015, the engineers of the still small, 25-person Lever team voiced their gripe about the hiring process. As was the norm at the time, our interviews were primarily focused on evaluating technical skills. Some of the veteran engineers started saying, ‘If I were a candidate now, I don’t know if I could pass our technical screens.’ Hearing this from some of my most tenured, productive colleagues worried me. Behind their concern about the difficulty of the technical screen, I could hear their thinking: ‘Am I valued here? Do I get considered as a full person, or just a code monkey?’ If it were true that these employees couldn’t pass our screen, what other great candidates might we be missing out on, and how would we even know it? We gradually improved our process, moving away from a sole focus on technical skills. We added an interview that focuses on communication, collaboration, and personal motivations. We doubled-down on interviewer training. We aimed to deliver a great experience for every single candidate, so that even rejected candidates ended up referring us to their friends.* A couple of years later, these changes to our process resulted in gender parity across the company of 100+ people, 42% in technical roles, and significant representation of Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ employees, as well as parents and caregivers, and a more supportive environment for everyone. The motivation wasn’t, ‘Let’s build a diverse team’; it was ‘Let’s improve our process, because something’s broken here.’” —Jennifer Kim, startup advisor and inclusion advocate

D&I is not like a new feature you can simply add to your existing platform. It will most likely require re-architecturing your system. Increasing focus on D&I is more akin to going from a monolith to microservices than adding a new text box to a user profile page. But there are strategies to get you started.

It’s Not Just a Pipeline Problem

Every part of the tech ecosystem, from education through the hiring processes and the culture of companies, affects overall representation in the industry. And yet, tech companies often mark the “pipeline” as the biggest impediment to increasing diversity. This often manifests in a few different concerns:

  • Not enough underrepresented candidates apply for tech jobs.

  • Not enough underrepresented people graduate with STEM degrees.

  • Underrepresented people are not interested in STEM or in tech jobs.

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Avoiding Diversity Debt

startup You might be familiar with the concept of technical debt, which refers to having to make imperfect decisions during a product build, a result of having to make tradeoffs between short-term, quick fixes and long-term solutions. Teams often choose to focus on the short-term, knowing they’ll have to pay down the debt later as the company or project scales. Similarly, companies need to be mindful of diversity debt, especially early on when it is easier to prevent or correct.

Diversity debt is the result of expanding a team without ensuring it is diverse. The more members of majority groups on a team, the more difficult it can be to recruit members of URGs and provide an inclusive culture.

Phin Barnes refers to diversity debt as “the one startup debt you can’t pay back.” Homebrew, an early-stage VC, strongly encourages founders to start thinking about diversity early. We suggest reading their “Diversity at Startups” guide if you’re currently a founder or early employee.

If your engineering team is five people, most candidates from underrepresented backgrounds won’t have too many hesitations about coming in as the first woman, first Black engineer, et cetera. They might even expect it. However, if diversity debt gets racked up to the point where you have a 50-person engineering team that is entirely white and Asian men, it will be very difficult to convince talented people from underrepresented backgrounds to even interview. And that kind of homogeneity puts the long-term performance of the entire team at risk.

Privilege and Allyship

Privilege in the context of diversity and inclusion is a set of unearned benefits enjoyed by people who belong to particular social groups. Privilege can be a fraught topic because no single group has a monopoly on it—whiteness conveys privilege, maleness conveys privilege, ability conveys privilege, and so on—and because many are not aware of the privilege they have.

Acknowledging privilege can be uncomfortable, especially where overlapping systems of privilege are at play. But privilege is a critical concept in D&I work because it can help identify those with the social capital to effect change. It can also help to structure allyship relationships to ensure that less privileged voices are heard.

You may hear frustration or exasperation from some people, usually from the majority group, who say things like, “What do you want from me?” or “This isn’t my problem.” People who are not directly affected by inequity or don’t see it in their daily lives often don’t understand or accept that others have to work harder while facing discrimination, harassment, threats, or worse. When this is the case, people don’t always feel like doing something about a problem they don’t see—one they may not even believe is real. They may think this work should be relegated to those directly affected by bias and discrimination.

On the other hand, you might hear someone say, “I’m just a white dude. How can I help?” They’re saying that they really don’t feel prepared to address what they understand to be a deep and major issue, and they want to know where to start.

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D&I Myths and Pitfalls30 minutes, 39 links

Given the wealth of data and well-established arguments for why D&I matters for businesses, why haven’t hiring and inclusivity practices caught up? Often, hiring managers and other company leaders face multiple and sometimes conflicting priorities and constraints, and it’s easy for companies that lack diversity in leadership to pay less attention to problems they don’t see as impacting them directly. Even when a company of any stage or size makes the choice to improve, it is not easy to change systems that have been in place for so long, and it’s often difficult to figure out who exactly is in charge of inventing and enforcing new policies.

Many of us understand the benefits of D&I and want to move forward, but we don’t always know where to begin. Dismantling common myths and pitfalls around D&I is a good place to start.* (In fact, we already tackled one of the most common: “it’s a pipeline problem.”) As you seek to create a more inclusive hiring process, unpacking these myths and pitfalls can help make sure your actions are impactful and long-lasting, as opposed to performative, shallow, and misdirected. As with any organizational change, you will encounter pushback from many possible directions. Members of your team may take exception, your peers may question the efficacy of your new hiring proposals, you may uncover hidden racist, sexist, and ableist sentiment in your C-suite.

This is expected. Your greatest tool on this journey will be a strong sense of humility and an ability to focus on the experiences of marginalized groups.

It may be useful to refer to the following sections in the moment, when you hear one of these myths or misunderstandings in a hiring huddle. You can also share them with your team to set everyone up with the same baseline of knowledge and understanding. It is likely, too, that you’ll have to have these conversations many times in different ways; it often takes people some time to unpack why they are reflexively against improving diversity and inclusion. As a hiring manager, you can help improve your retention rates and the quality of your hires by helping your team understand how they can work to foster a work environment that is welcoming and supportive of all.

“We don’t want to lower the hiring bar.”

When you hear people say this or “I know I need more diversity on my team, but I’m also supposed to hire the best person,” it tells you that either they believe the hiring process would elevate unqualified candidates just because they’re underrepresented, or they believe diversity efforts in general are equated with lower quality—or both.

The Basics

While the intention here may be one of concern for the quality of your organization, this statement implies an underlying belief that the average performance of minorities across gender and race is less than the overall mean—that you must choose between having a high performing engineering organization and opening your doors to URGs. This belief reflects conscious or unconscious biases: the phrase reflects the thinking that “underrepresented” means “not as competent.”

Laura Weidman Powers picks apart this phrase word by word in a post we highly recommend, where she points out “the implication in that statement [is] that you have to defend yourself against others who want you to lower the bar.” No one, least of all hiring managers, wants a process that’s going to lead to a poor candidate-company fit. D&I efforts combat lazy hiring based on pattern-matching and kinship, which favor a limited set of experiences. D&I raises the bar.

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“We believe people should be hired on their merits.”

Similar phrases include, “Our hiring process is fair” and “We’re a meritocracy.”

The Basics

While talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not. Many URGs face barriers that people from majority groups do not. They don’t receive as many referrals, they get passed over for promotions, and they get paid less, to name just a few. They often have to work twice as hard or more to get the same level of recognition, while facing continued barriers like harassment and discrimination. The merit myth is a particularly difficult one to address, because you don’t want to make anyone feel that they don’t deserve what they’ve worked for, as you work to help more privileged people recognize the barriers URGs face. But this myth can be so harmful to individuals and teams that it’s critical to take steps to address it.

The belief that people get where they are based on individual effort alone —hard work—rather than by a combination of hard work, talent, circumstance, support, and luck, is particularly pervasive in the U.S. Faced with the kind of pressure and uncertainty that hiring presents, the idea of meritocracy has become a common mindset in tech. Believing (and being told) that those who work hard can get ahead gives us some temporary comfort that there’s a sense of fairness built into the system that we all “get what we deserve.”

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“What about ideological diversity?”

You might also hear someone say, “What about diversity of thought, isn’t that more important than what people look like?” or “Doesn’t my opinion matter anymore?”

The Basics

Ideological diversity (or diversity of thought) is the presence of diverging viewpoints, especially political viewpoints, in a group of people. Measuring ideological diversity can be useful in circumstances where this heterogeneity affects behavior or outcomes.*

It’s hard to look at a definition like that and think “diversity of thought” would be a bad thing. It’s not! Inviting underrepresented people to sit at the table and giving them a microphone brings different viewpoints to an industry that has historically heard only a limited set of ideas in a feedback loop.

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You might also hear, “Isn’t this reverse sexism/racism/-ism?”

In some cases with these kinds of comments, people genuinely want to know what’s allowed and what’s not. But they may also be trying to get around any action the company is proposing, or they might be on the defensive. They may be afraid that their place in the company is at risk.

The Basics

In the U.S., it is illegal to discriminate against an employee on account of certain immutable traits such as their race, color, religion, sex, or age.

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“Our next hire must be diverse.”

When you hear someone say, “Our next hire must be diverse” or “We need to hire five more women and two people of color to have more diversity,” it’s usually said with good intentions. People are trying to be mindful of diversity debt and are determined to not make the problem worse. But this way of looking at D&I may do more harm than good.

The Basics

Talented people of all different backgrounds want to be given a fair opportunity to succeed based on their skills and aptitude. Demanding that your next hire must be a member of one URG or another can lead them to be referred to (or thought of) as the “diversity candidate.”

Going Deeper

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“Let’s focus on hiring women first.”

You might also hear, “How do we hire women?”

A common misunderstanding is that one kind of representation equals diversity and that D&I only matters in hiring. An employee or boss who has a more PR-centric approach to D&I might think that because media attention often focuses on gender imbalance, that’s where attention should be paid to avoid earning a bad reputation.

The Basics

This is one of the most common pitfalls for teams starting on diversity and inclusion efforts. Even when well intended, the “women-first” approach may lead to nothing getting tackled at the root cause, and surface-level solutions can actually have the opposite effect of reinforcing existing inequities. For example, the common advice for professional women to “lean in” tends to favor white women and actually punishes women of color who face additional barriers to equity, like being labeled too aggressive. “Hire more women” policies often reinforce the same inequities, where white, wealthy women are the primary beneficiaries.

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“We don’t have the time or resources to prioritize D&I.”

This comes up a lot, at all levels and stages of a company.

startup At startups you might hear things like, “We don’t have the luxury to focus on this right now” or “There will be time for this later; we have to figure out the business first.” Or with even more urgency, “I’d love to think about diversity, but right now we need someone yesterday.”

If you’re at a larger company, you might hear something like this: “It’s too late for us to build a diverse team.”

The Basics

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Improving D&I in the Hiring Processan hour, 60 links

Jennifer Kim compares underrepresented talent to the canaries in the coalmine— whatever biases exist in your hiring process, certain groups will feel them before others do. But just because they’re the first to notice (and potentially the first to be harmed), doesn’t mean they’ll be the last. Hiring with diversity in mind isn’t just about whom you let in at the top of the funnel—there are many pitfalls throughout the hiring process that can create an unfair or hostile environment. There are also many opportunities in that process for improving diversity and inclusion at your company, for current and future employees. There are a number of straightforward strategies and tactics you can employ as a hiring manager to make sure your team is hiring the best people out there and creating the kind of environment that will make them want to stay.

An important part of hiring with diversity and inclusion in mind is planning ahead. Many companies have an unstructured default where lack of foresight routinely catches them scrambling to fill one-off roles, and recruiting remains a stop-and-go effort.

When faced with constant firefighting, hiring becomes about “Who is available now? Who can we hire easily and quickly?” This is not a favorable environment for an underrepresented candidate. And while there’s nothing wrong with scrambling once in a while to fill an unforeseen business-critical opening, if this is your group’s default strategy, you’ll end up with a team built of those who were easiest for you to hire—those you already know, who were available. To raise the hiring bar, you’ll need to plan your hiring processes in advance. This section will help you do so with a focus on making that process more effective, and more inclusive for everyone.

Setting Goals

When Google released its diversity data in 2014, it led to a flurry of more big tech companies releasing theirs and promising to do better with bold targets—like reaching certain demographic percentages. Companies largely missed these goals,** because it is incredibly difficult to change the demographics of organizations that are already in the many thousands.* While the data helped to raise awareness, releasing it wasn’t a solution.* Companies that initially championed diversity reports have since delayed releasing these reports on schedule, or stopped altogether.**

caution Looking only at how many URGs are hired can lead to misaligned incentives, where recruiters and teams think they need to beef up their numbers just to look good. Facebook, for example, instituted a policy by which recruiters were given “diversity points” when they brought in “someone who was a woman, or who was not white or Asian.”* This initiative failed, in large part because those charged with making hiring decisions felt that the company had done enough by offloading responsibilities to recruiters and asking them to broaden the pipeline. Even if Facebook had hired a significant number of underrepresented engineers, having “good” diversity numbers does not mean those numbers will last, particularly if there are no efforts at improving inclusion at the company.

story “In the vast majority of cases, it is incredibly obvious to candidates when a recruiter or hiring manager is targeting them for whatever group they think they’re part of. When you get some random person reaching out with a position that seems like a poor fit, it’s a waste of time, and being known for doing that sort of thing is going to hurt the reputation of that company even further.” —Ryn Daniels, Senior Software Engineer, HashiCorp

There is certainly disagreement among experts on whether specific number-driven goals* are the right approach to D&I. But it’s also true that for a business initiative to be taken seriously, goals of some kind need to be set. What gets measured gets managed.

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Write Better Job Descriptions

At many companies, writing the job description is a perfunctory task, something to just get through so we can hire someone right now. But taking a thoughtful approach and investing in a good process for writing job descriptions with a D&I lens can have a significant positive effect on the rest of your hiring process. How you advertise your jobs has a proven impact on who applies.

The patterns that show up across your company’s jobs show what you truly value.Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO, Textio*

Improving the Job Description Format

Because every hiring manager tends to write job descriptions differently, setting some standards and guidelines can help. One guideline might be to limit bullet points to just five, each no longer than an old-school tweet (140 characters). This is to encourage hiring managers to focus on what’s essential and avoid prescribing or overdetermining potential candidate profiles too much, as that’s where biases can creep in. There are a few essential guidelines for writing inclusive JDs:

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Diversify Your Candidate Pool

In technical hiring, especially at startups, this is a common practice: “I just reached out to all the guys I know and hired who was available.” In fact, your most effective recruiting channel is probably internal referrals—even for later-stage companies—and referrals typically share the demographic characteristics of your existing team. Expanding the pool and being intentional about who you are inviting to interview gives a chance to those who may otherwise have been overlooked. Luckily, there are many ways to diversify your initial candidate pool and expand your pool of qualified candidates.


If your organization already has a university recruiting program, consider expanding your efforts to include schools with more diverse populations than Stanford, MIT, and Harvard, whether that’s HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities), women’s colleges, or state universities and community colleges. You can choose to recruit from colleges where the student populations are closer to the audience for your product. You can look at the schools that belong to BRAID or other schools that have made effective strides in diversifying their engineering programs.

Partnering with bootcamps that have a commitment to diversity is another great way to source candidates. Recurse Center, C4Q, and Fullstack Academy are just a few examples. Online programs like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) also graduate more diverse classes of engineers than do traditional four-year schools.

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Evaluating and Interviewing

Evaluating other people based on the scant data we gather from a few hours of interviewing is a lofty challenge. Recruiting with diversity in mind can help you get better signal from the noise—from interpreting a nontraditional career path, to being able to take into account a candidate’s obstacles that are unfamiliar to you—and account for the conscious and unconscious biases of the interviewers. There are a few strategies that we describe here, but cover in more detail in Part V.

Build a Structured Interview Process

Structured interviewing has several benefits. By emphasizing the training of interviewers and the implementation of rubrics and feedback forms, structured interviewing allows for methodical evaluation for the skills required for the job. These strategies go a long way in minimizing bias and evaluative confusion in the hiring process.

  • Calibrate interviewers. A structured interview process involves calibrating interviewers so they all come into the process with the same baseline knowledge and expectations. This is hugely important for mitigating bias in the interview process. It is important to spark a dialogue with your team about bias so they feel welcome to ask questions and bring up concerns. Helpful steps in that discussion include:

    • Acknowledging a candidate’s identity to prime interviewers to listen for specific types of responses and feedback that might be associated with stereotypes for a particular demographic. When reviewing interviewer feedback, interviewers should be on the lookout for how bias might show up in notes and discussions.

    • Reminding interviewers of common stereotypes and biases before they interview. For example, someone interviewing a woman may say something like, “they’re too pushy” or “she was abrasive.”* These are signs of bias that you can counteract.

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Compensate Fairly

Compensation disparity between URGs and their white male colleagues is a particularly prevalent issue.**

Figure: Pay Disparities

Source: Equal Payback Project

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Continued Learning

In 2010, Etsy* was in the midst of an engineering team overhaul. They had decided they needed a fresh team to take on the challenges the company was facing, and in building this incoming team, hiring women engineers was to be a priority. Yet in the year that followed, they experienced an 86% growth in the engineering team and a 35% decline in gender diversity—they had hired 38 new engineers, of which only two were women. In examining what happened during that year, they found three major contributing factors to their failure:

  1. Talking about diversity on its own was not an effective strategy.

  2. To change outcomes, they needed to make significant changes to their interview process.

  3. Because there was no proof of their commitment to diversity, candidates from underrepresented groups were not confident in working for them.

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Part III: Internal Alignment

How Roles, Levels, and Titles Fit Together6 minutes, 3 links

Hiring succeeds best when the hiring team clarifies both their needs and the parameters of the role required to meet those needs. Parameters may include the scope and impact of the role, the job level and title, day-to-day expectations, and what qualities and skills will help a candidate succeed in the role. Thinking seriously about roles will make every stage of hiring easier and less prone to bias—from job descriptions, sourcing, and interviews, to making an offer and onboarding.

A role (or position) is the part an employee plays within a team and company, including the set of formal and informal expectations that define the employee’s responsibilities. A role also situates an employee within an organization, and it may correspond to the job level into which they fall.

Every role has certain responsibilities and authority. But more specifically, a person’s impact arises from outcomes—the tangible value to the company, such as revenue, technology, product, or customers, that is uniquely attributable to that person’s work. In practice, a role requires a combination of:

  • Ability. What skills, knowledge, and past experience are required?

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Defining Roles34 minutes, 33 links

Understanding the role you need to fill is one of the most challenging parts of the hiring process. It is a bit of an art, but it will be a lot easier if you’ve seriously considered your company motivators and the potential needs of your candidates.

When defining the role you’ll be hiring for, it’s best to begin by identifying what you would consider to be successful outcomes for that role. The next step is to determine what strengths and competencies will predict a candidate’s success in the role. This will likely encompass some mix of technical skills, nontechnical skills, and a certain set of traits and values.

Outcomes and Responsibilities

It’s tempting to want to jump into specifying concrete things about the person you want to hire by describing their skills or experience. However, because you want someone who will succeed in the role, it’s helpful to specify the outcomes you want before attempting to describe candidates. Starting with individual requirements might cause you to lose perspective of what you actually want to accomplish later in the hiring process.

Answering the following questions will help determine successful outcomes for this role:

  • What will occur if you hire someone who is successful in this role?

  • What would be the impact on the team, the business, or the product?

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Desired Skills and Characteristics

Once you have clarity on what success looks like for the role, the next step is to come up with a set of competencies and characteristics that will make that success likely, including specific technical skills, nontechnical skills, and traits and values.

While seriously considering each of these buckets is important, it’s wise to be careful not to end up with a list of rigid (and uninspiring) check-the-box criteria. If your criteria are too rigid, you might overlook some of the most promising candidates, especially if the role itself is a little ambiguous or is expected to evolve in the future.

Desired Technical Skills

When compiling a list of competencies needed for an open role, an obvious starting point is to define what technical skills are needed for the job. Technical skills relevant to software engineering positions most commonly include familiarity with or mastery of a software-related domain (like machine learning or cloud infrastructure), a coding language (like C++), or a tool or framework (like Apache Kafka). Technical skills more broadly involve actionable knowledge related to math, science, finance, and project management, technical writing, and many other fields.

A list of desired technical skills also flows from the outcomes and responsibilities you determined for the role. What technical skills are necessary for success?

These skills may not be strict requirements, but the more concrete they are, the better you or your team can judge them from a candidate’s profile (for instance, when screening resumes) and assess them in interviews or work samples. A good list of skills will also help candidates better understand the role and whether they should apply.

It’s important to think about which technical skills are strict requirements and which are skills that can be easily picked up on the job. For instance, for an entry-level engineering role, you might expect a candidate to have good working knowledge of at least one programming language, and will likely want to assure yourself that they’ll be able to learn other programming languages on the job. It might be worth splitting out which skills the candidate must have to succeed in the role, and which skills would be nice to have—preferred, but not required. Google calls these minimum vs. preferred qualifications and uses them pretty consistently in its job descriptions. It’s tempting to think that all the skills you think you need are must-haves, so it’s helpful to list out all the skills and push yourself to prioritize them.

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Desired Nontechnical Skills

Nontechnical skills (or soft skills) are cognitive, social, and personal abilities that contribute to an effective work environment but are not always easy to measure. They include communication, situational awareness, emotional intelligence and self-awareness, creativity, persistence, adaptability, teamwork, leadership, and time management.

caution It’s easy to focus primarily on technical skills, especially when engineers are hiring other engineers. In reality, it takes a lot more than technical skills alone to succeed in the modern workplace.

Here are some examples of nontechnical skills to consider when defining roles:

  • Internal communication skills, in meetings or calls, in written form, or as technical documentation. This can include both clarity and timeliness of communication.

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Desired Traits and Values

In addition to skills, it helps to consider what traits and values could help a candidate succeed in their role. In a startup, you might need people who are highly adaptable to changing circumstances and are able to weather the volatility and ambiguity that come with building an early-stage company; or you might be looking for highly mission-aligned candidates who share your company’s vision.

I always made it a habit of talking to people that I knew de facto were world class, and then asking them specifically: ‘What are the key traits or characteristics that you look for? What are the questions that you ask, and how do you find them? And if you’re looking for the next person that’s as good as you, where is that person working right now?’Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO, Pinterest*

Traits are characteristics of a person that describe how they tend to feel, think, and behave, such as patience, adaptability, and being detail-oriented.

Values are fundamental ideas and beliefs that guide a person or organization’s motivations and decisions, such as honesty, transparency, and being helpful.

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Desired Experience

When defining a role, it’s crucial to consider its level—that is, what degree of experience and impact you need and expect from a candidate. Are you hiring a junior engineer, where they may require a significant amount of time to ramp up, or should they have enough experience to be able to hit the ground running? How independently can they operate? Are they going to be given well-defined tasks to execute, or will they have to proactively identify problems and break them down into solutions? How much of their role is individual work versus influencing and leading others?

In general, for higher job levels, less guidance is needed to achieve an outcome, and greater impact is expected of candidates. In a more senior candidate, this represents a mix of technical skills, soft skills, and experience or talent in technical leadership or management. Such candidates typically have more overall experience than junior employees, or have been at the company longer. A senior employee may be more involved in high-level planning and directing junior employees in the day-to-day work needed to meet an outcome, deadline, or goal.

GitLab distinguishes between increasing degrees of values alignment, technical competencies, and leadership competencies across their seniority levels, which they present in a career matrix. As an engineer progresses through levels of experience, they are expected to take on more capacity in each of those three domains. In particular, as the engineer’s level of seniority increases, they must handle a higher degree of ambiguity along with a greater scope of responsibility (The discussion on levels in the next section goes into further detail). GitLab captures this succinctly: “The most senior engineers may even be in a position where they know that something is wrong, but they are not exactly sure what it is—and they work to define the problem.”

When writing a role or job description, some translate skills or seniority into strict experience requirements, designating minimum amounts of time that candidates must have spent working on particular types of problems. For example, the requirement could be that a candidate should have “at least five years of experience developing Android applications.” After all, if someone has spent five years developing Android applications, a company can have some confidence that they have skill and interest in that area—enough confidence, at least, to interview and assess them.

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Aligning on the Role

Your team will most likely be involved in the interview process, they may bring in referral candidates, and they will be working with the new hire day in and day out. The team is a resource for defining and refining the role, at any stage.

The process of defining a role may end up being iterative. A hiring manager may have an initial set of criteria, but as you share them with your team, and as you test them out in practice, it’s best to incorporate what you learn back into your criteria. For instance, maybe a certain set of skills is rare and extremely difficult to find; or maybe that set doesn’t really correlate with what you discover you need to hire for. Listening to your team along the way will help you iterate.

Candidate Personas

Some teams fail to fill a role for months, only to realize they were all looking for different things or assessing candidates in different ways.

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Setting Levels and Titles11 minutes, 29 links

Leveling is a discussion, not a homework exercise. It is a significant change in your culture and your way of doing things.Ashish Raina, compensation consultant*

Levels help to support meaningful growth for engineers, unify expectations across engineering, map compensation fairly, and allow for consistent and ideally unbiased evaluation of candidates. Employees at the most junior levels are typically those without much industry experience, like interns or recent graduates. At the highest levels are employees who may have broad and deep enough impact to significantly change the trajectory of your team or company.

startup Smaller companies without much structure—and where engineers cover a wide variety of responsibilities—may have very simple titles without any levels, or some very simple levels (for instance, junior and senior software engineer). provides a helpful general structure to start thinking about levels.

Table: General Levels Structure

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Formalizing Levels

Recruiting veteran Jose Guardado suggests that startups generally be post-product-market fit with defensible revenue and enough size and complexity in their engineering organization—typically around 100 people—before they consider implementing levels. Series C funding appears to be a common inflection point for this, which also often coincides with when the startup begins considering creating an HR role. “Many companies don’t really start doing this, though, until they’re feeling some significant pain,” he notes.

Companies wishing to establish more formal levels typically use leveling rubrics from companies like Radford, Connery, or RHR. These companies establish a set of levels based on extensive survey data, including salary information that can be used to set compensation for each level. (At some point, likely when you get into the high hundreds to thousands of employees, you may find that the complexity of your organization merits a little extra help. Salary survey consulting groups specialize in helping companies do just this.) Here’s a sample level rubric from Radford, which specializes in technology and life science companies.

Figure: Radford Leveling Rubric

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Companies often create career ladders or career lattices that illustrate the job levels at the company, explain what is expected of employees at each level, and clarify the different growth paths an employee can take. A career ladder shows only vertical progression through job levels, while a career lattice shows possible lateral movement as well. For instance, a common pattern at tech companies is to provide a dual-ladder approach, in which there is a technical ladder for individual contributors and a management ladder for more senior employees.

Figure: Example Dual-Ladder Approach

Source: Holloway

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Job Titles

Something as seemingly simple as a job title can contain and convey a complex range of information—the nature and scope of work someone is responsible for; how senior they are; and potentially whether they report to or manage other people.

Titles can be confusing. Systems Engineer could mean very different things to different teams or companies depending on the degree of specialization. Someone who works on applications could be an Application Engineer or a Fullstack Engineer or a Frontend Developer. And yes, you’ll even see Programmer thrown around as an actual title. Any titles might also be combined with seniority designations such as Junior, Senior, Manager, Director, and more. This can make it hard to determine meaningful relative comparison across organizations—an Engineering Manager at a startup compared to one at Google likely have very different responsibilities.

Larger companies typically develop specialized titles based on the functional area, as shown in the table below.

Table: Example Technical Titles

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Compensation28 minutes, 36 links

It isn’t easy to build pay systems that inspire, guide, and energize people without at the same time damaging your organization and people… Don’t try to solve every problem with financial incentives.Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, co-authors and professors, Stanford*

Definition Compensation is any remuneration to a person—including employees, contractors, advisors, founders, and board members—for services performed or rendered to a company. Compensation may be in any combination of cash (salary and any bonuses); equity in the company; and non-cash pay, such as health insurance or other benefits, family-related protections, perks, and retirement plans.

Some companies underestimate the importance of compensation, perhaps by not understanding a candidate’s financial needs or by overlooking what compensation can signal. Compensation can be intertwined with other things candidates care about. For instance, a candidate might implicitly correlate the impact of their role with their level of compensation and thus interpret compensation as a signal for whether their company cares about them and the work they do. Candidates might consider an increase in compensation as a signifier of progression in their career. They may derive their self-esteem from that number, or compare it against what’s earned by peers, friends, or family. Or, they might use compensation as a proxy to judge how “elite” a team is. These correlations may not always be valid—a company with high salaries may be packed with all-stars, or it could just be overpaying to compensate for something else, like poor work-life balance or a toxic culture.

The more you consider the candidate perspective on compensation in the early stages of your hiring process, the more capable you will be of having open and honest discussions with candidates about compensation later on. This will also give you a chance to think about how compensation fits into your company’s mission and values—and the other way around. Some companies overestimate the importance of compensation, spending too much time on equity percentages and not enough on their value proposition. These companies will likely make compensation a key discussion point when communicating with candidates, which will undermine the company’s ability to engage candidates with other potentially motivating factors, and will affect how closely they can get to candidate-company fit. Some companies will discuss compensation directly and negotiate it aggressively, while many companies—and candidates—might shy away from discussing compensation because it feels awkward and transactional.

Elements of Compensation

Definition Total target compensation (TTC, total compensation, target compensation, or TC) is the value of an employee’s cash and equity compensation, assuming any relevant conditions are met. This measure typically does not include benefits, which may also be part of an employee’s compensation package.*

Depending on the company, a compensation package may be made up of some or all of the following:

Definition Base salary is a fixed amount paid to an employee at regular intervals. Although it is often expressed as an annual number, companies generally pay it out in weekly, biweekly, or monthly installments.

Definition A sign-on bonus (or signing bonus) is a one-time payment to an employee that is associated with them joining a company. Sign-on bonuses are often contingent on the candidate staying with the company for a certain period of time—usually one year. If an employee’s sign-on bonus includes this contingency and they leave the company before the end of the relevant period, they may be required to repay the sign-on bonus.

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Cash vs. Equity

It has become common practice in the tech industry, both at startups and large companies, to grant some form of equity to employees. And compared to cash, equity may much better align the interests of employees with the long-term interests of the company—or at least that is its intention. For earlier-stage employees, equity is a much riskier form of compensation because of the wide variance in eventual value—an employee’s shares in the company (not to mention those of the founders and investors) could end up being worth nothing, or hundreds of millions of dollars or more. Equity compensation is a notoriously complex subject. (For a deep, practical dive into the complexities of equity compensation, see The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation.)

Candidates can have very different needs and preferences when it comes to cash and equity. Cash has a guaranteed value (setting aside changes like inflation), while equity can end up being worth a lot more or less than anyone’s best guess. Cash is a commodity; equity in a company is not.

A candidate’s response to equity vs. cash may stem from their risk preference. But often, it comes down to practical necessities. Founders may feel that a candidate unwilling to sacrifice cash for equity doesn’t believe in the company, when in fact, differing financial and familial situations may determine candidate response. For example, a candidate who has a family to provide for, or obligations like student debt to repay or mortgages to maintain, may be unable to sacrifice a guaranteed salary, even if they are passionate about your company’s mission. Companies do well to foster sensitivity to this reality in their candidate pool.

Ideally, the candidate’s position on cash vs. equity will align with what your company can offer. A candidate that really needs more take-home pay might not be a good fit for an early-stage startup that can only afford to offer—or prefers to offer—partial ownership in the company instead. If you have flexibility, one technique you can use is to offer candidates the ability to “trade cash and equity” by letting them choose between a low equity/high cash or high equity/low cash offer, depending on their cash needs and risk appetite. Matt Mochary’s book, The Great CEO Within, recommends offering the amount of cash a candidate would need to live comfortably, finding what an all-cash offer might look like at a large company, and then bridging the difference in equity.

Mapping Compensation to Job Levels

Where I have seen most companies get this wrong is that they do not extend their leveling system into the hiring process, or they do not have compensation tied directly to leveling. Missing either of these leaves huge loopholes in any system.Marco Rogers, veteran engineering manager*

Compensation is a complex subject rife with potential pitfalls. It’s important to develop a compensation philosophy and explore various strategies when building a compensation plan for new hires. Even if you work for a large company with an established compensation plan, you still may gain from reading through these strategies for mapping levels to compensation, as it will help you better understand your company’s and candidates’ perspectives, and will better prepare you to communicate with candidates about compensation.

The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.Daniel Pink, bestselling author*

When interviewing and assessing candidates, taking a candidate-company fit approach helps you map candidates to your existing structure. The goal is to be able to predictably determine their compensation based on the role and level.

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Salary Transparency

When you start talking about pay transparency, the first thing everyone thinks is ‘I’m going to know how much everybody makes.’ I think a better way to frame it is ‘I’m going to understand why I’m paid what I’m paid and how I can increase my comp.’bethanye McKinney Blount, founder and CEO, Compaas*

An important decision for leadership to make is how much transparency to offer in compensation and leveling. The social media management company Buffer holds transparency as a key value and has made compensation information completely transparent, publishing not only formulas for how they determine compensation, but also publicly releasing every employee’s salary and level. That level of extreme transparency is rare, but many companies appreciate the benefits of some level of transparency around compensation.

caution However, there are many other companies that try to avoid any level of transparency around compensation in order to avoid negotiation with candidates. This is both unrealistic and counterproductive; and in some cases it might even be illegal (for instance, in California, employers have to provide pay scales for positions when asked, but it’s complicated). First, platforms like Glassdoor or Blind (or plain old gossip) usually make compensation data for most companies available to the public. Second, avoiding a conversation about a candidate’s level and expected impact might only end up kicking the can down the road and creating surprises later—and these conversations are a lot more difficult to have after someone joins a company.

First Round has some additional insights into why it is wise to treat compensation transparency as a spectrum, and shares some of the risks involved. It’s perhaps best to consider a middle ground, which might not entail making everyone’s salary and level public (though Buffer has enjoyed positive reactions to their efforts), but could include letting candidates know what level they would be joining at, and then letting them access information about what you expect at different levels. This can help set expectations around their role when they join and point to future avenues for growth. You can do this directly with a candidate or by publicly sharing your rubric or ladder. You can also explain the logic behind how you determine candidate compensation. This will help force you to be fair about how you compensate, while potentially avoiding zero-sum negotiations.

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Making Exceptions

Having a clear policy around compensation, levels, and titles can help make sure you are able to attract the right talent for the right reasons. However, you will come across cases where your structure doesn’t quite match candidate expectations. After all, the data you gathered about the market or about the candidate may not be perfect.

While ignoring your structure may lead to arbitrary and unfair decisions, sticking to your policy too rigidly may result in losing out on great candidates. (Some people are OK with this in the long run, based on their specific values and hiring philosophy.) No incentive structure is perfect. So when and how should you make exceptions?

A balanced approach would be for every company to be highly disciplined about how they compensate employees, but allow themselves a certain degree of flexibility to exercise in certain situations. These guidelines may be useful:

  • If a candidate is going to bring disproportionate value to your company, it’s fair to compensate them disproportionately. This is especially true in the early stages of a company or for highly specialized roles with very scarce talent. Sometimes, a single hire can dramatically change the trajectory of a company either directly, by bringing a unique set of skills; or indirectly, by showing credibility to investors, candidates, and customers.

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When to Bring up Compensation

Compensation can be a tricky subject. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of people, and there might be laws that govern how you can have that conversation (for example, in California and a number of other cities and states it is illegal to ask a candidate what their current compensation is, and you are legally required to disclose a salary range for a position if they ask you). However, compensation is an important criterion for all parties, and it has to be discussed—but when?

Bringing up the issue of compensation too early can be a distraction for you and the candidate, pulling attention away from more important issues. That said, there’s a risk that if you don’t broach the subject early, you can both waste a lot of time working through the rest of the process only to realize later that what you can pay is incompatible with what the candidate needs. For example, if a candidate is moving from a large, well-paying company to a startup where cash compensation might be much lower, it’s important to bring this up early to avoid surprises later. And of course, even if your plan is to delay that conversation, it’s not uncommon for a candidate to bring it up before you’d planned to.

Furthermore, some companies run a candidate through their process, extend an offer, and have the candidate reject the offer based primarily on compensation, without either party having ever brought up the subject. Sometimes the company isn’t even aware that compensation was the problem; often, this is because both parties are uncomfortable discussing it.

One way to avoid such situations is to give the salary range early and ask the candidate if there is enough overlap with that range to continue the conversation.

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Hiring Plans7 minutes, 8 links

You’ve decided that it’s the right time to hire and you aren’t at risk of hiring for the wrong reasons. You’ve considered some hiring philosophies that will help guide your planning, and you’ve mapped out the appropriate title, level, and compensation for the role. The next step is to become aware of any constraints you might have. Time to devise a hiring plan.

A hiring plan is a strategic document that outlines the budget and option pool amounts available for hiring new employees into specific roles. It may take the form of a spreadsheet, formal document, or some other form of written target, typically over a one-year period.

“Hiring plan” is a frustratingly loose term—some people take it to mean the plan for your entire hiring process, while others use it to mean a very specific financially driven document that allocates dollar amounts and headcount numbers by team. What constitutes a hiring plan can also vary widely across size, stage, and maturity of a company. At a startup, the hiring plan might simply be, “We have $2M in runway and can afford two engineers this year.” At a much larger, decades-old organization, there will likely be a budgeting department, layers of management, and a formal process for requesting headcount numbers for a given timeframe.

important Hiring plans ultimately require companies to evaluate constraints: What are your goals as a company or team? What roles (and associated skills and qualities) do you need to accomplish those goals? How much will it cost to hire and employ those people? How much money can you allocate to that? In other words, what are your goals, roles, and dollars? Hiring managers are almost always the ones coming up with the goals and roles; depending on the organization, they may also have budgetary insight, or they have to get approval from somewhere higher up. More advanced teams might also need to factor in recruiting costs and metrics to gain a complete picture of their recruiting and hiring effort’s budgetary impacts.

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The gory details of financial planning for hiring budgets are out of the scope of this Guide, but it’s important to know who makes those decisions in your organization, what the process is, and what the deadline is for making sure your hiring needs are included. There is always time between when a company opens a role, and finds, hires, and onboards a candidate. Some searches, especially for rare and senior roles, can take months to complete. A proper hiring plan thus looks not just at the present moment, but where the team and company might be in the future. This is also why it’s important to be proactive about things like building a network and investing in your employer brand, and any other activity that can reduce the time it takes to make a hire. If you’re in a position where you “need that role filled yesterday,” not only will your team be lacking the people it needs for that stretch of time, but you’ll also be more likely to lower your hiring bar out of desperation.


Equity is a key part of compensation and hiring plans. In larger companies, defined employee stock plans or grants of restricted stock units (RSUs) are common.

Startups grant equity as a key part of compensation, and plan its allocation. Generally before the first employees are hired, the founders will reserve a number of shares for an employee option pool (or employee pool), which is part of a legal structure called an equity incentive plan. A typical size for the option pool is 20% of the stock of the company; but especially for earlier-stage companies, the option pool can be 10%, 15%, or other sizes.

Well-advised companies will reserve in the option pool only what they expect to use over approximately the next 12 months, so as not to over-grant equity. Your company may never use the whole pool, but it’s still wise to try not to reserve more than you plan to use. The size of the pool is determined by complex factors between founders and investors. It’s important for employees (and founders) to understand that a small pool can be a good thing in that it reflects the company preserving ownership in negotiations with investors. You can always increase the size of the pool later.

important Once the pool is established, the company’s board of directors grants stock from the pool to employees as they join the company. Hiring managers don’t typically have much say over those amounts, but you will want to be aware of the details so as to be able to discuss compensation with candidates.

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Job Requisition Forms

Definition A job requisition (or job requisition form) is an internal company document a manager uses to formally request permission to fill a role or position. These documents are particularly useful for coordination and wider alignment at larger companies. For instance, the requisition might require approval (often from finance, HR, and upper management) to ensure sufficient space and funding are available for a new hire. Once the requisition receives the necessary approvals, it can serve as the starting point for a discussion between the hiring manager and their designated recruiter (for instance, at a role intake meeting).

Companies that use such forms will usually have a template the manager can fill out to share information the decision makers need, including:

  • A title and brief description of the role

  • The team or manager requesting the new hire

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Job Descriptions33 minutes, 40 links

A job description outlines the main features of an open position at a company, including the work the future employee will be expected to do, expectations for applicants, and ideally, a number of reasons a candidate should want to apply, including a description of the company’s mission and the benefits offered. It also typically includes the position’s title; it may or may not disclose its compensation. The job description may be in the form of a single-page statement, or a position may have a marketing-like web page to it. The hiring team may create a few versions of each job description, so that people can share it externally across a variety of platforms, like career sites, job boards, and the company website. A well-written job description should give an accurate picture of the role, and entice desirable candidates to apply.

cautionWriting a job description before having had any conversation with your team or colleagues is a common pitfall; it’s essential to understand the role you are hiring for and the value proposition of the company, and to be aligned internally on each. If a candidate meets with interviewers who all have different ideas of what the role is or why the person might want to join the company, this leads to confusion, a poor candidate experience. It’s also inefficient. It’s critical to have clarity on the position’s target level and compensation before advertising for the job.

important Many large companies offload the responsibilities of writing the job description to a recruiter. You know more about your company, the role, and your ideal candidate than the recruiter does. The most effective way to craft a great job description is for the hiring manager to work with the recruiter directly whenever possible.

Crafting the Job Description

While every job description will have its own set of unique details, there are a few basic principles that you can use repeatedly as you continue to hire. (Many of the practices in writing good job titles also apply to writing good job descriptions.)

Anatomy of a Job Description

An informative and compelling job description may have some or all of the following elements:

  • job title

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Creating Narratives

The job description is a tool for reaching toward candidate-company fit: it is as much about the people you hope will apply for the role as it is about the company. The job description exposes your company—possibly for the first time—to the candidate pool, so it’s crucial to think about how you are representing the value proposition of your company and team through this medium. At the same time, a good job description will be designed to find and attract candidates who are both qualified for and interested in the role. The best way to do this is to build narratives—that is, telling stories—about the company and the ideal candidate.

Storytelling doesn’t come naturally to everyone; it’s easy to do too little, with a list of requirements awkwardly crammed into a character study, and too much, with a grandiose story that doesn’t map to people’s expectations about the nature of their work. After all, you’re hiring people to solve engineering challenges, not fight dragons. And odds are, you don’t have a writer on staff to help you craft these artifacts. For a smaller company or team, you’re probably best off having everyone, even non-engineers, review the job description to make sure the mission, company narrative, and role narrative feel right. Larger organizations might already have enough experience writing these that you’ll have a bank of options to choose from, but that doesn’t mean what you’ve been working with has really been effective. It may be time to update your story for the next great candidate.

Company Narrative

People want to be emotionally engaged in your story, and the journey of your company, and the arc—and to feel like it’s on an upward arc.Aileen Lee, founder, Cowboy Ventures*

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Where to Post Job Descriptions

Along with posting job descriptions on your own site (typically in a careers or “work with us” section), you may consider posting in a number of common places that candidates look when conducting a job search.

Table: Where to Post Job Descriptions

LinkedInPay per views/post; extensive custom recruiting productsYou can post individual jobs, or pay more for LinkedIn Recruiter, which offers advanced search tools and bulk InMail options.
Glassdoor$199–$699/monthCompanies can set up a free account to build their brand (and see what employees/candidates say about them), but have to pay to list jobs.
LeverCustom pricing depending on company planIf you use Lever for your ATS, you can integrate with your site to post jobs there, along with other job sites.
AngelListFreeTypically, but not exclusively, for startup positions
A-List (from AngelList)Custom pricingCustom pricing
Career Builder$375/job; $219–$499/monthLarger scale job site, better for accounting, clerical, retail, etc. Not well suited to tech hiring. Caters to a more Midwestern audience.
IndeedFree options; pay per click; 10% of salary of hired candidatesLarger scale, lower-skilled job site. Not typically used for tech hiring.
MonsterFree options; $249–$999/monthLarger scale job site, better for accounting, clerical, retail, etc. Not well suited to tech hiring.
Zip Recruiter$249–$1,569/monthLarge platform that’s been around for a long time.
Remote.comFree options; $295/posting; 10% of project cost per hire; custom pricingFor hiring remote talent.

See Appendix B for more details about promoting jobs, which can be done more broadly via blogging, social media, at events/hackathons, and more.

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Job Description Examples and Resources

Here are some valuable examples of job descriptions we like and why we like them:

  • The social media management company Buffer has an interesting approach to job descriptions. Even when they have no job openings, their company website maintains a full page dedicated to telling the company’s story in a way that anchors the reader as a potential character in that story. The page begins with a short story about Buffer, then tells the reader where they could work, what the team is like, benefits the company offers and the values it holds. By the end, someone who’s really drawn to working there will already be picturing joining the team and can get on a waiting list to find out when new roles open up.

  • Stripe: Most of Stripe’s job descriptions start with the company’s mission and/or the team’s goals, and then share the objectives and impact of each role. This is a lot more compelling to candidates than just listing qualifications, which are still included, but come later in the description.

  • Splice: These job descriptions not only help candidates concretely understand the role (“What you’ll do”), but also set expectations about how the process will look (“How we’ll handle your application”).

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Part IV: Connecting With Candidates

Early Signals22 minutes, 14 links

Aline Lerner provided major contributions to this section.

Most hiring teams make decisions about whom to advance through the top of the funnel based on candidate resumes. Especially for inbound candidates, the resume may be the primary or only source of signal. Companies with strong brands and lots of inbound applicants rely on resumes to filter large numbers of candidates very quickly. Candidates selected via outbound sourcing or referrals usually get a chance to stand out in other ways.

Companies often screen LinkedIn profiles alongside or in place of resumes. Both allow filtering based on a candidate’s pedigree—where they’ve worked and where they’ve gone to school. Companies may also lean on different sources of early signal, like GitHub repositories, personal websites, and online challenges, any one of which can supplement, or in rarer cases, replace a traditional resume.

The Trouble with Resumes

While hiring teams often view resumes as the primary means of making top-of-funnel decisions, filtering candidates by their resumes is noisy, biased, and inefficient. Although little academic research exists on the predictive use of resumes in software engineering hiring specifically, research has been done on the function of resumes across all industries. An 85-year meta-analysis found that resumes (along with other traditional assessment methods like interviews) are very poor predictors of subsequent job performance.

Engineering managers tend to harbor the suspicion that engineers are better at reading technical resumes than recruiters: “We’re domain experts! We don’t need to rely on proxies and can actually tell what the candidate can do!” But even the most experienced, qualified engineers aren’t always on the same page when it comes to what makes a good technical hire. In fact, the more experience you gain, the higher the risk that you may be stuck in your own way of seeing things. This makes the static data of a resume a particularly poor alignment tool. recently conducted a study* in which researchers removed all personally identifying information (name, contact information, dates, et cetera) from a set of resumes, and showed them to hundreds of recruiters and engineers. For each resume, researchers asked participating recruiters and engineers just one question: “Would you interview this candidate?”

On average, participants correctly guessed which candidates were strong* 53% of the time, and there was no statistically significant difference between engineers and recruiters. Moreover, and even more importantly, people’s errors weren’t consistent. In other words, everyone disagreed about what a good candidate looked like in the first place.*

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Online Challenges

Online challenges (or coding challenges) are tests that a company sends to prospective candidates in order to screen them for specific criteria early in the hiring process, usually before phone screens or more in-depth interviews. Online challenges typically involve a small set of predetermined programming problems. Either the company or a third-party company will have created them, and the hiring team will expect candidates to complete them in a specified amount of time and without any assistance.

When candidate volume is high, screening mechanisms like online challenges can make sense; they are easier for companies to scale and assess than other types of evaluations, and they are less biased than traditional screening mechanisms like resumes. Hiring teams use online challenges to identify unqualified leads.

Companies can learn a lot about candidates by giving them a homework assignment in which they have to write code to solve a problem. These technical screens are almost always scored automatically—once the candidate writes and submits code, the assessment system runs it against a bunch of tests to verify that the code outputs are correct and that the code runs efficiently.

story “At Dropbox, we would go to a campus and would get a thousand people who would apply from that school for an internship, but we’d only have five interviewers on the campus. We would have them use Hackerrank X (a code-screening software) to tackle a simple problem, because what we didn’t want to do was destigmatize the really good people in the pool from doing it—it was basically, ‘can you code or not?’ We were trying to differentiate between classroom students and engineers.” —Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

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LinkedIn, GitHub, and Personal Websites

The same principles for collecting signal from resumes apply to LinkedIn profiles, if the profiles are sufficiently filled in.

caution An incomplete or out-of-date LinkedIn profile presents a challenge. It’s common for people with significant experience to have a minimalistic profile.* As a recruiter or hiring manager, you may want to ask a candidate if their LinkedIn is current . At the same, demanding that they update it before entering your process can create unnecessary friction. It’s wise to be flexible.

With an ever-growing number of engineers contributing to open source, GitHub profiles and GitHub contributions have become a potentially powerful complement (or even a partial replacement) to LinkedIn profiles. Looking at someone’s code output in the form of an open-source project or GitHub repo can work well at the top of the funnel, if the candidate has produced a large volume of code—effort on the candidate’s part is small (they just have to show you where to look), and signal is high. (Later on, you may ask the candidate to dive deeper with you on one or two projects, as part of a past work sample interview.)

While GitHub stars and published code are powerful signals, it’s worth remembering that most engineers don’t have meaningful projects they can publish. A notable exception is students or other nontraditional candidates who deliberately publish projects on GitHub.

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Cover Letters

Cover letters (and whether to include them when you’re a candidate or consider them when you’re an employer) have historically been a bit of a contentious topic, mostly because of the purported time they take reviewers to read. As a recruiter or hiring manager, you’ll be able to tell quickly if it’s a generic, copy-pasted form letter. If it is, the letter can’t tell you much. But if it’s not, then it’s absolutely worth reading—the candidate just gave you a huge window into who they are and how they communicate, in a way that a resume cannot. If the letter reads like a thoughtful, passionate human wrote it, then wise hiring teams will seriously consider talking to the candidate. This holds true even if you’d be on the fence just judging from their resume alone.

The converse doesn’t always hold true, however. If a candidate looks competent but isn’t over the moon about your company yet and hasn’t gone out of their way to show their enthusiasm, that’s not a reason to reject them. If you feel strongly that they’d be great in the position, it’s best to let them know you want to talk—you’ll have plenty of chances to sell them later.

Selling vs. Gate-Keeping

Despite changes to technical hiring practices, related hiring practices have been slow to catch up—especially when it comes to filtering candidates through the top of the funnel. Companies typically set up hiring processes to gate-keep rather than sell. But the demands of the market dictate that technical hiring be more about selling than filtering. The difficult part for companies isn’t sorting through a sea of candidates to figure out who’s “the best” or who’s worth engaging with.* Rather, technical hiring is a sourcing problem. A successful effort begins with getting candidates interested enough to talk to you in the first place and remain engaged as they go through the hiring process.

At a high level, selling is no different in the context of recruiting than it is in more traditional sales of goods and services. You talk to your customer (the candidate), ask questions, listen closely, and learn about their past, what their pain points are, and their hopes and dreams—and then you weave a carefully crafted narrative about how working at your company can actually deliver on those things.

Selling starts with writing great job descriptions that focus on how the role will improve the candidate’s life. This may include learning new things, gaining more responsibility, helping to fix problems in the world that matter to them, and so on. Selling ends with compelling offers tailored to the candidate’s needs. And in between, a good process will treat every candidate like a unique individual, never taking for granted that they have plenty of other options.

How is this approach different from what most employers are doing?

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How To Read a Resume30 minutes, 14 links

Aline Lerner provided major contributions to this section.

Most recruiters spend 7.4 seconds on a resume before deciding whether to advance a candidate. This is troubling because a resume is a collection of weak and imperfect signals—some positive, some negative, and some just informative. The purely informative signals can’t wisely be used for screening, but they do provide more information about a candidate for later discussion.

A well-formed resume is like a map of where someone can dig later in the interview process.Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

Gleaning useful information from resumes requires reading them differently than many companies typically do. There are a variety of signals to look for, and interpreting them in an effective way can take practice.

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Filtering on Essential Role Requirements

Based on the job description and known needs, are there specific types of expertise, experience, and interests that are essential? These are deal-breakers—things you can’t budge on. Some requirements are pragmatic; others will have been determined when you aligned on the role with your team.

  • Location. Must the person work onsite? If so, and they are not local, are they willing to relocate?

  • H1B or other visa sponsorship. Especially if you’re a smaller company, sponsoring a new visa can be logistically prohibitive because you have to wait over a year before the candidate can start. In general, H1B transfers are less demanding. TN and H1B1 visas are also less onerous.*

  • Domain expertise. Does the candidate have the specific background needed for the role? For software engineers, this might include web or fullstack app development, mobile app development, backend engineering, or data science or machine learning. This also includes the general area of work, such as SaaS and enterprise software, healthcare or biology, finance or accounting, and so on.

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Resume Presentation

Presentation may seem less important than content, but in fact indicates an understanding of audience (and even empathy for others), clarity in writing, and attention to detail.

A study at TrialPay* tried to find patterns between all candidates who had been interviewed within a year’s period, and everyone who had been offered a position at the company. What mattered in a resume when it came to on-the-job performance? Which school they attended? Seniority or advanced degrees? Side projects? Number of languages they’d mastered?

Far and away, what mattered most was the number of typos and grammatical errors on someone’s resume—most people who got an offer had two errors or fewer. This study also revealed that where people went to school had no effect on their performance. The only other factors that predicted on-the-job performance that could be found on a resume were the clarity with which candidates described what they worked on at previous jobs, and whether they had worked at a top company (this mattered least).*

  • Language, spelling, and punctuation. Writing a full-page resume that is cleanly formatted with no detectable errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation always requires attention to detail. Does the resume have conspicuous errors, like multiple typos, spelling errors, or inconsistency in formatting and punctuation? If someone can’t write a page of text without typos, it’s not unreasonable to expect typos to appear in other material they write—like in their code.

    • caution Poor English alone isn’t a strong negative signal for non-native speakers, unless strong English skills are required for the role.
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Education and Awards

Academic Background and Achievement

Degrees from academically exclusive schools are a notable signal, because getting into and graduating from an elite institution like MIT reflects success with well-known curriculum and level of rigor. When assessing how rigorous a computer science program is, it can help to know rankings of these programs in the United States as well as those in other countries; for example, the IIT schools and the related JEE rankings reflect competitive admissions across India.

However, it’s a common pitfall to look mainly for “brand name” schools or obsess on school rankings. (For more detail on how academic background can be a source of bias, see Diversity and Inclusion.) looked at whether the school that candidates attended had any bearing on interview performance. In a study of 1,000 college students, it turned out there wasn’t any statistically significant difference in performance between students who went to elite universities and students who went to other schools (at least among those who had decided to sign up for an interview practice platform of their own volition).*

For many general programming and engineering roles, a higher degree is not required. But some roles, like machine learning or algorithmic roles, do require graduate-level knowledge.

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Employment History and Achievements

Next are the signals you can collect from all of a candidate’s past roles.

Notable Roles and Achievements

Getting an offer and holding a job at a company that has a well-known, high hiring bar is a notable positive signal. For some companies, the stage at which a person joins may indicate level of difficulty in being admitted; for example, it was probably harder to get a job at Google in 2005 than in 2015. The same caveats apply to name-brand companies as to name-brand schools. Key here are unique high-responsibility roles. Someone who is tech lead, architect, or manager of a team with significant importance to a company is a particularly strong signal.

Notable achievements can include open-source projects, businesses or products built, or patents. This includes traction. Do any businesses or projects (open-source or otherwise) have objective signs of interest and value to others? GitHub stars? Numbers of users? Revenue?

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Personal History and Trajectory

Considering how a candidate got to where they are gives insight into their abilities. Some people call this “grit,” or “distance traveled,” or “affirmative meritocracy.” Where did this person begin, and where are they now? Have they come further than one might expect? Are there signs they have overcome significant obstacles in life through hard work or creativity? Candidates with a less advantaged background may have had to work very hard to get to the same position another candidate attained more easily. A job at an elite tech company is much easier to land after a Stanford CS degree than for someone from a small community college far from any technology hubs.

story Many years ago, when I was working as a software engineer at a small company, one of the existing engineers referred a close friend of his from high school. Though they had taken many of the same classes and spent a good amount of time building projects together, their paths diverged pretty wildly after graduation. The employee graduated from a top 10 computer science school. His friend, on the other hand, attended a much lower-tier college for a semester before dropping out, and at the time of the referral, he was doing data entry. When we first looked at the referral’s resume, we had no idea what to do with it, and most people on the team wanted to pass on him. But, one thing on his resume stood out—he had spent several seasons teaching programming at a prestigious summer program for gifted high school students. This type of leadership and initiative were largely at odds with what we expected a candidate with his profile, and ultimately that’s what tipped us into hiring him. To this day (close to a decade later), he works at the aforementioned company, and has ownership over much of the application’s backend architecture. —Aline Lerner, co-founder and CEO,

How Did They Learn to Be a Programmer?

While rarely of use for filtering, how a candidate became a programmer can give a lot of insight into their personal journey and technical temperament. There are many ways to become a good engineer, but these backgrounds can cultivate different strengths and styles, and the story can help you get to know someone better. The most common paths to becoming a programmer are:

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Strength in Other Domains

In addition to engineering skills, many other areas of drive and skill are relevant for technical roles. If an unusual combination of skills is relevant for the role, these kinds of signals are powerful and excellent for prioritizing resumes. By specifically looking for these signals, you can turn a tedious resume screening process into a huge value add by finding rare candidates with exceptional combinations of skills.

  • Entrepreneurial focus. Has this person started a business before? This can often be seen by project descriptions—does the candidate focus on technical concerns only, or do they include business impact? A purely technical engineering role doesn’t need a proclivity for entrepreneurship or an obsession with revenue, but senior roles or roles at smaller companies can greatly benefit from these qualities.

  • Growth or marketing focus. Does the candidate talk a lot about moving metrics? Are they focused on quantifiable impact? Have they had marketing-affiliated roles?

  • Customer focus. Have past roles included talking to customers or external people? Solutions engineers and sales engineers often need to do this.

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Likelihood of Joining

Given the current hiring market for technical roles, it’s essential to consider early on whether a candidate is reasonably likely to be interested in your company, and leave their current role. Switching to a selling rather than a vetting mindset might include prioritizing their interest in your space (have they blogged about something relevant, do they have relevant work on GitHub?) over their pedigree. This is also an excellent opportunity for arbitrage—if you can spot something in prospective candidates that others cannot, your odds of closing them will be much higher, because those candidates won’t be bombarded by requests from the open market. In other words, if you can spot grit and passion in lieu of traditional markers like pedigree, you’ll wind up making much more efficient use of your limited time.

Candidate Sourcesan hour, 49 links

Most companies hire using a mix of sources or channels, and these evolve as a company grows and matures.

In the early days of a small startup, the founders often use their personal networks to hire people they have a pre-existing relationship with. They might start to tap into some candidate flow from recruiting platforms and marketplaces. As their hiring needs grow, hiring managers might start doing outbound sourcing for really specific roles, and working with external recruiters, either on a contingency or contract basis. Eventually, as a company scales and matures, it usually makes sense to start hiring internal recruiters to take on some of the responsibility of generating candidate flow. At scale, most companies rely on a mix of employee referrals, inbound applicants, and outbound sourcing.

startup Although data is hard to come by, Lightspeed Ventures’ Startup Hiring Trends report cited that startups at different stages seemed to maintain “the rule of happy thirds”: relying for about a third each of their hires on sourced candidates, inbound candidates, and referrals.

Image and video processing startup Kapwing detailed their top-of-funnel strategy, which helpfully walks readers through the channels they sourced candidates from, where job ads were posted, and ultimately what the most effective channels were.

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A referral candidate is a candidate brought to a company’s attention by an individual who has an existing relationship with the company. Founders, employees, investors, advisors, and even other candidates may refer candidates. Referrals, and particularly referrals from employees, are the most common source of hires across industries and stage of company.*

Advantages and Risks

Key advantages of referrals, particularly those referred by a current team member, include:

  • Knowledge of their abilities. Years of working together are far better signal of skills than an interview process can give.

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Inbound Applicants

At first glance, this channel may seem low-effort because the setup is so simple: post your job descriptions to your own website and to other job sites and watch the applicants roll in. But because it’s easy for people to find and apply for these positions, the bulk of applicants may not be relevant to what you’re looking for. In fact, while some applicants may be really interested in your company, many others may not be and may have applied to dozens of openings without looking closely at the company or role.

The candidate flow you receive will also be a function of your employer brand. While having a strong employer brand may help attract more candidates, it can also further increase noise.

Ultimately, it’s useful to think about the types of candidates that will find and apply to your job postings. Many of the best candidates may never apply to job postings because they are so actively sought after. But there might be a fantastic new up-and-comer applying for jobs who hasn’t been given a shot yet or isn’t connected to your networks. Inbound applicants can also give you a more diverse pool of candidates than relying solely on who-knows-who.

We do know some really great hiring managers who rarely rely on inbound applicants, but that’s typically because they’ve been around for a while and have built strong networks. Inbound can be a good way to supplement other channels if you approach it with the right strategy:

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Outbound Sourcing

The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market.Joel Spolsky, chairman and co-founder, Trello, Glitch, Stack Overflow*

Sourcing is a great way to find candidates who might not be actively looking for a job—many of the most talented engineers are rarely on the market. It can also be a good way to uncover candidates who may be overlooked by more brand-recognizable companies. But this channel does come with challenges. Many candidates may not be open to new opportunities, and so getting your timing right can be difficult. Additionally, so many companies have abused this method by spamming people that many have just learned to tune out the noise. At this point, most people you reach out to will never respond to your message, if they read it at all. And of course, the most sought-after candidates receive the most messages, and so are less likely to respond—that is, unless your message resonates and the timing works out.

Because of these significant challenges, outbound sourcing may seem like a numbers game: the more messages you send, the more likely you are to hit the right candidate with the right message at the right time… right? Perhaps, but getting them to then join your company is going to be an even more significant challenge—becoming a company or individual known for spamming the engineering community is not good for you. Every time you reach out to a candidate you are consuming some of your company’s brand equity. Unsolicited messaging is always a potential unwarranted interruption. But if your outbound sourcing is targeted and thoughtful, the less cost there will be to the brand, and the more likely the person will be to respond.

Tips and Strategies

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In theory, you can contract out almost any part of your recruiting process to an external recruiter. This particular section is about working with recruiting agencies on a contingency basis, and less about retained or contracted recruiters, which we discuss in The Hiring Manager-Recruiter Partnership.

Contingency recruiters are recruiters employed by an agency who work to place a pool of candidates in open positions at one or more companies, and they receive payment only for successful placements. Placement fees for contingency recruiters are paid by the company where the recruiter places a candidate and calculated as a percentage of the candidate’s annual salary, with typical fees ranging from 15–25%.

dangerContingency recruiting can be fraught with mismatched incentives:

  • The recruiter may be working with more than one company, and could be incentivized to push the candidate toward the company with the largest potential placement fee (not just in percentage, but also in potential volume of candidates).

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University Recruiting

This section was written by Viraj Mody.

Setting up a good campus recruiting program can create a pipeline of junior talent that pays dividends over several years. Interns and new grad candidates can bring energy and ideas that complement those of more experienced members of your team, and can help scale your team rapidly.

The university recruiting machinery works pretty efficiently at large companies with well-known brands. Typically, large companies have established relationships with colleges, have large college recruiting budgets, and employ teams who focus entirely on university recruiting programs.

startup Getting the university recruiting flywheel going for smaller startups is an entirely different ballgame. Smaller startups don’t have the budget to spend extravagantly on campus recruiting, nor do they have dedicated recruiters or established relationships with colleges to give them leverage. Lavish perks and fancy offices often aren’t a tool they can use to attract interns and new grads against the bigger companies. But perhaps the biggest challenge is the lack of brand name. Undergraduate interns and recent graduates are trying to build impressive-looking resumes, and getting a job at a well-known company is the most obvious way to do so.

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Marketplaces and Platforms

In the past decade or so, several companies have sprouted up with the goal of making the hiring process more efficient. Each of these platforms has different theses and selling points, but the basic idea is to go beyond traditional job boards by using technology to generate a two-sided marketplace of candidates and companies. As these platforms grow, they have also started to experiment with novel methods of matching and evaluating candidates and companies. Some of the more well-known platforms include:

Alternative Education Programs

As demand for software engineers has skyrocketed and as traditional, 4-year university computer science programs have failed to keep up, a plethora of alternative education programs and bootcamps have sprung up to meet demand.

In some ways, the bootcamp industry, in its nascent stages, is the Wild West—program quality varies wildly, as does the hireability of graduates, but one of the biggest challenges of hiring from bootcamps is how hard it is to filter students because many of them have no previous experience and have the same collection of projects they did during their studies. If you’ve ever felt a bit lost when looking at a prospective internship candidate’s resume, because they simply haven’t done much yet, you’ll find that a bootcamp grad’s resume is even more sparse in most cases.

caution Not all programs are created equal. Some are known for the stack they teach, some are known for a more in-depth theoretical CS curriculum (though, odds are, it’ll still be way less computer science than you’d see at university), and some are known for not being quite good enough at anything. One of the best things you can do to vet a bootcamp is to research their placement rates and look at the employer logos on their site—is your hiring bar on par with those employers (though watch out, as you might expect, they’ll feature the shiniest brands first).

contribute We plan on improving this section with more coverage of alternative programs and bootcamps. If you know a lot about this topic and would like to write about it, please let us know.

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Internal Pipelines

This section was written by Scott Woody.

One of the bigger sourcing opportunities for technology companies lies in the nontechnical staff they already have. We have seen successful companies convert non-engineers into engineers through thoughtful application of an internal conversion process.

Value of Internal Pipelines

  • Promotes nontraditional backgrounds. Engineering teams tend to be a monoculture of people from the same tech companies and top CS programs. Supporting people already familiar with your organization can be a great way to bring different backgrounds and ideas to your team.

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First Conversations37 minutes, 4 links

While the typical interview loop begins with a screening process, a more general first conversation is usually appropriate for outbound candidates, referral candidates, high-value candidates, and when hiring for senior positions. You may have exchanged a brief amount of information over email, or they’ve submitted an impressive application and you want to start with something more personal or intimate than a phone screen.

For this conversation, most companies will schedule a 30–60 minute call with the hiring manager, founder, or recruiter, depending on the size and stage of the company. For high-value candidates and where time and location allow, it might be more effective to try to do this in person, and for the manager or founder to reach out rather than a recruiter.

If the candidate is a referral, is a known quantity in some other way, or has done the exact job you’re looking to fill, you might have one of these calls with them to begin selling them and make a personal connection, and put them in the right pipeline. The general phone call at medium and large companies is sometimes conducted by a recruiter. The goal is simply to have a verbal touchpoint—likely the first—after some communication has taken place over email.

The purpose of this conversation is threefold:

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Goals and Pitfalls

For many busy and distracted hiring managers, a first conversation with a candidate may feel like a way to quickly determine if someone is a fit, and rule out poor fits quickly, much like a technical phone screen.

We suggest taking a more thoughtful, candidate-focused attitude.* Approach every first conversation with the intention, “How can I best help this person?” At its core, hiring is about building deep, trusted relationships. Directly optimizing for the candidate’s outcome (how can I help them be successful?), particularly at this early stage, leads to the best long-term outcome for your company. So start by putting the candidate first. Treat them as you’d want to be treated, or how you would a future teammate. Think about the long term. At this point, some hiring managers might scoff. “This is idealistic! It’s impractical! We’re crazy pressed for time over here!” In reality, this candidate-centric approach is the best way to ensure strong fit, longevity of employment, and a number of other pragmatic hiring goals:

  • Maintaining the efficiency of your pipeline. One important function of this first conversation is to prevent yourself from investing more time if there obviously isn’t going to be a fit. If you’re being considerate of the candidate’s time, you’ll find yourself more effective with your own time as well.

  • Getting the candidate more interested in your opportunity (if it makes sense). You’ll be able to build a solid rapport with the candidate, since you’re looking out for their best interest. This can help now (by encouraging the candidate to explore your opportunity) and in the future (you’ll more likely be able to convince them to join if you extend an offer). If things don’t end up being a good fit at the moment, you’ll have built an important relationship for the longer term.

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Getting Into the Right Mindset

It’s easy even for people with the right intentions to revert to a more transactional, “let’s get down to business” attitude when they jump into a call with a candidate. To avoid that, we’ve found it helpful to take a few minutes before any call to get into the right mindset.

Timing can make this task easier. Try to buffer some time before every call to mentally prepare. You should also schedule calls for the time of day where you will have the most focus and energy to devote to candidates. Try to avoid times when you might be stressed, drained, or crunched for time. In particular, doing several back-to-back recruiting calls might make it more difficult to maintain focus.

caution Make sure that during your call, you are solely focused on the conversation. If the hiring manager or recruiter is reading and responding to emails or checking messages during the conversation, it’s disrespectful of the candidate and will reduce the value of the call.

Building Rapport and Trust

Take the time at the start of a conversation to humanize yourself to the candidate and make the process—and your company—seem less alien. Ask how the candidate is doing. Be friendly and considerate, and note whether the candidate seems nervous.

Next, introduce yourself and talk a little about your background. Briefly sharing a few personal details or stories can help put the candidate at ease. This can also be a great point to mention why you are at your company. The candidate will remember that you, too, were once just starting out in a new position.

As you begin to develop some trust and rapport with the candidate, try to form a connection. For instance, you might find some common ground, like an aquaintance you share or a favorite band. Maybe you used to travel through their hometown. Just a small connection can put the candidate at ease. Alternatively, you can try to note something unique or interesting about their background and bring it up. “So I heard you used to roadie for Black Sabbath. Did you learn to code on the tour bus?” A little prior research can help here.

After these opening lines, maybe a laugh or two, explain the purpose of your conversation. For a first conversation, you’ll say something like, “Today is a chance for us both learn a bit about each other and better understand each other, and explore whether there might be a fit.” This is where your candidate-centric approach can really show. If this meeting has a specific agenda, let them know what to expect.

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Getting to Know the Candidate

After this introduction, your next step should be discovery. Ask questions and listen carefully. If asked with genuine interest, most people will really tell you honestly what they want and are looking for, what makes them a good fit or a poor fit for a role, and their self-perceived strengths and weaknesses. If they trust your intentions, they might also go further by seeking your advice.

Their Direction

It’s important to understand why (and whether) they are actively looking and how serious they are. You might have some prior signal here depending on how you and the candidate connected (for instance, whether they applied to an open position or whether you reached out to them).

As a first step, try to assess their level of interest in your company and your role. BINC co-founder Boris Epstein calls this the difference between “yes, but…” and “no, unless…” Typically, candidates have made some gut call about the job, and are trying to prove or disprove whatever feeling they have. “Yes, but…” candidates are excited about the prospect of working with you, and are essentially yours to lose. But you should understand what questions or hesitations they have. “No, unless…” candidates might be open to exploring the opportunity, but are initially disinclined to take the role.

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Your Pitch

Next, it’s your chance to express your company’s value proposition to the candidate and answer any questions about the company or the role that they may have. You have built a compelling narrative for the company and the role, and have learned enough about the candidate to communicate the opportunity to them in terms of what they value. Without being pushy, scripted, or salesy, you have to remember that the candidate is meeting the company through you; you and the company are being interviewed too, so you want to put your best forward.

Begin by asking the candidate what they know about the company. This can serve as a good transition between getting to know them and talking about the job. It will also prevent you from repeating things they already know, or overwhelming them with detail too soon. Based on how much they already know, and what they think they know, you can begin talking about the company and the role.

While you might have a general backdrop that you use for this part of the conversation (something about the company or its history that you like to focus on, some theme or part of the mission that you personally connect to, or something else), it’s helpful to customize your script based on what you now know about the candidate. Connect dots that they might find appealing (or better yet, let them connect the dots). This is where having more than superficial knowledge of the candidate helps.

For instance, let’s use our candidate who said she wanted to work at a consumer internet company. If that’s all you know, and you’re recruiting for an enterprise company, you might hit a dead end. But if you know that the candidate is interested in consumer internet companies because of the scale, and your enterprise company also has interesting scalability challenges, that is something you can focus on.

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Evaluation and Next Steps

If you’ve covered everything in the previous sections and the conversation has gone well, you may not need to ask the candidate further questions. You’ve already spent time understanding what the candidate values and what they have worked on in the past, so you may already be able to tell whether they would work well with the team or have the particular skill sets required by your role.

If you feel like you do have a few specific questions you need answered, now’s the time to ask. But the less evaluative you can make the first conversation feel, the better. Leave the technical grilling for later, when both you and the candidate have more explicitly opted-in to continuing the process.

At this point, there is a menu of options, and you have to pick one:

Advance. If the candidate seems like a fit for the role, and has shown genuine interest, you can advance them to the next stage of your funnel.

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Maintaining Contact

For candidates who will be moving through the process, this is a great place to establish a few elements that will help you maintain a great candidate experience and be well-situated to close a candidate should you end up extending an offer.

First, establish someone on your team to be the candidate’s confidant. The candidate should have someone that they can reach out to if they have questions or concerns during the process. At larger companies, this is often a recruiter, but it may be someone else at the company. Either way, the confidant should be someone that the candidate will feel comfortable talking to without risk of hurting their future working relationship (in other words, usually not the hiring manager). The candidate should really trust that they can talk openly to the confidant, and that the confidant will be quickly responsive, available to reply to emails or hop on the phone at short notice. The confidant is important throughout the process, but perhaps will be most critical at the offer stage.

Second, make sure you (or someone on your team) maintains a regular cadence of contact with the candidate to stay top of mind, keep them engaged, and find out if there are any updates from their side. This can involve sending them updates about where they are in the process, or sometimes just sharing exciting milestones or announcements from your company. If, at any point, a candidate is confused about where they stand or is reaching out to you for updates, you’ve probably done something wrong; either you haven’t set expectations with them about the timeline, or you’ve set expectations and failed to meet them. It can be a good idea to have regular pipeline review meetings with your team, to check on the status of everyone in your pipeline and make sure no one is “stuck” or hasn’t been communicated with in a while.

This cadence should increase as a candidate progresses through your pipeline. For instance, initially, while the candidate is early in your process, you might be communicating with them on a weekly basis to check-in and build trust and excitement through repeated interactions. By the time you have extended (or are close to extending) an offer, you might aim to have a touchpoint every couple of days.

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Part V: Interviewing

Conducting Interviews12 minutes, 10 links

Why Interviews?

The purpose of the interview process is twofold:

  1. Companies assessing candidates. Once candidates have passed through the top of the funnel, companies need to gauge candidate-company fit based on deeper skills assessment; suitability for the role, including values alignment; and the candidate’s interest in the role, team, and company. In some cases, a candidate will not be screened at the top of the funnel; this occurs most frequently with senior candidates and referrals, whom the company will get to know first through more casual interviews.

  2. Candidates assessing companies. Interviews typically provide the best opportunity for candidates to evaluate whether the company is a good fit for them. Interviews offer the candidate’s first opportunity to interact directly with people on the team and to meet a larger part of the company or team as they progress further through the pipeline. At Google, internal research showed that interactions with interviewers are the top-mentioned factor in candidate feedback—more important than recruiter interactions, company benefits, or even type of work.

The interview process for technical roles typically involves some kind of technical skills assessment, including writing code and answering coding questions, as well as answering non-coding technical questions and nontechnical behavioral and situational questions. Much of the software industry emphasizes technical interviews—the portion of the interview process that covers practical technical skills—as the main mechanism for candidate assessment.

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The Interview Loop

The interview loop is the series of conversations and tests a company designs to assess a candidate’s fitness for a role. Interview loops are most effective when they are standardized—to the extent possible, the process puts every candidate for a role through the same loop. This practice helps to calibrate expectations of candidates, interviewers, recruiters, and hiring managers.*

At the outset of an interview process, the company may change some specifics of the interview loop after the first couple of candidates to account for unforeseen gaps or to adjust expectations based on how the first round of candidates perform. When hiring for roles that no one at the company has held before—for example, hiring the company’s first QA engineer—the loop may need multiple rounds of adjustments.

A company’s style and priorities inform the structure of interviews. To balance candidate experience with the signal you need to gather, traditional interview loops likely include one or two phone screens and an onsite interview. Effective interview processes increase time and effort demands on the candidate as they progress rather than being front-loaded with “hoop-jumping” exercises, and they also avoid any surprises for the candidate, which the hiring manager or recruiter can facilitate by telling the candidate what to expect from the process.

A sample interview loop might include:

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Preparing Candidates

An interview is most effective when each party approaches it with a mutually agreed purpose: to get to know each other and to assess fit. Candidates need to know how long the interview will be, what kinds of questions to expect, and if possible, some insightful detail about the people they are going to talk to.

This typically includes sharing the general structure of the process. As the interviewer, you may let the candidate know the types of questions to expect (specific coding knowledge? or probing previous work?). Offering tips for how your company likes to get answers and a bit about what you’re looking for will help them rise, not sink. This kind of transparency leads to a better overall candidate experience and can reduce stumbles due to anxiety, which can lead to false negatives.

Candidates benefit from preparation at multiple stages: before the process begins (you can tell them what to expect by email or phone); at the start of each change in interview format; and at the end, to explain what’s next. Preparing candidates to do well also entails checking in along the way to confirm that they understand what to expect, asking if they have any questions, and offering encouragement.

At the outset of any of these conversations, it helps to break the ice with some small talk and compliment the candidate on specific work they’ve done that’s gotten them this far in the process. A nervous candidate who feels unwelcome or out of place won’t give an accurate signal of their abilities and capabilities.

Preparing Interviewersan hour, 33 links

Assembling the Interview Panel

The people included in an interview loop convey a great deal about your company to candidates. These people must successfully interview candidates while also positively representing the company. The choice of interview panel members has an outsize effect on the candidate’s ultimate assessment of a company and thus plays a significant role in their final decision should you extend an offer.

Should Everyone Interview?

Your entire team should conduct interviews. Everybody. If you don’t want some people to interview, ask yourself why. If you’re worried about how they’re representing the company, there’s a bigger issue at hand.Marco Rogers, veteran engineering manager*

It’s beneficial to have everyone involved in some way in the recruiting process. Exposure to the recruiting process provides an opportunity to familiarize the people who work at your company with the expectations you have for employees, because the interview process filters for people who would do well at your company. That said, successful interviews require that interviewer roles be determined carefully based on the skills of individual interviewers. Some people excel at evaluating a candidate’s ability to demonstrate a specific skill set. Other roles are purely recruitment—social events like lunch with candidates or getting on the phone to answer their questions. Not everyone has the skills or qualifications to do both.

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Training Interviewers

story “It’s ridiculous to expect engineers to be competent interviewers with little to no training. To the extent you can be good at interviewing, it comes from repetition, learning the failure modes and bolstering against those. Experience just makes you much better at navigating the myriad situations. If this is your first remote interview, you’re not going to be able to tell if it’s bad because of the candidate or because it’s remote. Training often doesn’t exist, or it’s done really poorly. If you can’t invest in training engineers to interview, you can’t expect to get any real signal on candidates.” —Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

Effective interviewing is a learned skill. It requires a mix of technical knowledge, emotional intelligence, and thinking on your feet, while being fair and rational. None of this comes easily, and doing it all at once is really difficult. Having experienced employees who have done interviews elsewhere go through your organization’s interviewer training will help ensure alignment.

Calibration is the process of developing the ability to accurately assess whether a candidate will succeed in a role. A calibrated interviewer will not only be able to assess a candidate’s interview performance but draw an informed conclusion about whether the candidate should be hired for a given role.

dangerCandidates may have poor experiences if they are exposed to anyone involved in the interview process who is interviewing for the first time or who is not prepared to assess with respect to the specific role. Whether it’s an interviewer, hiring manager, or hiring committee member, without calibration, they will be unable to make a data-based recommendation.

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Structured Interviewing

Good interview questions help sell the specific technical challenges of your team and ensure that you are looking at the right things in hiring. How do you get the signal you need and help to sell candidates on the priorities and competencies of the company?

Structured interviewing is the practice of applying the same assessment methods to review the competencies and traits of every candidate for a given role. This requires a calibrated set of interview questions that reviewers pose with consistency to candidates, as well as clear criteria for assessing candidates’ responses. In addition, interviewers must have familiarity with the question set and any associated expectations. Studies have shown that structured interviewing more effectively predicts job performance and is less prone to bias than letting interviewers casually decide what questions to ask.*

The purpose of structured interviewing is to improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

Noise is an incidental error that can distract from substantively useful information. Factors that can produce noise in an interview process include an interview starting off on the wrong foot, the candidate having seen a similar problem before, the interviewer’s mood, and so on. Any particular candidate’s performance assessment can vary from interview to interview, as demonstrated in a 2016 study by, and noise can account for many of those fluctuations.

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Mitigating Bias

Bias is an observational error that tends to over-favor or under-favor certain types of candidates. As a systematic error, it is a common source of noise. For example, likability bias might cause an interviewer to view a friendly candidate as being more competent.

Bias constitutes a fundamental problem in hiring, and one key goal of interviewer training is to reduce the impact of interviewer biases on the final outcome. Bias detracts from interviewers’ ability to accurately assess candidates’ ability or fitness and thus increases the odds that you will hire the wrong people and create homogeneous teams.* Structured interviewing helps mitigate bias in interviews by using rubrics and requiring written justifications for decisions. Good training prepares interviewers to expect and detect the presence of bias in their own evaluations.

Evaluating Objectively

Even with standardization, interviews progress fluidly and thus can provide the greatest challenge in collecting signal in a way that mitigates bias. Good training and practice will help interviewers be aware of their biases and the ways their evaluations may fall prey to those biases.

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Coordinating Interviewers

It’s best if every interviewer knows their exact role in the process. Are they asking a coding question? If so, is there a specific question or a category of questions from which they can draw? If they are asking another type of question, what is their focus?

Coordination among interviewers helps avoid asking the same technical questions multiple times, because repetition reduces the breadth of signal you’re able to collect. (Having multiple people ask the same behavioral questions can be helpful and is rarely problematic.) Some applicant tracking systems, like loginLever, allow interviewers to attach public notes to a candidate’s profile; or people can write down questions they asked and share them on whatever system the team uses.

cautionSome companies have interviewers huddle between interviews to share directions to probe into, but this can be logistically challenging and can lead to bias. It’s better not to use this method unless there is something very specific one interviewer believes another interviewer should probe.

The recruiter or hiring manager can also send an email out to the interviewers the day before the onsite interviews to outline the candidate’s background, the role, and what each interviewer should assess. Such messages usually include notes on what the candidate seeks in their next role, what they like about your company or team, and anything that has resonated with them so far.

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Technical Interview Formatsan hour, 15 links

Selecting Interview Formats

Technical interviews can be conducted in person or remotely, with one interviewer or a small group, synchronously or asynchronously, on a whiteboard, a laptop, or as a take-home test. Which technical interview formats will be most effective—and how those interviews should be conducted—depends on what signals the company finds most useful to gather. Each format collects different information, and each has pros and cons, pitfalls, and associated time and effort investment from both sides. When choosing a format, the company should consider whether it can be scaled and still conducted in a way that is fair to and useful for the candidates.

Deciding on formats can be a balancing act between time savings for the company and interviewers, quality of the signals that are truly predictive, and the need for a positive candidate experience.

Many processes will involve a combination of several formats for technical interviews:

  • Phone screens or video call screens.

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Technical Phone Screens

A technical phone screen is an early conversation between a candidate and a current employee of a hiring company with technical ability. Most commonly, technical phone screens are conducted by engineers at the hiring company, but they may also be conducted by others, such as recruiters with deep technical knowledge. The content of a technical phone screen can range from a simple conversation to live coding.

confusion Note that for some candidates—particularly high-value candidates, referrals, and outbound candidates—interviewers may begin with a more general first conversation to get to know the candidate and gauge their interest. Depending on their experience, these candidates may skip technical phone screens altogether.

importantIn general, technical phone screens are better for disqualifying obviously poor candidates than for qualifying them. Secondarily, they can help identify potential superstars whom interviewers will want to focus additional energy on courting.

It is easier and more important in a short, abbreviated phone screen to figure out that a candidate doesn’t understand something like recursion and thus fails to qualify than to assess whether they have deep algorithmic ability, which is hard to measure quickly and reliably. Harder questions tend to make bad phone-screen questions because the phone format makes hard questions more difficult for candidates to succeed at, and because even strong candidates may miss any given interview question. Starting the process with harder questions also means you are exposing your question set to a larger pool of candidates, increasing the likelihood of leaks. Therefore, a phone screen process focused on sorting out bad fits will work better than one that tries to search only for stars.

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Onsite vs. Remote

Typically, the large part of the interview process happens onsite, but this is changing as more companies build remote teams or wish to accommodate candidates who are not local. You can use many interview formats either in person or remotely; this includes even live coding challenges. A company’s resources and the candidate’s availability usually determine whether a particular part of the process will be conducted remotely or onsite.

Remote interviews have a few specific use cases:

  • Typically (but by no means universally), remote interviews are concentrated earlier in the funnel and may include:

    • Online challenges and take-homes.

    • Phone screens, both general and technical.

    • Technical screening questions, questions where the candidate can code in the browser during a screen share, and light behavioral questions. Note that while you may encounter binary decision points or spikes in the signal during remote interviews, this is not a useful format for making more fine-grained decisions.

  • You can conduct assessments of candidate portfolios or previous work remotely and asynchronously, but portfolio reviews can also be an onsite activity where the candidate takes the interviewer through a work sample.

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Onsite Interviews

The onsite interview is a series of interviews held at the company’s office for several hours to a full day. Onsites can be a crucial part of the interview experience for candidates and companies alike because they offer an extended opportunity for assessment on both sides. Onsites typically include pair interviews, pair programming, live coding, debugging, non-coding technical interviews, and nontechnical interviews.

controversy Some companies have a multi-day process where the candidate comes back onsite several times. This can slow down your hiring process and lead to a bad candidate experience; but for early-stage startups or key roles, the opportunity to spend more time with the candidate may be worth the risk.

The pros of onsites are numerous—they provide the highest signal you can get. The human factor is important here: candidates get a real sense of the day-to-day output and environment of a company, and if you train your interviewers well, the onsite allows for a more conducive environment for comfortable communication. Onsites are very important for selling the job to candidates, who will get to experience the team firsthand, usually for the first time. Most candidates would prefer to interview in person, though in some cases it is essential to offer a remote option.

Some interviews provide much higher signal in person than they would over the phone. Technical non-coding formats like architectural interviews are nearly impossible to conduct when you don’t have a shared whiteboard to work from. Behavioral interviews are easier to assess when you can also read a person’s body language and facial expressions.

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Whiteboard Interviews

A whiteboard interview is a technical problem-solving assessment that takes place in real time and typically involves a candidate writing code and sometimes diagrams on a whiteboard while onsite.* A similar kind of interview can be done in person with pen and paper.

controversy Whiteboard coding questions are controversial in the industry and their merits are hotly debated.* Whiteboard coding questions do not accurately mimic the environment that a candidate will usually work in—they have no access to a compiler, editor, or reference material as they normally would. They also bias toward candidates with fresh, detailed memory of a language or library and against developers who prefer a more iterative model of writing and testing code incrementally. Reacting to these potential flaws, Hiring Without Whiteboards provides a popular, extensive, collaboratively sourced list of companies that don’t use whiteboard coding.

important Looking at whiteboarding more broadly, however, can dissolve what appear to be inherent constraints of the format. As more than one senior engineer put it to us: “No one is good at coding on a whiteboard.” Accepting that can be the start of something interesting. If hands-on coding tells you what an engineer knows and how they use their knowledge, whiteboarding interviews may better cover the whywhy does the engineer make each choice? When conducted well, whiteboarding gives signal on an engineer’s communication and collaborative abilities, as well as how they think through problems and theorize solutions.

story “The whiteboard is just the visualization mechanism and is useful in any talking interview. The whiteboard could be a laptop. Generally the whiteboard is just a way of drawing things. It’s a visual mode of communication.” —Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

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Hands-on Coding Interviews

Hands-on coding interviews include all formats where a candidate uses a computer and not a whiteboard. They are often part of an onsite, but can also be conducted remotely.

In a hands-on coding interview, an interviewer will give the candidate a technical problem; the candidate will typically use a code editor to solve it. This provides signal on whether a person has done this kind of work before, the nature of their coding style and problem-solving style, and what practical set of skills they have. Because most programmers are more comfortable with writing code than completing a task on a whiteboard, hands-on interviews move along more quickly, allowing you to go deeper and get more volume of signal.

Pros and Cons of Hands-on Coding Interviews

Are hands-on coding interviews better than whiteboard interviews? It’s complicated!

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A take-home assignment (take-home or takehome) is a coding task given to technical candidates to complete on their own time. Candidates are typically given a day to several days to complete a take-home.

controversy Take-homes are controversial. While there are many pros for the companies assigning them, they are less valuable in terms of the candidate experience. Nonetheless, they do have some advantages for candidates.

Benefits of Take-homes

candidateTake-homes remove a lot of the stress associated with onsite challenges. Candidates get to use their own tools and work in the style they would if they were on the job. They can review and iterate on their work, take time away to think or rest, and rewrite. One senior engineer put it this way: “Most employees ‘take home’ their work if you think about it. You get work, you go away and think, you do it, you sleep, you come back and review it. That’s how our jobs work.”

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Prior Work Assessment

Some companies choose to ask candidates for past work samples rather than asking them to write code (though you can do both). The nice thing about this approach is that it allows you to see something that the candidate actually did in a real-world setting. However, it can be difficult for many candidates to provide this kind of work sample if they don’t have an open-source presence, and evaluating these work samples may take more time and require a great deal of interviewer effort to evaluate. Prior work assessments can be:

  • Synchronous. The candidate walks the interviewer through a completed project or portfolio.

  • Asynchronous. The candidate sends work to the interviewer for them to review, and/or the interviewer reviews the candidate’s open-source projects (likely on GitHub).

  • Both asynchronous and synchronous. The interviewer looks at the sample without the candidate present, then meets with the candidate to discuss the work.

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Technical Interview Questions20 minutes, 7 links

Interview questions generally fit into three categories: coding questions, non-coding technical questions, and nontechnical questions.

Coding questions usually form the foundation of most technical interviews because all software engineers must be able to write code. Coding questions are also usually the easiest to administer and assess. But there are a variety of technical skills that cannot be evaluated with only a coding interview.

Coding questions are technical interview questions that require writing code, either on a whiteboard or in a hands-on format. Non-coding questions can be technical questions where coding is not involved, such as design or architectural questions, or generally nontechnical, like behavioral questions.

Many of the skills that you will need from senior engineering talent are most usefully assessed outside of a coding interview, including system design, technical strategy, relevant domain expertise, and nontechnical skills like leadership and mentorship.

Coding Questions

Coding ability assessment is essential to the interview process. But there are many kinds of coding questions, and they have varying difficulty, style, and efficacy at measuring coding skills in ways that are representative of the challenges of the job.

It’s generally important that your question bank cover both basic and more advanced coding. If you have only questions that are sufficiently easy that you feel any strong engineer should be able to answer (FizzBuzz, for example), then you’re not going to get enough signal on the candidate’s problem-solving or ability to handle anything that is nontrivial. But if questions are mostly very hard, false negatives become common. Since coding questions can be noisy, you will typically want multiple interviewers and questions on your interview loop.

cautionFocusing exclusively on coding in the interview process is generally unwise. Doing so provides a poor candidate experience as well, because candidates want to show what they’ve done and what they know, not just their ability to solve toy problems.*


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Non-coding Questions

Coding questions collect signal on a person’s ability as a programmer. The non-coding questions collect the majority of the other technical signals that help determine if the candidate has the experience relevant to the role and job level.

It’s best for more senior interviewers to ask non-coding questions and to spend time calibrating on how to evaluate the non-coding portion of interviews, because these interviews:

  • Require higher-level skills that cannot be evaluated by more junior engineers who lack them.

  • Require more judgment to assess a candidate’s choices in a context that the candidate is not fully familiar with.

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Technical Question Pitfalls

Mind Games

danger There are some interview questions that are designed to see how the candidate reacts to the parameters of the question, like asking an impossible question, never giving enough guidance on what the question is really about for the candidate to succeed, or being incredibly silent or non-interactive during the interview. Anything that feels like it could even possibly be considered a mind game is bad territory to be in.

Not only is this a poor way to treat a candidate (and strong candidates with other options will rightly drop out if treated like this), but an interview must assess candidate-company fit for both sides. Candidates want and need to know how you work and communicate, and it’s your job to demonstrate that to them.

If you go into an interview with the intention of lording your knowledge over a candidate, showing them how smart you are, they can tell. And if you ask questions but don’t really listen to the answers, it’s all too obvious.Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup*

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Nontechnical Interviewing24 minutes, 14 links

Because engineering does not take place in isolation, everyone you hire must be able to work well with other people. As your organization grows, and as individuals become more senior, the nontechnical aspects of the job become increasingly important.

There are several ways to evaluate nontechnical skills, including behavioral questions, situational questions, and role-playing. It is critical to anchor your assessment of nontechnical skills in your defined company values, so as to ensure you are hiring people with the skills that map to the expectations you will have for them once they join. Just Googling “icebreaker questions” or asking candidates to “tell me about your hobbies” will not produce results that will serve you well. It’s important that nontechnical interviews be just as serious and structured as every other aspect of the interview process.

As discussed in Preparing Interviewers, it may make the most sense to have senior people conduct nontechnical interviews, which are typically harder to assess than straight coding interviews. Some managers recommend conducting all nontechnical interviews as pair interviews, including one senior person and one less senior person. This can help to reduce bias when assessing subjective answers and helps to train junior interviewers in a kind of active shadowing. (Recall that you may have to adjust for the possible pitfalls of having different-level pairs.)

While many companies wait to conduct the nontechnical interview until the onsite after technical screens and assessments, some managers opt to incorporate a kind of nontechnical screen earlier on.

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Types of Nontechnical Questions

Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions assess nontechnical skills and values alignment by asking candidates about prior experiences and the way in which they handled specific situations. Many behavioral questions aim to extract specific positive or negative examples of the candidate’s performance against the expectations of the organization.

story “To make this anchoring easier, it helped our team to spell out the company values with as specific as possible descriptions of how someone who exhibits the company values behaves or acts, such as: ‘You openly communicate your thoughts, feelings, and concerns and contribute to an environment which allows this.​’ Of course this can also be done by formulating negative behaviors and actions that will not be tolerated. Based on these concrete descriptions, it’s possible to derive situations in which they may arise and then formulate behavioral or situational questions based on these situations. For example, an organization that values feedback-seeking individuals might use the above description for their value of ‘feedback-seeking.’ A possible behavioral question then could be, ‘Tell us about the last time you provided feedback to team members.’” —Benjamin Reitzammer, freelance CTO

Examples of behavioral questions:

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Sample Nontechnical Questions

It’s beyond the scope of this Guide to develop a bank of nontechnical questions, especially because these questions depend so heavily on your company’s goals, values, and mission—not to mention the specific details of the role for which you’re hiring. We’ve included a few categories of questions you can consider, however, and resources to help you dive deeper into which questions will work best for your needs. New Relic has an excellent post on evaluating potential managers that covers their approach to designing nontechnical questions and their rubrics for evaluating them.

story “You have to let the candidate surprise you. It makes the process of coming up with these questions easier, because you don’t have to come up with all the possible answers. You can look at who are the super productive and thoughtful people on your team, the very valuable people on your team, seniors, lead people, and then ask something specific about them: ‘What do they excel at?’, ‘In what situation did they do something really great?’ Then try and turn that into a question. One example might be that ‘a senior person stood up for someone else in a daily standup meeting.’ Now come up with a related behavioral question. Identify situations where senior people really shone a positive light on the kind of behaviors you’re looking at. On top of that, look at your company’s values and build questions from there. ‘You are the kind of person who values feedback.’ Ok, now you know you can ask, ‘What kind of feedback cycles do you have in your work? How do you give feedback?’ Determine what you optimize for, and build questions from those behaviors.” —Benjamin Retizammer, freelance CTO

Traits and Values Questions

When thinking about values alignment, it is critical to know your company and team’s values, and then use your nontechnical interview questions to assess how the candidate has previously demonstrated—or undermined—those values.

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Further Reading on Nontechnical Interview Questions

Best Practices for Interviewers16 minutes, 2 links

Staying Engaged

caution Interviewing is an active process that requires the interviewer to be completely engaged. This requires that interviewers not be on their phone or check email or Slack. If you take notes on a laptop, turning off notifications will prevent interruptions. Candidates can tell when the interviewer is distracted, and it makes their performance worse. Likewise, the interviewer’s active engagement at all times will ensure they are collecting the clearest possible signal.

Being engaged with the candidate also ensures the interviewer feels like a human being to the candidate. An interviewer who sits silent and stone faced will intimidate the candidate, who will then underperform.

At the same time, effective interviewers will guard against giving the candidate unintended hints. This is a matter of some judgment, but it is likely that if a candidate is constantly pausing and looking at the interviewer, they’re fishing. If it’s clear they’re focused on the problem at hand, small positive signs at points of breakthrough can reinforce progress.

Note-Taking During Interviews

It’s essential for an interviewer to take some form of notes during an interview. These notes can be turned into a formal write-up, ideally as soon as possible after the interview itself. New interviewers should typically budget about the same length of time for their write-up as they spent on the interview, although with a great deal of practice and good in-interview note-taking, the time commitment will go down by half or more.

Good notes capture the questions that were asked and give a high-level description of what happened during the interview, including both candidate answers and any key moments in the discussion.

When interviews include coding questions, a complete report will capture the candidate’s written code, to allow the hiring team to objectively evaluate the results and consistently calibrate the process. A complete and final write-up will include a high-level assessment of the code quality.

Some interviewers are able to capture more detailed quotes while the interview progresses. This makes reconstructing the interview and creating a good write-up easier and can be particularly useful for folks whose schedules preclude a full write-up immediately following the discussion. However, note that good interviewers will only take down this level of detail if they can simultaneously stay engaged with the candidate.

Keeping the Interview on Schedule

The first step to collecting signal is making sure the interview is moving along on schedule.

Timing in interviews is critical. If the candidate isn’t moving quickly enough through the full range of questions, the interviewer may find it necessary to intervene. This may include asking the candidate to skip over less essential parts of the discussion so as to stay on time.

Interviewer boredom can be a clue that the interview is going off track in one of these ways:

  • The candidate is stuck and needs a hint. One useful tactic is to set them at ease by explaining, “Even if you don’t know the solution right away, I’d like to hear how you are thinking about the problem, so feel free to share your possible approaches as you work through it.”

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Seeking Clarity in Questions and Answers

I’m not interviewing for the right answer to the questions I ask. Instead, I want to see how the candidate thinks on their feet and whether they can engage in collaborative problem solving with me. So I always frame interview questions as if we were solving a real-life problem, even if the rules are a little far-fetched.Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup*

The best interview questions are short and clear. Short and clear questions ensure candidates answer the question you meant, not just those they’ve previously thought about and are primed to respond to.

Good interviewers use a balance of open and closed questions. Open (or “open-ended”) questions, such as “How would you approach that challenge?”, allow the candidate to determine the direction of the discussion and show how they handle ambiguity. Open questions do not have a yes, no, or otherwise simple answer. Closed questions have specific answers, such as “How many months did you spend on this project?” These questions are good for gathering basic facts or seeking clarification.

Interviewers may need to probe into ambiguous or obfuscated answers, which are often signs that the candidate either doesn’t know the answer or is trying to hide something (perhaps avoiding an admission of fault, in a behavioral interview). Ambiguity requires specific or direct follow-up questions.

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Hinting and Helping Candidates Shine

A key part of extracting signal is making sure the candidate is able to put their best foot forward. An interviewer’s job entails setting up the candidate to shine—but it’s up to the candidate to actually shine. While the interviewer/interviewee relationship has an inherent adversarial component, if it’s clear that the interviewer is trying to set the candidate up for success, it can de-stress the process. Strategies might include outlining the flow of the interview before it begins, making it clear what the interviewer is looking for, and clarifying how the candidate can best provide answers. Giving appropriate guidance and hints can help get the candidate unstuck.

Much like the process of scaling the question, good hints are metered out carefully, starting with more general hints and gradually getting more specific. An interviewer who solves the problem for the candidate definitely doesn’t intend to hire them, so hints that answer for the candidate aren’t appropriate unless it’s clear they are not a fit. It’s also important to time hints properly—not too early, before the candidate has time to think; and not too late, when the interview runs overtime. This timing will vary by question (some questions take longer to answer than others), but if a candidate is clearly stuck for more than a few minutes, it’s usually time to get them unstuck. Also note that letting a candidate flounder for too long restricts what information you can gather as an interviewer. A candidate stuck for 45 minutes on a single aspect of a question might have performed brilliantly on the rest of the question, but for you to discover that, you’d have to give an appropriate hint so that they can move along.

Hints can take multiple forms:

  • Nudging a candidate toward or away from a particular approach that they mentioned. This is especially important early in the question, so that the candidate doesn’t work on a mis-scoped problem. In this scenario, you might say something like, “Don’t worry about how this would work when stored on disk; you can focus on solving this in memory.”

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Collecting Candidate Feedback

Not every company collects feedback on the interviewers and process from candidates who have gone through an interview loop. But doing so can be very helpful in determining pitfalls in your process, especially when it comes to the candidate experience. The key to collecting candidate feedback is to do so only if you have the intention of using it to improve your process. (See Diversity and Inclusion in Tech for more.)

You might send something like a “candidate experience survey” to each candidate directly after their interview process, regardless of whether they received or accepted an offer. A second alternative is to send surveys out in batches once a quarter or at some other interval.

The survey might ask a combination of qualitative and quantitative questions. Quantitative questions ask candidates to rank the experience or a subset of the experience on a scale of 1–10 or to rank how likely they would be to interview at the company again, on a 1–5 scale. Qualitative questions might include:

  1. “How was your experience?”

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Evaluating Interviews25 minutes, 1 link

When interviewers know what to expect from interview questions—what makes an answer “poor,” “fair,” “good,” or “excellent”—they are less likely to let noise and bias slip into their evaluations. Rubrics are systems that make it easier for interviewers to provide and discuss feedback on candidates, because everyone will be working from the same set of expectations.

A rubric is a set of guidance, usually written, for evaluating candidate’s answers to interview questions. Included in this guidance may be examples of answers at different quality levels, or prompts to help the interviewer perform their assessment. Rubrics may also provide interviewers with a series of questions to use, typically of increasing difficulty.

In a structured interview, rubrics are essential to keep interviewers on track and ensure an effective and fair process. Even with a rubric, it can be tricky to specify exactly what a good or bad performance looks like—there’s always variation in each individual and room for human judgment or interpretation. You might think of rubrics as a starting point to help foster fair and productive interviews and evaluations.

There are many ways to write technical and nontechnical rubrics, and every company has their own method.

Building Rubrics

Teams design rubrics differently. Rubrics can be perfunctory, with just a list of questions to ask and simple pass/fail boxes to check, or they can be detailed, including briefs on why each question is being asked, descriptions of what different levels of success are for each question, and/or what would be expected of different candidate levels for each question. The more detailed the rubric, the more fair and systematic the process—but the greater the challenge of designing and maintaining it.

Rubrics do not remove the need for flexibility in any given interview. They help you to score a candidate’s progress through a question, and can even allow you to be more flexible by preparing you to pivot when something unexpected comes up.

story “All good questions have variable depth. Like, there’s a point halfway through the question where it’s clear the person’s not going to get through it. So you might have a 20-minute version of a 60-minute question. That can go the other way, ‘This person is going through this so fast, let’s make it harder.’ It’s like a rip cord, where 15 minutes in I know whether I can pivot to the shorter version or longer, or end it, or add the next layer of the onion. It’s about preparing to offer extensible difficulty, variable difficulty.” —Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

story “One way to increase the reach of a question bank is to structure the rubric to call out what answers you would expect at what candidate level. This can help minimize bias (everyone knows what ‘senior’ means for this), and, where it makes sense, reduces the need to have different question sets for different levels.” —Ryn Daniels, Senior Software Engineer, HashiCorp

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Collecting Interviewer Feedback

Interviewer Write-ups

Ideally, interviewers will record their feedback on the candidate as soon as possible. The fresher the interview is in the interviewer’s mind, the more complete and objective it is likely to be. Additionally, since next steps rely on this information, waiting a while to record your feedback can slow down decision-making.

The write-up justifies the decision with concrete evidence based on the rubric, by identifying which parts of the rubric were or weren’t met. A sample write-up based on the technical question above might look like this, for a performance evaluation of “fair”:

The candidate struggled with this problem overall, earning no more than a “fair” on the rubric and a “no hire” on the interview. Mapping how they did to the rubric:

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Some parts of the hiring process are dictated by law. Laws differ depending on the size of your company and the jurisdiction in which you operate. For example, California prohibits companies from asking candidates about their salary history,* but most states still allow such questions.* Giving legal advice is outside the scope of this work, but you can read more about the types of things you can and cannot do in an interview process below.

  • age

  • citizenship

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Part VI: After the Interviews

Checking References30 minutes, 13 links

Definition In hiring, references are a candidate’s former colleagues or supervisors who can speak to the candidate’s skills or past job performance. Candidates usually directly identify a set of references for the company to contact; but for referral candidates there also exists an implicit assumption that the individual who referred them will act as a reference.

If you are a hiring manager, you know that feeling of uncertainty: A candidate may seem incredibly promising, perhaps even passed a technical interview with flying colors. But no one on the team has worked with them before. What will they really be like to work with? What will make them successful? In what situations have they performed well or poorly in the past?

References allow the hiring team to collect the information needed to bolster confidence about the hiring decision. Checking references is an essential part of hiring well and wisely. Unfortunately, prospective employers often conduct reference checks informally, rather than as an established part of the hiring process. When rushed or performed poorly, reference checks can produce misleading or unfair results. But there is an effective way to give reference-checking the attention it deserves.

caution It’s not usually a good idea—or thoughtful—to ask for references until someone is fairly far into the hiring process.** Checking references when you’re unlikely to hire someone is a waste of both the social capital of the candidate (who is asking a favor of the reference). and the time of everyone else involved.

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Talking to References

Hiring teams usually conduct reference checks over the phone. A few larger companies have in-house recruiters send forms or emailed questions, but these are usually impersonal and may be less effective for the hiring team than one-on-one conversations. References have a hard time quantifying or evaluating others’ skills using checkbox-style and similar form answers that can make it feel like an answer might (intentionally or unintentionally) hurt the candidate. A conversation between industry colleagues is more comfortable and can allow helpful nuances and details to emerge. Usually a candidate can make reference introductions to the hiring team, so setting up a call will likely be the easy part.

Although it’s not universal practice, the best person to do reference checks is most likely the person making the hiring decision. It’s even better if that person is also the candidate’s future manager.

caution At larger companies, references are often done by HR staff or recruiters, but they may not capture certain valuable information if they don’t know the exact needs of the role. Because HR staff and recruiters often are juggling multiple pipelines, they may be more likely to forget details gleaned from the reference process by the candidate’s first day on the job.

Good preparation for checking references includes taking a little time to research the reference’s background; this provides information to help put anything they say into context. Make sure you understand what their relationship to the candidate is or was. Plan what you want to discuss. What areas of the candidate’s experience can this reference speak to? About what are they credible?

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Designing Reference Questions

First-time hiring managers usually know or are told that they need to check references and may eagerly solicit or set up the calls. But at some point the reality of the challenge becomes apparent: How exactly do you get helpful and reliable guidance about one person you don’t know, from someone you know even less? And even more challenging, how do you do it in a short window of time, like a 30-minute call? Surely any reference who is a friend of the candidate will just say positive things anyway—how do you know if you can trust this person’s judgment? Worse, you may have heard that legal considerations make most references largely perfunctory and a waste of time,* so why spend the time in the first place?

When preparing your questions for a reference call, it’s often best to sequence from basic, factual questions to more high-level and subjective questions. This way, you can let the reference ease into the discussion with answers to simple questions, that are closed—that is, have one possible answer. In other words, ask about job title and technology stack before you ask about communication skills.

  • Start by asking a little about the reference themself, how well they know the candidate, and how long they worked together and in what context.

  • What was the role of the candidate at the time the two worked together? Did one report to the other? Were they on the same team? How did the team fit into the larger organization?

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Soliciting Back-Channel References

In addition to talking with the references a candidate has listed, hiring teams may also solicit back-channel references (or back references)—that is, people the candidate has worked with but not listed as references. Hiring teams often source back-channel references without the candidate’s knowledge by checking the candidate’s LinkedIn connections or consulting with others who may know them.

Some consider back-channel references to be more reliable than candidate-sourced references, as a back-channel reference will likely have some association with the hiring team and so be more inclined toward greater fairness and honesty. Hiring teams use back-channel references far more commonly for senior hires. And in some industries and geographic areas (like Silicon Valley), the social graph among senior candidates, executives, investors, and former colleagues is dense enough that hiring teams almost certainly will use them.

The best approach for soliciting back-channel references is usually different from what is used for candidate-supplied references. In the case of the back-channel reference, usually the person on the team who best knows the reference will reach out, in any format that feels suitable. A short email might say something like:

Subject: Feedback on Anne Jackson?

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Interpreting Reference Feedback

When interpreting reference feedback, consider where the person is coming from. If the reference trusts you, they are more likely to give you candid feedback. If they are closer to the candidate, they may not want to risk any negative feedback being attributed to them, or they may feel the relationship colors their ability to provide objective feedback.

In general, references will be more positive than negative. Some recommend mentally compensating by discounting positive comments by 30% and amplifying negative comments by 30%. While this is an arbitrary number, it does highlight the importance of perspective. You can take outrageously positive or negative comments with a grain or two of salt.

Next, think about the context in which the candidate and reference knew each other. How closely did the reference and the candidate work together? How equipped is the reference to judge the candidate’s work? For instance, “I’ve managed over a dozen engineers and Anne is the strongest I’ve had on my team by far,” is a lot more compelling than, “Anne has been great to work with, but that was my first job out of school and I’ve only been here a few months.”

You also may consider whether the reference’s criteria for assessment is consistent with your own. For instance, traits that lead a candidate to success (or hold them back) at a large company may differ significantly from traits that lead to success at a much smaller company.

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Making a Decision34 minutes, 26 links

Anyone who’s run interview processes for enough candidates will be able to recall instances in which a smart manager made a bad call. Whether it’s hiring or passing, there’s no way to know whether this decision is the right one for the long run, but somehow a decision has to be made. It’s worth recognizing that no matter how careful and structured your hiring process is, it can never involve 100% certainty, because it is a human process and we are neither mind-readers nor oracles. But the more thoughtful you are about how decisions are made and what factors to consider, the more confident you can be.

candidate Knowing how a company you’re interviewing with makes hiring decisions will help you have a sense of your timeline with that company, and make the (often stressful) process less opaque. For instance, Google tends to take longer to extend an offer, since offers require both hiring committee and senior leader approval. When interviewing with a company, you can ask your recruiter or interviewer how that company makes hiring decisions and why.

How a company makes hiring decisions is usually related to the company’s decision-making philosophy in general. Netflix has a culture that values trust, freedom, and “diffuse accountability,”* and thus allows teams (and managers) to make their own hiring decisions. Google, on the other hand, believes that well-designed committees can make better decisions than giving a manager unilateral power. This philosophy usually extends beyond hiring to promotions and even technical and product decisions. Because hiring philosophy and strategy may be aligned with how a company or team runs day-to-day, it’s often a good idea (and fair) to share with the candidate how this decision will be made—it helps set them up for success and gives them important insight into the company.

Decision-Making Archetypes

Before you make an offer to someone, think about whether you’d like to have 10 times as many people like them in your company.Patrick Collison, co-founder and CEO, Stripe*

No two companies make hiring decisions in exactly the same way. Nor should they. Companies tend to design their decision-making processes in a way that reflects both their goals and their philosophy on recruiting.

At many smaller startups, the decision-making process tends to be relatively informal. As a company grows and management layers start to form, there is a risk that hiring quality can deteriorate. Hiring managers, faced with an urgency to build out their team, may be less selective about who they extend an offer to, racking up diversity debt in the process. Hiring managers may also be less aware of the company’s culture or do not participate in it fully, which can lead to cultural dilution. This is why understanding how hiring decisions are related to company philosophies and are part of maintaining company values is essential—the risks for losing those things over time is great. At the same time, as a company grows, strategies have to change. It wouldn’t make sense for a company of 100 to involve every employee in a hiring decision, even if that was the practice when the company was 8 people.

We’ve put together a list of (somewhat fictitious) company archetypes to help illustrate how different goals, philosophies, and company values can impact how hiring decisions are made.

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Decision-Making Techniques

While any of the above archetypes can be highly successful, each has pitfalls, and the way a company makes hiring decisions can impact the candidate experience and the type of people that get hired. The techniques employed to make hiring decisions are often driven by an underlying philosophy about who should be empowered to make decisions and how those decision-makers should be held accountable.

As you’re building your process, you might use these techniques:

Debrief Sessions

In a recruiting debrief session (or huddle), interviewers, recruiters, and the hiring manager meet to discuss all the feedback from a candidate’s interview process and discuss the candidate’s performance. In advance of the session, the hiring manager should circulate interviewers’ written feedback for the entire group to review. The discussion in the debrief session itself is led by a moderator, often the hiring manager.

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Choosing a Decision-Making Strategy

No matter the strategy your company employs, it should align with your hiring goals and your company values. To that end, the following questions will be helpful to discuss among your team:

Consensus or Accountability?

It’s worth considering the trade-offs between the different methods of decision-making. These should be consistent with your company’s culture, and some cultures are inherently more consensus-driven than others.

Requiring consensus will probably mean more selective hiring, since doubt from any interviewer can mean rejecting the candidate. This may be even more important for candidates for a leadership role. On the other hand, allowing some discretion for the hiring manager might be useful in certain cases. After all, the entire process is noisy and a judgment call might be needed. Or, in some cases, the hiring manager may want to augment the team with skills or traits that the current team is undervaluing. Assessing candidate-company fit or candidate-team fit requires an objective sense of the team’s strengths and weaknesses—it’s hard for teams to reflect on what they lack.

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Decision-Making Tips and Pitfalls

Now you’re set up to navigate the final decision about whether to make a candidate an offer. You have developed a philosophy and strategy around hiring, decided what you’re looking for ahead of time, designed and administered structured interviews, and agreed on who should be making the final decision. And sometimes, the decision can be straightforward. But often, things are not so clear cut—after all, you’re working with limited (and noisy) information.

Here are some tips for making the final call:

  • Stick to your hiring criteria as best you can. Did the candidate actually demonstrate the skills required for the role? How did they perform against a calibrated rubric? Take into account all the positions you had on strategic issues, such as how strong of a fit you need for this role. Putting all of that together, is this someone who will be successful once hired?

  • Look for patterns as you put all the feedback together. Sometimes, a behavior that might seem minor in one interview could be a red (or green) flag if it shows up as a common theme. For instance, did the candidate exhibit a bit of arrogance across all interviews? A single interviewer may have interpreted this quality as confidence, but if it shows up several times, it might be something else. It’s worth noting that interview debriefs can help surface these patterns more readily, but absent them, the decision-maker (hiring manager or hiring committee) will need to look deeply at the feedback and possibly follow up with interviewers. Reference check are also a good way to surface or dig into potential patterns.

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If the decision is to reject a candidate, the right thing to do is to deliver that decision with grace, respect, and speed. At this point, candidates have probably invested a large amount of time and effort in your recruiting process. Whether they receive an offer or rejection may have emotional and material repercussions, impacting their self-esteem as well as their career.

caution How you handle this interaction will also affect your future recruiting prospects. Bitter candidates may not apply again, even if the right role comes along in the future. They may also speak poorly of your company to their friends and colleagues, or on forums like Glassdoor, Blind, or Reddit, thereby deterring other potential candidates and affecting your brand. You might feel like you’d rather spend time on active candidates rather than rejected ones, but consider this an investment in your company’s brand and in upholding your company’s values—as well as your personal reputation. Indeed, as is so often true, doing the right thing is good for business.

  • Deliver the decision promptly. The longer you wait, the more pent up emotions the candidate might develop. If your decision-making process might take some time, you should set expectations for the candidate about when they should expect to hear back from you. If you’re still deliberating, reach out and give the candidate an update. If you have already decided but are stalling because you are dreading letting the candidate down, realize that the longer you wait the worse it will feel for both you and the candidate. If the candidate is reaching out to ask you for an update about your decision, you probably haven’t managed this properly.

  • Be considerate. Dismissing a candidate by firing off a generic email, quick text, or voicemail might feel quick and painless to you but will make a candidate feel disrespected. More direct communication is better. A personal email is better than a generic note, but a call is often best, if feasible. Getting on a call to break the news shows courtesy, even if the conversation might feel uncomfortable for you. On Twitter, Jennifer Kim offers some great advice about what language to use. (Of course, if it’s taking a lot of back and forth and several days to schedule a call with a candidate just to deliver a rejection, this is inefficient and even unfair for both sides.)

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Extending an Offeran hour, 54 links

Many hiring managers and recruiters aim to have their offer acceptance rate be 70% or higher. You have hopefully built up enough trust and rapport with a candidate by now that you have some idea of what their answer will be—but how you go about extending the offer can be the difference between a yes! and a no, thanks.

Timing Your Offer Delivery

This section was written by Jose Guardado.

Once the candidate clears evaluation, and you’ve identified the title, level, and compensation for your offer, you are ready to deliver it. But is the candidate ready to cut off all other interviews and accept your offer? It’s important to know your candidate’s timing preferences and constraints, specifically around competing offers. Coming in too early can hurt your chances, and coming in too late may preclude your ability to even compete.

importantTiming alone doesn’t usually win offers, but it can definitely lose them. A well-timed offer gives your company a chance to compete. It won’t guarantee success, but it can eliminate a guaranteed failure. Companies spend a lot of time and focus on the evaluation and assessment of talent, and once a candidate is determined to be a good fit, they rush to extend an offer. But they may or may not understand their candidate’s schedule or their own odds of success.

Jeff Markowitz, partner at Greylock, uses this method: ask the candidate on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being an absolute “yes,” how ready they are to accept the offer. If the answer is anything but 10, you know you have more work to do, and this is your opportunity to address concerns directly. Many managers won’t extend an offer if they do not have certainty it will be accepted.

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Offer Deadlines

controversy When you extend an offer, should it have a deadline or an expiration date? There are differing schools of thought on using timing as a forcing function. Some believe a strict deadline creates urgency and improves the odds of acceptance. And, generally, the longer the elapsed time since an offer has been extended, the less likely it is to be accepted; time can kill excitement.

An exploding offer is an offer that expires if not accepted within a tight timeframe. Anecdotally, an offer is considered exploding if it allows the candidate less than a week to respond,* but the timeframe may be as short as one or two days,* or the offer may even require an immediate response.*

caution Deadlines can sometimes work, but arbitrary deadlines like those in exploding offers can be counterproductive.* They might force a candidate into a premature decision (premature rejections or acceptances are both bad). The pressure of deadlines can make the candidate feel anxious, or give them the impression that the company is behaving unfairly,* and other companies you are competing with might use this to undermine you. Avoid aggressive deadlines and unnecessary pressure around timing.

That said, you might need an answer within a certain timeframe. For instance, you may have limited headcount and need to know whether you should keep trying to hire (or extend other offers), or you may need to fill a role by a certain start date. If you have these types of practical necessities, using deadlines can make sense—you should explain these reasons to your candidate so that the deadline doesn’t feel arbitrary. It’s completely fine to say something like: “We think you’re a perfect fit for us, but we do have to fill this position and we do have other candidates in the pipeline, so we’d love an answer by next Monday. In the meantime, I’m happy to make myself and my team available to answer any questions to help you with your decision.”

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How to Extend an Offer

After all the effort both your team and the candidate have put into the process, letting a candidate know they are formally getting an offer is a fun and celebratory occasion—second only to having the candidate accept that offer, then join and thrive at your company! We recommend you deliver the news in person if possible, or over the phone if necessary.

A common question, at this point, is who should deliver the offer, which can be unclear, especially if a hiring manager and recruiter have been partnering together on the process. Ideally, the hiring manager delivers the good news in person or over the phone. After all, they will be the one the candidate is likely working with and will be best equipped to build the candidate’s excitement about joining the team.

Here are a few things to do when delivering the offer:

  • Clearly state that you’re extending an offer. A lot of times, you might start by saying things like “the team really enjoyed meeting you” and “thank you for sitting down with us.” But keep in mind that common niceties like these are the same things you say to begin letting a candidate down politely. Don’t bury the lede or be anticlimactic! Keep it simple and straightforward: “We’re thrilled to offer you a position of Software Engineer at Acme Technologies.”

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Explaining Equity

Earlier we explained how providing equity compensation can be a great way to incentivize and reward potential and existing employees, especially for startups. But understanding the value and purpose of equity can be really difficult and often intimidating to candidates and the managers tasked with explaining equity to them. It’s worth dedicating special attention to equity when communicating an offer.

Make sure the candidate is sold on the future of your business. If you’re an early-stage startup, it is not possible to know how much a share of the company will be worth or how long it will take for ownership to become valuable. The candidate needs to believe in the future of the company for an equity package to be enticing; hopefully, they believe the company will be more likely to succeed when they join the team. And hopefully, you have been working on this throughout the process, but if the candidate still has concerns at this stage, you, your team, or even your investors can help make sure they believe in your company.

Next, help them understand the basics of equity compensation. You can refer to the Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation as needed.

Work through what the equity you are offering could be worth in different scenarios. One technique we’ve found that works well is to have a spreadsheet that you can use with candidates to play these scenarios. How is the value of their equity determined now? How many shares are they getting, and how many shares are outstanding? What is the vesting schedule and, in the case of stock options, what is the exercise price and window? How much might all the equity be worth if the company ends up going public or getting acquired at different valuations? This can help them understand, concretely, what the equity you are offering could be worth.

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Once you’ve made an offer, you should be prepared with a strategy for negotiations and an understanding of how much—if anything—you are willing to negotiate.

Should Companies Negotiate?

danger You want to avoid zero-sum negotiating with a candidate, where each party feels they need to “win” a negotiation. How much you pay someone or what role and title they have should closely reflect their likely value to the company rather than their willingness and ability to negotiate. These types of negotiations, especially if they vary depending on candidate behavior, create a risk of pay inequity and unfairness for everyone. Research shows that the pay gap that disadvantages women and underrepresented people is due in part to how negotiations are handled, the behaviors expected of underrepresented candidates in negotiations, and the pressures they often face throughout the hiring process.

caution Your intention when negotiating might be to try and make things work for the candidate because you value them. But negotiations can send implicit signals that can lead to distrust. By negotiating, are you implying that you don’t actually know how to value the candidate? Or that you do, but are trying to underpay them? Both of those signals can be dangerous in the relationship between a future employee and the company.

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You don’t have to feel powerless after you’ve made an offer as you’re waiting for a response. In addition to maintaining contact with the candidate, there are several things the company can do while the candidate is deciding.

Making the Team Available

Once a candidate is close to the finish line, you need to pull in all the resources you can. You should by now have an understanding of what might be holding the candidate back from making a decision. What questions remain unanswered for them? What doubts do they have? Facilitate discussions with your team, if a candidate:

  • Has questions about the role. Have them talk to peers in similar roles.

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Appendix A: Decision-Making5 minutes, 9 links

Before going into the specifics of why people take certain jobs and how to build a value proposition for your company, it’s useful to have a basic understanding of a few models of decision-making.

The first idea to understand is that people are not always strictly rational. As much as this affects you when making hiring decisions, it also affects job-seekers. You might unfairly reject a candidate who doesn’t “feel right,” but it’s a legitimate part of the recruiting process to try to appeal to both the hearts and minds of candidates.

If you’d like a more formal basis for the psychology of decision-making, the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman breaks our thinking processes down into two “systems.” System 1 operates fast and automatically using heuristics and emotions, but is prone to mistakes and biases. System 2, on the other hand, is slower—it is more deliberate, rational, and requires conscious effort. But System 2 is also prone to behaving irrationally. For instance, System 2 is really good at crafting “after-the-fact” stories to justify System 1’s conclusions (this is known as confabulating, and there have been interesting scientific experiments to demonstrate its startling power).

There are other similar models that psychologists have written about—for instance, Jonathan Haidt uses the analogy of the conscious mind as a rider on top of an elephant, which represents the unconscious mind in the book The Happiness Hypothesis. But for the purposes of this Guide and of understanding decision-making, we recommend, at the very least, reading a summary of Thinking Fast and Slow to familiarize yourself with the two-system model and understand the different biases that we are all prone to.

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Appendix B: Communicating Your Brand30 minutes, 28 links

This section was written by Aline Lerner.

contribute We are improving this section! We plan to add more detail on business storytelling, and how to turn your stories into a successful brand. If you are interested in writing about this topic, please let us know!

We started noticing companies have something in common. Companies around for a really long time had a clear mission. A clear sense of values, and they had a shared way of doing something that was unique to them and was really special.Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO, Airbnb*

Your brand is a way to translate the value proposition you are offering to candidates: why should talented engineers join your company? When we talk about brand, we’re referring to both the story you craft about your company, and the techniques and strategies for getting that story out into the world. Having a clear definition of your brand—and a marketing plan to back it up—can mean spending less time on recruiting, because you’ll no longer have to make hires one by one, trying to charm each one by telling them your story. Once you have a brand, sourcing is going to feel really, really different. It can feel a lot like finally finding product-market fit. Things seem to fall into place, and the work you’ve done so far all seems suddenly worth it.

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What Is Employer Brand?

An employer brand is the perception of a company among current and potential future employees of the company as a place to work. A company can impact their employer brand by marketing the company’s story, including the enticing and motivating aspects of the company’s narrative.

Your employer brand communicates your value proposition to candidates by covering topics like:

  • whether people use/like your company’s product

  • the problem the company is trying to solve (the company’s “mission”)

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Business Storytelling: A Primer

The first step in building employer brand is to tell the story of the business. As you prepare and strategize your hiring plan and process, you may discover that much of the skills and techniques necessary for success are undergirded by storytelling. Want to understand your internal company values? Work out your story. Want to write a compelling job description? Tell your story in just a few words. Want to make sure candidates understand your value proposition and what makes your company a great place to work, so they won’t opt out of your funnel, and will ultimately accept your offer? It’s all about how, when, and where you tell the right stories.

Business storytelling is not fiction. It’s not smoke and mirrors. It has to be authentic and grounded in truth. At the same time, it is not just a compilation of facts and figures (like your company’s growth rate or revenue). It is not lists of what your team has built or accomplished. These things may be compelling, but presented dryly or without the context of their meaning or significance, they won’t be memorable or exciting. You need to give these things narrative weight: a story that wraps up facts and events in a way that speaks to both heart and mind. Stories explain the purpose and mission that make these facts and figures important.

There are two types of stories relevant to recruiting and hiring: the company story and the story of the role you’re hiring for. Anyone on your team should be able to understand and convey both those narratives to candidates.

These narratives will have to strike a delicate balance among a few different needs. The stories need to be ambitious but not completely unattainable. They should be bold but not grandiose. And they should be inspiring—maybe even noble—without appearing self-righteous.

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Turning Narratives Into a Brand


How to Broadcast Your Brand

Once you know what story you want to tell, it’s time to get it out into the world. There are a number of different mediums you can use to broadcast your story, but regardless of the mediums you choose, you’ll want to craft compelling content around the story, which means you’ll have to get good at content marketing.

Content marketing refers to creating content that promotes a company’s brand implicitly rather than explicitly. Rather than paid advertising, content marketing means creating content (blog posts, videos, a podcast, et cetera) that represents your company’s values and interests and is meant to attract the kinds of customers and candidates that the company is interested in. . The content may or may not mention the company.

This Guide won’t cover how to create content, but we recommend HubSpot’s manual on content strategy to get started. With great content in hand, there are a few ways to get it in front of the right people.


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Appendix C: D&I Reading List18 minutes, 175 links

Effective diversity and inclusion work goes far beyond recruiting. These resources will help you learn more about improving your onboarding process, employee experience, policies, and leadership development with D&I in mind.

General Overview

Foundational Studies

Additional Research and Data

Economic and Business Advantages

Why Inclusion Matters


Costs and Consequences


Pay and Compensation

Personal Narratives

Examples of Successful Efforts

Allyship and Intersectionality

Tools and Companies

  • #DiversifyYourFeed — Application that analyzes the gender balance of the user’s Twitter feed

  • Textio — Products that review and suggest alternatives to gendered language in job postings and other written communications

  • The Tech Connection — Recruitment platform that supports the professional development of untapped technical talent

  • — Collection of resources for underrepresented people in tech (scholarships, events, job board, etc.)

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Job Descriptions and Interviews

contributeWe’re always looking for more resources to help companies with their diversity and inclusion efforts. If there is a resource you would like to see added to this list, please share it with us.

Appendix D: Tools and Products

We’ve pulled together a comprehensive list of all the available tools/products and companies in the recruiting and hiring space. While we can’t make recommendations for what will work for your team and needs, this is a resource that can help you with research and comparison.

contribute Everyone has a tool or product they can’t live without. If there’s anything you think we overlooked in this list, please let us know!

NameDescriptionMaturity of product/companyPricePurpose
AdaptilabML-specific assessments.New (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricingSourcing
AevySimilar to Nettrons and Fetcher (Sweden based)New (startup < 50 ppl)SubscriptionSourcing
AgaveLower-priced ATSNew (startup < 50 ppl)$15–$30/seat; Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
AirtableDatabase and spreadsheet tool, wide variety of usesMature (wider market)Free; SubscriptionGeneral tooling
AngelListComprehensive offerings for companies and candidates, largely (but not exclusively) focused on startupsUbiquitous (must know about)A-List Paid: 20% of each hire; Source: $99+/monthMulti-use platform
AvatureEnterprise ATS companyEstablished nicheCustom pricingATS/CRM/Database
BambooHR techMature (wider market)$6.19–$8.25/seat per monthHR Tech
BeameryTalent Relationship Management (TRM) (UK based)Established niche$75/seat per monthEngagement
BetterWorksHR techEstablished nicheCustom pricingHR Tech
BoonTool to manage and encourage in-house referrals.New (startup < 50 ppl)$99/monthReferrals
BullhornFor multiple recruiting sources to pull together a single viewEstablished niche$99/month; Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
CareerBuilderLarger scale job site, better for accounting, clerical, retail, etc. Not well suited to tech hiring. Caters to a more Midwestern audience.Mature (wider market)$219-499/month; $375 per jobSourcing
Clara LabsInterview scheduling toolYoung (team <100 ppl or not established)UnknownGeneral tooling
ClearCompanyTRM solutionMature (wider market)Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
Code PilotGeneral-purpose AI company with an assessment tool where companies can choose any environment, language, database, etc.New (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricingAssessment
Code Signal(Formerly Code Fights) Similar to Kaggle in terms of having a competitive angle.New (startup < 50 ppl)$22.50–$67.50/seat per month; Custom pricingAssessment
CoderPadShared coding tool for watching candidates codeMature (wider market)General tooling
CodilityAutomatically scored reportsNew (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricingAssessment
ConnectifierPlugin exclusively for LinkedIn Recruiter that gives e-mail addresses.Ubiquitous (must know about)Free option; Recruiter: $100–$1000/monthEngagement
ConneryHR consulting firmUbiquitous (must know about)Custom pricingMulti-use platform
ContactOutLinkedIn email address finder. Competitor to Connectifier.New (startup < 50 ppl)UnknownEngagement
Criteria CorpPsychometric evaluationMature (wider market)Custom pricing; SubscriptionAssessment
Culture AmpHR techEstablished nicheCustom pricingHR Tech
Discover.lyBrowser extension for social media profile informationNew (startup < 50 ppl)FreeDataset
Divine GroupPsychometric evaluationMature (wider market)Custom pricingAssessment
DomoData platformMature (wider market)Custom pricingAnalytics
DraftedTool to manage and encourage in-house referrals.New (startup < 50 ppl)$10+/seat per monthReferrals
Dux-SoupAutomated LinkedIn connection toolEstablished niche$11.25–$41.25/user per month; Free optionEngagement
EightfoldATS mining for larger enterprises.Young (team <100 ppl or not established)UnknownSourcing; Internal Hiring
Entelo EnvoyTalent Relationship Management (TRM). Competing product to Beamery.Established nicheUnknownEngagement
ExcelLongstanding data entry, spreadsheet, analysis toolUbiquitous (must know about)$5–$12.50/user per month (business); $99–$149/year (personal); FreeMulti-use platform
FetcherAutomated research tool that researches additional profiles based on ones you tag.New (startup < 50 ppl)SubscriptionSourcing
Find Emails(Formerly Toofr) Contact info datasetNew (startup < 50 ppl)$19/month (up to 500); $9/month (up to 2500); $99/month (up to 10K)Dataset
FindemManaged service for outbound sourcing, they run the campaign for you. Don’t promise hires, offers, etc.New (startup < 50 ppl)$60K/yearSourcing
FindThatEmail address datasetEstablished nicheFreeDataset
Gem(Formerly ZenSourcer) Integrates with Greenhouse. Competitor to TopFunnel. Any company that can afford a sourcing team is a potential customer.Young (team <100 ppl or not established)Custom pricingEngagement
GitHubSource of record for anyone who does open source.Ubiquitous (must know about)FreeMulti-use platform
GlassdoorCompany reviews for candidates, job postings, salary research, culture marketing and branding for a company.Ubiquitous (must know about)$199–$699/monthMulti-use platform
GmeliusGmail integrationNew (startup < 50 ppl)Free; $9 per user/month; $19 per user/month; $49 per user/monthGeneral tooling
GoodTimeInterview scheduling tool.New (startup < 50 ppl)$1250–$2500/month; Custom pricingGeneral tooling
GreenhouseTop ATS platform. Competitor to Lever.Established nicheCustom pricingATS/CRM/Database
GustoHR techMature (wider market)$6–$12/seat per month (plus $39–$149 “base price”)HR Tech
HackerEarthAssessment toolEstablished niche$119–$275/month per seat; Custom pricingAssessment
HackerRankLargest company in this category in terms of customers, revenueEstablished niche$249/mo–$7188/year; Custom pricingAssessment
HandshakeUniversity recruitingNew (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricing; Free optionUniversity Hiring
Hire by GoogleATS integrated with GSuite (retired in 2020)Mature (wider market)$2400–$12K/yearATS/CRM/Database
Hired Marketplace matching employers and candidatesMature (wider market)Custom pricingMarketplace
HiretualManaged service for outbound sourcing.New (startup < 50 ppl)$89/month; Custom pricingSourcing
HiretualJob site, sourcing, contact dataset, and engagement offeringsNew (startup < 50 ppl)$890/year (up to 200 contacts); Custom pricingSourcing; Dataset
HireVue Assessment platform and ATSEstablished nicheCustom pricingATS/CRM/Database; Assessment
HumanPredictionsML-based candidate marketplaceYoung (team <100 ppl or not established)$5K–$30K/yearSourcing
HunterEmail address datasetNew (startup < 50 ppl)$49–$399/month; FreeDataset
iCIMSHigh volume enterprise solutionMature (wider market)Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
IndeedLarger scale, lower-skilled job site. Not typically used for tech hiringUbiquitous (must know about)10% salary of hired canddiates; Free option; Pay per clickSourcing
interviewing.ioAnonymity and feedback is the real selling point here.New (startup < 50 ppl)Per hire or subscription pricingAssessment
InterviewScheduleInterview scheduling tool.General tooling
JazzATS with lots of integration to other toolsEstablished niche$39–$309/monthATS/CRM/Database
JobJetDataset of resume, contact, social, and demographic informationNew (startup < 50 ppl)$29–$59/seat per monthDataset
JobviteLongstanding ATS companyMature (wider market)$4K–$100K/yearATS/CRM/Database
JopwellHiring URM knowledge worker candidates. Target the high end universities.Young (team <100 ppl or not established)SubscriptionSourcing
JumpstartUniversity recruitingNew (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricingUniversity Hiring
KaggleLargely data science-specific, with competitions where recruiters can see the resultsEstablished nicheFreeAssessment
LatticeHR techNew (startup < 50 ppl)$9–$12/seat per month; Custom pricingHR Tech
LeadIQDataset of resume, contact, social, and demographic information (largely targeted at sales professionals)New (startup < 50 ppl)$60/month (up to 300 prospects); Custom pricingDataset
LeverTop ATS platform. Competitor to GreenHouse.Established nicheCustom pricingATS/CRM/Database
Lever NurtureTalent Relationship Management (TRM). Competing product to Beamery.Established nicheUnknownEngagement
LinkedInImportant and comprehensive platform for research and profiles in existence.Ubiquitous (must know about)Free option; Premium: $50–$100/month; Recruiter: $100–$1000/monthMulti-use platform
LinkedIn RecruiterThe must-have outbound channel for recruiters and hiring managers.Ubiquitous (must know about)Recruiter: $100–$1000/monthSourcing
LookerBI and visualization toolEstablished nicheCustom pricingAnalytics
LoxoAI-based ATS.New (startup < 50 ppl)$79–$99/monthATS/CRM/Database
LushaDataset of resume, contact, social, and demographic informationEstablished niche$149/month (300 credits); $75/month (120 credits); Custom pricing; Free optionDataset
MixMaxGeneral scheduling toolGeneral tooling
MonsterLarger scale job site, better for accounting, clerical, retail, etc. Not well suited to tech hiring.Ubiquitous (must know about)$249–$999/month; Free optionSourcing
NettronsSemantic automation research tool. Extracts intent from semantic analysis, pairs companies with selected candidates for “pitch” sessions.New (startup < 50 ppl)$99/month per role; Custom pricingSourcing
NewtonSimilar to ThriveTRM, a lightweight ATS, more for search than running a team.Established nicheCustom pricingATS/CRM/Database
People Data LabsDataset of resume, contact, social, and demographic informationNew (startup < 50 ppl)$0.10 per match after 1K; Custom pricing; First 1K freeDataset
PiplPeople search and contact dataEstablished niche$.02–$0.40 per matchDataset
Predictive IndexPsychometric evaluationEstablished nicheCustom pricingAssessment
PrevuePsychometric evaluationMature (wider market)Custom pricingAssessment
Py (Hired Assessments)Assessment platformYoung (team <100 ppl or not established)Custom pricingAssessment
Qualified.ioAssessment platformNew (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricing
RadfordHR consulting firm that also provides salary and compensation dataMature (wider market)Custom pricingDataset
Recruiter FlowATS startupNew (startup < 50 ppl)$59–$129/monthATS/CRM/Database; Sourcing
RecruitifiA crowdsourcing recruiting platform that provides employers a way to source talent by letting them select and post jobs privately to up to 250 “expert” recruiters.New (startup < 50 ppl)$50/posting; 14% of first-year salarySourcing
ReflektiveHR techEstablished nicheCustom pricingHR Tech
Remote.comFor hiring remote talent.Established niche$295/posting; 10% of project cost per successful hire; Custom pricing,FreeSourcing
Resource.ioOutbound sourcing and TRMNew (startup < 50 ppl)Sourcing
RocketReachEmail and phone datasetNew (startup < 50 ppl)$79–$349/monthDataset
SearchlightFocused on back-channel reference checkingNew (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricingReferencing
SignalHireBrowser extension for collecting email addresses, phone numbers, and social media profiles for candidatesNew (startup < 50 ppl)$79–$99/month; Custom pricing; FreeSourcing
SimpplerEmployee referrals productNew (startup < 50 ppl)$3–$5/seat per month; Custom pricing; Implementation feesReferrals
SkillSurveySourcing, referrals, and referencesEstablished nicheCustom pricing; SubscriptionSourcing; Referrals; Referecing
Smart RecruitersEnterprise ATS company.Established nicheCustom pricingATS/CRM/Database
Snov.ioCold outreach (email find/verify and send)New (startup < 50 ppl)$49–$139/month; Custom pricingDataset
SourceressManaged service to do outbound. The most human-heavy of outbound managed services (A/B testing content to see what works).New (startup < 50 ppl)$120-150K/yearSourcing
Sourcing.ioSearchable database of engineers with proprietary taxonomy. Also scrapes company employee graphs for referral purposes.New (startup < 50 ppl)$199/seat per monthReferrals; Internal Hiring
SuccessFactors(SAP) Full enterprise HR suite with recruiting modules.Mature (wider market)Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
TableauData analysis and visualization toolMature (wider market)$12/seat per month (100 seats); $22.50–$67.50/seat per month; $35/seat per month (5 seats); Custom pricingAnalytics
Takehome.ioStartup working on timeboxing for takehome problems.Young (team <100 ppl or not established)Free option; $20/candidate; $20/month (unlimited)Assessment
Talent.ioEuropean-based marketplace that matches employers to candidatesYoung (team <100 ppl or not established)15% of annual salary on start date or 1% of monthly salary for 18 monthsSourcing
TalentWallProject management and visualizationNew (startup < 50 ppl)UnknownGeneral tooling
Taleo(Oracle) Full enterprise HR and recruiting suite.Mature (wider market)Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
TeamableTool to manage and encourage in-house referrals.New (startup < 50 ppl)UnknownReferrals
Thrive TRMBuilt by recruiters (True Search) for their recruiting use case.Young (team <100 ppl or not established)Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
TopFunnelAutomated engagement, managed sourcing service similar to Findem.New (startup < 50 ppl)Custom pricingEngagement
TripleByteLargely focused on YCombinator companies and growth-stage startup ecosystem.New (startup < 50 ppl)$7+ per hire; Tiered pricing by targetsAssessment
TwitterResearch and networkingUbiquitous (must know about)FreeMulti-use platform
UncommonAI-based inbound sourcing startupNew (startup < 50 ppl)$100–$400/seat; Custom pricingSourcing
Underdog.ioCurated recruiting marketplaceNew (startup < 50 ppl)SubscriptionSourcing; Marketplace
VetteryAI-based marketplace matching employers and candidatesNew (startup < 50 ppl)15% of the hire’s first year base salaryMarketplace
Who’s Hiring? (HackerNews monthly thread)Companies can post short descriptions here each month—Hacker News has a large and dedicated developer followingEstablished nicheFreeSourcing; Engagement
WorkableATS platformEstablished niche$99/job per month; Custom pricingATS/CRM/Database
Zip RecruiterLarge platform that’s been around for a long time.Mature (wider market)$249–$1569/monthSourcing
Zoho RecruitEnterprise software company. Easy to implement and modularize.Mature (wider market)$22.50–$67.50/seat per monthATS/CRM/Database

Disclaimer14 minutes, 33 links

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