Cast of Characters

21 minutes, 10 links

You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Cast of Characters

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.

Definition Technical recruiters are subspecialists in hiring for engineering roles, particularly those requiring full-time, more experienced candidates. This requires enough familiarity with the technical space for which they are recruiting to enable them to effectively screen candidates and converse with them about their technical experience.

Definition Executive recruiters (or leadership recruiters) are subspecialists in hiring for senior roles. Their work often requires extensive network-building and a high-touch approach to candidate engagement.

Definition University recruiters are subspecialists in hiring full-time employees and interns directly from colleges and universities. This can involve building a relationship with certain universities, attending and sponsoring career fairs, organizing social gatherings or technical talks, and so on.

confusion Recruiter is a job title that may apply to generalists and any of the above subspecialists, but it is sometimes used expansively to refer to anyone engaged in the project of recruiting.

Companies sometimes break out the tasks associated with searching for and identifying potential candidates into a specialized sourcer role. Sourcers may also conduct the initial outreach to a candidate.

When a sourcer reaches out to a candidate, they may do so under their own name or, less frequently, under the hiring manager’s name. In the latter case, sourcers and hiring managers may agree on a template for the sourcer to use. A sourcer handling the initial outreach typically is not involved past a successful phone screen of the candidate. At this point, a recruiter takes over.

Recruiting coordinators manage the logistics of the recruiting process, including scheduling interviews and arranging candidates’ travel and accommodations. The contributions of recruiting coordinators are more important than may be apparent; for a busy team that is hiring quickly, scheduling is a demanding, critical job.

Interviewers are the people selected to meet formally with candidates to assess their suitability for the company and role (and hopefully to help convince them to join the company if given an offer). After conducting an interview, the interviewer usually provides their assessment to the hiring manager in the form of a rating and written feedback, and may attend candidate debriefs to provide feedback in person. When multiple people are assigned to interview a candidate, this group is often referred to as the interview panel (not to be confused with a panel interview).

startupEarly-stage startups may have a network of investors, advisors, mentors, or even clients and customers that can help out with recruiting efforts for a small team. These advisors or advocates might refer candidates to you, talk to candidates about your company’s potential, or even step in to help assess candidates for skill sets that you are not equipped to test for yet.

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.

important Regardless of whether you choose to employ recruiters at this time, the risks and benefits associated with the hiring manager–recruiter relationship can apply to all relationships with the people at your company involved in hiring. Fostering trust and aligning goals and priorities will allow you to avoid communication pitfalls team-wide.

Table: Hiring Volume by Urgency

Low urgencyHigh urgency
Low total hiring volumeIn-house recruiter/contingency (maybe a combination of both until your full-time staffer has filled their pipeline).Contingency/retained search/consulting recruiter to build candidate volume and move them through a process fast.
High total hiring volumeIn-house recruiter, with the license to build out a team over time.RPO/in-house, maybe with some contingency to supplement where necessary.

Source: First Round

Building Trust Between Recruiters and Hiring Managers

At some companies, the relationship between recruiters and hiring managers is akin to a vendor–client relationship. Teams have hiring needs and make requests, and recruiters take the order and deliver the candidates. This works some of the time, but it takes a partnership between recruiters and hiring managers to be truly successful. The goal is for both parties to be aligned around a common goal, to agree on priorities and expectations, and to be comfortable working together and giving each other feedback. This allows a recruiter to truly understand a hiring manager’s needs; and a hiring manager to understand the complexity and commitment required to successfully hire.

First, it’s crucial to ensure that both parties are aligned on the same common goal: the right hiring outcomes. In particular, recruiters who are evaluated based on the number of roles they fill and who work under a short-term agreement with the company (typically contract recruiters), have a propensity to ignore the long-term implications of hiring decisions. Pushy hiring managers with urgent demands can exacerbate this. But the best hiring managers and recruiters think about both the short-term and long-term implications of their decisions.

Second, it’s important to ensure everyone agrees on priorities. If a recruiter is servicing several teams or clients, how will they split and prioritize their time? What level of support can they give each team or manager? In return, what should managers be doing to help support the process as effectively as possible?

Finally, both parties will benefit from working to build trust and empathy for each other, to cultivate a relationship that is collaborative instead of adversarial, and to foster comfort in giving and receiving feedback from one another. How this healthy dynamic occurs will probably depend on your company’s size and culture. Netflix, for instance, prefers a “partnership model” to a “service model,” granting more autonomy to both hiring managers and recruiters, which leads to better communication and a shared appreciation of each other’s successes.*

Friction Between Recruiters and Hiring Managers

caution Friction between recruiters and hiring managers is common. When the partnership doesn’t work, a breakdown between recruiters and managers can lead to poor outcomes and frustrating experiences both for those parties and for candidates. Examples include:

  • Poor communication around hiring needs. It’s helpful for hiring managers to be able to articulate what they’re looking for. This can be supported by having recruiters spend time with managers, asking questions and double-checking their own understanding. They might send hiring managers sample candidate profiles to make sure they’re on the same page.

  • Unrealistic expectations. Hiring managers may have unattainable expectations about what sort of candidate the company can succeed in hiring, or the time it might take to make a hire. For instance, the company’s value proposition to candidates may not be strong enough to attract them. Recruiters may be better attuned to pick up these types of problems.

  • A mismatch in hiring priority or urgency. Hiring managers may have sudden high urgency to fill a role, without understanding the realities of the time and effort it takes to set up a recruiting pipeline. Also, recruiters typically work with more than one hiring manager, and each hiring manager is likely to feel their role should be the top priority. Finally, a hiring manager may request that recruiters fill a role with a high degree of urgency, while not responding with the same degree of urgency themselves. For example, they might be slow to respond to requests to review resumes or meet with candidates or recruiters. Even with a recruiter involved, hiring managers still need to be appropriately present in the process.

  • Unclear expectations of responsibilities. Either the manager or the recruiter can own different parts of the process, and that split often changes over time. It’s very important that communication channels be clear, and that everyone knows how they fit in and for what they are (and are not!) responsible.

  • Mismatched incentives. The number of roles many recruiters—and sometimes even managers—fill can influence their evaluation and compensation. This can lead to short-term thinking, where the recruiter tries to fill roles and move on to other client companies as quickly as possible, without ensuring fit or moving through a proper hiring plan. The risk of such a mismatch is greater when working with external or contract recruiters. Hiring managers are not exempt from this phenomenon, however; they may be desperate to fill a role directly, perhaps because they are compensated for doing so, or their team is in need, or they just want to get back to working on the product. Whatever the reason, mismatched incentives result in poor candidate experience and a rushed, messy process that will have to be repeated again if the hire doesn’t work out.

  • Trust breakdowns. In some extreme cases, the relationship between hiring manager and recruiter can become so strained that the hiring manager projects their negative feelings toward the recruiter onto the candidates the recruiter brings in, and vice versa.

Taken together, these problems can account for a big chunk of why recruiting can sometimes feel so broken—and it’s highly likely everyone who has built or participated in a hiring process has experienced one or all of these pitfalls, either directly or with a recruiter, a boss, or a teammate.

Responsibilities of Recruiters and Hiring Managers

Which part or parts of the recruiting process should be conducted by recruiters, and which by hiring managers and their teams? Though each role represents a different skill set and knowledge base (managers know more about the company; recruiters may know more about the market), the beauty of the partnership model—where trust is built and expectations align—is that roles tend not to matter as much. Both sides should feel equal ownership over the outcome, but responsibilities can be handled more flexibly. If one side carries out a particular activity, the other side provides advice and feedback.

Consider application screening, for example. A recruiter might be more experienced at overall application heuristics, like detecting “job-hoppers” or other unusual patterns on a resume. But a hiring manager will have a better understanding of the technical domain. In the partnership model, either party can screen applications, with support and coaching from the other. The same applies for most parts of the recruiting process.

But there are a couple areas where one side might have a distinct advantage and should be assigned to that task or activity. Naturally, hiring managers and their teams will conduct interviews, since they are better suited to assess a candidate’s fitness for the role and fit with the team. On the other hand, a recruiter can serve as a confidant and advocate for a candidate who may feel awkward discussing issues like offer negotiations or other concerns with their potential future manager. Process-oriented tasks like scheduling also will usually be handled by the recruiter.

Meetings along the way help keep both sides aligned and in sync, although at smaller companies, not all the meetings described below may be necessary (or even recommended). When possible, it’s best that these meetings be held in person or via video conference, rather than over email. Live meetings allow for deep dives and debates that may uncover subtle insights.

Role intake meetings, which take place between the hiring manager and recruiter when a role is being opened, help establish high-level alignment. Often, these meetings involve a candidate profile calibration.

In a candidate profile calibration, the hiring manager and recruiter discuss whether sample candidates might fit the role and why. After this initial calibration, adjustments can be made periodically, including as part of the regular status meeting.

Role intake meetings may also include the following:

  • Reaching a shared understanding of the role, the needs behind it, and the value proposition the company plans to extend to candidates. Candidate personas can be helpful here, and this is the point at which having a job description becomes essential.

  • Setting expectations on timeline and priority of filling this role (taking into account other open roles the recruiter might be working to fill, at the same company and/or at other companies).

  • Agreeing on the overall hiring process for this role. What sourcing strategy is best? What are the different stages? What kinds of interviews will the process use, and who will conduct them?

  • Agreeing on who does what. How will the recruiter and the hiring manager and their team split the responsibilities?? What commitments do they make to each other and to the process? For instance, how quickly should candidates move through the process? If a recruiter sends a candidate to a hiring manager, within what timeframe should the manager respond?

  • Reviewing any hiring process the company or team already has in place, including any relevant documentation, like a flowchart. If documentation doesn’t exist or is out of date, consider sitting down and collaboratively creating it or updating it. This leaves a written record that clarifies the process and can allow both parties to more deeply understand it going forward.

A regular (usually weekly) status meeting between the hiring manager and recruiter offers the opportunity to review and reflect on the current state of the pipeline; to update the status of key candidates, especially those at later stages; and to discuss potential improvements to the process, strategy, or role.

In addition to the intake and status meetings, it’s often helpful for the hiring project lead (whether the recruiter, the hiring manager, or another role) to send out periodic status reports with key hiring metrics to monitor progress and detect changes in the hiring funnel.

Inspired by software postmortems, a postmortem meeting between hiring managers, recruiters, and—as appropriate—key interviewers, provides a chance to discuss with the benefit of hindsight what happened in a given process. The primary goal of a postmortem meeting is to elicit feedback that can be used to improve future recruiting and hiring efforts. In cases where no candidate was hired, this is an opportunity to understand what went wrong. These meetings can also be useful for improving team communication and providing closure.

Further Reading on Hiring Your First Recruiter

Overview of the Hiring Funnel

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.

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