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.

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.

  • Previous roles. Do the nature and scope of past roles demonstrate that the candidate is prepared for or likely to succeed in this role? Has the candidate done the same type of job before? Must the person have management or product experience, or experience solving technical problems with customers? If all previous roles differ greatly from what the candidate would be responsible for in this role, it’s probably not a fit.

  • Seniority. Do the breadth and scope of experience reflect the level of seniority required for this role? Are you willing to hire someone into their first management position, or do you require that they have management experience?

    • confusionSeniority can be a hard requirement to nail down because companies often over-index on it as a proxy for ability. Some roles really do require candidates to have five or more years of experience, but if you’re hiring for a generalist role that prizes execution, you may weigh the extra couple years a more senior candidate offers against the energy and potential of a gritty, hungry, more junior candidate who’s been coding since before college.*
  • Technology experience. If the new role requires a significant level of depth in a specific technology—be it React, AWS, Java EE, Keras and Tensorflow, Java memory management, high-performance C++, or web performance optimization—then it makes sense to filter on that. This is more likely to apply to rarer skills that require years to develop, such as GIS systems, embedded systems, or particular hardware architectures. But if your company is willing to mentor engineers or you expect the candidate to learn on the job, specific technical skills are less relevant.

    • caution It’s common to over-index on specific tech “keywords” when filtering resumes. Talented engineers pick up technologies quickly, especially if they’re early in their career or not hyper-specialized. Passing over a talented engineer because of what language or technologies they know only makes sense if the knowledge is truly essential and you can’t afford ramp-up time. More often, it will make sense to use specific technologies as a search or prioritization parameter, but not as a blind filter.

Don’t ask the candidate for things you don’t really need. Any friction you add at the earliest stages of the filtering process will ultimately hurt you.Aline Lerner, co-founder and CEO, interviewing.io

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).*

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