16 minutes, 7 links


Updated August 24, 2022
Technical Recruiting and Hiring

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.

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.

  • Communicate regularly and transparently. Maintain regular contact with candidates. Avoid bursty communication. Be responsive to candidate questions.

  • Respect all candidates. Most of the candidates who go through your process will not receive offers or join the company, but they could be advocates for you. If they loved your process, they may send referrals your way. Or you may decide to hire them in the future. Conversely, candidates who have a bad experience will tell others to avoid you. Respect all your candidates—including the ones who weren’t a strong fit or who decided to go elsewhere.

story “A candidate came into my team who we really wanted to work with. We spent a lot of time trying to convince him to join us, and he loved us. But ultimately he got a chance to work on his dream job, so he passed. However, because he loved us and our process so much, he pushed several of his friends our way—and we ultimately ended up hiring one of them.” —Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

One example of a diligent candidate experience philosophy is Root Insurance, which has organized their people team around a product development focus on recruiting candidates. In the video “How Root Insurance Treats Recruiting Like a Product,” Robert Hatta of Drive Capital interviews Root’s VP of People Clara Kridler, who established their candidate-focused hiring processes, and refers to their recruiters as “candidate experience managers.”

We looked at a sample of Glassdoor interview reviews, where candidates self-report their interview experience and whether they accepted or declined an offer. Out of our sample of ~500 reviews at large software companies, we found that candidates who reported a “positive experience” with a company were ~85% likely to accept an offer, while candidates who reported a “negative experience” with a company were only ~25% likely to accept an offer. Of course, this doesn’t capture candidates who may have dropped out even earlier in the process, before they reached the offer stage.

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.

  • Use structure and calibration when assessing candidates. Use structured interviews and assessments during the interview process, with clearly-defined areas of evaluation. All interviewers should be calibrated.

  • Use rigor to improve your decision-making. A large part of recruiting is an exercise in combating our own cognitive biases (especially unconscious bias), which can impact the effectiveness and fairness of your decision-making. Any recruiting process is noisy, and predicting the success of a candidate from a few touchpoints can be very difficult. At some point, someone will have to make a call about whether to hire a candidate or not, so structure and rigor can help combat biases. At a minimum, it’s helpful to be aware of the potential pitfalls that can affect decision-making, and find pragmatic ways of avoiding the risks.

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.

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  • 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.

  • Give recruiting the time it deserves. If you’re sure that you need to grow your team, make sure you’re spending enough time on recruiting. Depending on your hiring needs, some managers spend as much as 50-80% of their time on recruiting activities. Most hiring managers and founders agree that recruiting should be their top priority, but when we ask them if they think they are spending enough time on it, most of them say they aren’t. That’s because recruiting is hard, with delayed feedback loops, rejections, and what may seem like wasted effort. It takes grit and discipline. You might need to block off time for it on your calendar, and set expectations with your team about how much of your (and their) time will be spent on it. Throughout this Guide, we’ll also highlight ways to make recruiting more fulfilling and enjoyable and less of a chore or burden.

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).

  • Have clear areas of ownership and accountability for your hiring process. At any point in the process, those involved within the company should know who can give them a clear answer to highly specific questions like, “Where is Candidate X in the process? What is the next step? Has that been scheduled? Where do we stand on Candidate X, and them on us?” In many cases, having one person own the entire process will increase efficiency, consistency, and timeliness, and ensure rigor in the overall hiring program.

  • Continuously improve your process. There are tensions between these principles, and tradeoffs that have to be made—every company has shortcomings on some of these dimensions. Tensions and tradeoffs are OK and inevitable, but where you compromise should be aligned with the company’s principles and the team’s needs. As you talk to candidates, define processes, and work with a team to scale, check whether you are meeting the demands of these principles, or having to sacrifice one for another. They will help you understand where you can improve, what you value most, and where you and your team are strongest. Even an effective process can rot over time as your company grows, as people join and leave your team, or as you get complacent.

Hiring isn’t the kind of work that provides you constant dopamine hits. It involves a lot of dead ends and frustration.Harj Taggar, CEO, TripleByte*

Given all of the interrelated elements at play, it can be helpful to think of recruiting as a product. Many readers of this Guide may be familiar with product development processes. We think treating your recruiting process as a product, with both candidates and the company as your customer, can be a powerful analogy, and can help you arrive at most of the principles we’ve defined. For instance, if you treat recruiting as a product, you would search for product-market fit by trying to match your offering (company and role) to your customer (candidates you’re trying to hire). You would focus on quantitative metrics, but also have ways to track your quality, and you would be relentlessly focused on your customers. You would be rigorous and structured, but you would experiment and use feedback loops to monitor and improve your process.

Medium’s hiring process (originally developed by Dan Pupius) treats hiring like a product, which they’ve found also helps reduce bias in their hiring.

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?

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