Strength in Other Domains

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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.

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.

  • Product focus. Do they describe what the value of a product is to its end-users, or why they built certain pieces of software? This is great for product engineering roles.

  • Design focus. A visually polished resume, with carefully selected typography or web design, shows the candidate probably has a focus on design. You can also see this from projects or role descriptions.

A few more technical areas to consider:

  • Data science or machine learning focus. Is there evidence this person been excited by problems that involve data challenges, noisy data, or extracting insights from datasets using a variety of tools?

  • Mathematical or algorithmic focus. Is the candidate focused on technical problems involving algorithmic or mathematical challenges? Have they published research papers? Typically these are people who’ve developed these skills in an academic setting.

  • Writing and documentation focus. Does the candidate have experience and skill with written communication, internally or externally? Is this a skill they value? You can also tell by how they write about past work.

  • Past work environment. This is more subjective, and usually isn’t useful for filtering, but can be good to know when discussing past work.

  • Company size. Has the person worked only at small, growth stage, or large companies? It’s not unusual to see an engineer who has only worked at companies of 1,000 or more people. That can mean a big shift in working style compared to being an engineer at early or growth-stage startups. Exceptionally talented engineers can excel in one environment and flounder in the other.

  • Enterprise vs. consumer product experience. Engineers used to enterprise products, or building purely internal tooling for use within a large company, tend to be used to different objectives than consumer-facing product engineers. Another variation is people who’ve worked primarily on internal tooling, which is often closer to enterprise experience.

  • Experimentation vs. focus. Does the candidate work on side projects or seem to do a lot of different things, or stick to their one job? If the role involves a lot of novel or creative prototyping of new work, a track record of building new things could be a strong asset. But for some roles, this is not required.

importantIt might be useful to have a list of things you don’t screen for.

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.

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