The Candidate Focus Principle

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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 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.

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