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Good Work Nº 37: Hiring for Conscientiousness: an excerpt

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Ozzie Osman
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This week’s Good Work is an excerpt from Ozzie Osman’s “Hiring for Conscientiousness,” an essay on the Holloway blog published this week. Ozzie is co-founder and head of engineering at Monarch Money. He has built products and engineering teams at companies including Quora and Google. Ozzie is the lead author of the Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, out this month.

Conscientiousness is mindfulness guided by conscience.Dr. George Simon*

I’ve spent most of my career in tech (particularly, building software for consumer products), but I had a bit of a detour at one point. I spent a couple of years helping out with my family business in construction manufacturing, spending most of my time handling operations at a precast concrete factory in the industrial city of Helwan outside of Cairo, Egypt.

Management in the manufacturing industry (especially in a country like Egypt) is very different from management in the software industry. The work is a lot less intellectual and a lot more physical. Some of the work at a factory requires a high degree of skill, but it’s usually less about thinking and more about doing—welding, operation/maintenance/repair of equipment, that kind of thing.

A lot of management theory would predict that for these types of more routine, well-defined tasks, rather than inspire employees and give them autonomy, managers should simply use rewards and punishments.* And that’s how that factory worked: people were told what to do, monitored, and given bonuses if they did it well or a docked paycheck if they didn’t (imagine docking a software engineer’s paycheck if they introduced a bug!). Everything was designed around extrinsic, rather than intrinsic, motivation.

So imagine my surprise when I met El-Hajj Yasseen, one of the workshop supervisors. Yasseen showed up early and didn’t leave until his work and his team’s work were done. His shift consistently produced better quality than the other supervisors. If there was a problem, he was on top of it. Other supervisors would bark instructions and threats at their team to get things done. Yasseen’s team was much more organized, and if something wasn’t getting done, he would just do it himself. Yasseen worked hard and he cared about his work. In Arabic, we would say Yasseen had Dhameer—“a conscience.”

Keep reading to learn more about why startups should start hiring for conscientiousness, and how to spot this trait in candidates and employees.

This Week

  • In case you missed it: We published the Holloway Remote Work Syllabus this week! A comprehensive set of resources, grouped by topic, to help you gear up on the ins and outs and strategies and theories of remote work.
  • We’ve been thinking a lot about productivity lately, especially as we gear up our preparations for the Holloway Guide to Remote Work (did you know we’re half-remote, with remote team members in both our engineering and editorial departments?). “Why Standups are Useless and How to Run Great Product Team Meetings” by Andy Johns is a good read.
  • On that note, we loved “Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers are More Productive,” which combines background and theory with examples and actual strategies you can implement today, by our amazing friends at Doist!
  • Lots of people made fun of The Wall Street Journal this week for calling this a “drawback” of the 5-hour workday: “Everyone’s outside life got so much better, at the expense of their passion for the work.” Worth reading their short coverage of one company’s experiment.
  • “The things you neglected are no longer drowned out by noise; they are the signal.” The team is fascinated by this New York Times article from last week, “Why Don’t Rich People Just Stop Working?” (Hint: Conscientiousness has nothing to do with it.)
  • FYI’s Cofounder on Beta Testing Products” is an excellent strategic document on how to gather feedback from early customers and analyze it to make the right changes.

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.

The Holloway team

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The Holloway Guide toTechnical Recruiting and Hiring

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