In the last two plus years, there has been no single activity that I have spent more time doing than hiring. If I haven’t been reviewing resumes, then I’ve been on the phone with applicants, or I’ve been traveling to some part of the world to do in-person interviews, or I’ve been in meetings with one or both of the co-founders of the company I work for, strategizing on how to perfect or iterate on our hiring protocol.
Yeah. It’s been all hiring, all the time.
I’ve learned a few things during these past 24 months (not to mention the several years wherein I was less-directly involved with hiring to one extent or another at previous companies), and I thought I would share some of those lessons.
Don’t be afraid to say “No”
This might be obvious, in fact all of these might be, but I’m going to say them anyway.
Our basic flow for a Customer Support/Success applicant can involve up to 6 different people from within ReCharge having meaningful interactions with the applicant. These six (or more) people represent everyone from the recruiter to the founders. At any point, any of the people involved in the process are empowered to pull the plug. They only have to be able to enunciate a good (and legal!) reason for it.
Each person brings a uniquely valuable set of eyes, experiences, and skill sets to the table. And while we don’t make all of our decisions in the day-to-day running of ReCharge this way — running a company via committee sounds exhausting! — we have found that requiring an applicant to get through such an exacting gauntlet is well worth the effort. I’d rather have an empty seat than fill it with the wrong person for a number of reasons, not least of which is the time and expense related to recruiting and onboarding. Time is always of the essence when filling empty positions — whatever reason they’re empty for — and that puts pressure on hiring teams to just get someone in quickly, but moving forward on someone that isn’t the right fit will likely mean you’ll find yourself in exactly the same place in a few weeks or months when it becomes evident that you need to go through the entire process again to fill the exact same seat.
Once upon a time, we didn’t follow this exact advice. Not only were tickets building up, but we were coming up on a historically busy time period and we needed to get someone in RIGHT. THEN. We had quite a few applicants coming through our funnel, but one in particular stood out. They said all of the right things and seemed great, but with the magical power of 20/20 hindsight, there was just something off. We didn’t do our full due diligence, and to make matters worse, we didn’t bring them out for an in-person interview which was part of our standard practice at the time. They were hired and the first few weeks were terrific, but things quickly fell apart. They turned out to be a terrible cultural fit, and the repercussions were felt for months after we parted ways.
When my bosses and I (who were the hiring managers in this case) did a postmortem on the entire situation, it turns out that each one of us had had doubts from the beginning. Some of them fairly serious. But because of the urgency and because everyone else seemed so committed to the person, we squashed them in the interest of moving forward. A mistake we promised each other not to make again!
Don’t short circuit your hiring process
The example above leads me handily in to my next point. Our hiring process can be . . . lengthy. As I mentioned, it can involve up to 6 different people and travel for the applicant, or in certain circumstances where travel isn’t possible for them, I will hop on the plane and go meet them face-to-face (I’m not detailing each step here because it’s still an internal process, ya dig?). There are times where that is insanely inconvenient for all parties involved and can get quite expensive.
But seriously. Don’t skip your steps.
If you have put them in place, then they are there for a reason! Some of the biggest mistakes in hiring that I have ever seen made were done as a result of skipping key parts of this process.
Of course that said, there is no need to blindly follow a previous hiring manager’s process if it doesn’t make sense. You should even re-examine your own processes regularly and ensure that you are getting the best possible results for the effort that you are putting in. Asking questions, quantifying expected outcomes, and discussing which steps may need to be added or can be removed should never be shied away from. Some organizations make a point of addressing these processes on a scheduled basis, and that may work for you too.
Not too long after the experience which I mentioned above, we were considering another individual. They also seemed like a fantastic fit, but we were once bitten and now twice shy. There was no question that we were going to be meeting every finalist applicant in person and that rule wasn’t going to be broken, but there was a hiccup in this case. This person lived in a very remote part of the US. In order to get them to our home base, it would require something insane like 1.5 days of travel each way and a ridiculous amount of money in airfare. All for just a chance at filling a position.
It was gut check time. How did we REALLY feel about this person? How did we feel about our process? What did we want for lunch? Really?! Poke again? UGH.
In the end, we ponied up the cash. They were kind enough to brave the ridiculous trek. And an offer ended up being extended (and accepted!). And sidenote: 10 out of 10. One of the best hires I’ve ever made. Would pay twice as much to bring them out again!
Hire the person, not the skill set
This is specifically geared towards CS rather than any other department. Developers are going to need to be hired for a very specific set of skills, but I would also caution that you very much need to be hiring for the person as well.
When you are interviewing, ask questions that help you assess if the candidate’s priorities match what you’re hiring for. Perhaps the most important trait that I look for in a CS candidate is empathy. It’s a trait that I find difficult, perhaps impossible, to train for. Depending on the level of CS work which is being done, most other skills can be trained. Everything from basic troubleshooting all the way up to advanced negotiation tactics can all be trained. But a strongly empathetic and engaged employee is usually worth training (almost!) any other company-specific skill rather than hiring a “paper perfect” fit that doesn’t have the same values that your team lives by.
This doesn’t mean that a candidate who lacks empathy is unhirable as a CS professional. Far from it! Depending on what your own needs are within your department or overall organization, you may need or want less-empathetic employees throughout or within certain branches of your department. However there will always be certain traits which you find you DO need, full stop. Perhaps it is ambition. Perhaps it is loyalty. Identify the traits which make a CS representative distinctly perfect for your organization and hire for it.
Yes, but are you EXCITED?!
One of the best pieces of advice that I have ever been giving when it comes to hiring came directly from the CEO of ReCharge, Oisin O’Connor.
It was early in my time at ReCharge and I was agonizing over an applicant — to be honest I couldn’t even tell you which one, nor whether we hired them or not. What stuck with me was that I was bending Oisin’s (or OO’s as I usually refer to him in writing) ear about all of the positive and negative traits and he finally interrupted me and said:
OK, that’s fine and all, but are you EXCITED to work with her/him? Because that’s all that really matters here.
And he was right. If you are not excited to work with someone that you’re bringing on . . . if they don’t bring a true value add to the team/department/company, then you’re really just wasting everyone’s time.
There will come a time when you are just bringing on people who need to fill seats, but even then they should give you a little thrill because they should be adding something to your team’s culture (I’ll be talking more about team culture in a future post).
Cool Story Bro . . .
This post has been long on advice, short on studies (and even on pictures. Rookie mistake). But taking the time to really sit and think through your hiring processes and needs, sticking to them, and not being afraid to say no will get you most of the way there. If you find that you’re stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out and as I tell my reps: