Why tailor-made hiring processes are so important?

Hiring talent for your company is one of the most fundamental processes every organization, at every level, goes through. In large companies, there are entire divisions dedicated to helping service teams finding the right talent for them; yet, even in the companies spearheading the industry, you hear the same story time and time again:

When a candidate is a “definite-yes” or a “definite-no” it’s easy, but for the majority of them, interviewers often reply with feedbacks like “he didn’t impress me enough”, “I guess she was OK…”.

Experienced interviewers usually use the same set of questions, and will have some baseline from past interviews to compare to, but is solving that string comparison algorithm a good indicator of success for that team?

As a hiring manager, you end up adjusting yourself to the interviewer’s perspective and “way of doing things”, even though you have the best context of what’s required for this position, and you are the one who will be in charge of this new hire’s deliverables and career growth.

This also leaves room for unconscious bias or agenda to take place, as it is well-known that interviewers tend to be in favor of candidates that are similar to them (in looks, experience, gender, …).

In this data-driven, high-tech world, why is this crucial process based so much on generic impressions and gut feelings, rather than carefully-thought contextual assessment of candidates’ qualities for the given position?

A tailor-made hiring process actually follows a very simple concept: understand what’s required of a successful employee in this position; figure out how to measure it well; build your process around those measurements.

Setting guidelines on how to evaluate each quality allows the interviewer to focus and measure it well (either with a yes/no or on a scale), and end up with a structured feedback much more usable for the hiring manager.

Trivial, right?

Building such a process is very simple:

Step 1: define the desired qualities

Define 3–5 qualities which are most important for a successful candidate in this position.

Try thinking broadly; these should include professional attributes, but in most cases also some competencies such as leadership, collaboration, etc..

Why 3–5? This is not set in stone, but a healthy breakdown of a position should be multi-dimentional; on the other hand, in the course of a standard process it is hard to get a good read on too many qualities.

Step 2: choose the set of measurements

For each quality, identify how you could assess it (within the time and resource limitations of the process, of course). For example, if software design is a key ability for the job, you should probably have a design question in the process.

Similarly, if you can’t figure out how an exercise tests for any of the listed qualities, you should probably be using a different one. That’s why riddle-like logic puzzles are trendily discouraged around the industry.

You can use existing exercises (this is even recommended for getting a quicker sense of candidate’s level); just figure out which of the qualities they test and how.

Step 3: weigh in all inputs for a decision

After you’ve completed the hiring process, you should have a good idea of how the candidate did across the board.

A strategy I usually follow is that successful candidates should do well in all qualities and excel in at least one.

Decided that you want to hire someone even though they didn’t do so well on any of the qualities you set as defining for this job? That’s ok, use it to understand if that quality is in fact crucial for the new hire’s success.

Let’s take a look at a real example of a hiring process for a Software Engineering Intern. Motivation for building this process was the realization that since we don’t have the same expectations from interns, we should not be testing them in the same way as senior engineers (with lower standards). Here’s what we did —

Interns come with almost no prior knowledge; most important for us was to test their potential. We defined the following qualities to be tested:

  • Problem solving skills
  • Thoroughness & attention to details
  • Ability to learn new material
  • Motivation

Problem solving skills are pretty common for the software engineering profession, so we decided to use a set of coding and algorithmic challenges where interviewers were comfortable enough to assess for this quality.

We also added a section for reviewing candidates’ academic experience — what courses they liked better and why, drilling down to a topic of their choice to try and assess their attention to details and understanding on their potential area of expertise. This, plus reviewing grade sheets, gave us a good assessment of this quality.

At the time, we didn’t have any experience with testing for the ability to learn new material. We decided to write a technical exercise for that part, requiring candidates to learn in advance a topic which they were not exposed to during their studies. The exercise was preceded by a set of questions on that same topic, to see how well the candidate was able to understand it. Excelling in these parts was a clear indicator for the ability to learn new material.

It was also a good indicator for candidates’ motivation. While it did not require much preparation, one could clearly see the candidates who took the extra steps, by writing their own sample applications at home, further reading on other related material, and more. We also decided to address candidate’s ambitions and goals to complete the assessment of the motivation quality.

This process was a great success. It allowed us to hire quickly, with strong confidence in the process, and in an inclusive way as well.

You may ask — does it make sense to go for all of this trouble? The simple answer is “yes”. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for every position, on every team. There’s actually a lot of sense in joining similar roles together in one process, especially in large organizations.

What you should do as a hiring manager is to validate your process against this position and make sure it is useful to you. If not, making a few changes to the process may generate a big change in your confidence on selected candidates.

You may even consider different processes for senior and junior candidates for the same team (as your expectations from them as team members would be).

As I shared in the example above, applying these principles when hiring really helped me gain more confidence in the process as a hiring manager. For me, this is the best KPI to know if this works well.

Engineering manager, leader and mentor

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Ido Frizler

Ido Frizler

Engineering manager, leader and mentor

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