4 Essential Tips for Hiring the Best Engineers

As I worked my way through my recent job search, I met a lot of people. Many of them were headhunters, corporate recruiters and hiring managers. They all worked differently, but I found the most effective ones had similar qualities.

While I don’t claim to be an amazing engineer, it’s a buyer’s market for engineering job seekers right now and if you want to hire the best talent, here’s some tips and some real examples from my search.

MOVE FAST

The best companies move fast. That’s not just the hiring folks, but the entire company. The recruiting process is direct reflection on the qualities of your company. By moving fast, you’re showing candidates what it will be like to work there and I don’t know anybody who likes slow-moving companies.

Example: Through LinkedIn, I was put in touch with the CEO of a mid-sized company. Within 2 hours, he had sent my info down to the engineering management and I had an interview scheduled for the next day. Within 24 hours I had a verbal offer. This wowed me.

Anti-Example: I contacted a recruiter at a company. It took him days to respond, but finally I set up a time to have a phone screen with him. After that, he set me up with a 1st round interview. That took a few days. A long period of time went by until I heard back about scheduling a second interview. In the meantime, other recruiters working for the same company reached out to me and asked if I was interested in talking with them, clearly oblivious to my current status. Finally, the 2nd round interview was scheduled. At the end of that round, they said that things went well and they’d  give me an offer the next day. I never heard from them again, even after I followed with them via email. If this is how you run your business, no thanks.

FIT TO THE PERSON, NOT TO THE POSITION 

Unless you’re a giant corporation with thousands of positions to fill, you might not immediately see an open job description for any given candidate. But it’s critical that you look at what the candidate can bring and not if they line up with a set of bullet-point qualifications. If you find someone awesome who doesn’t fit your current job descriptions, make a new position for them. Finding people is really hard and it’s crazy try to fit people with all their odd shapes into idealized square holes.

Example: One company I talked to initially told me they didn’t have a position for me. They thought about it a bit and came back to have some initial conversations. While it didn’t work out in the end, I really respected their flexibility and openness. They really saw building a team as a puzzle, not as filling out series of checkboxes.

Anti-Example: I contacted one company because they had an interesting product. Their response was quick and dismissive: “You’re too senior for our current position.” There was no opportunity for discussion of what I was interested in doing or what I could bring to the company. Nor was the door left open for future openings they may have. I would certainly never recommend this company to my friends.

CHERISH EMPLOYEE REFERRALS

Hiring is an imperfect process. You’re trying to guess at how someone will perform at a job, often one they’ve never done before, using a series of 45-minute interviews. On the other hand, past performance is a great indicator of future performance and your employee referrals have first-hand information on that past performance. Put employee referrals at the top of your priority list!

For capturing candidates who may not know people at your company, just list a jobs@yourcompany.com email address or allow them to apply via LinkedIn. Keep it simple and easy.

Example: With one company, I reached out to someone I knew there and I was immediately introduced to a recruiter and rushed into a 1st round interview. They solicited detailed feedback from other folks I knew at the company and their feedback had a big role in their decision.

Anti-Example: At one point I heard about a company that sounded interesting, so I went to their web site to find out more. I was confronted with several pages of forms (including salary history and complete references!) all in separate fields. Never mind that most of this information was already readily available on my LinkedIn profile, this was just to get a phone screen. Through some LinkedIn spelunking, I found out that a former coworkers was there, so I sent him an email. He said he would pass me along to a recruiter. The next day, I got a response from him that the recruiter said I had to apply using the website. I don’t think so.

RESPECT THE CANDIDATE

Really, this is about doing what your mother taught you. Be nice, be courteous and timely. Follow up when you say you will. Keep the candidate informed of the process, even if it’s bad news. Don’t waste their time.

You can imagine the good examples here, so I’ll give a bunch of anti-examples:

  • On one phone screen, the first question the manager asked was my salary history. No discussion of what I wanted to do, but just what I meant in terms of money.
  • In one interview loop, I was left alone in a conference room for 10+ minutes between each interviewer while I saw the interviewers wandering by in the hall and chatting.
  • One interviewing manager spent several minutes telling me how much he didn’t like working with one of my former companies and how he never wanted their company to be like that.
  • During one interview, the interviewer stared mostly at his phone and appeared to be texting.

That’s it. Recruiting is everyone’s job and the recruiting process is critical in showing off your company. I don’t care if you have a massage room, ping-pong and free lunches if your recruiting process is slow, inflexible or disrespectful.

In the end, most candidates will make the decision about their next career move based on some gut feeling. If your recruiting process is broken, their guts will not lie.

4 Comments

  1. I have to agree with you! If it’s okay, I just want to share Richard Branson’s advice about recruiting that I think would back up this amazing post.
    “It’s all about finding and hiring people smarter than you. Getting them to join your business. And giving them good work. Then getting out of their way. And trusting them. You have to get out of the way so YOU can focus on the bigger vision. That’s important. And here’s the main thing, you must make them see their work as a MISSION.”
    – Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group

  2. It’s unfortunate that you had to go through some of those companies… and I agree with almost all the points you made. Having said that, I’m not sure I agree with anti-example #2.

    Sometimes, hiring a senior engineer is simply not the right thing to do. For one, it could be a question of payment, where the hiring company simply can’t afford senior engineers. You could argue that it’s negotiable, but my experience shows that once one sets his/her expectations at some level, it’s very difficult to be satisfied with anything less. Another reason could be the current experience mix in the team. Having too many senior engineers is rarely a good idea. I’m not saying that any of these reasons justifies quick dismissals… but there’s always the bigger picture, and we’re not always fully aware of it.

  3. Pingback: The Engineer’s Job Search Battle Plan: 8 Simple Steps to a Dream Job | Jeff Boulter's Blog

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