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Posted on: Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hiring - Where It All Begins And Ends.

Recruitment Managers at Multiplitaxion Inc, look at me like I am an alien talking a different language all together. I've interviewed a hundred people; rejected all of them and have proven beyond doubt that there is something wrong with my eyes and scanning abilities.

All hundred of the candidates interviewed cannot be idiots after all.

Or can they?

Sadly enough no one out of those hundred candidates seemed to fit the criteria of people I would love to work with or even closely match people I was already working with.

'If you take this approach we are never going to be able to hire anyone.' --- I am told.

A subtle nudge that is supposed to tell you that it's OK to lower your criteria and pick the best from what you are getting. We would then go out and make a big noise about hiring the best of the employees.

That is exactly what most organizations do.

Put simply; this is one phenomenon Joel Spolsky describes rather elegantly in his post on hiring the best. Joel explains:

Now, when you get those 200 resumes, and hire the best person from the top 200, does that mean you're hiring the top 0.5%?

"Maybe."

No. You're not. Think about what happens to the other 199 that you didn't hire.

They go look for another job.

That means, in this horribly simplified universe, that the entire world could consist of 1,000,000 programmers, of whom the worst 199 keep applying for every job and never getting them, but the best 999,801 always get jobs as soon as they apply for one.

So every time a job is listed the 199 losers apply, as usual, and one guy from the pool of 999,801 applies, and he gets the job, of course, because he's the best, and now, in this contrived example, every employer thinks they're getting the top 0.5% when they're actually getting the top 99.9801%.

In the same article Joel also introduces you to the notion that genuine builders are not really going to be sending out their resumes and applying for a job:

In fact, one thing I have noticed is that the people who I consider to be good software developers barely ever apply for jobs at all. I know lots of great people who took a summer internship on a whim and then got permanent offers. They only ever applied for one or two jobs in their lives.

On the other hand there are people out there who appear to be applying to every job on Monster.com. I'm not kidding. They spam their resume to hundreds or thousands of employers.

A lot of times I can see this because there are actually hundreds of "job" aliases in the "To:" line of their email. (Some evil part of me wants to "reply-to-all" the rejection note I send them, but I usually overcome the urge).

What Joel is doing is pushing the idea of reaching out to really smart college interns and hiring them before they get a job opportunity anywhere else.

He is also pushing the idea that in case of genuine builder it is often your organization that might have to approach and quite literally beg them to join. Waiting for the resumes to show up in your inbox is not going to work. Neither is looking out for resumes on job sites going to be a very effective technique.

In multiple organizations around the world I've seen selection criteria come down merely by the virtue of the fact that a hundred candidates have been interviewed and none have been selected. When you cross the magical figure of hundred or more; suddenly; panic strikes. This is when organizations go out there and hire the 'best' out of the pool of idiots they interview.

Having your selection criteria crystal clear and not compromising on it is the first step to hiring a team of seriously kick-ass builders. Of-course Recruitment managers; and teams responsible for hiring candidates; are supposed to pressure you to go out and hire from the bucket of mediocre idiots that are being thrown your way. Providing these gentle nudges is a part of their job.

Most recruitment professionals and placement consultants are evaluated by the number of people that they place. It is therefore no surprise that the expert in them want you to lower your criteria. Most organizations out there actually have a whiner recruitment plan so they want you to lower your criteria as well.

Your job on the other hand is simple --- don't panic.

Hiring people who you are not fully satisfied with is your sure shot step to creating an environment that needs to be managed and anything that needs to be managed actively does not sustain itself in the long run.

Whatever it is that you do; don't panic; don't compromise.

I see multiple versions of the whole 'talented guys are limited'; 'we cannot be hiring all rock-stars'; 'we will never be able to hire at this rate'; arguments being thrown by multiple individuals and organization. Any organization that knows anything about software development turns a deaf ear to these arguments. Steve Jobs; for example; explains the process of hiring and how painful it can be rather articulately in his interview at business week:

Yes, it is. We've interviewed people where nine out of ten employees thought the candidate was terrific, one employee really had a problem with the candidate, and therefore we didn't hire him. The process is very hard, very time-consuming, and can lead to real problems if not managed right. But it's a very good way, all in all.

Most Recruitment professionals will frown when they read this. Steve Jobs; on the other hand; also has a reaction to the argument of managers and organizations not having the time to recruit people at this speed; which he describes rather articulately in the same interview with business week. He explains:

I disagree totally. I think it's the most important job. Assume you're by yourself in a startup and you want a partner. You'd take a lot of time finding the partner, right? He would be half of your company.

Why should you take any less time finding a third of your company or a fourth of your company or a fifth of your company? When you're in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not. Each is 10 percent of the company.

So why wouldn't you take as much time as necessary to find all the A players? If three were not so great, why would you want a company where 30 percent of your people are not so great? A small company depends on great people much more than a big company does.

Remember; of all the things that you are going to do to build a genuinely awesome work and play environment where builders thrive and flourish; recruitment is the most important.

It is so important I could quite literally do a complete book on it; but the whole point here is rather simple --- recognize the importance of hiring the right people; have a clear criteria for the team and whatever it is that you do; do *not* compromise on the people you hire.

If you can do that; most of the great work and build environment is pretty much going to happen automatically. If you don't you have lost the battle before it even begins.

Taking the simple approach of We-have-to-live-with-what-we-get does not cut it. All this approach does is create an army of whiners; faster than you know it.

What is your interview to ratio of candidates selected to the number of candidates rejected?

How many times have you been pressured or gently nudged; to settle for less when it comes to selecting candidates for your team?

How many times have you given in to the pressure, dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.