Hiring engineers is difficult and takes time.
So what happens when your company decides to accelerate its growth, and you are tasked to more than double your team in one year, and hire in different countries?
In this article, I will share some tips and a few anecdotes from my experience scaling the backend team at Dashlane across two offices (Paris and Lisbon), which enabled us to meet ambitious hiring targets without compromising on the requirements of the interviews.
Setting clear objectives
Like driving a technical project, it is useful to have clear objectives and a strategy for achieving them. Typically, a VP Engineering or CTO would be responsible for the overall budget and hiring objectives, and then it would cascade down to every team where engineering leaders would need to make decisions on how to prioritize and execute the strategy. Here are some facets of the hiring strategy that you might want to have clarity on, early on.
Number of people and seniority
Given the budget, how many people do you ideally want to hire, and how should you ideally balance the seniority levels?
Diversity & inclusion
Do you aim to increase the number of people from diverse backgrounds in your team? This might have an impact on the way you reach out to candidates, so you need to anticipate and plan for the right sourcing strategies. For example, you might want to reach out to communities that support underrepresented groups in tech (for example Women in Tech and POCIT), or take the time to write gender-neutral job descriptions.
It is useful to know what the business expectations are in terms of the timeline, especially when they are expecting the new hiring plan to unlock new business perspectives. You should have a clear picture of when you are expected to have new people starting in the team, and if any projects are currently being blocked by lack of people.
Finding and removing bottlenecks in the hiring process
As engineers, we are used to looking at problems systematically, and trying to optimize them. And this can definitely help when looking at the recruitment process!
What is done manually and what could be automated in your current process?
For example, applicant tracking systems offer automation at many stages of a candidate's application life cycle. Useful features in these tools include:
- Tracking the state of an application to make sure you are not leaving any unanswered.
- Seeing how many people go through each stage, to see if you need to adapt any of them. Thanks to this capability, we discovered our screening interview was not technical enough, and a lot of people were then failing at the next round of tech interviews. It helped us calibrate the screening interview to make it more relevant, which in turn saved time for both interviewers and candidates.
Getting a clear picture of the process
Once all those tools are at your disposal, it becomes much easier to analyze bottlenecks.
Are people accepting other job offers before they had a chance to end your process? This is a sign that there are probably too many interviews, or that you are not fast enough in moving people from one stage to the other.
Are you struggling to schedule technical interviews because you have too few engineers available and trained? You need to figure out how to increase the pool of people available, or consider externalizing some of it if that makes sense for your use case. Companies like Karat offer access to senior engineers to conduct technical interviews.
I once talked to a great candidate during the screening phase. Before they moved on to the technical interviews, recruiters would call candidates mostly to talk about their salary expectations. On that occurrence, the recruiter was so busy that they waited for almost two weeks to call back the candidate. Needless to say, the candidate was very disappointed by the experience and had accepted another offer.
But this wasn't the recruiter's fault: they were too busy and the process was just not working anymore at that scale. Following the same practices as incident post-mortems, we decided to change this process and made sure this stage became optional, and could happen later down the line.
Finally, as with any software project, regular communication between everyone involved in recruitment is key. At the peak of our recruiting pace, we were having bi-weekly standups between managers and recruiters. And we used a Kanban-like board to easily visualize all the candidates we had in the pipeline. We then discussed next steps, looked to see if there were blockers to be solved, and prioritized next actions.
Convincing the team to play the game
Hiring is an investment
Engineers might tell you that interviewing is time-consuming and that they have plenty of other things to do. You need to convince them that it is an investment, and that this is going to be the way to prioritize projects that are left behind due to a lack of resources.
The comparison with accumulating tech debt might help: if you are never spending time to invest in quality, then you know that your velocity is going to decrease.
Hiring is an investment. It will slow down things in the short-term, but will accelerate them later on.
That said, you need to find clever ways to involve people without degrading their morale.
- Find out what people like to do, and involve them at different stages.
- Highlight the fact that interviewing is a great way to grow as an engineer, and is a part of the skillset we expect at a certain level. It might also be a good idea to add this to your company's career path if you have one.
- Don't let a few people become overwhelmed with interviewing while others don't contribute to it.
Adapting for remote interviews
Doing a fully-remote interview process used to be a daunting prospect for a company not used to operating remote-first.
Of course, COVID-19 has impacted the workplace in profound ways that would have been hard to imagine before. It has pushed many companies towards remote-first culture, whether they were ready for it or not.
But even outside of this context, remote interviewing might be needed if you are interviewing someone who's living in a different location or applying for another office for example. It is now evident that offering a remote-friendly environment creates more inclusive workplaces, and that applies to hiring as well. This means that technical interviews done on the whiteboard need to evolve accordingly, even if the engineers might be skeptical at first.
Luckily, there is no shortage of companies offering virtual whiteboard solutions. Non-technical interviews are easy to conduct remotely, and there is nothing preventing the team from meeting the candidate before they join via a group Zoom call to break the ice!
Hiring at pace is demanding and time-consuming. If you want to do it successfully and fast, you will probably need to dedicate more time to it than previously thought. And you need to treat it as you would for any other software project: how can I make things better? Are we collaborating efficiently?
And having those offer letters signed is only the first part of the challenge. After successful hiring comes onboarding a lot of new people, which brings new questions: is the documentation up-to-date? How are we going to collaborate as a team that operates across different offices and timezones?
But the reward is of course immense. For me, beyond having unlocked new growth opportunities for my business, there is nothing more rewarding as a manager than seeing the team as it is today, working together.