If you’re an engineering manager who needs to recruit a new team member, here are some ways to make sure you’re hiring the right developer for your organization.
Hiring is one of the most important parts of your role as an engineering leader. When you recruit the right person, they’re more likely to stick around, it positively impacts team morale and performance, and it influences the business success of the entire company.
Recruiting a great new team member can also allow you to reshuffle things in your existing team and spark new energies. It can present new growth opportunities for current team members, for example to enter new areas or mentor the new hire.
On the other hand, mistakes made during the hiring process are expensive in time and money.
So, what can we do to maximize the chances of hiring the right person, and do it in the most efficient way? I’m going to walk through each stage of the hiring process, breaking down the decisions that need to be made in each. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but working through these questions should help you to shape a hiring process that works for you and your org.
1. Understanding why you are hiring engineers right now
As a first step, take the time to understand why you’re hiring right now by working through the following questions:
- Are you hiring due to project expansion?
- Are you hiring to backfill for team members who have been promoted, moved to another team, or left the company?
- Are you hiring because you need to bring in expertise that the current team members don’t possess (e.g. machine learning)?
2. Understanding who you should be hiring
The next step is to gain understanding of who needs to be hired:
- What technical skills are needed?
- How experienced does the new hire need to be?
- What soft skills are important in this role? (Are you looking for someone creative, collaborative, or who can pay attention to detail? Or someone who can quickly dive into new topics, or confidently navigate uncertainty in new ecosystems?)
If you’re hiring to replace a team member who’s leaving, keep an open mind about who would be the best addition to the team right now. You don’t necessarily need someone with identical skills and experience.
3. Crafting a software engineering job description
Now you’ve identified the necessary skills and experience, translate this information into a job description. A clear and concise job description that accurately reflects the role will increase the number of relevant applications you’ll receive. It will also serve as a reminder to you as a hiring manager throughout the process to hire based on the optimal candidate profile.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The job description should reflect the technical skills, soft skills, and level of experience a candidate needs to proceed to the interview stage.
- Focus on ‘must haves’ over ‘nice to haves’, and make sure your list of requirements isn’t too long. This is important for diversity and inclusion and will widen your pool of potential candidates. Make sure the skill, experience, or qualification you’re listing is realistic (e.g. don’t ask for ten years of experience in a technology that’s existed five years!).
- State whether there is flexibility around the level of experience, or the types of technologies. For example, are you open to hiring both Ruby and Python developers? Or someone with three to five years of experience instead of a hard requirement of five years? Or someone from quality assurance (QA) with coding experience?
- Describe what success looks like in the role. Clarifying the expectations of the role will give candidates a better picture and encourage them to apply. Mention the products and features they’ll be focused on, if there’s a leadership aspect to the role, and any expectations around on-call, travel, or public speaking.
- Specify the job location. Are you in an office? If yes, where? Are you remote or hybrid? In which country or countries can candidates be hired? What are the travel requirements for the role?
Once you’ve created your job description, you can work with the relevant team to publish it on the company website, share via social media, and think about how to reach internal candidates that might be looking for a new opportunity within your company.
4. Defining the interview process
The next stage involves mapping out your interview process. Here are some important factors to consider:
- Establishing a timeline:
How much time will you, other interviewers, and candidates spend in the process? Are there any timing constraints related to when the new hire should start the employment?
- Identifying your interviewers:
Based on the technical and soft skills you listed in the job description, select the most suitable interviewers to be part of the hiring process with you, and align with them on the goals, the timeline, and the job description.
- Brainstorming and reviewing the interview questions:
Along with the other interviewers, brainstorm questions and assignments that should be asked, and document them in a single place. Everyone should be using an identical interview doc to enable a consistent candidate experience.
Make sure all the interviewers understand what each question is testing, and prioritize the ‘must haves’ over the ‘nice to haves’. The questions can be a mix of those that can be answered with examples from the candidate's past experience, and those that require collaboration with interviewers and the creation of something new during the interview.
Review all the questions: are they clear and easy to understand? Do they contain any internal names or specifics? Will external candidates have a good chance of understanding them?
Have more than one question ready for each topic to allow some level of flexibility, and be ready to rephrase the questions if the candidate is stuck, or if the question is less relevant for a particular person.
- Shaping the interview process:
How many interviews will each candidate attend? What topics and format will you choose for each interview stage – for example, will each interview evaluate both technical skills and soft skills, or will you check them separately? Which interviewers will be present in each meeting?
Finally, will the decision to proceed with the candidate be taken after each single interview or only after all (or some) interviews are completed? Will there be a summary meeting where all the interviewers can provide feedback together?
5. During the interview process
Before you get to the formal interview stage, it’s a good idea to vet potential candidates with the following two checks. This can be done over a quick phone call and will save a lot of time for all parties involved:
- A basic alignment check between the content of the CV and the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and experience in reality. (Of course, a thorough check is what the rest of the interview process focuses on.)
- If there is a fit between the offered role and what the candidate is looking for in their next role.
Throughout all your interviews, keep the following in mind:
- Make sure all interviewers introduce themselves (their names, their roles, etc.)
- Remember that this is a stressful situation for the candidate.
- Be ready to rephrase questions. Listen more than talk. Be patient and respectful.
- Set candidates’ expectations by providing information about the interview schedule, length, format, and topics.
- Leave plenty of room for candidates to ask questions. This will allow them to gain an impression if this is the right place for them. The questions they ask will also provide you with invaluable information on what’s important to them.
- Hiring and interviewing is a two-way street. Even for candidates that don’t pass the interview process, it’s important to give them a good impression of the organization and the interviewers they meet.
- Listen carefully to any red flags raised by interviewers about how candidates behave during interviews. Are they constantly late? Have they been disrespectful to the interviewers?
6. Reflecting on the process after hiring a new team member
Congratulations, you’ve hired a new team member! Now how can you tell if this was indeed a successful hire and an efficient recruitment process?
After hiring your new engineer, take time to reflect on the following:
- How many candidates who passed the screening based on their CVs made it through the hiring process and passed every interview, even if they weren’t offered a position?
- Were there any candidates who declined the offer? If yes, why?
- How does the new hire feel after joining? Were their expectations and impressions of the role through the process in line with the role in reality? You can discuss this in your 1:1s.
- How are their performance reviews after six months and one year?
As engineering leaders, hiring great engineers is one of the most powerful ways we can deliver impact for our teams and companies. Remember to be open to meeting a lot of new people, learn new things through the process, and always respect the candidates and their time. Good luck!