Recruitment doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here’s how to create a pain-free hiring process.
Hiring is an important and unavoidable part of our roles as engineering leaders. Our recruitment decisions impact the culture and the psychological safety of our teams, and therefore, they demand an investment of our time and effort.
But hiring doesn’t have to be painful, and it shouldn’t be giving us nightmares. Here are some ways to make it a little easier.
Understand and document the hiring process
A good hiring process removes the pain from hiring. It documents the sequence of events that will lead to making a hiring decision. It should be like a carefully orchestrated dance, where everyone knows their next steps and expectations. Most importantly, setting yourself up with a clear, well-documented plan saves you a lot of time during the hiring process.
A good hiring process doc should contain a detailed description of what happens in each stage of this process. Each role at each stage might be done by a different person each time, so it’s important to make it clear what exactly is expected of them. This will help make the process seamless.
Diversity should be in the forefront of each stage of the interview process. Thinking about making a process inclusive to everyone will help you remove as much unconscious bias as possible, making it fairer and equal to every candidate that applies. There are a lot of resources out there on how to design a hiring process with diversity in mind, so I would suggest doing the research and learning to apply it to your own process.
A simple hiring process for engineers will usually look something like this:
1. Creating the job description
The job description will generally contain a description of the company, the role that you are hiring for, and a list of skills that are necessary for the role. It is important to only include the required skills for the role, not the nice-to-haves, as they will put off some candidates from applying. Adding the salary band for the role helps the candidate make a decision themselves on whether it matches what they’re looking for. It also eliminates the need for individual conversations about salary expectations, in which underrepresented candidates tend to get less than other candidates.
It’s a good idea to have templates for the different role levels so you don’t have to spend too much time on this each time you open a new role. Instead, you can use the template and make any necessary adjustments for the new opening.
2. Building a sourcing plan
This section should include a list of external platforms where you’ll be publishing the role, and a plan to actively reach out to candidates that could be a good fit. Although this sourcing work typically falls on the talent manager or internal recruiter, hiring managers or even developers can also reach out to potential candidates as well, and it might feel more personal.
3. Evaluating the applications
This section should document how you will evaluate the candidates that apply to your role, and whether it is worth proceeding with the first interview. This stage should be as quick as possible. You’re not making a hire or no-hire decision, just deciding if it is worth spending time (both yours and the candidate’s) pursuing next steps. If you’re on the fence, it’s usually worth taking the time to have a phone call with them and learn more about them.
4. First interview
This interview is the first point of contact with the candidate. It is usually done by the talent manager, internal recruiter, or hiring manager and it doesn’t tend to last longer than 30 minutes.
The goal of the interview is to assess whether the candidate’s skills match what you are looking for in the role, and for the candidate to understand more about the role and decide if they are interested in continuing forward.
5. Behavioral interview
This stage is usually an hour-long interview where we try to get to know the candidate’s experience in more detail. We also want to evaluate the candidate’s interpersonal skills, how they work in a team, and their communication skills. I personally prefer having this type of interview before any of the technical ones, because it is less investment at this stage.
You have to be very careful with evaluating this stage, as these types of questions do not have a right or wrong answer. They are a way to get to know the candidate's personality, and their way of working. And remember, everyone, in the right environment, can learn and improve their skills.
6. Technical interview
There are many different types of technical interviews, from pair programming to take-home exercises. Each format has its pros and cons, and you can argue for a long time which one is better. Instead of designing the perfect technical interview, bias towards action and choose the format that will work best for your organization, and the one that will accurately evaluate the skills you expect new hires to have on the job.
7. Culture interview
In this interview, you are not evaluating if you will become best friends with the candidate, but if the candidate can thrive and add value to the organization's culture. Focus on your company’s key values, and whether they align with the candidate’s.
8. Feedback huddle
This is usually a call with all the interviewers after everyone has written or given their feedback. The goal is to summarize all the interviewers’ feedback into a full picture of the candidate, ending with a hire/no-hire decision.
9. Making an offer to the candidate
If everything has gone well so far, it is time to make your candidate an offer. You will have to evaluate the feedback received and decide a salary for the role depending on where the candidate lies within the band.
Be clear about who is responsible for what
It’s important to be very clear about who is responsible and accountable for the ultimate hire/no-hire decision. In other words, who the hiring manager is for the role. We also need to clarify who is responsible for each of the different hiring stages, and who can or should be involved when.
The reason I differentiate between the hiring manager and the responsibility at different stages is because a hiring process should involve more than one person. This is a great opportunity to delegate as much as possible, and to strengthen the skills of the team members on hiring and interviewing. For example, if you are hiring for a specific role in a team, the hiring manager might be the tech lead or engineering manager for that team (in most situations, you don’t need the same hiring manager across the full engineering org), and there will be input from the director of engineering, the senior engineering manager, and several developers at different stages of the process.
You want to have as many diverse sets of interviewers as possible, not only in regards to protected characteristics, but also diversity of role, experience, seniority, background, and so on. Try to keep this in mind for each stage.
As an interviewer, evaluating a candidate can be very stressful, and some people might struggle with guilt when delivering negative feedback. We have to make it easy for interviewers to make a decision.
This means standardizing the interview process, so each candidate will be evaluated the same way regardless of who is interviewing them.
When creating your standardized interview process for any role, include these things:
- The set of questions that will be asked in each interview stage.
- A calibration of the possible answers to each of those questions, explaining what a good answer looks like, and any deal breakers.
- A scorecard (or rubric) that interviewers can use to give feedback and evaluate the candidate's knowledge during the interview. It should list the skills that need to be evaluated, and some sort of point system for each of these skills that can show whether the candidate demonstrated proficient expertise, enough expertise, not enough, or if it wasn’t possible to evaluate.
- A timeline for when the interview is expected to give their feedback. Encourage interviewers to do this as soon as possible; you don’t want the candidate waiting for a week.
Making it clear and easy to provide feedback and evaluate the correct skills in each stage of the interview will not only help streamline the process of writing the review, but it will also help remove unconscious bias.
Review and improve the hiring process as you go
When setting up a hiring process, you must be able to learn and improve the process by gathering feedback from candidates and interviewers. The hiring process should be a living thing that can evolve and adapt, especially the first time it is being used.
It is important to gather feedback from candidates that can inform the general format of the interview process, each stage of it, and even the interviewers. Keep an eye out for feedback from any underrepresented candidate because it might help you make your hiring process even more inclusive.
It’s equally valuable to get feedback from any interviewers that take part in the process. Look for feedback around time investment for each stage; if a specific stage is taking way too long to prepare for and submit feedback, it’s a sign that the stage needs another iteration. Other valuable feedback includes the quality of the questions, if they feel they can evaluate the candidate fairly with the process, or if they had enough time to complete the interview.
Setting up an interview process will take a lot of initial effort, time, and yes, some pain. But this investment will pay off over and over again, with every role you have to hire for.