Simon Palmer’s blog

December 22, 2010

A useful and objective hiring framework

Filed under: recruiting — simonpalmer @ 5:08 pm

I have the lovely, if difficult job, of hiring a bunch of new people into our organisation. It’s the thing I like most about my role (I’m CTO at Empathica) and the single most valuable legacy I can leave the business, so I take it very seriously. I also have a penchant for systems, not necessarily technical, but I like to have a framework in which I can place decisions.

Up to now I haven’t had one for choosing people and have had to fall back on my subjective, and deeply questionable, intuition. It’s impossible to get every hire right, but it is much easier to get them badly wrong, and a bad hire is not just bad for us as a business, it’s bad for the person too. I’ve been recruiting all my working life and in the final analysis I would like to think that the people who work here are all identical to me in only one respect, albeit a very important one; work should be fulfilling, rewarding and, as far as possible, pleasurable. I don’t think it is too lofty a goal for software developers to aim to be up towards the top end of Mazlow’s hierarchy.

I was triggered into some thoughts by an excellent and challenging recruitment partner with whom I have just recently started working (The Laudi Group, RedCanary). It’s rare to find someone who thinks similarly about recruiting and then holds your feet to the fire while you go through the process.  Laudi certainly do that and I appreciate it.  They are delivering us great candidates and we are hiring them.

Early on Mario, the eponymous Laudi, sent me a message with a link to a Fast Company article by Dee Hock which was an example of exactly the right information at the right moment. What I really liked in that was the cascade of values which had the learned skills at the bottom, not the top. It struck me that this was exactly how I felt about recruitment – give me raw innate qualities and I can supply the rest. If I had to trade those against knowledge I would always err on the side of the innate.

I started using this as a sounding board for myself and it has evolved into a tool for us in the recruitment team at Empathica. I have added two things to it which speak to our particular needs, namely curiosity and fit – apologies to Dee Hock who clearly has forgotten much more about this than I will ever know, and expresses himself more concisely and eloquently than I ever will. In any case, my cascade of characteristics is as follows:

  • Integrity
  • Motivation
  • Fit
  • Capacity
  • Curiosity
  • Understanding
  • Knowledge
  • Experience

Being a measurement company, and a bunch of slightly over-analytical nerds, we decided to rate people on a 5 point scale on these 8 things.  Once we had done it a few times we realised there was a bar of acceptability given our current recruitment needs and this provided us a very good way of formalising, and sometimes justifying, our recruiting decisions.  There is the intriguing possibility too of taking it one step further, namely to look at our current people.  I’m not quite ready to do that because it is a very sharp knife, but it is tempting.

So our process is to meet with someone once, generally a couple of people at our end, then rate them on our scale.  From the initial rating we get two things, first an obvious “No” if one exists, and second some direction on what we would want to do with them in a subsequent interview. We draw it on my whiteboard and collaborate over the scores, which are sometimes a bit gray, and always somewhat subjective – but guess what, all hiring is.

Here’s what it looks like:

5 point scale

Over time it was clear that we would not compromise on the innate elements of integrity, motivation, fit, curiosity and capacity and we would make quite significant compromises on the other three which we consider learned.  So the solid black line is where we set our bar.  The green line is a candidate we recently saw and although we liked the person we realised that they scored well on the learned end of the scale, and were only OK on the innate end.  We did not hire them.  The red line is a person who we lost because we weren’t quick enough with an offer – a tale for another time.

In addition to this, and to complement it, we have developed some coding challenges for technical hires that we have them complete and then we review with them live on their machines.  This drags out everything you’ll ever need to know about a coder and we only give it to people who have got above our notional bar and is the best technical interview tool I have ever used.  Kudos goes to Andrew Datars, my VP of Architecture, for dreaming up a great set of coding and QA tasks.

We’ll continue to use this framework and it has already added a great deal of value and allowed us to have exactly the right conversations between us, with the candidate and with our recruiter.

December 13, 2010

Stackoverflow flair!

Filed under: stackoverflow — simonpalmer @ 8:12 pm


Stack Overflow profile for Simon at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

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