Hiring? Don’t make these five mistakes

Over the past fifteen years I've been hiring developers into software companies. I've also had the tough job to decide which ones should find work elsewhere. If you're a small company looking to make your first hire, or a larger business trying to bring on several developers, then I know one thing for sure.

Hope is a major component of your process.

I know that's not a great thing to say. And I'm sure you have tons of process in place, and maybe even (if you're old school) memos that articulate how to have a structured process for hiring. But trust me when I tell you that it's a natural part of human nature, when you're looking for someone to join your team, to be hopeful. And that hope often creates risk that you may miss in the process.

Five tips for hiring right

The best way to push as much hope out of the process is to move slowly. How slow? Well, take whatever idea you have of slow and double or triple it. We often move too fast. And when we do, we increase the risk that we'll make a mistake.

1. Don't use your gut

You know what I'm talking about, right? You spend half an hour talking with someone and you feel a connection. You feel like you “get” each other. You feel like they'd be a good fit. Here's the problem. Remember that girl or guy you were sure liked you in the fifth grade? Remember when you were wrong? Well, unless you've been hiring people every week, of every year, for the last several years – your “gut” is untrained.

Having a consistent set of questions helps you get away from dealing with your feelings and moves you into the world of facts.

2. Don't pitch your own company

Sadly, I can't tell you how many interviews I've watched that start with the interviewer spend twenty minutes pitching their own company. The problem with this is that a) it tells a candidate how to shape their story to create a perfect fit that may or may not actually exist and b) it reduces the time you spend getting to know them.

Having a clear articulation of the goals of the position (not just the role) allows you to find out if their experience suggests they'll be able to deliver on the goals without an incredible amount of effort.

3. Don't rush the process

When I first started interviewing candidates, I would want to create an offer right then and there. If I liked the person, I wanted to hand them an offer. Today I tell them it will take weeks or months to get an offer. I don't move fast on purpose. And great folks are just as risk averse as I am, which means they aren't in a rush.

Having a clear understanding of the timeline, and being able to explain it, will help you find people who want the match to work as much as you do.

4. Don't play games during an interview

I'll admit it. I once put puzzles into an interview to see if someone could predict how many gas stations were in the state of California. I was convinced that if Microsoft (and later Google) were doing it, they must know something. Guess what? It has almost no correlation to and isn't predictive of success – regardless of the position.

Having a set of questions that you spread across all the folks that will be interviewing a candidate can help you stay focused on the task at hand and reduce repetitive wastes of time.

5. Don't confuse culture fit with personality fit

We've been in a big hiring spree at work – fifteen people since the start of the year and four more will join us next month. So we're always talking about culture fit. But it's easy to confuse culture fit with personality fit. And you don't want to make that mistake. Our new hires may or may not have amazing personalities, or personalities that fit with my own (or our team). But that says nothing about culture fit.

Defining the culture of your organization as a set of competencies is much more valuable and will help you find quality candidates.

Finding culture fits

If you're wondering what I meant, in terms of looking for competencies for culture fit, here's a part of the set that I use daily at work.

  • Efficiency – they make the most of their time (and manage it well).
  • Honesty – they do what's right, don't cut corners, and speak with integrity.
  • Follow Thru – they do what they said they would do. In other words, they're reliable.
  • Proactive – they take initiative.
  • Persistent – they don't quit when things slow down or get tough. They keep at it.

Did you notice something about this list?

It is easy to evaluate these competencies within a slow hiring process.

Because our process makes them follow up, take initiative with us, requires some persistence, and will include our evaluation of their honesty – we know a lot before we ever sit down to do a serious interview.

Hiring doesn't have to be a hope-oriented process

One of the companies I've been coaching, Sennza, just went thru this process and ended up with a fantastic new hire. Another company I help, Sidekick, is hiring right now. You're not alone in wanting someone right away. These guys have heard me talk about hiring slowly for weeks and months.

But when it all comes together, and they don't have to send someone home, it's worth it.

  • Slow down.
  • Define the role.
  • Define specific goals.
  • Define interview questions so you're not winging it.
  • Look for historical experiences that suggest a candidate can hit the ground running.

Don't make hope your strategy. It won't work and it's as effective as flipping a coin.