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Complete About Face on Hiring

From the time I got my first job at a pizza parlor when I was 16, through getting a co-op job in college at UPS, and through my first two jobs after graduation, I held a certain view about what it took to get hired and how I would have conducted the process if the roles were reversed. 

I spent a great deal of time on my resume, agonizing over what tasks/skills would make the most difference in mentioning.  I went through a lot of preparation for interviews knowing that the interviewer had usually never met me before and this was my only chance to make a good impression.  I considered myself a solid candidate for every job I applied for and was, at the time, quite shocked and dismayed at the ratio of resume submissions to callbacks, to say nothing of interviews.  I thought that as long as someone knowledgeable of the position and the technology involved was looking at the resume, it was just impossible that I wouldn't hear back from more companies.

Fast forward, the company my partner and I started almost three years ago grew enough in the past year to add two new developers, and we are close to finishing hiring a third next month.  As head of the software development side of our business, I am struck by how differently I view the process now that I am on the other side.

I am extremely unlikely to use job boards, job fairs, blind resume submittals, etc. to find that next person to hire.  The one job fair I did try, I ended up getting a ton of resumes and scheduling 15 interviews for the following day.  I found that the technical issues were easy enough to settle, but I find an interview an extremely unreliable way to determine what kind of employee/worker a person will be and how well they will fit in.  I ended up just making due for a few more months working extra long hours. 

So what is my solution?  I am a huge fan of hiring only people that I personally know or that come recommended by people that I personally know.  By "people I personally know", I am not speaking exclusively of friends, (but I am not excluding them either, I have one of each type right now).  It just seems to be SO MUCH easier this way.  I know eventually I will run into a problem adhering to this philosophy.  But then again, I don't want to be HUGE, just nicely profitable, so maybe I will luck out :))

I know I could do trial periods among other things, but we are still small and the mistake of hiring the wrong person even for a short time could be very costly. 

I guess I'm asking for thoughts from other people who've been on both sides of the hiring fence.  What have been their experiences?  What do they think of my philosophy?  Is it really that bad of an idea?

Thanks for all comments

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

This is the way that almost 75% of jobs are filled in this country.  It sounds like a great plan to me.

Rick Watson
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Thanks for the insight... really.

I think in most circumstances in life one could do a lot better if he just himself in the other's shoes, instead of operating in "storm the fortress" mode.

Heck, you might even be able to understand the thinking of VCs one day! ;)
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I helped a friend with his small company (about 12 people) and was amazed at the sheer number of applicants he had. I mean, he was getting 50 applicants PER DAY, and this was in Chicago, not NYC or Silicon Valley.

I recently applied to google for a job listing that was very specific, compared to their other listings. I had every qualification listed. I have amazing references. I have a strong "web presence." The job listing was even at a weird satellite office, far away from their main operations. I was going to be in the same town for 3 weeks, and was available to stop by and meet them.  I couldn't believe it when they sent me a note saying they weren't interested in interviewing me. 

Anyway, then I learned from a friend with a friend at Google, that Google receives 1500+ resumes PER DAY. So then I wasn't so depressed anymore about them not wanting to interview me.

With the sheer number of resumes that even small development shops receive, I wonder if anyone at all gets hired through the standard "Send in the resume to HR" process. I can't imagine anyone does.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Tragedy of the commons.  Because everybody's doing that, nobody can get past the filters. ;)

Flamebait Sr.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Jason wrote, "What do they think of my philosophy?  Is it really that bad of an idea?"

If I was a potential job candidate, I would probably think that it sucks.  That said, nobody seems to have come with a better way of hiring employees that they plan on keeping around for more than a couple of months.

Rick Watson, "This is the way that almost 75% of jobs are filled in this country. "

I am just guessing but I bet the percentage is even higher than this. Note: I am talking about the hiring of full-time salaried employees as opposed to the hiring of temporary help.

One Programmer's Opinion
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Network Network Network….unescapable it would seem

Aussie Chick
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

While we're looking at flip-sides of coins, I'd have to say that *getting* a job through networking is usually a better path, in my experience.

I've been in situations where I turned down jobs because I knew the people hiring, or had a friend in common. I just wasn't interested in working with them.

If I had received an interview through Monster, etc., I doubt I would've picked up on any danger signs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I'm about to move onto my fourth job since uni.  It's also the fourth job I've gotten through my network of contacts.

Resume submission is fine, but with 50 docs on their desk managers will look for 'anything' that lets them bin your precious document.

Compare this to:
* you've met the manager before
* maybe had a few beers with them. 
* you hear that they're looking for a new developer
* you call the manager up.
* you send the resume
* you get the job, or at the very least, don't get binned.

Michael Koziarski
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Probably the only risk you run is that you're now testing people on their networking skills more than their technical skills.

For a marketting position, that's ideal. For a technical position, not necessarily so good.

You might be able to afford to do this in times like these, where there's likely enough people with both technical and networking skills who are looking for work.

Down the track, if the market improves, it might not work out so well.

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Wow, great response.

Rick, One Programmer
Regarding the high, high percentages of jobs filled this way.  While I don't disagree, I wonder why this doesn't seem to be more widely circulated?  I can remember at least three or four classes or parts of classes during college or high school that instructed me about good resume form.  I can't recall a single one that emphasized and helped me with networking.  Heck, right now, joining a fraternity seemed to be the best thing I did in college.

Flamebait and (blank)
Wow, I feel much less worthless now.  I guess I never considered that sheer numbers might be such a big factor, (Particularly with "marquee" company names)

One Programmer
Yes, if I were a candidate, I would think this might suck too. :)  However, as Nigel points out, it can turn out to be beneficial to both parties. 

Sum Dum Gai.
I would clarify/expand your comment "networking skills" to mean people skills and in general how to handle themselves with a client.  (Our primary business is still MS software consulting and custom development) It is an interesting point that I have considered.  However, I think that while it is work to build up someone's technical skills, it's something I have experience with doing, (myself being the first example) and to stay on top, all of us are constantly learning new skills anyway.  On the other hand, I don't have the desire, (heck, I probably don't even have the ability), to even begin to teach someone the soft skills.  While I don't doubt it can be taught, my personal opinion is that those skills are set mostly during your growing up time and are way too much work to be taught in the workplace.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

One more note on the soft skills/hard skills topic:

I mentioned early about how damaging mistakes can be to a small company. 

If I have a tech who is still a little green and accidentally forgets a WHERE clause, I can usually fix it without too much fuss.  Worst case, restore from backup. 

If I have a tech who is stilll a little green and gets frustrated about something and takes it out on a client, that's not as easy to fix in my opinion.  Still possible, but lots more unknowns.

If I look at the customers we have lost in the past three years, (thankfully less than a handful), and the biggest issues we've had to deal with:  They've all been much more "people" problems than technical ones. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Jason is quite right.

People skills are vitial. Either working with clients or even working with other programmers,e tc. within the company.

It's an EQ (Emotional Quotient) issue.

How much time have you wasted dealing with ego issues that are disguised as some other problem.  Like people who obuscate instead of just telling you "hey, I don't understand that, explain it to me".

Give all the resume applicants a technical problem. That'll weed out the people without decent skills. Then figure some way to get to know thier people skills.

Granted, that takes longer, but it's more important.

The real Entrepreneur
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The team is more important than the project

This is a great article that points out that how a team works together is absoutely vital.

Think about all the great companies that were started by friends, people who already were a "team".  It's easy to undersestimate the importance that plays in success.

The real Entrepreneur
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I don't know that I'd call that a *complete* about face. In both cases you want to reassure (or be reassured) that the guy on the other side of the table is competent.  It's just easier if you have somene you trust to vouch for someone else.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Jason wrote, "...I can remember at least three or four classes or parts of classes during college or high school that instructed me about good resume form.  I can't recall a single one that emphasized and helped me with networking. "

I am calling this post the "accidental profession".

The problem (at least from my POV) is that four year colleges in the U.S. typically don't prepare their students for government or public sector IT jobs (i.e. programmer, DBA, program manager, etc.).  While some two year technical colleges seem to do a good job of preparing their students for entry-level business programing positions many of those students will never get the opportunity to work in this industry.

One Programmer's Opinion
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Relying simply on networking is often not a bad choice, especially for a smaller company, but there is a lot of talent you might lose out on with people that don't have bad people skills but are simply introverted and thus don't generally network. 

It is a big mistake to assume that because someone doesn't put in the effort to network, they can't be trusted with clients, or can't act as a "people" person as part of their job -- there is a big difference between someone who is socially shy and awkward (and thus MAY have problems dealing with clients) and someone who is simply introverted -- someone who can, in fact, put their best face foward and deal with clients as needed, even though the act of networking is not their natural preference.  If you aren't aware of the difference between shy and introverted you may want to educate yourself on it.

I've known quite a few people who are amazing engineers and naturally introverted but also able to to operate perfectly fine in customer situations... and the percentage of people I've met in that fit this bill is far greater when it comes to the very top software developers I've worked with.

Mister Fancypants
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Yeah, what Mr Fancypants said is basically what I meant. Just because people don't network doesn't mean they can't handle clients, it might just mean that it's not their favourite part of the job.

Which like I said, is a problem if you're in marketting, but usually not if you're a programmer.

Sum Dum Gai
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

It's the best way to hire.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Networking is a good way to find candidates. Many companies offer sizable incentives to employees for referrals ($1000 is common).

That said, the one downside is that you are hiring an instant Old Boy's Network. They're already friends and they'll watch out for each other. That generally happens in work environments eventually anyway.

Been There
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I used "Complete" because I look at it as a 180 in terms of what think now versus then in this regard: 

I used to think that finding someone that was technically competent was the most important thing and you could easily get them up to speed on everything else. 

Now I think that finding someone with the soft skills is more important  and as long as they have some minimum of programming expertise, it will be easy to get them up to speed as required on the technical side.

Mister Fancy Pants, Sum Dum Gai,
Yeah, I realize my strategy means I may miss out on some talent.  I think for the forseeable future I'm willing to make that tradeoff.  Tradeoffs are a fact of life and I think I'm ahead of the game, (at least in this one instance), because I'm very aware that I'm making this one. 

Also, I want to emphasize that it's not that I'm looking for people with networking skills per se.  And introverted is not off the table either.  Where my restriction comes in to play is do I know them well enough or does someone I know know them well enough to know they would be a good fit. 

My first hire is definitely quiet, reserved, and even shy.  But I had worked with him for over a year at my old job and I knew he was a great guy to have on the team.  My customers actually love it when he comes out because he doesn't talk their ear off or distract them.  He just does his job and leaves.  If they have questions he answers them and is happy to help, of course.  He just doesn't seek out the communication. 

Been There,
Re: hiring an instant Old Boy's network.
I don't have a problem with that.  My goal in fact would be that my company is one big OBN!  :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

every job worth having I got through an aquaintence

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The one proposed maxim that I'd like to offer is that, if you are really small, taking 5 weeks or 6 months to get somebody properly up to speed, make sure they are good, etc. is expensive and risky, so you really need to make sure that you have all the reliable information (i.e. networking) that you can.  Once you have reached a certain size, somebody who has a rough adjustment can be tollerated without risking bankruptcy.

Because, yes, there are brilliant folks out there who aren't any good at social networking for one reason or another and there are brilliant folks who might have a rough few weeks or months before they can do well.

One other problem is that many programmers are always looking for another job, which only contributes to the too-tall-stack of resumes.

Flamebait Sr.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Jason, Great post. Too many people don't see things from the other side of the fence, whether it's looking for a job or dealing with a client.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

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