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Interviews and firing/parting ways

Quite a few times on here, such as in the recent Apprentice thread, comments about the importance of interviews have been tossed about. This goes along with the keeper of the board, Joel, who has written several times about the importance of hiring the absolute best of the best, and being absolutely certain of the choice that you make.


Seriously, I don't get this. If you are on the fence, and there aren't any other credible candidates in the running, bring the person onboard, and if things aren't looking good in real world projects, using real world technologies, in your real world organization, by the end of the probation period (or by the end of the first week if things are going so bad), part ways.

Indeed going back to the Apprentice thread, it's interesting how many opinions of Amy dropped precipitously because she interviewed poorly. She did great in the real world, but failed in the artificial world of interviews, thus she's a no hire. Very odd.

I say this because of a similarity with another artificial/reality situation -- Here in Ontario the government is tossing around the idea of mandatory driver retesting every 10-15 years. The idea is that this would get bad drivers off the road, and I see a lot of correlations with putting too much of an emphasis on interviews: Instead of actually actively enforcing the laws in the real world testing environment of the real world, where people drive as they really do, they would like everyone to artificial drive with their hands at 10 and 2, putting on their faux driving face. How absurd.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Hiring the wrong person is usually at least 10x as expensive as failing to hire the right person.

Never EVER hire unless you're SURE.

Brad Wilson (
Sunday, April 11, 2004

"She did great in the real world, but failed in the artificial world of interviews"

I wouldn't count anything on that 'reality' TV show as part of the 'real world'. 

So if interviews are all so artificial, are we just supposed to hire the first person through the door?  I guess I see your point, sort of, but what are we supposed to do about it?

Joe Blandy
Sunday, April 11, 2004

"Hiring the wrong person is usually at least 10x as expensive as failing to hire the right person."


Here's one I just made up to support my claim (or someone else made to support their claim, and I blindly repeat. There's plenty of nonsense statistics to support any position): Failing to hire who would be the right person because you weren't "sure" costs 1007.2x more than hiring who seems to be the right person at an interview.

I'm not saying that one should just hire anyone. Not even remotely (and as an aside - before I started my own business, I represented myself extremely well in this context. My interview to offer ratio was close to 1:1. This isn't self-defense). I'm just saying that this crusade to be supposedly "sure" is a big giant pile of rhetoric and bullshit. When you get such a highly regimented hiring process that makes you "sure" that you hired the right person, you're far more likely to implement a workplace culture and atmosphere that protects and insulates incompetence (lest it conflict with the "A's hiring A's" myth). I've worked at shops like this where they were incredibly anal and "sure" with the hiring (only the "best" from the "best" schools who did the "best" on the manufactured how-to-move-mt.fuji tests), and absolutely incompetent boobs made it in (though the strict scientific interview failed to reveal this). They became untouchable: It was a personal attack on any involved in their hiring to claim anything other than them being the second coming (little Easter related reference there). Saying that you only hire the best, as Joel does, absolutely sets you up to hide the fact that you don't hire only the best, or that the best just aren't the best in your organization.

In the end what I'm saying is perhaps that the rarity of firings, or cultures that accept that some relationships don't work, encourages failure. There are some obvious parallels with romantic relationships here as well. Hiring someone shouldn't be such a life long commitment (as being hired isn't a life long commitment by most employees -- if they find they don't like it they jump to another ship), and definitely shouldn't be treated as if it is.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

" Saying that you only hire the best, as Joel does, absolutely sets you up to hide the fact that you don't hire only the best, or that the best just aren't the best in your organization.

this sounds dangerously like good common sense.
are you sure you are at the right forum?

Sunday, April 11, 2004

There are a bajillion job applicants out there. This was even true during the dotcom boom. When you hire someone, you stop looking.
What you are in effect saying is "hey, I'm 23 and I'm not married. Sure I haven't met 'Ms. Right', but what the heck - I'll just marry the next best thing. If she doesn't work out, I'll just divorce her."

So, best case - you get a diamond in the rough and everyone is happy. (rare)

Or you get an average person who kinda does an okay job. You're going to be hard-pressed to dump them just because they do an okay job.

Or you get Omarosa, who's going to sue you if you even *think* about firing her without a year's worth of poor evaluations.

And the next day Chris Sells' calls and says he wants to come work for you. [eek!]

Going back to the restaurant analogy - if you're trying to staff a McDonald's, then you just hire your "best guesses" to man the trenches - you can give yourself enough fodder to find some stars to pull up to the top.

But if you've got five superstars and you're looking for #6, then you keep looking until everyone is positive you've got them. They're out there, you just have to find them.

There's a study that indicates that an excellent coder is something on the order of eighty times more effective than an average coder. Since your average coder wants $50k, and you need $90k to land the excellent coder you want, isn't it a wise investment to simply leave the opening empty until you find that superstar?

Finally, falling back to old faithful:
Microsoft believes it's more cost-effective to not hire an excellent candidate than to hire a mediocre one. Who are we to argue with their methods? ;-)


Sunday, April 11, 2004

The interview segment was probably the most "real" thing that occurred on that show. How Amy's future peers/bosses felt about her was very important because she was applying for a desk job and would most likely be interacting with at least some of them on a daily basis.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

"There's a study that indicates that an excellent coder is something on the order of eighty times more effective than an average coder"

I keep hearing this reference, with various numbers. I don't believe it. Anyone have a reference to an actual study??

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The original quote was from "The Mythical Man Month", and I believe it was more like "10" times more productive rather than "80" times, and it refered to lines of code per day. Back then (1960s),  when people still coded in assembly language and there were no extensive APIs to handle common tasks, I think the 10x factor might have been valid. Probably not so today.
  But yeah, I agree with you that any number at all seems bogus. If one guy writes lots of code but the second guy writes less code with fewer bugs and the third guy writes the best code of all but has a bad attitude and the fourth guy writes very little code but guides the team's whiteboard designs -- well, which one is the most productive? And how can you quantify what the 10x, 80x, 2x multiplier is?

Sunday, April 11, 2004

"In Ontario the government is tossing around the idea of mandatory driver retesting"

Um, it's not about safely in the least, don't you see? It's all about the fees.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, April 11, 2004

The 10x figure is from Peopleware not Man Month.  It's for short term projects. The language was the programmers choice. The best were 10 times faster, made ten times fewer errors and wrote ten times fewer lines to accomplish the same goals.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Oh and the reason that it is 80 times nowadays is because you will have one guy writing in C# or using C++ and the STL. these guys will be 80x faster than the guy reimplementing basic functionality from scratch in whatever language.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, April 11, 2004

"Facts and fallacies of software engineering" contains such an estimate, and it's a very recent book (forgot the author, though; you can look it up on Amazon). The top figure was 28:1, as I recall.

Speaking on the topic, "we only hire the best" attitude towards jobseekers has always been striking me as inexcusably unprofessional. Especially from shops like Joel's, that aren't by far rocket science design bureaus.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Mythical Man Month, page 30:

"... the ratios between best and worst perforamances averaged about 10:1 on productivity ... the data showed no correlation whatsoever between experience and performance."

Monday, April 12, 2004

I do really believe the ratio exists ... whatever the number might be.

I work with a guy who is at least 4 - 5 times more productive than the rest of the team.  His work is solid.  He takes great care and pride in his solutions.

Over the years, I would estimate I have worked with at least 50 developers.  I have never seen this level of work out of anyone.  Its really quite good.

Monday, April 12, 2004

It's funny how many people here will accept the idea that the best are 10 times as productive as the average, but will scream blue murder if you mention experience doesn't make you a better programmer, despite the fact they're mentioned in the same source.

Sum Dum Gai
Monday, April 12, 2004

I picked up the "80" from the "28" in Software Facts and Fallacies. Given the numbers I quoted, wouldn't you agree that anything more than 2x makes waiting for the right candidate economical? (Considering the fact that you'll probably only "wait" 2-3 months at most?)

Mind you, the huge caveat here is that it works both ways - Joel and Microsoft get to say "we only hire the best" because they treat their employees like the best. Some sweatshop with a ratty cube farm and "we really expect you to be at your desk by 9:30" can say they only hire the best, but it's a stupid waste of time, because they'll never be able to keep them.

Which makes me think of another point - be careful what you ask for. "The best" are generally aware of their talents, so they'll push back on stupidity. If you can't take criticism from employees, you most definitely do not want the best.


Monday, April 12, 2004


A couple interesting points.  As I mentioned earlier, the data led the IBM team to conclude:

"no correlation whatsoever between experience and performance ..."

Despite this, Fred P. himself doubted that was really the case.  I tend to agree.

Now, to utterly contradict myself, the lad I mentioned in the previous post has less than 5 years experience.

Monday, April 12, 2004

The problem goes a lot further than looking at the raw gain or output from any new hire. Any non-trivial project is developed by a team, rather than a set of individuals which has a couple of consequences.

The ability of a team to perform will be affected by the performance of it's constituents, for better or for good. It's not different from a manufacturing job where a poor worker will "only" be working at 1/X efficiency of the better worker. The poor worker will end up damaging the project, whether it's through not being able to handle their share, doing a poor job resulting in others having to finish off or correct their mistakes and bugs. People will start not assignig issues to the guy and taking on even more work. Morale goes through the ground.

The individual will also affect the modus operandi of the group. I've seen individuals, who in the moddle of meetings, will draw attention to themselves for irrelevent details or by arguing over trivial issues, or suggesting blatently infeasible/unsuitable ideas. They want to add something to the conversation, regardless if it is isn't helpful, conducive to the discussion or even if it is totally stupid.

These are just a few points but it means that a poor worker, instead of simply being a waste of money, can hurt the current performance of your team. Even without thinking about the cost of hiring, training, admin, a poor hire has already produced a net loss for your project.

Monday, April 12, 2004

SC, an emphasis on teams is the preserve of the incompetent and the factory manager.

Talented individuals get results.

!= Cog
Monday, April 12, 2004

Hypothesis:  Organizations that can't claim a correlation between experience and performance are somehow failing to mentor/guide/coach/instruct/motivate employees.

Where I work, it'll take you at least a year to truely grok the business model.  Until then, you'll keep going back to people and asking "What does XYZ mean again?"

Same thing for new college grads and process - how to test, how to conduct code review, design patterns, etc.

If people in your organization aren't growing, well, gee, your organization isn't teaching ...

Matt H.
Monday, April 12, 2004

Mandatory ongoing driving tests are not as far-fetched an idea as it might seem, and after the graduated licensing experience (also in Ontario), I suspect that it is only a matter of time before ongoing driving tests are implemented.  I would be surprised if it were implemented for everyone though.  That would be too politically unpopular.  When implemented, I expect that it would be implemented for either the newest licensees and younger, or for the graduated licensees and younger.  After all, how much resistance did you see against graduated licensing compared to the resistance to the idea of mandatory tests for everyone? 

The only way I could see it being implemented for everyone would be when the boomers age and all have mandatory testing anyway.  There's a certain feeling of: "well, if I have to do this, why shouldn't everyone else?"  Since the other main demographic (so called "echo generation") is already used to the idea due to graduated licensing, it may well come to pass.

Pros of mandatory licensing:

Before graduated licensing, the young driver age category was statistically the most likely to have collisions.  This is no longer true - my insurance agent has stated that this group is now the least likely to have collisions, although the rates don't seem to reflect this.  My personal observation is that if you have the prospect of an upcoming driver's exam hanging over your head, you are more likely to think about your driving habits since you don't want to fail the test.

Mandatory tests also provides a higher barrier to entry for driving, encouraging more people to consider public transit.

It also provides work for the massive numbers of driver examiners that were trained and employed to cope with the graduated licensing backlog (now mostly cleared).  The backlog was caused by young drivers realizing that the restrictions on the G2 license are not particularly restrictive and that the G2 exit was better avoided since it was rumoured to have a 70% failure rate and cost money.  So lots of folks waited until their license was about to expire, causing the waiting list to shoot up to over a year.

Monday, April 12, 2004

I'm a strong advocate of mandatory ongoing testing, and I think it's the only way we'll really make a dent in highway fatalities. (The DUI thing was nice, but has bottomed out, IMHO, and "Aggressive driving" isn't addressing the problem)

Ongoing testing gives the state a means of constant feedback and training for the drivers on the road. Every successful company has realized the importance of ongoing training, even for tasks the employee is doing all the time - it allows recentering on the task and even training about new discoveries.

Drivers should be nagged every so often about proper merging, use of turn signals, lane discipline, truck clearance, etc, etc, etc...

Every four years - written test, road test (on the freeway), or no license.


Monday, April 12, 2004

I respectfully disagree regarding mandatory retesting for drivers, and will agree with another poster that it is nothing more than a cash grab. However, before I continue let me say that the insurance agent who claimed that young drivers are the "least likely to have a collision" is an idiot that must have been pandering -- this is still a very high risk group (and on the 401 it's always the young males, late teens/early twenties, going 150 in their Honda Civic/Cavalier/Sunfire, driving perilously close to those around them, failing to signal, blah blah blah. It isn't just a stereotype...). The rates don't reflect your agent's observation because your agent manufactured his reality.

Driver tests, like interviews, bring out the "test" persona in people -- if you truly think that people start to fly straight and act like they do in their driver's test, or in their interview, then you are highly idealistic. Personally I entirely agree with the o.p. - how can the government even start to think about driver retesting when the basic laws of the road are seldom enforced? How often do you see undercover police pulling over drivers for merging incorrectly, failing to signal, etc. People just ignore these rules because there are few consequences for ignoring them. Every now and then arbitrary laws like speeding are applied in a "blitz" like fashion (usually with public warnings beforehand), and then forgotten again ensuring that there is little or no concern of punishment for the average driver.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, April 12, 2004

"Drivers should be nagged every so often about proper merging, use of turn signals, lane discipline, truck clearance, etc, etc, etc..."

If you're doing it incorrectly, shouldn't the police be pulling you over and warning and/or fining you? I see dozens of infractions in my daily commute, and I know that if any of them were quizzed on what they should do they would know right from wrong, but that doesn't mean that in practice wrong isn't the easier, more self-serving course of action. Every day I see at least one driver toss a cigarette from their car, but strangely I don't think any of them are unaware of anti-littering laws.

As a sidenote, Ontario actually has the safest highways in North America.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, April 12, 2004

Another province is going to do a study on whether periodic retesting is worthwhile. The last I heard, a few weeks ago, the Minister in Ontario said that he wasn't especially keen on the idea, but that he's supposed to be interested in anything that could save lives: so he'll wait for the results of the other province's study before making a decision (I forget which other province it is: a western one).

By the way, if you let your license lapse (don't renew it on time) then you need to start again, with a test and a beginner's license. Mandatory retesting every two years applies to drivers over 80 years old.

Christopher Wells
Monday, April 12, 2004

"young drivers are the "least likely to have a collision" is an idiot that must have been pandering -- this is still a very high risk group (and on the 401 it's always the young males"

It's funny that the "younger drivers are involved in more accidents" always seems to prompt this stereotype. (especially when people start asking to raise the age of licensure) How about a simple "less experienced drivers are prone to more accidents"?
I actually heard this expressed (IMHO) correctly once - they stated the statistic as "drivers with less than five years experience" instead of "teenage drivers"

As for periodic retesting - if you had a factory floor with thousands of workers, would you train them once then never train them again, even if they worked there for fifty years? Look at it this way - someone who is 56 years old has had zero road training since 1964. Maybe it's just me, but I suspect our roads have changed a wee bit since then.

And by the way, mandatory testing for everyone would then shut up all the "mandatory testing for over 65 is age discrimination" crowd. :)


Monday, April 12, 2004

I fail to see how testing every X years would help anything. Do you have some stat(s) to point at that suggest accidents are predominately caused by people who would have failed a mandatory driving test? I think most accidents happen when people arent paying attention. Something tells me that most people could pay attention quite acutely for the next 15 minutes if it meant they could keep driving for X more years.

anon-y-mous cow-ard
Monday, April 12, 2004

"How about a simple "less experienced drivers are prone to more accidents"? "

No, younger drivers are more accident prone. This is statistical fact, and while it is a stereotype and unfair to wash lots of diligent, responsible young drivers with the same brush, overall a younger driver is more likely to be in an accident than an older driver, even if experience is the same. These simple statistics are what drives the insurance industry.

Why? Well not only do you have the ingredient of inexperience that any new driver has, but you often can also add in irresponsibility, peer pressure, and a sense of invincibility.

As stated before, of course not all young drivers suffer from this, but it is amazing how often one sees an absolutely mind boggling idiotic move on the roadways only to discover that it's a young male, often with one or more additional young males spurring them on (though I will say that young women are absolutely roaring up the charts in the ranks of ridiculous bravado maneuvers that risk their lives and the lives of those around them). Of the idiotic moves, I will also stereotype and say that a ridiculously disproportionate number of them are committed in Honda Civics (it's hard to harness 115 HP I guess) or Pontiac Sunfires/Chevolette Cavaliers, the cars of choice for young males everywhere.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, April 12, 2004

"if you had a factory floor with thousands of workers, would you train them once then never train them again, even if they worked there for fifty years?"

As an aside, I'm not quite sure what you are implying when you say "training". Road tests are not training, but rather are the end result of training. The training is that if you're not learning the rules and driving appropriately, the teacher (in this case a police officer) will dole out some least in theory.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, April 12, 2004

"Hiring the wrong person is usually at least 10x as expensive as failing to hire the right person"


The costs here are the recruitment costs (including fees) and then the cost of employing the person until you realise that you have hired a dud. In the best case, that means that you give them three months probation to give them a chance to get established and then let them go if they haven't. The cost there is 25% of one years salary. Recruitment costs are - lets say - 50% of 1 years salary. The cost therefore is 75% of a year's salary for three months inefficient work. Assume in the worst case that they produce no effective work and consume a supervisor full time. That's another 25% of a (higher) years salary.

So we are talking about a years salary for the misshire.

Not hiring costs you the output of one developer for that three months.

For the miss-hire to cost you at least 10x the cost of no-hire, the missing output needs to be 10% of a salary, that means that your developers are generating output worth 40% of their salary per year. In this case the mis-hire is the CEO, CFO and the entire management structure.

To make a profit I would argue that they should produce output worth at least 200% of their salary and therefore the cost of missing output is at least 50% of the developers salary in that first three months, ie a ratio of 2:1 over the cost of a miss-hire.

In this scenario, once the average contribution of an employee is 4x their salary per year, it becomes much more important to hire than not hire and the risk is worth taking.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Don't forget increased unemployment insurance costs - if the employee wasn't a total dud and you didn't have good reason to terminate they will collect unemployment and your rates will go up on all your employees.

Also, especially in this day and age, how much do you want to pay your laywers to defend your company against wrongful termination lawsuits?

Salary/recruiting costs aren't the only costs when making a bad hiring decision.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

"Also, especially in this day and age, how much do you want to pay your laywers to defend your company against wrongful termination lawsuits?"

Most firms have a legal "test period", often one, three, or six months, where the employee is basically a temporary employee (indeed things like benefits and such usually don't kick in until after it). It isn't a "termination" to say thanks but no thanks at the end of this period.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Sure. I included the cost of lost business (or output). There are other costs too.

But we are talking about misshires. So a three month probationary period would seem to be in order if you aren't sure about someone. If you fire someone who hasn't made the grade during a probationary period, there is little risk of getting sued. The cost of unemployment insurance is a fraction of the cost of an employees salary.

Of course if you are talking about firing misshires years down the line, that's a whole different story. That shouldn't happen except in occasional cases. That's a performance management failure.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Personally I dont care much about the technical ability of the people I interview. Sure if they say they have some skills I need then great, i'll ask a few questions on it.

What I want is good personality and someone that isnt shy - who can make decisions, get em wrong and then work out the correct way of doing it without going balistic.

I'd happily employ an idiot if they met those criteria.  You can teach an idiot.  You cant teach someone that thinks they are the technical god of the programming world - usually they just cause grief with the rest of the team.

It might be ok trying to fit a square peg in a square hole, but remember that round ones fit too and usually work out better.

Andy Watson
Friday, April 16, 2004

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