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Hiring process part 2 · finding and capturing talented people

Arseni Mourzenko
Founder and lead developer, specializing in developer productivity and code quality
129
articles
September 18, 2014
Tags hiring 11

It's difficult to interview candidates for a specific job. It's scary to hire somebody who shouldn't be hired, and it's unfortunate if you don't hire someone who should be hired.

While it's practically impossible to suggest anything on the choice itself, especially given the extreme specificity of such choices from company to company or from person to person within the same company, there are on the other hand a bunch of patterns and practices to apply during the interview itself to understand as good as possible the profile of the candidate.

To avoid too much theory, I'll take two examples of interviews where I was myself a candidate. Comparing those interviews allows to elucidate a few of those patterns and practices.

The first interview was done by TalentSoft—a company which builds a software product for talent management. This medium-size company grew very fast in seven years and has a capital of approximately 2 000 000 € at the day this article is written. It shares with The Maersk Group a large building in Paris and occupies half of it. While it kept a part of a spirit of a startup, it was able to evolve into an actual corporation—not the bureaucratic, inhert entity, but a corporation which does the stuff right, can afford best developers and tools, and just feel professional.

The second interview was done by Pictav'Informatique—a tiny company in a small French town. The company builds a bunch of software products for French Chambers of commerce. In 25 years, the company was unable to evolve into something bigger. Its capital is 8 000 €, it occupies a small flat in an appartments block and... there is nothing more to tell about it.

Initiative

A proactive company is constantly looking for talented people. Even the company doesn't grow, it should still look for new people, because no matter how good are the working conditions and the spirit of the company, older employees will leave.

Being proactive means using every tool available in order to find people who can potentially be hired. A friend of a colleague of our DBA is a developer? We want to hire more about him. Somebody found an interesting, well-written, technically challenging blog post? We want to talk to the author. Someone left a highly reputed IT company? We want to know why and if he would like to work for us now.

This is the case of TalentSoft. They contacted me on Careers.SE by presenting themselves and kindly asking whether I would be ready to discuss my career evolution with them. I was ready, so I did.

Pictav'Informatique, on the other hand, is all but proactive. The only thing I've found is that they posted an announcement on French unemployment office website. I haven't found any other signs of effort from them. What does that mean?

  • They don't bother searching for people more than that. They wrote a few sentences (without even bothering presenting their company or the job in more details), posted that and expected talented people to rush to them.

  • They don't need talented people. I hardly doubt many would be enjoying looking at the offers on an unemployment office website. People with my profile or higher are usually found more on sites such as Careers.SE.

Presentation

Presenting yourself and the company is crucial: this is the first opportunity to know each other, and failing this opportunity is rather disappointing. Forgot your name? That's unfortunate. I won't answer very positively to a person who starts business relation by staying anonymous. Forgot to present your company? Maybe the potential candidate won't dare asking you for the details. Forgot to specify the technologies you use? You may lose time to a person who is ready to work for you, but won't accept working with those technologies specifically.

More importantly, define the roles. At this stage, you are not the boss, not yet. You're a person who are looking for a talented person. A talented person who has a choice between working for you, or working for one of the many other companies. He has choice. You don't.

The message I've received from TalentSoft is excellent. First, the person contacting me presents herself and the company. Then, she explains the context: the company is working on the new architecture, therefor they look for new people. Finally, she asks if I would be interested in talking with an R&D manager in order to determine whether their company is interesting for me. Hm. Let me repeat this: their company is interesting for me. See the contrast with the job offers written in the style: "You may spend the next thirty minutes writing your cover letter that you'll send us together with your resumé, and some secretary from human resources might one day take a look at it and judge if it's worth our attention".

What about Pictav'Informatique? Well, I received no answer whatsoever. When I called, the CEO blamed their e-mail system. Or maybe he was just too lazy to answer?

Stay focused

The candidate responded positively. This is a good sign. But stay focused on your goal, which is to hire a good person. Some companies make major mistakes here: they lack basic organization, or they don't know how to communicate, and they quickly lose reputation in the eyes of the potential candidate.

Staying focused means two things:

  • Stay proactive. Communicate heavily. Keep the initiative. The candidate may be expecting you to set the date of the interview; if you don't do that, the candidate may not understand what are you waiting for. Answer quickly: if you take two days to answer each e-mail, you're showing that you simply don't bother about the candidate.

  • Remember you're still not the boss. For example, you shouldn't set the date and the hour of the interview unilaterally. Instead, ask the candidate if the date is appropriate for him.

  • Don't be cheap. If the candidate asks you to pay train/plane tickets, just do it. It costs nothing compared to a salary of an average developer or a licence of Oracle.