Hiring Randomness

I ran across this article on companies’ interest in interviewing different archetypes of programmers, e.g., “Academic programmer”, or “Enterprise programmer”. I had two big takeaways from the article. First, all of the companies were different, so none of the archetypes appealed to everyone. Second, the archetype that received the most attention wasn’t the one described in terms of technical abilities, but in terms of the applicant’s interest in product development. The typical software engineer only hears interview feedback about themselves in relation to an individual employer, as opposed to hearing how different places consider the same set of people, so this was an interesting discussion to read.

The first insight, that different companies want different things, seems to have matched my intuition from years of moving around the industry. Each company seems to be looking for a different mix of skills and weighs technical versus soft skills differently. It’s really no different than the idea that different people look for different things in employers. When a job posting is put up, it discusses the technical and soft skills the role would want, so it filters the incoming candidates to people who think they match those. So, even on the inside, as an interviewer, you won’t see candidates who are self-selecting against the description of what you say you want to remove themselves from your potential hiring pool.

The second insight was more interesting, that the archetype that was described as about building product more so than building good software was the one that got the most positive response. This might make sense when you look at the audience viewing the archetypes in this particular example: small startups that need product. This archetype seems great, but why is there so much more interest than any of the other archetypes? I can see why most companies would want that archetype, but it isn’t clear why there is so much less for some of the other archetypes, who I feel like I would want to work with more.

There are some other interesting thoughts buried in the grid of results. The difference between the “child prodigy” and the “strong junior” archetypes are interesting. They both represent the same sort of talent, but with a different story, so why should there be a significantly different opinion of the two archetypes? Who is the company who rejected every profile but the enterprise programmer? Why would you take the “experienced and rusty” archetype over the “technical programmer” archetype? All of this taken together makes it seem like there is more at play in these discussions than just the background of the person being seen. It also seems that each company rejected about half of the candidates.

This led me to reconsider some of the steps I’ve used in hiring in the past. The shape of the funnel used in the hiring pipeline reinforces some of the built-in problems with attracting talent. It seems like the funnel is always too wide, pulling in candidates you can’t work with, and the resume screen is tossing the wheat with the chaff. The article’s advice to programmers seems to be to spend more time on each application and personalize it. This is good advice for the individual, but it doesn’t resolve the issue on the company side that everyone seems to be throwing away talent that some other company seems eager to have. That half is up to us when we are on the hiring side of the table to take an open mind to the background and find the talent that is interested.

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