10 March 2010

What Your Hiring Process Says About You

What's your hiring experience like? How many "hoops" do you make candidates go through? Why do you make them go through them? In this post I'll recount some hiring processes I experienced and chat a bit about what (as a candidate) they said about the company. At the end I have a potential checklist.

1. Longest: Archiving Company

As a referral, I was spared an initial phone screen and instead was brought in person to meet an operations manager. His questions were non-technical and focused along the "How well do you deal with conflict? How well do you deal with challenging people to work with? Have you been in an environment where people were difficult to get along with?". We ran over time and I was asked to come back to talk to a project manager.

I returned a few days later and the interviewer was reading off situational HR questions, all with a tilt toward conflict resolution.

A few days later, I was asked to complete an assignment - write a service with certain features, complete with documentation and tests. Unfortunately I received the assignment on a Friday and was told it had to be completed before Monday morning. This was a surprise and a bit of a disappointment as it conflicted with birthday plans I had that weekend.

A few days later I was brought in for a third interview with a developer, project manager and product manager. Very few questions were asked about my assignment and the developer asked me some technical questions (some were unrelated to the problem domain they were in). One was my own question that my previous co-worker had brought with him to the company! Further general questions about process followed from their project manager and product manager.

As the interview was closing up, I discovered they'd like me to write two tests: a number matching test and an IQ test. Both timed, both while a loud lunch party was happening through the adjacent wall. The number matching was a doubled-sided, double-columned list. Each entry had a hand written number and a printed number; I was to mark an X on the ones that differed. The IQ test was pretty standard with tricky logic, English and math questions.

Two days later I received a call from their receptionist saying they were no longer interested. Naturally I contacted my reference to find out more. He responded that as far as he knew, they were still discussing it. He confirmed this later, it was a mistake on their part.

The next day he contacted me with their decision; they were no longer interested. Infact, he said that it was a mistake to even begin the interview process with me as they weren't looking for me.

(Had they been interested, I would have been asked back for an additional interview with the CEO.)

Notes

Needless to say I was disappointed in this process and if it wasn't for the initial reference, I would have given up on this path much sooner.

Explain the workflow to the candidate. Before I started the process I was told it was similar to a previous company I worked at. It was most definitely not. Not knowing the steps in the hiring workflow, a candidate has no idea that he's about to invest a dozen hours.

Screen for culture. Every organization has a different "culture", and it's important to double check that a person will fit in with the existing employees (or if they'll shake things up in a good way!)

Your questions will reflect what a candidate thinks is important to you. When three separate employees ask questions about navigating difficult people, constantly changing requirements and micromanagement, this is what your candidate will think your place is like. If you ask questions about networking protocols or multi-threaded programming, then your candidate will feel the position will involve both. When I asked "Do you use the technology you're asking me about?", I was surprised their answer was "Not really.".

Sell the company to the candidate. I was walked around the development area on two occasions and got the feel of the environment. I was told about some of the unique perks of the company too. This kept me interested.

Involve only the right people. Out of the five people who interviewed me, one was for technical purposes and the other I would potentially be reporting to. The other three were brought in "just to meet me" and "had no real serious questions to ask". As a candidate, this tells me your decision making process requires people who may be uninvolved with a decision to approve.

Limit an interview time. After about 90 minutes, my ability to continue to answer a barrage of questions begins to diminish. After two hours, I really felt that writing a surprise number-matching and IQ test was quite unfair.

Hiring processes should be fail-fast. As soon as an organization realizes it's not interested, the process should stop. Clearly this one suffered from poor internal communication and lack of direction. Consuming not only my time, but employee time too.

The "assignment" was an interesting project, but given the investment I made and how little it was referenced, I was quite disappointed to waste my time on it. I got the feeling the developer hadn't had time to read it, or that this was just an extra step he disagreed with. The length of this process gave me a lot of experience in what not to do. Had I been accepted, refactoring the hiring workflow was going to be a personal side project.

Shortest: Payment Company

Reading up about the company, I figured that I would be a good fit. I emailed a simple cover letter with some specifics of where I'd fit in. Their CTO responded back and we set up an in-person interview.

The interview with the CTO went well, but he was hoping to have me fill a different role than I was looking for. I met after with two of their developers who were prepared to ask me questions relating to the other role and were ill-prepared to ask me Java related questions.

The next day I heard back from the CTO; his team didn't feel I was Java-savvy enough.

Notes

Short, and sweet. Within a few days this company came and left my radar.

Know what you're looking for. Before bringing in candidates, clearly define the role you're looking for. If you're not sure (it happens sometimes), then spend time defining what you're not looking for.

Be prepared. Having stock questions to get a conversation going is fine, but if you haven't read the candidate's resume and don't know what to expect, you'll be ill-prepared to ask the right questions to find out their skills, and most likely opt not to hiring them simply because of this.

They did an excellent job explaining the technology, where they were going and what challenges were ahead for them. The developers I chatted with were interesting, but since they had a "systems guy" and not a "Java guy" mindset, they didn't know what to ask.

Accepted: eCommerce Company

Did some research to discover they'd been looking for someone to fill this position for a while, skipped their online application form and found the email address for hiring. I had customized my cover letter to ensure they realized I was looking for a specific role and highlighted how my experience meshes with what I was looking for.

I received a call back from their hiring team and we set up a phone screen. During the phone screen we discussed what I was looking for, salary expectations, and more about what the company does. From there I was told there was an online Java quiz to do.

The quiz was timed and fairly wide reaching.

I heard back a couple days later that they would like to schedule an in-person technical and HR interview. I asked if this was the interview or if there were multiple steps. At the time I was told that this was the interview, so I fit it in the day before I left on a trip.

I met with a developer there who knew his stuff, and he asked me a stock set of questions and asked me to clarify something from the quiz. Apparently I had got one question wrong but they were still interested. After, I met with the internal recruiter and we talked more about the company and where things were. She let me know that there were two more steps: a refactoring exercise and a second interview.

My first interview went well and I received the assignment while on my trip. Once I returned I sent back my answer and a couple days later I was asked in for a second interview. The assignment took probably an hour or two.

This interview I met with their development manager and we discussed my solution, my decisions, alternatives, drawbacks and technology in general. Later I met with their CTO who asked me some higher level questions.

Then I waited. After what seemed unusually long, I was asked to provide references. After I did, it took an additional week to check them; mid-week I was told why. The company was making some internal changes and this role may not be exactly what it initially was. After discussing it further, I was still on board and was asked for a third interview - more of a just a chat - with the person who would signoff on the hiring paperwork.

I was in the next day and chatted with the VP in question for approximately 10 minutes and he was sold; an offer was made later that day.

Notes

Internal political changes made this hiring process a lot longer than it should have been, and being accidentally mislead about the hiring process was a bit of a disappointment.

Funnel Requests. A month prior to emailing them directly, I had filled out an online application form on their site and never heard from them. Since I felt I was a strong potential, I skipped that step when I later saw the role was still unfilled. I still wonder where my first application went.. Make sure that all different interfaces candidates can apply through are given equal priority.

Have Discussions. In a previous company, I would bring whatever problem I was currently tackling to the interview and ask the candidate, providing as much background as I could. We'd work through it together and see where we got. Having a refactoring assignment to chat about simulated this and turned the interview from Q&A to more of a free flowing discussion of ideas.

Summary

The eCommerce Company with their phone screen and online quiz had a "fail-fast" process, and I met only with relevant people. They mostly knew what they were looking for, but internal change made the hiring more challenging. I only answered a handful of direct "fit" questions. Everyone I chatted with was open about the challenges they were facing but also quick to highlight some of the great things they really liked. I discovered that both the quiz and the assignment came from existing weaknesses in their team and code base.

The Checklist
  • We explain our complete hiring workflow to candidates up front and keep them informed of their progress.
  • We will stop the hiring process as soon as we feel the answer would be "no". Our process is optimized to make this happen as soon as possible.
  • We limit the time an interview will take, but will cut it short if the answer is a definite "yes" or "no".
  • All potential candidates which enter our hiring system are treated equally, regardless of source.
  • We ensure candidates will be a good fit with the rest of the people here, and we feel we can do this mostly by discussing relevant topics with them.
  • Our interviewers always take time to prepare before an interview.
  • Our questions are relevant to the company, technology and role we're looking to fill.
  • We know the specific skills needed to succeed in the role we're looking to fill.
  • Our hiring process includes conversations with candidates similar to the ones that we have internally already.
  • We involve the fewest people necessary, each person adds unique value to the process.
  • We're honest about our challenges, and we mention the great things about our company throughout the hiring process.

2 comments:

David Dossot said...

So, the story doesn't say if you accepted the offer ;-) If that's the case, congratulations for joining EP. They're full of awesome.

Anna said...

That was one long process. So did you get through it all. Many companies use personality or aptitude based tests to hire employees. Like for one i had to go through an aptitude test on this site:
http://www.3smartcubes.com/pages/tests/aptcomplete/aptcomplete_instructions.asp