Stop Hazing Your Potential Hires
As an employer, it’s easy for an organization like Spreedly to complain about the difficulties of the hiring process. Huge investments of time with uncertain results, noisy pipelines of dubiously qualified candidates, lying recruiters, spamming spammers who can’t read, lack of good science around hiring processes and their effectiveness, etc. Isn’t an employer’s life tough?
But it’s all just whining, because you know who has it tough? Candidates applying for jobs have it tough. They have to put their whole work history in front of a total stranger, invest time and money with no guarantee of a favorable outcome, make a series of decisions that will probably affect the rest of their life, do right by existing commitments while trying to impress us, and at the end of the day get a binary “yes/no” judgement of their ability to do what they believe they’re good at doing, all with little to no recourse or appeal. It makes me tired just thinking about it, but that’s the reality of what it means to go looking for a new job.
We can’t change the underlying realities of what it means to be a job applicant, and one could even argue that a lot of what makes the process so grueling is intrinsic to the transaction being contemplated. Applying for a job will never be a free or easy process for either the potential employer or potential employee. But what we can do, and what we strive to do here at Spreedly, is to show real respect for the time and energy being put into the process by applicants.
As Spreedly works to build respect for the candidate into our hiring process, three guidelines are proving useful as checkpoints to assess whether we’re actually succeeding. How we hire is not a static process. Rather, it needs to change over time as we learn, and these rules of thumb are very helpful to check tweaks (and even whole new approaches) against. They’re all based around our viewpoint that the hiring process is an investment, both by the company with the hope that we’ll gain a valuable team member, and by candidates in the hope that they’ll get to work with a great team on projects that they’ll be proud to have been a part of in years to come.
The first Spreedly technical hiring guideline is: investing time and energy into the hiring process should be reciprocal. It’s unhealthy to have any relationship where one party is putting in a lot of work, and the other party is just sitting back and letting them. It’s neither fair for candidates to expect to be hired when all they’re willing to do is click “Apply” on a job posting (ask me about the time we made the mistake of posting an Office Manager position to Indeed), nor is it fair for an employer to ask a candidate to take off multiple days of work to go through a rigorous interview process without offering any kind of feedback throughout the process.
An example of how we’ve applied the first principle is in the intro calls we do with engineering candidates. Before we ask candidates to spend any time on our work sample process, they get to hear yours truly, as CTO, sell them on how we do things at Spreedly. Then they get to put me on the spot and ask me any questions they have, which I answer live. Only once I, as CTO, have invested in them and their questions do we then ask them to invest some of their time in our work samples.
Which brings us to the second guideline: investment in the hiring process should be incremental. Doing a full interview cycle with every applicant is untenable for an employer with a lot of applicants, but so is requiring a full day of interviewing of a bunch of candidates that it’s questionable you’d be excited to hire. Most employers are actually pretty good at this - I’d argue that investing in candidates incrementally is the one principle that most companies end up latching onto in order to maintain their sanity - but it’s key in this context because it has to be combined with the first principle of reciprocity.
One way we currently apply incremental investment is by having hiring managers do a one-on-one call with candidates after they’ve proven themselves technically but before we spend half a day doing interactive interviews with them. On that call the hiring manager finds out what the candidate thought of the technical assessment - since it reflects the work we do - and makes sure our expectations about compensation are in the same ballpark. Without that call we could easily schedule a whole afternoon of interviews with a candidate who either wasn’t excited about our work, or who we’d never be able to get to the same place on compensation with.
The third guideline is that investment in the hiring process should be relevant to the position actually being sought. Every time Spreedly interacts with a candidate, we want to be asking ourselves: “Does the outcome of this interaction have bearing on the job the candidate will actually be doing?” Any time the answer is “No,” we’re both distracting from the issue at hand and creating a handhold for our unintentional biases to latch onto.
One key way we try to drive relevance in the interviewing process is by using work samples rather than programming puzzles to assess the skill match of candidates to the position they’re applying for. Work samples are relevant to the work we do, and not only let Spreedly assess a candidate’s fit, but let candidates assess whether the problems that Spreedly is focused on seem interesting to them.
So, as we at Spreedly consider changes to our hiring processes, we’re learning to ask ourselves: is this change going to keep the investment reciprocal, incremental, and relevant? By keeping these guidelines in mind, we hope that even while we won’t hire everyone who applies, each candidate will still see that we’re striving to respect the investment that they made into our long term success by applying in the first place.