A need for a better hiring process

Posted on Dec 2, 2017

Software engineering is a relatively new field. We are still trying to find a common denominator, a bunch of patterns, something that gives us a better overview about how things work, so that we can narrow them down and apply a process - like we do in any other engineering field, e.g., automotive, pharmaceuticals, etc. Something measurable, because when we have numbers we can actually do something. Without numbers it’s chaos and gut feelings, unicorns and failures.

One of those things we need to get better at is certainly the hiring process.

I am amazed by the amount of jobs out there that not always fit their own description - it almost seems they were written by a person within the company that dreams about that job day and night, a sort of Promised Land:

  • You will design and implement highly scalable services that need to serve customers all around the globe - we have already 20 million customers!
  • We work hard but play also hard - we have regular kicker tournaments and the best Espresso machine
  • We want you to learn and get better, we pay you 2000$ per year that you can spend on books and courses of your choice

These are only few of the promises. Sometimes they are quite good - I would not mind having 1k to spend in books and courses, to be honest. However, you will often find on Glassdoor that the same company offering you the Promised Land position has also the following cons, which often contradict what they claim in their job description:

  • management should trust employees more
  • no career opportunities
  • employees are expendable
  • high turnover rate

Similarly, I am quite certain that not every job applicant plays by the rules, and those boring years maintaining that legacy software will need more than some polishing.

While this is certainly a grey area, where ethics, self-promotion and personal/professional needs are different forces fighting against each other - or I should say “together”, maybe -  I am quite aware that people lie, so I prefer to focus on what the person and the company have to offer and how good their interactions are.

Ideally, everyone tells the truth during the hiring process. However, in order for this truth to come out, it needs to be told, written down somewhere, it has to become visible, and all potential ambiguities need to be cleared once for all during the interview process - questions need to be asked, especially difficult ones if you have doubts - there are lots of websites helping with what needs to be asked, just do your homework.

Also, let’s not forget that companies need to find the right candidate, because the first few months are just a cost (I think I read about it for the first time in Peopleware).

How can companies and candidates get to know each other better?

I believe that the best way to improve the hiring process in our field is by providing constant feedback and to put the candidate right in some of the team’s dynamics. Some companies I interviewed with in the last few years offer some feedback, but it’s almost never meant as a way to get to know each other. It’s like being at school over and over: how did I score? oh, cool, I made it!

For example, by analyzing what our daily tasks are, we could try to find out how candidates perform during a normal working day. This way, the feedback is mutual - candidates maybe don’t like the office, the managers, the colleagues, etc., while the company maybe doesn’t like how the candidate fits into the team. If that’s not possible, we could provide remote tools to support them. Accepting a candidate or a company shouldn’t  happen as soon as possible, but as soon as they are convinced about each other.

I do understand that we, as human beings, tend to do what we know best repeatedly. It’s smart, because we use what we know already, and we don’t need to invest new time. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. At least, when you find out it doesn’t work, maybe that has to be adapted a bit, at least. So, I am talking to all HR people - please, do something about it. Don’t just hire people to fulfill the expectations, to fill the empty desks, to reach the desired head count. Talk to your HR managers, to the CTOs and so forth, discuss about it. Find a better way to hire people.