Raising the Bar in your Organization

Finding top talent is HARD. Even if talent is coming to your company, and you’re interviewing them by the groups, it’s super HARD to figure out who is a good fit or not. In my 10+ years of being on recruiting teams for big companies (GE, Amazon), and smaller ones (Etsy), I’ve had the unique opportunity to do a lot of it. I’ve taught classes/sessions internally in the companies I’ve worked at, and was encouraged to share a few thoughts publicly.

When interviewing/recruiting in general, here’s a few principles I tried to adhere to, as my compass when making tough hiring/recruiting decisions.

  1. The cost of making a “mistake” is high. You’d rather “accidentally” turn down a good candidate vs “accidentally” hiring a bad one.

Taking an analytical view, the (null) hypothesis when interviewing is that the candidate is NOT a fit for your company. That’s the default. The process is a test for that the company+the candidate to prove that hypothesis wrong.  Of this “test” there are 4 potential results.

A) Best Result: The Candidate is a Fit and the Company Hires that person.

B) Neutral Result: The Candidate is NOT a Fit, and the Company does NOT Hire that person.

C) Bad Result: The Candidate is a Fit, and the Company does NOT Hire that person. This is Type 2 error, a False positive. Though, you missed out on a good candidate in retrospect, you can always go back to that candidate sometime in the future. There’s never a “never.”

D) Worst Result: The Candidate is NOT a Fit, and the Company Hires that person. Type 1 error, a False negative.  This is very destructive to the culture, and the team. The company will spend lots of resources training this candidate, only to realize they may have to let this candidate go, and taking into account the opportunity cost of not having hired a contributing employee.

2. Recruiting = Marketing

During your in-person interview you’ve realized the candidate is bad, what do you do? Abort after an hour, or “waste” time with everyone else in the loop?

Companies should go for a really good candidate experience. Word gets around, and how you treat a candidate is also representative of how you treat your customers/employees, etc. Treat them well, even if you made the mistake of bringing in a bad candidate and you know it’s not a good fit. Here, you can substitute in junior interviewers to have them hone their interviewing skills or use one interview slot to give the candidate a tour. You don’t have to stick to your “script” that you created for the candidate, feel free to improvise. Then, even if the candidate did not hired, they can tell their friends and colleagues that your company was a really cool place.

If you give a bad candidate experience, then word gets around, and that really matters since the world is small and it’s hard to hide these things. The interview/recruiting process is an intimidate 1:1 marketing opportunity, and even if a candidate doesn’t get the job, they should be able to say “wow, I was impressed by the company” even though, they did not get the job.

3. Focus on your hiring/recruiting as you would any one of your business or technical problems — aim for efficiencies.

A) When hiring, I’ve been in some organizations where everyone in the loop has to say “yes.” In small organizations I fully support this concept, but in big ones this tends to be a major time sink. Rather, it’s important to have a few key decision makers, while everyone else is influencing the decision makers. Examples include the hiring manager, and site lead. One focuses on the competencies/needs of the job, and the other focuses on culture.

B) Ensure that you have cross-functional team evaluating the candidate, so it’s not just focused on the job, but also the culture. You do not want a person hired for just a singular position, since the company, trends, market, and competition can shift so quickly.  You want a candidate that fits in the company, and will also grow/adapt/adjust with it.

C) Train your interviewers. Too often, I’ve seen people just “thrown” into interview loops. Like everything else, practice makes perfect. Make sure the interviewers have all gone through some sort of training; whether it be an internal info/training-session, shadowing other interviewers, and/or have received feedback on their interviewing style. And, make sure the recruiting/interview team is on the same page – use the same language, look for the same key values, and have a structure to measure the success of each candidate. This way, if someone in the loop is sick or on vacation, the whole process isn’t halted…rather, you can trust another’s judgement to step in their place.

D) Teamwork. It’s not just an “HR” team or “Recruiting” team or “Manager” job. It’s everyone’s. To get good candidates that fit the company culture, that will succeed at the company, that will raise the talent bar, everyone needs to get involved. From junior to senior employees, to managers to the top leaders. When candidates are waffling back and forth, it means a lot to have your VP or CEO reach out. To get good employees, the personal referral goes a long way. Scale the recruiting team from a few individuals to the entire company.

I know there are tons of books and other awesome blogs on recruiting. Here’s just a few of my own personal thoughts.