Six destructive myths about technical hiring

4 minute read

Following a recent discussion with a friend about hiring engineers, I recommended that they read Building Great Software Engineering Teams by Josh Tyler. The book contains a wealth of information and offers some really awesome advice for upscaling your engineering team.

Early on in the book there is an interesting chapter that describes some common myths and misconceptions with the technical hiring process.

Myth 1: You Need to Find More Candidates

Josh makes two interesting points on this one. Firstly, rather than focusing entirely on new candidates, it’s worth taking stock and assessing if perhaps an existing team-member might be able to fulfil the role with some training and support. This won’t always be the case, but when it is, it can be a lot more cost-effective and timely to hire from within. In some scenarios, it might be an opportunity for someone on a sister team; already familiar with domain and culture.

Secondly, you need to find better candidates, not more candidates. It takes time to assess incoming candidates. The ‘spray and pray’ approach often yields many unsuitable ones. By honing in on the target audience, and improving and refining your job description, you can help to improve the quality of inbound applicants.

Beware outdated/incorrect job specs. It happens to the best of us.

Myth 2: Dealing with Visas Is Too Hard

This probably differs country to country, but there is often a misconception that hiring candidates who need a visa can be a painpoint / blocker. Admittedly there is some admin and paperwork to complete the visa process but this time and effort is worth it for the right candidate.

One of our very early engineering hires required a visa. The process was smooth and he is still with us to this day. The time we spent on the application was definitely a winning investment.

Myth 3: Algorithmic Knowledge Trumps Everything

Breadth-first search, bubble-sorts, palindromic partitions. Understandably, you need to assert basic technical skills, but, is algorithmic puzzling and whiteboarding the best approach?
There’s no correct answer to this, and every candidate is different and will be most comfortable and responsive with different types of interviews.

Our approach is to pair-program (remote or onsite) on a precompleted code submission. This allows us to get a feel for how we can work and communicate with the candidate. This, of course, is a two way street, and the candidate can get a feel for our approach to pairing and problem-solving. Naturally, as we have technical discussions with the candidate on their projects and experience, we may touch on algorithms/whiteboards, but it’s not our primary means of assessment. We’re more interested in how you work and what potential you have.

Myth 4: You Need to Find People with Experience

If you find yourself rejecting candidates primarily because they need more experience, consider making an investment in providing that experience yourself.

Having ascertained a candidate’s potential ability, it might be worth taking the calculated risk of investing in them. Someone took a chance on you at some stage of your career. Maybe the combination of your awesome on-boarding program, coupled with your pair programming culture might see that candidate’s ability soar within a few months.

I mentioned previously that we will pair with candidates, and this can be a very effective method of unearthing potential. Seeing how a person thinks about things, how they communicate, or how they respond to feedback can all be indicators of whether or not a person is worth taking a chance on.

Myth 5: You Need to Find Local People

Remote-first, remote-friendly?

There are pros and cons to managing a remote team. Your own mileage will undoubtedly vary from mine, but with the recent move towards remote-first hiring, it is something that you need to consider.
From an employee point of view, I value my time, and I’m sure that you value yours. Fortunately, I live close to my office, and therefore my commute is short and gives me a little time to read and listen to music, but if my commute was more than a couple of hours each day, I would feel like me time was better spent elsewhere. Are we really as productive as we can be if it takes us two hours of standing in stuff, crowded, public transport?

From a hiring point of view, remote provides you with a much larger pool of candidates. Your sales team wouldn’t dream of turning down 100x leads, so why not apply the same logic to recruiting. Sidnote, you’ll really want to make sure that your specification is defined and clear to help you frome being innundated with unsuitable candidates.

You will need to invest in tooling to compliment remote. We use a combination of Hangouts, Slack, Trello to assist with transparency and communication.

Myth 6: You Should Avoid Recruiters

Invest in finding the right recruiter. Find one who is willing to work with you on refining the search, and who responds to feedback on candidates. Recruiters, like the rest of us, cannot predict things 100%, but by providing feedback on the candidates they send your way, you can help to refine the search.

In addition, a really great recruiter can bring a lot more to the table than just sourcing candidates. They can help with the crafting of job descriptions, with the negotiations, and also with candidate feedback on your hiring process.

Over the years, we have had many successes with hiring via recruiters.