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Hey, it’s January again, the busiest hiring month, at least here in the US.

People push out interviews until after the holidays. They wait out their end-of-year bonus. Some make a new year’s resolution to find a better job.

That’s why January ends up looking like a big cross-company reshuffle. Your LinkedIn fills up with “Congratulate {insert name} on their new job!”

If you’re the hiring manager, I wrote this post for you. Or share it with your manager/HR/CEO.

Hiring is challenging. Most people I know would rate hiring somewhere on the scale between a root canal and a poison ivy rash. Loads of fun.

Hiring is not a passion project of mine. But it’s an important part of the job, and it’s something you have to get good at.

So this post is more of a personal take.

There are many articles out there on how to conduct interviews, or which questions to ask.

I wanted to cover something different. What most people don’t talk about, that hiring managers struggle with.

How do you deal with the stress of interviews? Why you should have a hiring buddy? How to see potential in candidates? Who should write the job listing?

Reading time is just under 10 minutes. So let’s get started.


Ready to Go All In?

This is generic advice you’ll find on motivational posters. You may have heard it before from colleagues, managers, teachers.

Yet, I never read an article about hiring that talks about that. But it does make a difference.

It goes by many different names. “Go all in.” “Fake it till you make it.” “Face your fears.” And “just do it.”

Whatever you want to call it, it comes down to one thing. Avoidance doesn’t work. Half-ass won’t get you better candidates, it will frustrate you more.

If you want to get better at hiring, you have to go all in.

I’m not suggesting a career change. Better, make it a concentrated effort on your part. Give it the proper time, place and attention.

Put a “🧑🏽‍💻 Hiring in Progress DND” as your Slack away message. Close your email client.

Now, do a web search for “hiring UX designers” or ”hiring remote employees” or whatever. Find and read some blog posts. Listen to some podcasts. Watch some live talks.

Be an active learner. Highlight your favorite parts, and summarize what you learned. Share that with your colleagues.

Next, go and write that job description. Do a LinkedIn search or go through Hacker News: who wants to be hired? Try to schedule at least one interview or phone screen.

Even if you have a recruiter on staff, do some of that yourself. You’ll get a better handle on it if you do it yourself, and it will help you work together with the recruiter.

The goal is to shift mindset. Instead of “I don’t like this, so I’ll half-ass it,“ get to “I still don’t love it, but I’m going to get good at it!!!

Back to school with a bullet journal
Photo by Estée Janssens

What’s Your Cadence?

I’m going to share a few things with you that they don’t teach you in hiring school (if ever there was one).

They’re not a secret. You’ve felt that way or heard it from other people, though we don’t talk about it as much.

You will have to talk to a lot of people. Some extroverts find this energizing, but most likely you’re an introvert or ambivert . This will take up some of your energy.

Figure out how many interviews you can fit in your schedule. Be realistic with yourself. Some people can do back-to-back interviews all day long. Some people can only do two/three a week.

Trying to over-extend yourself won’t help. That’s good advice for weight lifting, or practicing for a marathon.

If you over-extend yourself, you won’t give candidates the attention they deserve. Not fair to you, and not fair to them.

If you need to exercise your inter-personal social muscles, try out conferences. Go to networking events. Parties.

They also don’t warn you that you’ll get rejected. You’ll interview a candidate and they’ll impress the hell out of you. You’re imagining how they join the team, unblock progress, lift business metrics.

Except, they end up choosing a company with a bigger brand name. Or shinier tech stack. Or better pay and easier commute. Whatever the reason, it will hurt in the feels.

So plan for that. I’ll talk about the hiring buddy later on, but that’s one way to soften the blow.

You may get lucky and hire the first candidate you interview. But also likely not. Instead, you’ll spend a lot of time scrutinizing resumes and phone screening. Asking questions, taking notes, making sense of interview feedback.

And these are all decisions. Small decisions in the larger context of life, but they do pile up. That’s the hardest part for me. Decision fatigue is a real thing.

Again, this all comes down to managing your energy reserves. Setting up a schedule that works for you, and sticking by it.

For example, when I write job listings, that’s creative deep work. I clear my schedule for 2-4 hours, disconnect from interruptions, grab a coffee, and get in the zone.

Going over a pile of resumes requires a lot of decision making. I find it easier to batch those, work in short bursts — 30 minutes to 1 hour — spread throughout the week.

That means, if you applied on Monday, I may only get to reply to you on Friday, but at least I’m giving you due attention.

For face-to-face interviews, I space those at least a day apart. Since I’m more on the introvert side, I fill the in-between days with deep work and less social interaction. Recharge cycle.

That works for me, your mileage will vary. The key point here is, find a cadence that works for you. Understand what’s involved and manage your time and energy.


Do You Have a Hiring Buddy?

Don’t run the hiring process alone. But also, don’t hire by committee.

Hiring by committee doesn’t work. It sounds great in theory, “we’re all equal partners in the decision making.” There are other, better ways, to get consensus.

In practice, a committee diffuses responsibility and accountability. And when there’s no clear accountability, it all ends up mediocre.

For each position you’re hiring for, have one direct responsible individual. That’s the hiring manager. That’s you.

But don’t go at it alone. Pair with a hiring buddy.

The hiring buddy can help you finesse the job listing. They will pair with you on interviews. They will give you a second opinion, and balance you when you get too excited about a candidate. They will listen when you get frustrated.

The hiring buddy should also take part in the first check-in with the new hire. That’s part of the feedback loop.

You do most of the work, the hiring buddy is there to help round it up. Think of it as pair programming or code review, but for hiring.

Cup of coffee on table
Photo by karl chor

How Do You De-Stress?

Interviews are stressful. For you and the candidates.

Imagine what the candidate has to go through.

Career changes are major life decisions. Landing a job determines when and how much you get paid. You have to meet a lot of strangers, get rejected a bunch of times.

For some jobs you need to test people under stress. I’m thinking of air traffic controllers, trauma surgeons, special forces.

To make the interview more stressful, you could put the candidate in a windowless room. Preferably, a room with bright lights. Ask them to solve a tricky logic puzzle. Add whiteboard for flavor. Fill up their day with a rotating roaster of interviewers, and very short breaks.

I’m not suggesting you do any of these.

People who work in creative endeavors — like software development — work better without stress. A comfortable environment: the right chair, the text editor we spend days configuring.

We have playlists and noise-canceling headphones to block the world. We go into deep work. Or we collaborate with people we already know and feel safe around .

You can’t simulate a proper work environment in a job interview. But you can make sure the interview environment feels like a safe work environment.

Start the interview by reducing stress.

For example, I like to conduct face-to-face interviews at coffee shops. (That serve other beverages, the coffee is not the point here)

You spend the first five minutes scanning the menu, ordering a drink, grab a table. Meanwhile, we’re chatting about the weather, traffic, favorite food on a cloudy day.

It’s small talk, but it’s not forced small talk. It flows easy.

You’re making it clear that you’re not trying to maximize the extraction of information from the subject. You’re there to get to know another person.

Coffee shops also work because they’re not your office. They’re the neutral place. That also works to reduce tension.

If you’re interviewing remote workers, you can try to match their spot. If they’re at home, then interview from your home. Or both go to a coffee shop. Or get on a boat. The last one may be difficult to pull off, but why not?

Make sure it’s an environment that allows you to be present. Don’t interview while commuting, or from a sports bar on game night.


What Does Success Look Like?

I wish people would come with an instruction manual. Life would be so much easier.

Also, an episode of Black Mirror.

At the interview, you’re going to pass judgment on another person. And with limited information. It’s all too easy to get critical.

If I asked you to write down “5 things that concern me” about every candidate you met, I bet it wouldn’t be hard. We’re cautious by default. It’s called loss aversion.

I’m not saying “don’t trust your gut.” If you have a feeling you can’t shake, I would suggest erring on the side of caution.

If you start with a critical outlook, you end up with too many false negatives. You miss on great candidates when you pick up too many negative signals, and not enough positive ones.

What if you flip it around?

Start each interview by trying to answer two simple questions:

  • What do I like about this candidate?
  • What would make them successful?

When you frame it that way, you’re looking beyond past experience. You’ll be open to seeing potential and realizing growth opportunities.

You interview an individual contributor, only to realize they’ll make a great manager. Now you can offer them a new job, and an exciting career trajectory.

Something that can help: imagine them doing great in their first year. What would their performance review look like?

Then again, you may realize the candidate will be more successful at a Fortune 500 company. Sometimes, their path to career success means working somewhere else.

The key is, open up to discovering talent and potential.

Glasses notebook and laptop
Photo by Dan Dimmock

Who Writes the Job Listing?

Recruiters will hate me for saying this, but they’re the last person you want writing a job listing.

I attribute this to the tools they use to optimize their workflow. These tools work to filter candidates.

When filters are your hammer, every job listing is a laundry list of requirements.

Filters don’t work for general and transferrable skills. There are no filters for “using the proper tools to help developers build useful products.” There is no filter for “I can boil down complex problems into simple explanations.”

There are filters for specific tools and technologies. You can filter for “React“ and “not React.”

That’s how we end up with job listings that say “the right candidate will have 10+ years of React experience.” Argh.

Also, boilerplate requirements like “good communication skills.” Waste of pixels. How do you filter for that? People who are not good communicators, but also not self-aware, will apply anyway.

So own the job description. Write it yourself. Decide which skills are valuable, and don’t worry about skills that people can pick up on the job.

Look for attitudes not technologies.

And write them in plain, easy to understand language. Use tools like Grammarly or Hemingway to help with readability.


Do You Feel Retrospective?

You’re doing great so far. But can you do better next time?

Is your job listing not getting you the right candidates? Is that something you can improve on?

Have you lost a promising candidate because your hiring process is too cumbersome? Are all steps and delays necessary, or can you streamline it?

Find it difficult to vet people? Is that something you can get coached on?

If you’re in the business of software development, you know how to conduct a retrospective. It’s how we identify gaps and faults, find places to optimize, and introduce new ideas.

Retrospectives are also useful when things go right. There may still be room for improvement.

What if you had to improvise and go off-process, but it turns out great? That’s an idea worthy of inclusion the next time you hire.

The hiring buddy is the best person to help you do a retrospective.

Also, reach out to candidates and ask them about their experience. What did they like? What they didn’t like? What could you do better next time?

We do user interviews for our products, we should do candidate interviews for our hiring.

And check out your Glassdoor reviews. Most people don’t write reviews, so when one person express their opinion, you know they’re not the only ones.


Fin

I have more to say but also running out of time, so going to stop here.

If you have any questions, drop me an email at assaf@labnotes.org.

And go out there and hire!


Cover photo by Free To Use Sounds

2019-01-31 Changed “post-mortem” to “retrospective”, much less morbid now.

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