David Sergey Grigoryan

Hiring Fantastic Talent

Problem Statement

  • While it sounds like a cliche, finding good people is genuinely hard.
  • It’s also hard to keep good people, on staff, and equally hard making sure that people who were good are still good. Keeping staff enthusiasm and motivation above the average industry baseline.
  • Getting a job, and doing a job requires a different skill set. We hope that our interviews have some kind of reality. We want to reduce the number of false positives (people who are great at interviews, but bad at their job) and false-negatives (people who would be great professionals, but bad at interviews).

What This Document is Not

This system can be applied to people involved in the delivery of concrete products, services, platforms, and systems. This guide doesn’t aim to address hiring long-term planners such as CEO, Managing Directors. In other words, this system addresses talent that has to address the 6-24 month planning horizon. 24-60 month planning horizon might require different solutions and systems.

Solution

The following document will attempt to provide system and guideline on how to best hire and retain personnel. This process aims to merge personal and cultural aspects with empirical data gathering in order to improve the hiring process over time, by reviewing past results.

Updating Interview Process

Gathering Requirements

Talent creates products, services, and other goodies that corporation gets to capitalise on, in many cases talent can be considered as a service, and requirements have to be gathered.

The goal of this stage is to talk to a couple of stakeholders, and understand what do they expect from talent, and what are the goals and reasons for hiring them. When interview rounds start in near future - it is important that all interviewers know the reasons why, and don’t just ask questions.

Optional parameter to consider is a background, where did the person worked usually. It can be a domain, such as Agency, Financial Services, Client Services, or team composition: Worked in functional team (all designers, all engineers), or cross functional team (engineers, QA, BA).

Results: As a result of these step, Hiring Manager or their team should be able to write a first version of Job Description with:

  • Role Description: 1-2, maximum 3 long sentences about role.
  • Key Responsibilities: Bulleted list with responsibilities.
  • Requirements: Prioiritised in MoSCoW list of skills, abilities, spells, both technical and soft.

Check Feasibility of Contracting for 2 Days

Check with stakeholders, and HR if it is feasible to hire a promising candidate for 2-days. It will be too late to check it after interviews are done. The best way to understand weed out false-negatives.

  • This might require a 0-day contract or equivalent.
  • Timesheet software approvals.
  • Non-disclosure and confidentiality documents.

Results: Result of this step - to have an understanding of whether it’s possible to hire a person for 1-2 days or not.

Create or Update Fixed List of Interview Questions

If this is not first round, previous questions probably already exist, unless last round had a lacklustre result, the questions should just be updated. Otherwise, create them from the ground up.

If questions have to be created from the ground up - consider gathering a master list of questions from internet resources (best UX Designer Questions, best JEE Questions). There will be a chance to test them in practice. Best source of the question is existing team, assuming they are good performers.

Results: Draft list of interview questions.

Create or Update Interview Task

Create or update the interview task, something that can be done with a candidate to assess their hands on skills. There are a couple of things to be considered:

  • Task must have a clear description, there must not be 10 ways to understand how to accomplish it.
  • Task should take between 20 and 40 minutes, with an average of 30.
  • The task has to balance problem solving and straightforwardness. Since a candidate is usually under stress, make sure they know that they can ask the interviewer for help to narrow the problem space.

Results: Self evident.

Chose Interviewers

For the face, to face interviews, at least two interviewers should be present. Face to face also recommended, but not required. So “Two is One, and One is None” rule applies, consider at the roster of 3-4 interviewers, to have 2 available to interview at any point of time.

Result: Self evident.

Created Questions for Short-listing

Depending on the source, time, role and pay, you might find yourself with hundreds of CVs, in this case, consider writing a short list of questions, that HR or Recruiters can ask candidates.

In my experience, I had a list of 5 questions, and anyone gathering 3+ points was considered shortlisted. If everyone is passing, check what’s up.

Test and Refine

The interview process is a series of logical checks and actions, and just like any software - it has to be tested, even if it runs on the brains instead of CPUs. Pick 2-3 team members and run them through an interview. Benchmark it and dial the questions up and down. See if there is a way to trim the interview process and remove some questions that don’t seem to help decide.

Created Recruiter Handout

Created a short document with the job description, short-listing questions, and process on how to schedule interviews for the recruiter, if applicable. Ideally ask HR and Recruiters to email me a meeting invite, with candidate contact details and attached CV. This way if something goes wrong with one of the interviewers meeting invite can be forwarded to the roster of interviewers for pick up.

Sourcing Talent

Sourcing Talent

Depending on the budget, goals, experience, and urgency following sources of talent should be considered, in order of priority and quality:

  • References from Team: Ask your team for references. Google, Apple, and Microsoft all switched from Recruiters to internal recommendations as their first option and report a better quality of talent.
  • Own Network: Spread the word, on your own network.
  • Bootcamps: Bootcamps can be a great source of junior talent. If you have a relationship with a Bootcamps and hire regularly - you can also influence their curriculum, not to mention interview people, weeks ahead of their graduation, and give them pre-defined tasks.
  • Graduates: You can source graduates from Universities and specialised recruitment agencies. In my personal experience, graduates are where you get true gems. It’s also where you get people, who realise that they hate doing the job they trained 2-3-4 years for.
  • Job Fairs: If you are not in a hurry, or lucky to be around a job fair - consider attending one. If you are in major tech-hub or megapolis such as London, New York, San Francisco, or Tel-Aviv you can find job fairs to be very resourceful.
  • Contact Recruiters: Usually an expensive option, but done right can provide good results. Also in most cases the only way to get contractors.
  • Acquihire: If balance sheet makes sense.

Keeping Connections

Be nice to people, and keep in touch, whether it’s a boot camp representative or recruiter. An occasional check-up will not hurt and will help.

Interviews

Phone Interview

Numerous research shows that humans are extremely biased people. It also shows that phone interviews seem to trick us to ignore some of the biases. We will still be impressed by the deep voice, so if you considered performing interviews with voice changer technology give me a call.

Phone interviews should be short, in order to help interviewers keep an eye on the goal - print a short handout for the interviewers with list of strategic goals, requirements, and reasons why, to serve as a reminder.

Face to Face Interview

Face to face interview should be split into five parts:

  • Meet and greet, and don’t forget to offer tea or coffee, or to take their umbrella if it’s raining.
  • Freeform chat, explaining the role and company, and asking them to tell about themselves.
  • Formal questions.
  • Hands on Task.
  • Closing Remarks.

When interviewing people, make sure that candidates can admit that they don’t know certain things, feel free to ask them an obscure question. You want them to tell you - I don’t know, or something along the lines of - I’ll have to research. The research done in the very beginning has to be considered. Consider having goals and reasons for hiring printed in large print in front of the interviewer.

Culture Fit

Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast. Strategies, like this one are only good as long as people want to keep up the standards! In other words organisation needs to set the Culture. Culture interview should be treated as both - making sure that people are great communicators in the given team, and to remind existing team about culture it aspires to.

The goal of the Culture interview is to:

  • Make sure that person is good communicator in the given team.
  • Make sure they are not dickheads, like True Blacks of New Zealand would put it.
  • Make sure that candidate doesn’t find existing procedures, systems, activities unfit. No one wants to hire a rock-star developer just to realise that they don’t like morning stand-ups, or don’t like writing documentation, or write too much documentation.

2 Day Contract

Make sure that you have a list of tasks that can be completed ready for the candidate. When selecting tasks, chose something that must be done with input from other members, see how do people handle working with a team, asking them for directions and so on.

This is the best way to actually see how a person performs doing real job, if they are contractors and signed all the confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements you will be able to see how they work, whether they thrive or not in your particular environment, with the tools you chose, how do they communicate with other team members, and how do they work with the real-life requirements.

Log The Candidates with Version of Interview Process

Save the interview process with tasks and questions, along with names of candidates for future reference.

Onboarding

Make sure that equipment is ordered and ready for the person, this includes but not limited to:

  • Email, Slack, Task-Manager, Phone, Sim-cards - ordered and activated.
  • Computers ready and provisioned with OS and Software.
  • Handouts and Manuals ready for the person to catch up, they have to know how to install additional software, acquire licences, request additional equipment.
  • Table and not-broken chair.
  • Team lunch scheduled.
  • Follow up lunch in 2 weeks scheduled

Most of us, in our industry of software, are quite excited about our jobs, engineers, designers, architects, and agile masters. So it is important to capture and keep the enthusiasm up, you don’t want a new candidate to arrive and wait for a week for an email account.

Appendix

Using Kanban Board for Interviews

If you need to hire five or more people at a time, for example to staff entire team, or to scale a project post-MVP the amount of CVs might be staggering and be easily go over 20 (4 CVs per position), my recommendation here is to use Kanban board, with following columns:

  • Screened Candidates: Pool of Candidates that passed screening by Recruiter / HR, our initial set of candidates. Go through each candidate in this pool and schedule phone interview.
  • Passed Telephone Interview: Candidates who passed telephone interview. Use this list to schedule Face to Face, Technical, and Culture interviews.
  • Passed Face to Face (Technical and Culture) Interview: Candidates who passed face to face interviews. Use this list to start offering, and contacting internal (i.e. HR) and external (i.e. recruiters) parties to offer.
  • Signed: Signed contracts on both ends, these candidates are no longer candidates!
  • Want to Hire in Future: List of people who we’d love to hire, but couldn’t at the moment. Keep their CVs for future, also this is an important metric to evaluate recruitment agents, don’t just use “signed” parameter.
  • Rejected: List of rejected people and reasons. This list shouldn’t be taken lightly, usually fake people (some recruiters pretending to be designers to gather information) get in here, and get blacklisted.

If you are using digital Kanban board such as Jira or Trello - consider adding CV and Comments to each card. Recommended attributes are:

  • Names
  • CV
  • Source: Where does candidate coming form, useful in case need to change meeting time, or make an offer.
  • Comments with activity.

Actions and Checklists

Following actions can be used as a guides - they are written in TaskPaper and can be imported in friendly to TaskPaper managers, such as Emacs, OmniFocus, etc.

Changelog

  • 2018-04-14 - David Grigoryan - Review before open sourcing.
  • 2018-04-07 - David Grigoryan - Reviewed by Alex Kotenko.
  • 2018-11-23 - David Grigoryan - Vo1t: Reviewed to check feasibility to apply to UX Researchers, UX Designers, and Business Analysts.
  • 2018-09-29 - David Grigoryan - BlockEx Lessons Learned: No changes, didn’t participate in hiring.
  • 2018-04-28 - David Grigoryan - Deutsche Bank Payment X Postmortem.
  • 2017-08-26 - David Grigoryan & Thomas Rooney - Deutsche Bank MiFID II Lessons Learned: Group review and minor updates.
  • 2017-02-22 - David Grigoryan, Chris Clark, Grzegorz Junka - Schedule Review: Group review of the document post evaluations of the team.
  • 2016-11-21 - David Grigoryan & Chris Clark - Deutsche Bank Post Mega Hiring Round update.
  • 2016-11-14 - David Grigoryan & Chris Clark - Deutsche Bank Pre Mega Hiring Round update.
  • 2016-07-16 - David Grigoryan - Scheduled Review: Added Checklists.
  • 2016-01-12 - David Grigoryan - Lessons Learned Bridebook: Renamed Context to background.
  • 2015-11-14 - David Grigoryan - Lessons Learned TMW Unlimited: Added Context concept.
  • 2015-06-06 - David Grigoryan - Scheduled Review: Updated bullets and indentation.
  • 2014-12-02 - David Grigoryan - Initial Version: Lessons Learned from Truphone
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