Recruiting Hacks for Engineers

Here is some of my coverage of the 2012 Silicon Valley Code Camp at Foothill College in Los Altos, California where I was reporting for Dice and Dice News.

Whether you’re a recruiter or not, we will at one time eventually have to hire someone. To learn more how engineers can help with the recruiting process, I attended a panel discussion entitled “Recruiting Hacks for Engineers” at the 2012 Silicon Valley Code Camp at Foothill College in Los Altos, California.

On the panel were:

Here are some highlights of the hacks, tips, and issues that came up in the conversation:

  • Hiring managers and team managers recruit people. Recruiters just facilitate that process.
  • A huge percentage of your working hours are going to be the people you’re working with so you should invest in who you work with. It will play into your happiness.
  • If you want to start a company you need to show you can build a quality team to execute on the vision you have. Ideally you’ll have a history, but if you don’t you at least have to demonstrate an approach.
  • If you want to be part of the culture of your organization, you have to be involved in recruiting.
  • If you want to move into management, you have to show you know how to build a team.
  • Recruiting is about putting people around you that you can learn from.
  • You must make your company look attractive to other engineers. The goal is to attract them to you rather than having to compel them to come to you.
  • If you have a product then your customers can be your employees. For example, if you have an API, you’re marketing to engineers to use the API, and then you can recruit from those engineer customers.
  • A lot of engineering recruiting is about where you’re going, not where you are. You need a story that people are going to buy into as to where you’re going to go in the future.
  • Bait them with a cool project. When exciting projects come up, use them as bait to attract new talent. Don’t give this to existing people. But that can become an issue to keep great talent. That’s the VP of engineering’s problem. Don’t bait and switch. You must deliver.
  • It’s very difficult if not impossible to get engineers to give you referrals. Pose the referral request this way. Say that you have a particular project with this particular publisher. Do you have someone who would want to work on this?
  • Ask your team members, “When you talk to your friends about us, what aspect do they get excited about?” If they’re having a hard time telling the company story, help them craft that story to tell their friends.
  • Any good person your employees know, even if they just took another job, is a good referral.
  • If you have a lot of trust, you can go through their contacts with them. But you have to be wary from being ID’ed as a slimy recruiter guy.
  • All the best people you know and your colleagues know need to know your company’s story. When they become available, you want your company to be on their shortlist. That’s referral hiring.
  • Instead of saying, can you refer a hire, say I’m looking for a person I can talk to about this problem. That connection is referral hiring. It can be a far more effective way to approach the problem.
  • Most people ask the question, “What do you do?” Make sure your staff is comfortable with your stories. Situations pop up when you’re out and about.
  • Recruiting takes a long time. There is no way to do recruiting that requires no effort. It requires effort and diligence.
  • Half of the process of recruiting is that person is dying to work at your company. Engineers are trying to determine whether you’re a good enough coder to do the job.
  • Pair coding in the interview process takes a lot of work. Sessions can be as long as three hours. That’s more important than all the other coding and technical questions. Ask if they have a github project. Then come over and work on their project with them. You learn a lot when you do pair coding. You learn what the potential hire is like to work with. You can see how they respond when they get frustrated. You can see their thought process and how they interact when they’re working.
  • Beware of assessing an outside engineer about your knowledge. Figure out something that levels the playing field, rather than your specific knowledge. Don’t interview engineers to see if they know what you know. You’ll fail. That’s not an effective way to recruit people. You want to see if they know what they know really well. Will they be able to contribute and add value to your environment?
  • The reason people get stressed out in an interview is they don’t know what’s going to happen. Instead, tell them what you’re going to do, so you get a relaxed person to assess.
  • If you don’t get enthusiasm back on your vision, that’s a complete rejection. And if you do hire that person, the team will reject that person.
  • What questions would you ask if you wanted a hard worker? What would you ask yourself?
  • The way you recruit someone nobody knows is very different than recruiting someone that you or a team member knows well.
  • Most important thing you can do is provide detailed written feedback after an interview. If you write things down you’ll be way ahead of others.
  • Not everyone requires a long interview. Ask a series of binary (yes/no) questions to determine if they can go to the next level. If they answer no to all of them, move on. Higher speed and higher volume recruiting happens if you create a lot of knockout questions.
  • No one who is talented will fill out a job application or a form online.
  • If you find significant dishonesty on a resume, then become very wary.
  • If you’re worried about something in a given interview, make sure you write that down and communicate it to the next person who is doing the interviewing. You want any of your worries dealt with in the interview process instead of the end when you’re all discussing the problem.
  • Are you “open” to learning or do you want to learn? There’s a big difference.
  • You can’t hire an OK person. It may be ok to lose the requirement. Just don’t hire someone if you don’t think they’ll be able to accomplish the task. It’ll set you up for failure as a manager.
  • Highly favor people that have projects of their own, like their own GitHub project.

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