Hiring Engineers: Evaluation Pitfalls

Programmer Sahat Yalkabov’s blog post, “F*** You, I Quit — Hiring Is Broken,” generated hundreds of comments on Reddit and Hacker News and more than 100,000 views on Medium in the first 24 hours. He struck a nerve.

These comment threads further prove the point of his article: a chasm has formed between many hiring managers and job-seeking engineers. Many engineers feel frustration with a process they say barely evaluates their actual day-to-day work quality and skills. Hiring managers, on the flip side, struggle to find evaluation methods that are both reliable and efficient.

Breaking the Issue Down

  1. Many hiring managers, for various reasons, fail to follow best practices in interviewing. Yalkabov’s article cites one of the most common errors: using interview questions that don’t test the actual skills needed for the job. If engineers at your company don’t regularly tackle algorithm questions like you’d see in an undergraduate curriculum, cut those questions from the interview process.
  2. Because these questions reveal little about a candidate’s current abilities, the candidate is still a largely unknown quantity. Some hiring teams combat this uncertainty by adding interviews. With engineers in short supply, any delays increase the risk of candidates opting out (or getting scooped by a faster competitor).
  3. Moreover, these questions make candidates feel anonymous and unappreciated. Candidates also dislike feeling foolish or like they’re jumping through hoops. This creates a bad candidate experience, and a bad candidate experience costs money. 66% of candidates believe the best way to know more about a company’s real culture is by meeting its people - including hiring managers. 64% of all applicants would share a negative experience.
  4. In addition to cutting out potentially great hires (false negatives), these poor methods often pass along bad hires (false positives). The costs of a bad hire can be enormous: the money spent hiring, the time spent evaluating, the cost of hiring again, the lost productivity from the employee, the lost productivity from team members who spent time explaining, pinch-hitting, or complaining to each other about the bad hire. The Society for Human Resource Management has estimated the total cost of a bad hire as up to 5x the person’s annual salary.
  5. Candidates who don’t feel valued by your company are more likely to negotiate higher for salary, feel less buy-in to your company’s mission, and quit the moment a “better” opportunity comes along.

Key Takeaways

Hiring teams should invest the time and resources to ensure their hiring process contains all of the following:

  1. Well-targeted sourcing. Put the energy in up-front to get to know a candidate’s background. If it’s not highly likely that they’re a unique fit for your company, keep searching.
  2. A great candidate experience. Candidates want to feel valued; this goes double for “millennials.” All candidates should receive responses to their messages within 24 hours. Anyone who speaks with or writes to a candidate should strive to make a personal connection, no matter how small. The peek into a candidate’s background done during sourcing is invaluable here.
  3. Technical evaluations calibrated to exactly the work needed. These can be portfolio reviews, work samples, live pair programming, or many other things. The important thing is that the entire hiring team agrees that any assessments are highly correlated with the specific skills and attitudes needed for the position. Subject your assessments group scrutiny and cut whatever you can.
  4. Rigorously assess attitude. Most workplace failures stem from a cultural mismatch, not technical incompetence. Knowledge of a candidate’s again brings lots of value. Why would a candidate love your mission? Working style? Stack? Benefits? Emphasize those elements throughout the process. If done well, evaluating these qualities will make the right candidates actually feel understood, not tested, and deepen their interest in you.