By now, I have helped hire a few dozen people (web developers, mostly, but also database admins, recruiters, QA engineers, and such) and I really enjoy when my assessments were right and they turn out to be great employees.
The road to a great new hire can be rocky: There are questionable resumes, disappointing phone screens, promising candidates with positive interviews who still end up not making the cut, and many other possible pitfalls. It's easy to lose sight of what it takes to hire awesome people and what these people should have in common to ensure the next round of hires is just as great.
Therefore, I hope you'll find the following rules for hiring great people useful.
1) Hire people you can trust, then trust them.
If you remember only one thing about hiring, this is it.
Hiring people you can trust is your most important job as a manager. Not only will this enable success for the projects you work on and make your employees happier. By giving your team the power to decide who will be a good fit for the position in question and then trusting their judgment, you also base your hiring decisions on better data and significantly reduce the risk involved in bringing new people on board.
2) Time is scarce, use it wisely.
Trusting your employees can go so far that you don't have to phone screen every candidate as a manager. If you have two or three interviewers agree that the applicant is worth talking to in person, you might decide that's enough to bring the interviewee in for an onsite interview.
Don't take that to say phone screens are free though. Be mindful of your interviewers' time and energy. Screen resumes or talk to candidates yourself that you're unsure will be worth being interviewed by your team. It is common practice to preselect "interesting" resumes before even giving applicants an initial call. If you want to make it past that step, James Socol has a number of recommendations for applicants to rise above the crowd.
Similarly, if you have an onsite interview day and a candidate has talked to a few people, all of whom had nothing good to say about him or her, don't hesitate to stop the process early. Their time (and the applicant's!) is better spent elsewhere.
3) Recruiters are your friends.
I <3 (good) recruiters, I really do. Their job is not just to surf the Web for resumes so you don't have to. Instead, they are actually instrumental in surfacing great candidates for your team.
But the old wisdom still applies: Gargabe in, garbage out. So do your homework and make sure your recruiters really understand the positions you're hiring for. If they don't understand what you're looking for, don't be surprised if they don't find good candidates for you to interview.
4) Hire people who are better than you.
A bad hiring manager will readily hire people, as long as it is clear that the new hire knows less than the manager. This is a great way to establish and perpetuate a culture of mediocrity. Instead, you want to hire people who blow your own skills out of the water and are going to add to, not detract from, the overall skill level of your team.
If the solutions your team produces blow your mind and you have to concede you couldn't have done it better -- you might just be doing something right.
This rule is a variant of the Lake Wobegon strategy Google employs to keep their hiring skill level up. Of course, this is easy to simulate, but real people are hard to compare, even if they have the exact same job title, as Rands concedes in his recent post about the downsides of job titles. Still, before you sign that job offer, make sure you know what unique qualities the new hire will bring to the team.
5) New technologies are easy, people skills are hard.
When weighing positives and negatives about a candidate, don't forget that you don't hire them for what they've already done, but for what they are going to do.
You'll have to weigh fancy college degrees, prior engagements at renowned companies and such against the needs of the position you're hiring for and the team you're hiring them into. Your candidates will fall short on some of your requirements. It's your job to decide what gaps the new hire will be able to fill later and which will likely remain part of the "package".
As a rule of thumb, gaps in technology are easier to close than gaps in their character: A good developer who has gotten a little rusty in a certain programming language because they worked with a different one over the last few months is probably preferable over one who has questionable but strong opinions and shows no desire to discuss their reasoning, or to compromise on anything, ever.
6) Be a mediator, not a dictator.
There is an excellent book on risk management for software projects, called "Waltzing with Bears". One quote out of it really stuck with me: If a project doesn't have risk, don't do it.
The same holds true for hiring people. At the very least, if you have no concerns about a new hire, you probably didn't encounter Superman. Instead, you probably didn't look or think hard enough, so look and think harder.
Because of this, most of the time, your team's hiring decisions won't be unanimous. That is where your job as a mediator comes in.
Take the positives and negatives you and your team have come up with and weigh them against each other, deciding if one person's concerns are outweighed by the positives another interviewer put forward. Don't be afraid to let the team partake in those considerations and make clear that your decision is balancing their concerns, not ignoring them. They will ideally thank you by accepting your decision, even if it goes against their initial personal assessment of the new hire.
The final leap of faith, of course, is yours alone to make. If you did well, you'll get the reward of another great hire.
With that said, let's go, hiring managers. You have a lot of work to do. Good luck.
What do you think? Do you disagree? Do you have any other rules for hiring great people? Share your thoughts in the comments!
I'm blogging about once a week in 2013, on various topics. This is my eighth post of the year.