An Open Letter to Everyone Who Has Struggled Hiring Techies

An Open Letter to Everyone Who Has Struggled Hiring Techies

Published: Mar 16, 2020

Hi (fill in your own name here),

I thought you’d be interested in a story about how one company figured out how to attract stronger and more diverse talent for some senior technical roles using an unusual approach.

During a recent training program for a group of extremely capable and strongly opinionated software development leaders – many from LinkedIn, Amazon and Google – I started with this comment:

Hiring is Software

This got their attention.

Then I said, “In this workshop I’ll prove it.

Four hours later they agreed, hiring is software.

The plotline to the story went something like this:

The opening chapter started by getting the software management team to agree that all software projects start with a product requirements document listing all of the requirements and a reasonable implementation plan. They agreed.

The purpose of this was to make the case that if they wanted to hire top people, wouldn’t it make sense to also define post-hire success as a series of OKRs (objectives and key results) rather than a list of skills, years of experiences and a bunch of generic competencies?

They all knew what OKRs were since every software project starts by defining these performance objectives as part of developing the implementation plan. In fact, they quickly agreed that any complex project involved this type of planning describing the objectives, the milestones and the metrics.

But before they could answer the question about using the same approach for the hiring process, I showed them this graphic:

The point of this was to prove that being more efficient finding great candidates would not help them make better hires. This led to the paradigm shifting idea that hiring stronger talent was a fundamentally different process than filling jobs quickly, efficiently and at low cost.

To demonstrate this point, I asked if they had ever met someone who was a top performer who didn’t meet all of the criteria on the left and/or if they ever met someone who possessed all of the attributes on the left who wasn’t a top performer. Of course, they said yes and yes.

I then asked who would they rather hire, someone on the right who could achieve the OKRs or someone who had all of the skills on the left. Of course, they said someone who could achieve the OKRs. Then I suggested rather boldly, “Given this, why don’t we use this list of OKRs to replace your job descriptions and during the interview ask candidates to describe their accomplishments that were most comparable to these OKRs.”

We then created a bunch of OKRs for their open roles for full stack engineers, business intelligence analysts and scrum leaders.

I left the training showing this final slide,

Hiring is software. More important, the best candidates rarely become the best and most diverse great hires.

This is just the beginning of this company’s true story. Here’s how to make this story yours and to find out how it ends.

Warmest Wishes,

Lou Adler

Posted in: Quality of Hire, Recruiting & Closing, Talent Strategy

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