People are everything, right? But not all developers are created equal. At Nolte, great web engineers are the cornerstone of our business; but hiring them is not easy. After a lot of trial and error (and suffering the painful consequences of several wrong hires), we defined our process, based on the book “Who” by Geoff Smart, and we want to share the wisdom!
Based on industry best practice and our learnings, we’ve optimised our process. I feel that great engineers do not only have great technical ability, but many other crucial skills too, such as communication, understanding of basic UX principles, ability to architect solutions and think critically about the products they are building.
In a nutshell, the process stages are:
- Identifying What You Need
- Publicising & Screening
- Interviewing & Fit
- Offer & References
With a strong focus on relationships and quality, we must ensure that what we build is the right solution for today and into the future. Having great web engineers working on our client’s products ensures top quality and the process below ensures we hire the right people. We see real value in this process and I hope it benefits you too!
1. Identify the need
Sounds obvious, but before we even start to hire we need to (a) figure out that we need someone and (b) spec out the profile.
(a) Is a combined effort between our leadership team, our product management team and the hiring manager. Myself (I’m the COO) and Jeff (our CEO & founder) regularly review our sales pipeline and targets. I sit down with the PM team once a week to go over resource allocation and during these discussions we identify gaps (we use the quite excellent Forecast app for planning). Myself and Jeff then discuss how to fill them – permanent hire or freelancer – depending on our sales predictions, before discussing with the hiring manager.
(b) We use Geoff Smart’s Scorecard tool to determine the following 3 key factors for the role:
- The mission: what is the purpose of the role?
- Outcomes: specific measurable goals that we’d like the person to achieve.
- Competencies: what skills would the ideal candidate have?
Geoff himself sums it up succinctly in this video. It’s worth noting that the scorecard for two roles with the same job title may not be identical, e.g. at one point we may need a PM with strong UX skills and at another point the team may require a PM with more focus on project management methodologies.
Now we need to reach potential candidates. We use another excellent tool called Workable to manage the hiring workflow. It comes with a great feature which automatically publishes our ads to several free job networks. We find this works really well for jobs with more soft skills, such as Product Manager or HR Manager, and we get a tonne of high quality applicants, mostly from the LinkedIn integration. For technical roles we find Stack Overflow to bring in a reasonable flow of candidates. We also have a successful incentive scheme for referrals by team members.
3. Initial Email
For each role we devise an email template in Workable which includes 5 – 8 questions aimed at providing us with information to quickly screen out unsuitable candidates. We send this to candidates who look promising and disqualify those who do not (we always send a simple disqualification email as we know that never getting a response leaves a bad taste in the candidate’s mouth).
Questions around relevant experience help us make quick decisions or start email conversations with the candidate. Responsiveness and language skills are also good indicators at this stage.
Candidates who look promising are asked to set-up 30 minutes in the recruiter’s calendar for a screening call (we use MeetingBird to allow them to do so without going back and forth over scheduling). On that call we are evaluating oral communication skills, level of English and of course the potential for a good fit with Nolte and the specific role. We always ask the following 4 questions at least:
- What are your career goals?
- What are you really good at professionally?
- What are you not good at or not interested in?
- Who were your last 5 bosses, and how will they rate your performance out of 10 when we speak to them?
Interviewers need to dig into the candidate’s answers with further open-ended questions, such as “tell me a bit more about…”. They should also ask any other pertinent questions which may come to mind.
We generally aim to get at least 5 candidates past the screening interview and then pick the best one or two to take on to the next stage. However, due to our current growth rate we are looking to hire many engineers, hence at present we are advancing promising candidates immediately to the next stage.
5. Technical Test
The technical test for our engineers is split in two parts:
(a) We first invite the candidate to take a test in their own time on HackerRank. The test includes a mixture of programming (focussed on front-end and algorithms) and multiple choice questions, and has a 1.5 hour time limit. The results give us an idea if the candidate has potential, however bad scores need to be taken with a pinch of salt in our experience. If the candidate scores well we take them to the technical interview, if not then we often ask why and decide from there. We’ve hired at least one engineer who flunked the test, but performed well in the interview.
(b) The technical interview is held with two members of our engineering team. We have a set of questions they can choose from, depending on the required skillset and if we feel there are particular areas to dig into based on the HackerRank results. At this stage the engineers involved in the hiring process will give a recommendation on whether we should proceed or not, we now know whether the candidate has the requisite technical skills and just need to be as sure as we can that they will be a fit.
6. Who Interview
The Who Interview, as you may have guessed from the name, is taken from Geoff Smart’s book, and digs into who the candidate is. It normally takes around 1.5 hours and starts by exploring the candidate’s school years, going on through all of their work history in chronological order. We ask a standard set of questions during the interview, however the onus is on the interviewers to dig deep in order to really understand the candidate’s answers.
I try to conduct these interviews myself with the hiring manager or a member of their team.
7. Focused Interview
Once the hiring team have picked their best candidate, we pass them on to Jeff for the final interview. Like many small to medium businesses, our senior leadership team (me the COO and Jeff the CEO/founder) are heavily involved in the hiring process. Ours is a knowledge business and we recognise that our people are the main “product” we offer our clients.
During the focused interview, Jeff will pick a competency which is important for the role, and ask the candidate to recount examples of when they have succeeded and failed in that area. He will also look for cultural fit and suitability for the role, e.g. for a PM he wants to know that they can lead, communicate well and have a passion for what they do.
“Over time I have learned that I really should not be the driver, I should sit back and allow them to tell me as much as possible and listen for risks and opportunities as they apply to our team.” – Jeffrey Nolte
8. Offer & References
If the candidate is rubber-stamped by Jeff, we will make them an offer conditional on references. We ask the candidate to introduce us to their references by email, and we follow-up to arrange a 10 minute call where we ask four questions:
- In what capacity did you work with the candidate?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- Anything else you feel we should know about them?
In my experience other companies treat the reference process as a formality, and often just validate employment dates on the candidate’s CV. However, this more in depth approach can reap dividends – we have rejected at least one candidate at the last minute because of information received from a reference.
This steps is not really the last step, that would be too late! At every stage of the process we aim to sell Nolte to the candidate, but often this is most prevalent once an offer has been made. It is important to understand their motives, which can be broadly broken down into the following categories:
- Fit – Ties the company’s vision, needs, and culture together with the candidate’s goals, strengths, and values. “Here is where we are going as a company, and here is how you fit in.”
- Family – Takes into account the broader trauma to the family of changing jobs. “What can we do to make this change as easy as possible for your family?”
- Freedom – Is the autonomy the candidate will have to make his or her own decisions. “I will give you ample freedom to make decisions, and I will not micromanage you.”
- Fortune – Reflects the stability of your company and overall financial upside. “Here’s what you can make if you accomplish your objectives.”
- Fun – Describes the work environment and personal relationships the candidate will make. “I think you will find this culture one that you will enjoy.”
We generally speak to each of the above, putting focus on the areas which are more important to the candidate.
It is important to add that whilst we find it useful to follow a process, in order to ensure all bases are touched, it is also necessary to be flexible and remember to keep a personal touch. For example, I often take candidates with potential out for a coffee or a meal, which allows us to converse outside of the pressured environment of a formal interview. This often helps better gauge the individual’s cultural fit with our team and the company mission, and provides an additional opportunity to sell the role to them.
Like all of our processes, our hiring process is constantly evolving as we learn. We strive to identify gaps and weak points, and to optimise accordingly, which requires self-evaluation, listening and more. Let’s keep the conversation going, we’d love to hear your insights (comment below):
- What has or hasn’t worked for you?
- What would you like to learn about in future blogs?