Recruitment Culture

By Ivan Gevirtz

created: Friday, April 07, 2006
updated: Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In The Most Important Thing I discussed why employees are a company's most valuable asset.  I touched upon the need to hire "A" players, and discussed the need to avoid hiring mistakes.  This message has resonated with a lot of people.  However, how do you know when you're interviewing an "A" player? Just being selective is no guarantee.  Great practices in both recruiting and interviewing are imperative.

Companies that do a great job recruiting make this a part of their corporate culture.  They motivate and incentivize their employees to think about talent and find the best.  Their employees get excited about candidates, want to interview them, and ultimately hire the great ones.  In addition, there are some interviewing "best practices" such as what JoelOnSoftware asserts in this article.  The key point behind all this is that the good companies who manage to consistently get and retain good people do not do so by accident.  They understand the importance and value of their employees, and carefully craft a strategic recruitment and interviewing process.  In addition these companies understand the importance to maintain the vitality of these processes, and consistently reevaluate and tweak the processes to continue to meet their ever-changing needs.  This kind of deliberate focus is not without a cost, but is well worth the time and energy expended.  Think about it -- one bad hire often takes years to remedy, and all too often is never appropriately addressed.  Worse, one really bad hire can effectively destroy a company.  Indeed, those kids of bad hires are a pernicious cancer which can spread throughout an organization and poison the company from within.  Some of the dangers that can follow a bad hire include internal politics and back-stabbing, hiring even more incompetence, and blocking the ability for productive employees to get their job done.

One key to preventing these kinds of problems is to develop an effective recruitment process and train employees on this.  Such a process may include a corporate identity, which the authors of the seminal book Built To Last assert must be cult-like in adoption and adherence.  And who can argue with that -- any company would do well to have employees who are fanatical about the company and its success.  Especially if these same employees were effective at their jobs!  This passion, continues to power the recruitment process, forming a positive feedback spiral.  I believe that a good place to start this virtuous cycle is with an exciting and effective interview process, which can form the basis for a broader recruitment culture.  And one key tenet of any good interview cycle should be affability -- do all the interviewers like the candidate.  At the end of the day, this may be more important than any particular skill or experience in building team and company identity and cohesion.  The ability to work together, to respect each other, to have fun in a stressful environment, reign supreme in fostering employee unity and forming the nucleus of a meritorious company culture.

But enough friendly fuzzy fluff.  Time to try to trumpet tactics.

Recruitment Culture:

The best people to hire are employee recommended.  Employees should constantly be encouraged to think of who they know, and should be incentivized to recruit.  There should be financial and prestige rewards when an employee makes a recommendation which leads to a hire.  Considering just the cost of professional recruitment firms, these rewards should be significant.  And these candidates should be asked to think about who they would recommend, even before they are hired!

Don't be afraid to relocate people.  The kind of employees you want aren't afraid to relocate, especially if it is for the right job, their dream job.  Why shouldn't the job you're presenting be their dream job?  The best people are hard to find, and aren't necessarily local.  Getting people to relocate can be difficult, and more expensive for the company.  However, what is the value of a top performer?  In addition, there is a side benefit for having a lot of transplants.  Transplants first look to co-workers for outside activities, and the like.  They aren't established in an area, and this can have the effect of tying people together even when they are outside of the office.

All candidates are special.  Even the ones you hate and would never hire.  They all know someone.  It isn't bad to reject a candidate and have them tell their (smarter, better) friends and co-workers about this hard-core company that is super cool but rejected them.  That may even inspire the good folks to come forward!  Beyond even that, unqualified candidates who are excited about your company will often tell you who they think would be qualified if you simply bother to ask.  All employees should be urged to understand that every interview, every interaction, every client visit represent the company.  And they are all opportunities to sell the company to potential future hires.  Create a buzz, and candidates will find you!

Intern program.  Spread the love!  Interns are a very interesting topic, and I'll talk in more depth about this at a later date.  However, interns are a good thing, and a very powerful recruiting tool.  And they can bring in fresh faces, fresh perspective, and a lot of fun!

Hire for the company, not for the job.  Great hires are versatile.  There is always room for role players, but they have to be able to roll with the changes of the company.  They have to be able to learn new skills and be willing to shift focus as the company morphs to adapt to new markets and opportunities.

Promote from within.  Many people disagree with this idea.  Some companies make a point of hiring executives and managers from outside of the company.  They believe that these people bring in new ideas, and a fresh perspective.  I agree that new hires have this ability, and companies should capitalize on it.  However, I believe that people should not be hired at the top.  If there is an opening near the top, leave it open.  Hire people, and see who rises to the challenge, who earns the position.  This is important because it gives current employees the ability to progress, and it forces new hires to produce and earn respect internally before rising up.  I believe an important cultural tenet is to be able to hire your boss, forcing employees to consider what they would need in a boss that they would hire.  This is a simultaneously humbling and empowering process!

Interviewing Process:

Interviews should answer three things:

Interviewers should prepare in advance for the interview.  They should read the resume, and figure out what they want to talk about.  It is a good idea to make the questions relevant -- candidates are a great source of free work.  Ask the candidate about a problem you're currently working on!  I believe the interviewer should assess a person's intelligence and depth of knowledge.  If a candidate says she knows something, finding out how deep she can go is a good idea.  I'm always impressed when a candidate can teach me something!  There are some standard things to cover during an interview day, and different companies like to approach things differently.  Some companies like targeted interviews, where one person will focus on technical questions, another on system and design questions, another on job experiences, and another on goals, motivation and the like.  Other companies suggest that each interviewer cover the spectrum.  Some companies require that someone from another part of the company also interview the candidate.  The goal here is to make sure that the candidate is right for the company, and someone who does not feel the day to day pressure is more likely to make an objective assessment.  Some companies even ask candidates brain teasers, or do a "pressure" interview where they try to intimidate the candidate and see how she responds.  I don't like either of these practices.  Often, brain teasers have a trick that the candidate knows or doesn't know.  Being able to figure out some silly trick in a short period of time under pressure does not directly translate to performance on the job.  There are some companies who are always in "fire drills" and for these companies seeing how candidates perform under stress may be a wise practice.  However, you have to ask yourself and you know the candidate will ask herself, is this a place you'd want to work?

Personally, I'm pretty passionate about individual interviews.  This allows a number of people to form an opinion on their own, and then talk about it in a hiring meeting at the end of the day.  During the hiring meeting, a quick thumbs up/down assessment can be made.  Many companies insist on unanimous hiring decisions.  I believe that this is the right approach, at least in spirit.  Nobody should be passionately against the candidate.  If there is someone who is not passionately inclined, but can be persuaded, that is ok.