Hiring the best talent is always a challenge for any startup during the early days. At this point in the journey, not only is it critical to hire a great fit, but it is also paramount to ensure that they can do more than what is immediately required. The lack of a clear JD during the initial years of a startup means that one person has to be multi-skilled. Further, if there are problems built into the product at this stage, they are far more difficult to fix later on. These can build up to making a costly error.
There are various roles you will need to recruit talent for in your journey to build your company, but I would like to focus specifically on the Engineering hires in this article so that you can build a great product.
According to a statistic published, 95% of engineers are not hireable. Not only does this mean that hiring them would lead to high training costs, but also that they would be unfit for even simple tasks. However, despite being technically sound, it is sometimes the environment which can be troublesome. So it isn’t that the engineers themselves are a problem, it is simply that they aren’t being challenged enough.
The running of my company depends directly on the talent I am able to spot, and then recruit. I’m able to successfully recruit from that 5% despite being challenged by the big wigs of the industry – the Facebooks, the Googles, and the Apples. While it is a challenging problem to engage minds that have been trapped by the free laptops, food, and iPads these companies offer, it is by no means an unsolvable problem.
Here are my top 7 tips on recruiting the best and the brightest engineers. They are a collection of my own discoveries over the years, and a few lessons learnt from the giants I mentioned a few lines back.
1. Tricky questions: Opening with a question that is both unexpected, and off the beaten track helps in understanding the potential recruit. Whether s/he has a logical thought process, and can analyse each discrete part of a problem while coming up with an answer is incredibly important. Remember, the point here is not to arrive at the correct answer, but simply to ensure a logical process. Allow them to make assumptions, as long as they are logically sound.
Eg: What would the size of Facebook’s File Storage servers be?
2. Drill down to the absolute basic, and build upwards: A common Google approach, this involves drilling down to the absolute essence of a concept, and building it upwards from there to apply it to a problem. Usually, the recruit will need to work backwards to solve it.
Eg: A person enters a query in the search box. This person can always make a typographical error. If you are given a dictionary of valid words, generate all the possible words that the person could have wanted to write.
3. Logic over Language: A method that is tried and tested, is to pose a programming challenge that is language agnostic. Simply present the candidate with a problem and ask him or her to code a solution to it in a language of their choice. The only mandate here is that the solution be thorough and correct. This includes taking care of any edge cases or potential errors. As a recruiter, you need to remember that the goal here is to evaluate the candidate’s ability to solve problems, knowledge of computer science, and coding style.
4. Communicate and Express: Verbal communication skills are easy to gauge during an interview, whether it is in person, over the phone, or in a VC. It can be argued that verbal skills take a back seat in certain roles where interaction with other members or employees is minimal. However, they are extremely important when it comes to communicating within a team. The exchange of ideas is hampered by poor verbal skills.
Written communication skills are fairly easy to judge through a writing sample. They not only demonstrate writing skills, but also technical clarity. Requesting these samples in advance helps. Not only does this provide the opportunity to review and analyze their writing ahead of time, but also gives you a heads up when it comes to critiquing the piece. Lastly, there are many candidates who will refuse to send in a piece such as this. This itself could be a valuable filter.
5. Hobby projects: These are a great way to know if an engineer is passionate about what they do. Hiring someone who loves their work delivers far, far better results than someone who is just another drone. Hobby projects not only indicate a high level of passion, but also show that they may be able to tackle a wider breadth of problems.
Eg: If they say they love music, have they done something related to that? Or perhaps simply helped a friend build an app? What challenges did they face? How was the experience?
6. Cultural fit: Often missed in interviews when hiring engineers, make sure that the person sitting in front of you will fit into your organisation. Even the most productive and efficient worker will perform at sub-par levels in an environment they are not comfortable in.
7. Keep an eye on the future: If you feel that the recruit in front of you has potential, don’t hesitate in asking them a few non-technical questions keeping the business in mind. While s/he may not have to face business decisions immediately, s/he will have to encounter them in the future at your company. Some would want to be an entrepreneur, ask them how would their journey at your organisation help them achieve their goals. After all, it’s a mutual relationship.
With all these tips in mind, I am sure that you will be able to hire a great team, just like I have. I have found these to guide me towards the best minds I can hire.
When I recruit for my company, I make sure that they never have to face one thing: the lack of a challenge. I make sure to keep a constantly high bar for the quality of work everyone puts in (myself included), and that I challenge my team and expose them to new paradigms every day. This enables new recruits to believe in the larger goal of the startup. New recruits must buy into the idea of the startup. It is rightly said that without passion one cannot move themselves, but with, they can move mountains.
If despite these, or while in the process of finding a great fit, you find yourself stuck, or short of time, just drop us an email. We’ve always got you covered. Contact Innovify here and we’ll make sure that you have our great team of up and running engineers working on what you want, the way you want.
Client Services Director