Lessons learned after 148 phone screens leading to 9 hires in 4 months

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Coming into 2017 I had a lofty goal of hiring 10 people by the end of February. 10 is the number of people I had hired up to the end of 2016 when I had been in my role as the VP of Technology for 2 and a half years. Hiring 10 people in 2 and a half years was challenging enough and I knew that hiring 10 people in 3 months--between December, 2016 - February, 2017 would be really challenging.

It is now 3/30/2017 and since 12/1/2016, I have made the following progress:

  • Phone screened 148 candidates. Looked at hundreds upon hundreds of resumes.
  • Worked with 10 different recruiting companies
  • Hired 5 Software Engineers, 2 QA Engineers, 1 DevOps Engineer, and 1 Agile Project Manager / Agile Coach. Of these, 8 people have started on the team and 1 is scheduled to start in a week.

While I wasn't able to hire 10 people by the end of February I'm content with having been able to hire 9 people by end of March. I'm even more satisfied with the fact that my new hires have done a good job of getting themselves integrated into the team quickly.

This is the first time in my career I have had to hire this many people in such a short period of time and it's possible that I may not have the opportunity to do this again for awhile. As stressful & tiring as this was for me, I also really enjoyed the opportunity and hope to get another opportunity like this in the near future. I wanted to jot down and remember some valuable lessons learned from having done this, which is why I decided to write a blog post on it.

Here are my lessons learned:

The interviewing and hiring process needs to be as efficient as possible

If you need to hire a lot of people in a short time I would advise you to take a hard look at your interviewing and hiring process and make it as efficient as possible. Focus on speed without sacrificing on quality. Interviewing and hiring will be a huge time suck for a lot of people involved and not having an efficient process will limit how quickly you can make good hires.

My interviewing & hiring process looks like this:

  • Look at the resume. In most cases I know within 10 seconds if I want to talk to the candidate.
  • Email the candidate with my availability for a 30-minute phone screen. I strictly keep my phone screens to 30 minutes. I let the candidate know to be behind a computer with Internet connectivity for the phone screen since there will be coding involved.
  • I conduct the phone screen. For my technical roles my phone screens are mostly technical. My goal is to screen people out, which is why I intentionally call this "phone screen" and not "phone interview". My phone screens follow this general order:
    • 30 second introduction of myself
    • 5 minutes for the candidate to talk to me about the work she's been doing for her most recent employer. If she's been there for a short period of time (< 1 year), I ask the person to talk to me about her previous job as well.
    • 3 minutes for me to talk about what Cappex.com does, what technologies we use, and our software development methodology. At the end of this I will ask the candidate "Do you have any questions based on what I've told you so far?" and the typical response is "No, not at this time".
    • 15 - 20 minutes are spent on technical questions as well as coding. With my Software Engineer candidates for instance, I cover a little bit of Java, JavaScript, and MySQL. In 2017 I started to have all of my technical candidates write code during phone screens and I will continue to do this. This is easily one of the best decisions I made thus far in 2017.
    • At the end of the phone screen I ask if the candidate has any questions for me. Candidates usually have 1 - 2 questions for me at this time.
    • Once the phone screen is over, I am very intentional about being decisive about whether or not I will move forward with the candidate. Thankfully it's usually an easy decision to make for me.
  • For any non-contractor candidates that I want to move beyond the phone screen phase - I present the candidate with a take-home assignment. I schedule the onsite interview at this stage as well.
  • I stick to a single onsite interview. My onsite interviews are usually about 4 hours long for non-contractor roles and 2 hours for contractor roles. Roughly 90 minutes - 2 hours are very technical in nature and involve a lot of writing code.
  • In most cases, I'm able to make the call on offer/no offer within hours after the onsite interview is completed.

Focus on keeping the interview process as short as possible

This is very much related to the above section.

If you know within the first few minutes of your phone screen that you're not going to end up hiring the person, do yourself & your fellow interviewers a favor and cut the phone screen short (do it in a respectful manner, obviously). Same thing with onsite interviews. I tend to start my onsite interviews with programming exercises as these exercises do an excellent job of filtering out candidates. When it comes to hiring, especially in volumes, your goal should be to interview as many (quality) candidates as possible.

For candidates who make it all the way to the offer phase - it's my goal to go from the resume phase to the offer phase within 1 week. It usually ends up being somewhere between 1 - 2 weeks, though.

Have interview scripts ready

I have a set of interview scripts that I have put together and these include a list of questions I plan on asking my candidates. When you're interviewing dozens of candidates within a short period of time, you do NOT want to ask a different set of questions to every individual. You want your core questions to be the same set of questions, which will allow you to measure candidates against one another effectively and reliably.

The other benefit of interview scripts is that they free you from having to waste time on wondering "What questions will I ask during the interview?" before you talk to each candidate. You will find that your interview process becomes more efficient and you will be more confident with your interview process.

Remember that it's a numbers game

During my most recent hiring adventure, it took me 30 phone screens before I was able to make my first Software Engineer hire. That was rather tiring and frustrating. I had to remind myself that it's a matter of time before I talk to the right candidate. I remembered there was a time when it took me just 2 phone screens before I was able to hire someone and there was another time it took me about 90 phone screens (yep, you're reading that right). You just never know how many candidates you'll need to talk to before you talk to the right person. If you want to hire a lot of people quickly you need to be aggressive in building up your candidate pool. This is the reason why I decided to work with 10 different recruiting companies.

Take notes on candidates

When you're talking to 10, 20, or even more candidates each week (as I was doing during some weeks), you need to make sure to jot done some notes on your candidates. Otherwise, you're going to get your candidates mixed up. No need to jot every little thing down. Only jot down things that you believe might help you make a decision on whether or not you'll want to hire the individual.

Always remember how important hiring is

When I look back at these past few months, there have been several times when I was tempted to take shortcuts with hiring--for example by overlooking some serious red flags with certain candidates. It sucks to have spoken with dozens of candidates and not a single person is someone I want to bring on to my team. When I had looked at hundreds of resumes, phone screened dozens of people, and all of this effort resulted in ZERO hires, you bet I was discouraged. Thankfully I have some really good people on my team who have encouraged me to not compromise when it comes to hiring. I had to remind myself that if I were to hire someone I'm not crazy about, there would be a very good chance that my team and I will have to suffer as a result sometime down the road. It would be a foolish and an incredibly shortsighted act on my part. My team deserves to work with good people and I have a very important responsibility to make sure this continues to be a reality for them.

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