How to Find the Best Candidate Ever

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You just wrote the best damn job description ever. Now what?

It all starts with the resumes. Hopefully your job description (JD) got posted to a bunch of places and you’re getting more candidates than you can manage. Likely, you’re getting a wide arrange of people clearly not qualified all the way to awesome candidates. So the first thing you need to do is a quick review for people obviously not qualified. Here’s a list of red flags. Having one or two doesn’t mean it should go in the trash, but if they show a lot they likely warrant closer inspection.

Resume red flags.

  • Outdated email domain name. It’s really easy to change and forward your domain. This is a representation of yourself. If you think suites you, then you might not be the type of technologist we want.
  • More than two pages. There is no reason a person can’t cut their career down to two pages. I am never going to read past two pages. I want the highlights real, not the directors cut.
  • No professional social presence. Everyone is online. This is your identity. You need a LinkedIn page or website. If you are a developer, you have to have a Github page. Bonus for Stack Exchange/Overflow accounts.
  • Poor spelling and grammar. A resume is a two-sided piece of paper that shows the absolute best of you. If you can’t be bothered to proof-read, how do I know you’ll do a quality job?
  • Filled with fluff. Does every sentence have an adverb about how they “rapidly” deployed something? Did they participate in a lot of “research” tasks. You want someone who can clearly and concisely state what they accomplished.
  • Average job length less then a year. Take the total number of companies they have worked for and divide it by the total time working. If that is less then a year, be careful. Everyone has that one job or company they didn’t like working for – that’s understandable. But if the average is always around a year, there are likely some deeper issues.
  • No clear career growth. I want to see progressively challenging jobs with more responsibilities. This shows that the person is growing. If they have had the same job with the same responsibilities, they might just be a butts-in-seat type.
  • No training or certificates. You’ll notice the common theme is searching for motivated people who want to learn.

Hopefully these tips help you identify the top resumes in your pile. Next is a phone screen. The phone screen should be only 15-30 minutes and serves as a chance  to explain the role and team in more detail. You want to make sure they understand the job, believe they are capable of doing the job, and actually want the job. Sometimes people have a misunderstanding of the job description (hopefully not if you followed my advice) or they don’t like the work hours or the commute. Whatever the case may be, it’s respectful of both your and their time to have an honest conversation about expectations.

After discussing expectations, I like to ask some high level questions about their resume. Pick out a few items and ask them to dive a little deeper. Or ask them how they used the technology. What I’m really testing here is a persons soft skills. Excellent communication is extremely important to building a Flock.

About 50% of candidates don’t make it past this phone screen.

Next is the in person interview. You should feel comfortable with them now. You’ve looked through their LinkedIn and Github accounts, re-read their resumes and had a good conversation. Now it’s time to introduce them to the team. For the in person, I  like between 2 and 5 people from the team for a group interview. You want to see how well they interact with the current dynamics of your staff. And you want to provide your team with the chances to ask questions. I do not like having the serialized interviews. The candidate ends up being asked the same questions and it takes all day.

Pick the best and brightest from your team. Great candidates want to work with other great people.

The best candidates are interviewing you. Why should they come work for your group? What can they learn and are the colleagues going to be just as good as they are? Once you have a really great team, you start to get economies of scale. Great people beget great people. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. One time, near the end of an interview with a real superstar candidate, one of my developers asked her “a really tough question.” He asked her, “what is a binary search tree?” She just about laughed in his face and perfectly explained what it is (learn more about BST). This was someone with a decade of experience, had previously worked at Red Hat and likely had multiple offers. She turned ours down…

Some does and don’ts for the interview:

  • The interview should be conversational. In fact, that’s how I start each interview. I clearly explain to them that it should just be a conversation and they shouldn’t be nervous.
  • You and your staff should ask questions about a persons experience. But the point isn’t to stump or trick them. You want to understand their thought process and experiences. Remember, the end goal is to find the right candidate for the opening. You’re not trying to quiz the person on obscure facts or programming syntax.
  • Do not ask questions like “where do you see yourself in 5 years.” Who really cares? Instead, ask questions about how they solved a complicated problem or how they teach themselves new skills. This will provide a better insight into their capabilities and demeanor.
  • Ask them what makes them excited to work. This goes back to building a Flock; you want motivated employees. If someone is gets a job they are excited about, they will be motivated as well.
  • Give your team adequate time to review the person resume before the interview. That way they can come up with some good questions to ask.
  • Be respectful of everyone’s time. And be respectful in general. If you see that a person is nervous, try to make them feel at ease. If they are having trouble answering a question, tell them it’s okay and ask them to explain their though process instead. Interviews are tough.

Afterwards, sit around with your team and digest the interview. What went well, what didn’t. Ultimately asking each person if they think they would be a good fit on the team.


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