When it is time to scale up an engineering team, hiring quickly becomes a headache. Hypergrowth leads to senior engineers that don’t spend any time building a product. By investing in your hiring processes, you can keep things efficient for candidates and the company, without introducing bias into the decision making.
Over the past years, we have been involved in the recruitment of numerous product and engineering teams, setting up the process from scratch in some cases and streamlining the existing process in others. Here’s how we help companies scale at speed.
Fast hiring, deep screening
First, let’s take a look at our standard hiring process. This is one we use when we want to deeply screen the technical expertise of applicants. Let’s see where it falls short.
Step 0 – Sourcing
A candidate applies or is added manually after having been sourced by our hiring manager.
Step 1 – Initial screening
Educational background may be relevant in the beginning of someone’s career, but experience outweighs education for senior profiles. For this reason, we do not focus on diplomas when screening the candidate’s resume.
Instead, as part of the application, we ask a few eliminating questions based on the job requirements. We use these answers to filter on communication — writing — skills.
Those we select will be invited to the first video interview. Our hiring manager evaluates the candidate’s motivation, professionalism, English level, and some overall technical knowledge. The call lasts roughly 45 minutes.
Step 2 – Technical aptitude
If the first interview goes well, the candidate is invited to complete our technical assignment. We use a take-home exercise to gauge candidates’ technical skills.
After a successful first interview, they receive a rather vague description of a feature to build and are asked to submit their solution once they consider it presentable.
This happens asynchronously which has its obvious advantages, but also some downsides:
- Some candidates take several weeks to deliver their solution while others simply drop out of the process.
- A candidate who would have done a great job given some small nudges might go off in the wrong direction and fail to impress us.
- While we ourselves know what we consider a good solution, the candidate may not be aware of certain preferences. Nor do they get the opportunity to justify their choices.
Once the candidate submits their solution, we run an anonymizer script and 2 team members review it. Their feedback (Strong Yes/Yes/No/Unsure) will be communicated to the candidate along with our decision whether they made it to the next (and final) stage.
Step 3 – The partner call or client interview
In the partner call, we challenge the candidate on their choices during the technical assessment. We also evaluate how well they communicate and whether they can be trusted with solving complex problems and leading a team.
If the partner call goes well, we extend an offer to the candidate. If not, they receive detailed feedback on where they fell short.
Helping clients hypergrow
One of our clients wanted to speed up this process. Here are the changes they made:
- The filtering step was split up into two parts: (i) a short call with the HR team checked for obvious blockers; and (ii) an interview with an engineering manager and a team member looked for alignment of values, mindset, and other desired traits.
- Two engineers conducted a follow-up interview after the technical test to go into more depth.
- The company’s COO conducted the final interview.
Although we tried to select the best candidates in each phase, many still made it to the final stage — only to get rejected in the end, an experience that was frustrating for both the candidates and the team.
Although the team saved time on interviewing by using take-home assignments, this gain would be squandered later in the process. Some things could not be assessed properly through the assignment and too many inadequate candidates still made it to the last round.
In addition, the time candidates spent completing an assignment significantly increased the time-to-hire; people often took at least 2 weeks to complete it, while others simply accepted another offer elsewhere or dropped out of the process.
The take-home assignment was breaking the flow. It was time to take a new approach. Consequently, we changed the entire screening and interviewing process.
Hiring on speed
Step 0 – Sourcing
No changes here.
Step 1 – Initial screening
The hiring manager screened resumes to eliminate candidates that were clearly not a fit. In this particular project, our engineering manager completed this task, lending an extra pair of eyes to the client’s team lead.
Then, the talent acquisition team called the candidate to briefly check for obvious hurdles. We encouraged our client to keep it to a maximum of 15 minutes.
Unless they identified real blockers, such as poor English or a large time zone difference, the candidate would move to the next stage, the screening interview with the hiring manager (in this case, engineering manager). More details on that below.
Step 2 – In depth analysis
Switching to three 1-hour bulk interviews was a big change. All of the interviews either happened or not. Even if the first interview went poorly, the two other ones still occurred.
In an on-site setup, the candidate would be invited for 3 consecutive interviews with 3 different people. In our remote setup, we sent the candidates 3 Calendly links and asked them to set up all 3 meetings within the timespan of 1 week.
After these 3 interviews, an internal debrief meeting occurred with the hiring manager and the interviewers to decide whether they would extend an offer to the candidate.
At first, this new process seemed very time-consuming, which generated some objection from the team. However, the difference was rather marginal when we added up the time spent on the old process by both the team (code review, pair interviews) and candidates (homework).
The screening interview in depth
The screening interview took roughly 1 hour and focused on human skills (50%) and technical skills (50%). The main goal was to assess whether the candidate would succeed during the 3 team interviews.
Our hiring manager tried to assess whether there was at least one requirement that the candidate would match perfectly. Next to that, we gauged their level of influence: Would this developer simply absorb things and tag along or would they influence others and, if so, to which extent? The new intern? Their team? The entire engineering team? Management?
The technical half consisted of a simple task such as sorting a log file by two columns. The valuable part was the conversation with the candidate: how they built up their solution; questions they asked; and assumptions they made (and said out loud or not).
Interestingly, we suspect that some candidates who would have performed poorly on a take-home assignment did great with a small nudge during the live interview.
The bulk interviews in depth
Similar to the screening interview, the bulk interviews are scheduled for 1 hour each and always cover human skills and coding skills in equal share. Each interviewer was tasked with assessing a specific human skill and a different technical aspect by asking questions accordingly.
Some human skills included communication, leadership, and the willingness to learn; technical questions focused on writing clean and maintainable code, problem solving, or architectural design (example: build a Pizza ordering system for our new Pizza shop).
The debrief in depth
Once all interviews were completed, the hiring manager debriefed with the 3 interviewers, analyzing the data points. They looked for an answer to one question: Which human and technical skills did the candidate convincingly have?
Based on these data points, the interviewers agreed on the level of the candidate. In a few cases, an engineer with 10 years experience would receive a surprisingly low score.
When this occurred, they attempted to understand the underlying reasons and whether the candidate might still have high growth potential. This assessment influences the final decision.
Finally, the hiring team compared the candidate’s current skill level (based on their assessment) to their salary expectations. With a match, they extended an offer to the candidate.
In some cases, they extended lesser offers explaining why they could not meet the candidate’s requests. At least one candidate still accepted the position.
The bad part of hiring at speed
The process is still not perfect, especially with such a critical first interview. The hiring manager must decide (on their own) if the candidate should continue or not. Making a mistake at this stage leads to wasting several hours of the team’s time or, even worse, losing a good candidate who just had a bad day.
In numerous cases, there was a mismatch between the years of experience (at high-profile companies) in the candidate’s resume and the impression they made during the screening interview.
Understanding what to assess during the first screening interview is key and the hiring manager still bears the highest level of responsibility. As a possible solution, one could skip the screening and directly organize 4 interviews in bulk. The downside, however, would be a drastic increase in the overall time spent.
The good parts of the hyperspeed approach
Duh. The process allows for handling most candidates from start to finish within 1 week. This is a great improvement compared to the original hiring process which could last nearly a month (as the tech assignment needs to be completed and reviewed which often takes 3 weeks in total).
During the debrief, the hiring manager and talent acquisition specialist both receive extensive feedback from the team which results in a constant improvement of the selection process. This is a great way to become more efficient.
Except for the hiring manager, none of the interviewers has a veto. This breaks with the traditional funnel approach where any single interviewer can stop the process. By changing to this format, we believe that bias was reduced.
In madewithlove’s standard process, we have 2 engineers reviewing the technical assignment and all partners participating in the final interview.
The perfect hiring process
There is no perfect hiring process, but in today’s competitive market, speed (or time-to-hire) is essential. Involving several people in the decision making process helps to eliminate bias. The main question is how can you remove the bias but still make things efficient. Hopefully the guides above help you improve what you’re currently doing.