Friday, April 5, 2013

How to hire great people

Its been seven years since I started Iridescent and I have learned a lot about hiring! Here are the  
various stages I have gone through starting from when I had no clue.

Stage 0. No Money.
We ran programs on the power of volunteers and visionaries who saw the great things we could do if we kept trying. So the decision was easy as soon as there was funding. I hired them as team members.  
Stage 1. Growth.
As we got more funding, we needed to run more programs and we actually needed to go through the job-posting-interviewing-hiring process. I had no experience doing this and naively thought that one get-to-know-you-interview would suffice and many times I didn't even do that. I let other team members who would work directly with the hire conduct the interviews. I had other things to do. BIG MISTAKE.  

Stage 2. Pain of firing.
And this led me to experience the first growth pains - having to make the decision that a certain match was not working out. This happened very often. And I went into a frenzy of reading a bunch of books on hiring, interviewing and organization theory. The best turned out to be the "Who: The A method of hiring" by Geoff Smart. It was so good that I went through and made a condensed version for my team. It basically said, there is no easy way. Button down. Plan carefully what the job outcomes should be. Spell out the deliverables, but don't spell out the how. Put this all down in a scorecard. It also said to do 7 reference checks. I had not done reference checks till now! Another valuable lesson learned.  

Stage 3. Screening Task
I dont really remember how I started doing these. But after many false starts and fires, I wanted a more efficient method of learning more about a person. Interviews just didn't provide that deep look inside. And so I started using screening tasks and now I feel I do it pretty well! I do admit that I am really sneaky and so I dont feel bad sharing all the traps I lay. It eases my conscience :)
  • create a task that is representative of the first major project the person will face once they are hired. So for instance for a development position, I asked candidates to suggest improvements for an existing proposal. 
  • identify characteristics that are important to your organization. For us, it is the ability to learn, to be courageous, to question and to pay attention to detail. So very often I ask for a list of their favorite books. 
  • finally, put some pieces in the task that help the candidate learn more about your organization. Hiring a person is very much like getting married. The love has to be on both sides. So the candidate should really want to work in your team. 
  • I usually post the screening task as a url on the bottom of the job posting. 99% of folks email me their resume and omit to do the task. They think its a mistake or that they can get away with not submitting or (most likely) they dont notice it! So the 1% that do submit the task without being asked to automatically get on my favorite list. 
  • I sometimes do something very sneaky. I purposely make mistakes or omissions to see if people are paying attention  to detail :)
  • The next step is to email all interested candidates who sent me standard cover letters and resumes, the link to the screening task. 
  • I never give a deadline as the speed with which they reply is indicative of their interest. Some get so intrigued by the task, that they get very absorbed and finish it right away. Others keep emailing me with many excuses as to how they will get to in on such and such date and they just wanted to update me. 
  • I also like to send everyone the screening task so that more people get to know about Iridescent in the process :) Why not!   
Stage 4: Maturity
Ben Horowitz says it much better than me..
"Valuing lack of weakness rather than strength—The more experience you have, the more you realize that there is something seriously wrong with every employee in your company (including you). Literally, nobody is perfect. As a result, it is imperative that you hire for strength rather than lack of weakness. Everybody has weaknesses; they are just easier to find in some people. Hiring for lack of weakness just means that you’ll optimize for pleasantness. Rather, you must figure out the strengths you require and find someone who is world class in those areas despite their weaknesses in other, less important domains."

We now have an amazing team of 16 members in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Chicago.

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