Hackernoon logo5 Lessons Learned from Hiring Engineers: Here’s What Talent Managers are Doing Wrong by@engre

5 Lessons Learned from Hiring Engineers: Here’s What Talent Managers are Doing Wrong

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Engre is a marketplace that unites all professional engineers to form a network for “win-win” business solutions.

When you run a company that helps match engineering companies and business owners you eventually become a part of many job interviews - that was the case for me. As part of my job, I stay in touch with business owners, talent managers, and engineering professionals. 

If there’s one thing about the engineering application process is that there are never two identical job interviews. Often, candidates surprise talent managers at interviews so that we are the ones confused. 

Having said that, over time, I noticed that there are things successful hiring campaigns have in common. So I decided to put together a list of hiring practices that, in my opinion, would help engineers stay on the right track and hire professionals that will stay at the company for years and work productively. 

Lesson #1. Hiring people, not skillsets

Interviewer: Hello, nice to meet you. 

Candidate: Hello, likewise. 

Interviewer: So, let’s talk about your background. 

Candidate: expects generic education and work experience questions. 

Interviewer: So, for this position we are hiring an engineer who is skilled in MATLAB, knows how to use AutoCAD and Revit, and has 3+ years of experience in designing power distribution systems. 

Candidate: but I only have two years of experience in power distribution. 

Interviewer: Good to know. Well, these are the requirements at the moment, thanks for your time. 

Before interviewing an engineer, business owners typically have a list of responsibilities, skill, and technologies they expect the candidate to be skilled at. That’s why engineering interview questions often get technical super quickly.

However, in my experience, being stuck up on technical requirements does talent managers and business owners more harm than good. That’s because, although they think they do, most managers don’t have a clear idea of the skills they are looking for. 

More often than not, the skills that get candidates hired are not the ones they use at work. 

Fix: hire people

In my experience, an engineer should be as skilled with colleagues, as she is with modeling, planning, and debugging tools. In particular, these are the skills that determine how easy it will be to work with an engineer: 

  • Ego. Candidates who are overprotective of their ideas make unbearable teammates who slow down projects and raise workplace tension. That’s why engineers with an inflated ego should be a no-go in your playbook. 
  • Technical-to-business interpretation skills. Miscommunications between the engineering and business departments are frustrating because the projects you build might end up not getting any traction. That’s why you want to hire an engineer who doesn’t feel repulsion for explaining complex technical limitations and challenges to peasants business developers and managers. 
  • Readiness to change. Engineering is constantly changing - new technologies replace the outdated ones, regulations (especially in the case of aerospace engineering) get broader. That’s why adaptability is a must-have quality of a modern-day engineer. Make sure to ask candidates about the resources they use to keep up with trends and the frequency at which they review their toolset. 

Lesson #2. The early bird takes the worm 

Hiring engineers is a responsible decision - it’s understandable that talent managers want to take their time. However, keep in mind that you are not the only one hiring - by the time you reach out to the candidate, he might already be snatched from under you. 

 In a world where talent shortage is a problem, you want to be the first one to claim a top-notch professional. Other than that, making an offer quickly improves the candidate’s attitude towards the company. 

According to HubSpot, employees who get acceptance calls as quickly as on their way back from the interview, see a quick evaluation as proof of the fact that the employer puts talent first. 

In a nutshell: take your time if you need it, not to “play cool”. Once you made up your mind, let the candidate know. 

Lesson #3. Feedback is an investment, not a formality

In our experience of participating in job interviews, we’ve seen quite a few cases of candidates who were rejected by the company once, re-applied, and became an excellent fit. 

How were they able to do it? Mainly, thanks to the detailed feedback the company gave after a failed interview. 

Every once in a while, it’s tempting to fall into a trap of “But I am not hiring this candidate anyway, why bother?”

However, elaborating on job interviews is extremely helpful for business owners:

  • It helps polish the selection criteria for candidates - by explaining to applicants why they didn’t make it through, you’ll understand what type of professional you DO need. 
  • It maintains a stellar reputation. In most cases, job applicants double-check the reputation of the company they submit a CV to on Glassdoor or LinkedIn. You want to make sure there are no comments like “They haven’t even emailed me after the interview”. 
  • It helps nurture talent that will come back to you. Having a candidate you once rejected reapply and improve is worth the trouble of giving engineers a detailed interview feedback. After all, according to statistics, the costs of filling job openings are high these days - over $7,600 per employee. 

Lesson #4. Test commitment

Believe it or not, the influx of “pretend engineers” we see at interviews is growing. There are a lot of hacks employees use to trick talent managers: from faking portfolios and CVs to sending a twin to work instead of themselves. 

The good news is, most applicants will not go as far as to get an opening. However, it doesn’t hurt to make sure that the candidate is serious about applying and is ready to back up his expertise. 

That’s why most teams who hire successfully give applicants homework. Talent managers point out, that a task doesn’t have to take much time - the willingness to complete it alone speaks volumes of a candidate’s commitment. 

Here are a few other ways to see how committed a candidate in front of you is: 

  • Don’t beat around the bush: asking “How long do you think you’ll be able to work at the company” helps find out if a candidate doesn’t have plans that can get in the way of a long-term collaboration. 
  • Analyze the employment history. If an applicant switched jobs or fields too often, it’s a red flag employer should address at a job interview. 
  • Go for the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" cliche. Most candidates hate this one - however, it’s super insightful for talent managers. If a candidate wants to work in a different field over that time, it’s a sure sign of burnout. 

Lesson #5. Look beyond

The last but definitely not least lesson we’ve learned when observing engineer interview is that hiring takes much longer and is times more expensive when business owners are focused on finding a local team. 

A lot of business owners are concerned when it comes to hiring engineers abroad. They have reasons:

  • Time zone difference
  • Language barrier
  • Cultural differences
  • Paperwork complications. 

However, the benefits way outweigh the drawbacks. Expanding the range for talent search helps you close openings faster, hire cheaper talent, and, most importantly, have access to more skillful engineers. 

Paul Graham once wrote: The US has less than 5% of the world's population. This means if the qualities that make someone a great programmer are evenly distributed, 95% of great programmers are born outside the US”. 

The same is statistically true for engineers - there are plenty of excellent education programs in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, or Latin America. So why are we confining ourselves in our neighborhood when we have the whole world at hand’s reach? Rather than fighting for 5% of professionals, let’s let the other 95% in as well and start looking for engineers all over the world!

The Bottom Line

Every lesson for hiring engineers we learned when running Engre can be summarized with a single word - open-mindedness. Rather than trying to put candidates in the box of a location, tight job-requirements, or make them wait at your terms, talent managers should strive to build flexible recruitment processes. 

The focus in today’s hiring world has shifted from employers to employees. Personally, I think this change is awesome because it encourages us to respect candidates, deal with bureaucracy, and foster meaningful relationships rather than just fill in job openings.


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