Hiring senior talent doesn’t have to be hard with this simple process.
When it comes to hiring employees for a senior position, it seems like everyone agrees on one thing: getting the right people into those positions is as difficult as it is important.
First of all, by the very nature of the position, you’re working with a smaller pool of qualified candidates. These hires also have a greater effect on your company as a result of the fact that you’re bringing someone new into an important position on the team. They’ll also be in leadership positions, so you want to know that they’re a good fit for your company’s culture.
With the potential impact that hiring a senior engineer can have, you’ve gotta do a lot of prep-work for their interviews, right? You have to come up with questions and tests to see what they know. Try to figure out if they have all the skills they ought to.
You’re also going to need to come up with a way to make sure they’ll fit in with the employees you already have, right? Probably?
There’s a lot of effort required in these kinds of interviews, and the stakes are high.
That’s why there are so many advice columns on this. “The six best things you can do”, “thirteen things you must keep in mind”, “ten steps to hiring the best senior-level employees.” Because you need to put in that much work, right?
There’s a way to make sure you’re bringing in good senior people that is a lot easier on you and your time. It also gives you a better chance to understand this person before you hire them.
We can break this down into an easy, few step process with very little preparation on your part, as long as we choose to focus on the right questions.
First, get clear on your goals
First, the number one task for you in preparation is to get super clear on exactly what the role you want to fill is. It should feel kinda like looking for the right pieces to fill in the bottom row of Tetris.
The other things you need to get super clear about is what is the definition of success in this role to you.
When you are meeting with candidates, their definition of success, and yours, should align.
Next, have the right mindset
Most interviews consist of a series of potentially esoteric questions, meaning you'd probably only know the answer if you happened to be working on the same problem somewhere else, which generally isn't the case.
Most of the questions asked by interviewers generally can be boiled down to “why shouldn’t we hire this person?”
What don’t they know? What are their failings? How are they going to conflict with others? All reasons to not bring someone on.
This is the wrong approach.
You need to be looking for the reasons you should hire someone, rather than reasons not to.
What are they going to be bringing to your team? What can they teach you? What can you learn from them?
With the goals and the mindset in place, start bringing in the candidates.
The Interview Process
Let me quickly tell you the story of my favorite interview I've ever been on.
A few years ago I went for an interview. This interview experience was unlike anything I'd ever gone through before, though. The process was entirely different than I was used to, and for once ever, I was actually looking forward to it!
On the phone before coming in I was told simply to prepare a presentation that could be given to the whole team to teach them something I was passionate about.
Given that I'd been involved in software engineering for some years now, this was great for me. I had a lot of projects that I could show off, as an experienced senior engineer should.
I decided I would teach their engineers my approaches to building microservices.
When I arrived, the company gathered all their engineers into a conference room, and I brought my laptop in, hooked it to a projector, and shared with the team what I was all about. I walked them through the process of how I make microservices. I told them my stories, my epiphanies and ah-ha moments. What I've tried that didn't work.
In front of the engineers I would be working alongside, I had to show off not just what I worked on, but how I did it. What did my method look like? How did I get the job done?
The team was also able to ask questions about how said approach would be able to integrate with some of the things they'd been working on all ready.
They gave me the opportunity to shine.
As a result, the people interviewing me ended up knowing a lot about me. Definitely more than some whiteboard test could have taught them.
In addition to learning about how I did things, the team also got a chance to see how I taught people. They could see how I explained something to others. This is a very good thing to know about a senior person, as a key part of their job is helping to raise up your junior employees.
Based on just one presentation, they now knew what I was interested in, how I solved problems, how I built systems, where my true interests lied, and what I was like as a teacher.
By showing them my work, they came to know who I was as an engineer. All this was accomplished without them having to spend a ton of time prepping for the interview.
I now use this approach on the regular, and has led to some of the best hires I've ever made.
When someone comes in and you've allowed them to be on a pedestal, and given them the opportunity to be elevated, they actually are excited by it!
It's a good feeling coming into an interview and feeling treated as an expert instead of some dude hammering away at you.
This is how you want your senior talent to feel: appreciated and able to show you the best parts of themselves.
Let the person you’re considering tell you and your team who they are and what they excel at. LET THEM SELL YOU!
Don't throw puzzles that may or may not be a good fit for that person at them.
Instead, let them open up to you and once you know who they are and what they are capable of, then you can decide if they can fill that bottom Tetris row of your organization.
What they are able to do will probably spill over into other areas as well. This is great, but keep thinking back to that need to defined ahead of time. Does this person fit into that need?
The reason this method works is that a good senior person should have projects that they can show off. They ought to have things they’re passionate about. Accomplishments they can show off or personal projects they are excited about.
In short, when you’re hiring a senior person, you shouldn’t be trying to fit them into a box. You should be trying to learn who they are. You want to know what they can bring to your team.
To do that? You need to give them the opportunity to share their passions and skills with you.
Not only will you learn more about them, but the people you interview are going to be much more enthusiastic about the interview process. After all, they’re getting the opportunity to show off, not taking a test. Who doesn’t prefer that?
This is all done without much work on your end. You basically just need the time to do the interview, to pay attention during their presentation, and ask questions about what they’re showing you.
This alone can tell you a lot more than any other interview process out there, but that doesn’t mean we’re quite done yet.
There’s still a couple more things to do.
The Golden Question
Earlier, in the "getting clear" stage, I told you that it was important to decide what your definition of success looked like.
Ask your candidates the same question: "What does your definition of success in this role look like?"
If you and the candidate have the same, or similar definitions, that is a very good sign.
The Interview: Part Two
This step is just as simple as the one before it.
It also is helpful in making sure that your potential new hire can really get along with the people they’ll be working with.
Take them and your team out to lunch.
Have a lunch in your office, if that’s more your style.
If the candidate is remote, it will be difficult to do this part, so instead just encourage hanging around on that chat and having a bit more of a casual conversation.
This is a great chance to get to see how the new recruit handles themselves socially with others. You’re going to get a preview of how they fit into the culture that your company has.
You’re also going to learn a little bit more about them as a person during this step.
Face it, you get a bunch of engineers in a room together and get them talking? They’re gonna talk about engineering stuff. Same with your marketing team, or whatever else.
They’re gonna nerd out.
There you have it.
That’s all there is to this interview process.
In two simple steps you can learn a lot about the person. Which is important, as we put a lot of trust into our senior people.
You know what they’re about. You know how they teach, how they solve problems, and how they interact with the people you already have. Ideally, they have taught you something that you did not know before, proving their capacity for learning and implementing complex subjects. Learning about their passions.
All it took was listening to a presentation, hopefully, that was actually interesting, and asking questions about it, and going to lunch/chatting with the team.
I recommend giving this technique a try. Don’t be scared off by its simplicity. The results are amazing.
Having people coming in looking forward to giving their presentation instead of dreading whiteboards is a total game changer.
I use this technique on a regular basis. The people I’ve hired this way have been truly incredible to work with, too.
A good technique does not necessarily have to be complicated. In fact, many of the best techniques are the ones that simplify and make your life easier. This just uses that same idea.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve implemented this idea! I’d be thrilled to hear about your results.
Find out more about me and my story, and how I can use my experience and my people through my agency, Unbounded, to help you achieve your entrepreneurial goals here.
Featured image licensed by Adobe Stock Photos, by baranq.