On the Importance of Hiring

These two articles have helped shape my thinking with respect to hiring and interviewing. They are written by software engineers for software engineers, but they should apply to any discipline.

Yishan Wong: Hiring is number one (2009):

    Make hiring your number one priority, always… it is only once a culture of giving hiring top priority in peoples’ attentions will individuals and managers naturally begin directing their energy into doing things like deciding what constitutes effective interviewing techniques, what kinds of questions are best to ask, how to effectively diffrentiate between good and bad signals in an interview, etc, and subsequently how to train the entire cadre of interviewers to be able to effectively and repeatably practice this.

    …Hiring is a zero-sum game. Candidates that don’t join your company will join a competitor’s, and your loss will be their gain. If hiring isn’t your number one priority, it’s unlikely you’ll be number one at hiring, which means someone else will, and the true best candidates will go to them, while you’ll be left to hire the “best candidate you were able to interview.”

Joel Spolsky: The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing (2000):

    The most important rule about interviewing: Make A Decision. At the conclusion of the interview, you have to be ready to make a sharp decision about the candidate. There are only two possible outcomes to this decision: Hire or No Hire.

    …An important thing to remember about interviewing is this: it is much better to reject a good candidate than to accept a bad candidate. A bad candidate will cost a lot of money and effort and waste other people’s time fixing all their bugs. If you have any doubts whatsoever, No Hire.

Update: Valve’s internal employee handbook was recently released publicly: http://newcdn.flamehaus.com/Valve_Handbook_LowRes.pdf It has some great comments on the importantance of hiring:

    …here are some questions we always ask ourselves when
    evaluating candidates: Would I want this person to be my boss? Would I learn a significant amount from him or her? What if this person went to work for our competition?

    …We’re looking for people stronger than ourselves.
    When unchecked, people have a tendency to hire others
    who are lower-powered than themselves.
    We should hire people more capable than
    ourselves, not less.

    …In some ways, hiring lower-powered people is a natural
    response to having so much work to get done. In these
    conditions, hiring someone who is at least capable seems
    (in the short term) to be smarter than not hiring anyone at
    all. But that’s actually a huge mistake.

    …[We value] people who are both generalists (highly skilled at
    a broad set of valuable things) and also
    experts (among the best in their field within a narrow disci-
    pline). This recipe is important for success at Valve. We often
    have to pass on people who are very strong generalists with-
    out expertise, or vice versa. An expert who is too narrow has
    difficulty collaborating. A generalist who doesn’t go deep
    enough in a single area ends up on the margins, not really
    contributing as an individual.

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