In my experience interviewing for jobs, it always felt like I didn’t have a crisp understanding of what the company was looking for or how it was assessing me. Why are so many leaders and companies afraid of transparency in recruiting?
More often than not I suspect this is because companies think that if they tell you outright what they want then you will just tell them what they want to hear. For instance, they say “we want someone who is an owner” and you will say “I’m an owner.” But that would just be a flaw in their interview approach, because they should be looking and probing for evidence of ownership, which will either be in your past or not.
At Oso, for instance, I’ve had recruiters ask me, “So what are you looking for?” “It’s in the job description,” I respond. “Right, but like, what else — what are the main criteria?” My response is the same: the job descriptions describe what we are looking for (as best as we know how). There’s no other internal document we’re holding back.
A friend who’s the founder of another company added: “Frankly most hiring managers don’t actually know exactly what they want. Even I’m guilty of this still sometimes. For sure it reflects badly on the hiring manager and the org. But it’s just a fact.” He’s right, and I too may need to do have some exploratory conversations early on in a recruiting process before I have a clear vision of what I’m looking for. But why should I be embarrassed about this? What’s more, why should I or anyone else hide it? If I’m not sure what I’m looking for, I engage in a conversation with candidates about what the role could be, and ask for their input.
Transparency is even more useful in the context of something like an engineering interview. For example, we do a debugging interview at Oso. In advance, we tell the candidate exactly what we’re looking to assess — e.g., ability to understand a new codebase in a language you’re familiar with, ability to understand a system with different components communicating over a network, and so on. Why would we would hold this information back? It helps the candidate know what to think about and what to deprioritize, and it also gives her insight into what we care about and whether that aligns with how she likes to work.
Similarly, most companies make their interview processes relatively opaque. It’s become a bit more common to share at a high level what happens at each step, e.g., a systems interview, a behavioral interview. But still most companies save their interview questions as a surprise for interview day. Why?
This doesn’t mirror the experience of working on the job. In how many jobs do you expect to start the day and have your boss pull you into a Zoom and ask you to solve a systems problems ASAP? Not many. More commonly, she might tee up the problem, ask you to go away and think about it for a bit, then come back with some proposed solutions. Why don’t more interview processes look like this? Fear of cheating perhaps? (There are of course jobs where you’d be required to think on your feet, like sales or customer service. I’m not so much talking about those here.) At Oso we lean heavily on async interview questions followed by an in person discussion. And what’s more, for new roles or processes on which we’re iterating, we often create the interview or iterate on it with candidates!
Transparency post-interview is especially rare. Feedback to candidates is usually light, because the incentive for the company is low — it takes time to give feedback in a way that’s constructive and sensitive, but still substantive. It also runs the risk of upsetting the candidate. But it is overwhelmingly valuable to them, plus it’s an opportunity to find out if any of your assumptions as a hiring manager or interview designer were wrong. On multiple occasions I’ve given feedback to a candidate and they, in turn, gave me deeper color into how they experienced the process which surfaced a flaw in my thinking or process. On one occasion this turned a ‘no’ from me into a ‘yes,’ someone who has gone on to be one of the best hires I’ve ever made.
The above is a reflection of my experience recruiting in tech startups. I’m curious to hear from others who are doing the same and what resonates, what seems off, and what they do differently. We’re also planning to open source our hiring process at Oso, but haven’t gotten to documenting it externally yet. In the meantime, ask me anything!
PS We are hiring at Oso for technical and non-technical roles.