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Hiring: When The Water Reaches Your Waist, It’s Too Late, And Other Cautionary Tales

Hiring is hard. The following problems recur. If you see them, you can fix them.

Joe Dunn
Joe Dunn
Feb 25, 2019 · 7 min read

Hiring in tech right now in the Bay Area (and probably New York, Seattle, Boston, Mongolia and Sweden), is very, very difficult. It just is. It’s hard work, and there are some things you have to get right.

I’ve seen the same foundational obstructions to rapid, high-quality hiring show up repeatedly, both in my operational career, and my work coaching high-growth organizations. There are solutions, but you have to see the problems first.

So here’s the list.

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Photo by Shane Aldendorff on Unsplash

There Is No Silver Bullet. It’s One Big Machine.

There’s no 80/20. There is no “breakthrough concept”. You can’t make a massive jump in your hiring rate by thinking up a “creative solution”.

Everything in hiring is necessary, time-consuming and has to be attended to. It’s one big, detailed machine, with lots of moving parts, and each moving part has to work.

You need great, well-run mechanisms to fill your funnel; you need great, well-run mechanisms to run the first filters; you need a great, efficient first interview process; you need a great, efficient deeper-round process; you need a snappy process for making, presenting, and adjusting offers; you need an alert, responsive process for the periods after the offer, and between the process and acceptance; you need the on-boarding to be welcoming, challenging, careful and smooth.

Every step is important. You have to pay attention to all of it.

Which Means “You” Is a Team

So you (the hiring manager), and the rest of the hiring team — recruiters, coworkers, peers, people ops, hr — have to be a team. The recruiters are not “just sourcing”, they are the first piece of a long chain that leads to an incredibly valuable outcome for you and the business.

Your relationship with them has to be tight, collaborative and well-informed. At least as tight as any of your other cross-functional relationships.

You need to be collaborative and communicative and responsive. You are jointly debugging a system that is about as critical as they come for the business.

There is a classic tension between hiring groups and HR/People Ops/Recruiting. The hiring groups treat the Recruiting team like a service org, and the Recruiting team treats the hiring group like an unresponsive client. Sound familiar? Fix it.

Which Means The Whole Team Has to Be In Place

So this happens fairly frequently: a client says “hiring is going slowly”. I ask: “well, how is the sourcing (or the interview process, or the closing process)?”, and they say “well, we’re hiring somebody to do that, and it’s taking a while”.

Yes, you have to build the machine before you need it! Sounds obvious, but if you’re going to hire fifty engineers in a year, you need to spend three months hiring the people who are going to manage the hiring. And they need to be in place, and working, and managed, and know what they are doing before you start the clock on hiring the fifty engineers.

Set your hiring targets. Work back, way back. Get the machine in place. Like I say: seems obvious. Apparently isn’t.

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Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

It Takes a Lot of Very Expensive Time. So Optimize. But Carefully.

Every day you don’t have that hire you planned for, things slip and get harder.

Every hour you and your team spends in interviews that are wide of the mark is a wasted hour. Every day your sourcing team spends looking in the wrong place is a wasted day.

It adds up, and gets very expensive very quickly.

So put the same energy into optimizing your hiring process (all of it) as you would in optimizing your team’s work. Optimizing the hiring process is massively high leverage. If you haven’t taken a microscope to it, you’re almost certainly burning time and money.

But see also: “there is no silver bullet”. No one optimization will transform your hiring process. So don’t expect it to. Expect multiple optimizations to make a gradual, positive change.

Take out every bolt and polish it. Lubricate every screw. Be diligent. But be patient.

It Feels Like Pushing on a Piece of String

Interview after interview, resume after resume, no progress. It can feel like your efforts are going nowhere. Did I mention the process has a high degree of randomness? Of course, your job, and that of the wider hiring team, is to reduce that randomness, but it’s still there. Some weeks will work, some won’t.

You have to manage your own frustration and fatigue, and that of the team, and get back to it.

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Act Now: When The Water Is At Your Waist, It’s Too Late

So this happens: a client tells me they are overwhelmed. I say, OK, so how’s that new hire coming? Well, they say, I can’t get to it, because I’m overwhelmed.

Once the water is at your waist, it’s too late to start plugging the hole — you’re gonna be breathing through a snorkel for a while.

Hiring takes time, lots of it, so start now. Now. Right now. If you get only one thing from this post, it’s that acting early on hiring is always the right thing to do. Always.

If you get only one thing from this post, it’s that acting early on hiring is always the right thing to do. Always.

If you hire somebody early, yes, you’ll spend some money on salary that you wouldn’t otherwise have done. That’ll be the best money you spend all year. You will have more time, your team will have more flexibility, and, yes, that new person can help with more hiring.

If you need somebody in the org in six months, you must be hiring now.

What’s the worst case? You spend three extra months on salary. Great use of money!

Act Now, Part 2: Beware Putting Off The Tricky Conversations

Yes, changing up the org is going to mean having some tricky conversations.

Person A wants to continue to report to you, but isn’t a great manager; Person B looks like a natural leader but giving them a leadership role means they will manage Person C, who is more senior and thinks they have leadership potential; Persons X, Y and Z are worried about “everything is getting corporate”. Heck, Executive K thinks the org should be split and he/she should have half of it!

It’s easy to find reasons to put these conversations off. After all, the org changes are somewhere in the future, and it can all wait a while. But then, suddenly, the moment will be on you, you have to make a hire, and you need to talk. The conversations will be harder, more urgent and higher stakes.

Acting early on hiring, including having the tricky conversations, is always the right thing to do.

Look Up! Plan Your Org in Quarterly Increments

If your org is scaling fast (say, 50–100% growth in a year), your view needs to be on the horizon — a year to eighteen months out — not this quarter.

Sketch out your org in quarterly increments. Don’t think “hmm, guess I’m going to be leveling sometime this year”, think “I will put two leads in place by October 15th”.

The sketch is a plan. Like all plans, it’ll change. But like all plans, it’s much better to have it than have nothing.

You use it to clear your own head, communicate to your team, point out to your boss what’s happening, and stress to the rest of the hiring team what you need.

Do it now. Please.

Get Your Number Two in Place

You need a “number two”. The “Bus Hire” who takes over if you get hit by a bus.

But that’s not really why you need a number two (bus accidents are rare, it turns out). You need a number two so you are not alone, so you have somebody who shares the load, so you have somebody you can learn from, so you have somebody who someday soon will be better than you, so you have somebody to load up with difficult work when the pressure comes down hard.

Don’t have a number two? You just wrote a quarterly plan. So put in there how and when you will have one.

Don’t wait for a number two to show up. Start finding them now.

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Photo by Chirag Thapa on Unsplash

Get Satisfaction From The Work

Hiring is hard. Did I mention that?

It’s also one of the most satisfying things you can do as a manager. You build new relationships, see people grow in the most unexpected and fantastic ways, see new work being done that you thought a few months ago was a pipe dream. You give people work! Work that they want to do. You give people futures and new possibilities. You create that most fascinating thing — a growing organization of creative, energetic people.

So take the time to look around after a few months of hiring and get satisfaction from it. Pass it around. Take the hiring team out for dinner. Maybe have a drink yourself and get ready for the next days worth of interviews!

(If you are a founder, manager or technical leader interested and would like to talk further about your hiring process and coaching, get in touch!)

Tech People Leadership

Notes from coaching founders, technical leaders and execs…

Joe Dunn

Written by

Joe Dunn

Executive coach, working with execs and technical leaders in high growth companies in San Francisco. Ex Engineer, VP Eng from way back.

Tech People Leadership

Notes from coaching founders, technical leaders and execs in the tech industry

Joe Dunn

Written by

Joe Dunn

Executive coach, working with execs and technical leaders in high growth companies in San Francisco. Ex Engineer, VP Eng from way back.

Tech People Leadership

Notes from coaching founders, technical leaders and execs in the tech industry

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