Recruiting Engineers: the Good, the Bad and the AB tests

Redpoint Ventures
Oct 19, 2015 · 5 min read

By Amy Moody Knapp

Put engineering managers in charge of the interview process.

A/B test your pitches to candidates.

Ask candidates to repeat the reasons they want to work for you.

These are some of the tips from an event we held last month for early-stage founders, recruiting leaders, and other executives at our new office in San Francisco. Our speakers, some of the most experienced engineering leaders and founders in Silicon Valley, shared how they have successfully hired and built engineering teams. Here are some of the highlights, which we hope you’ll find useful when facing hiring challenges of your own.

Jared Friedman, Co-Founder of Scribd and partner at Y Combinator, encouraged hiring managers to combat the competitive market by embracing the “talent hacking” model — taking best practices from growth hacking and applying it to recruitment. Below are a few examples.

Use creative job titles: Scribd ran an A/B test comparing the effectiveness of ordinary, simple job titles with more creative titles, sometimes with just slight tweaks. More provocative titles doubled the number of applicants per post.

Perform resume calibration. When you bring someone new onto your interview team, ask that person to read three resumes that you will also read. Compare the scores you both gave them and note where you agreed and disagreed. Further, ensure two people read every resume that is received. If one person likes it, move the candidate to a phone screen.

Personalize some e-mails but not all. Scribd ran another test comparing response rates to what Jared called “love-letter” messages, or personalized LinkedIn reach-outs to non-personalized messages. While response rate to the love letters was 5x higher, most of the responses were, “Thanks for the email, but I’m not interested in making a job change at this time.”

The company took a card from the sales team’s playbook and scored leads based on the likelihood that they would accept an offer before contacting them. For high-scorers, they sent personalized letters, for the others, just a quick ping.

Hire from your own user base. But how do you know which of your users are engineers? Scribd ran account holders against GitHub profiles and started recruiting those who were positives in both.

Measure false positives. Three months after passing on a recruit, Scribd tracked who had hired them instead. For those who joined high-profile companies they respected, they asked what the other company saw that Scribd had missed.

Kimber Lockhart, CTO at One Medical Group, talked about how almost everyone on the company’s product development team has had significant personal experiences with the medical system. Kimber emphasized the importance of hiring people who believe in your mission and shared some tips on how to do that.

Source among the like-minded. It’s impossible to screen for personal experience with the medical system, but One Medical crafts its job profiles to appeal to such people and always leads with the company’s the mission. They also leave stacks of “We’re hiring” cards in their medical offices.

Bring your culture to life. Because culture is so important (who wants to work on a great cause with a group of jerks?), Kimber tells stories, shares employee profiles, and offers other glimpses into One Medical’s culture to show candidates what is at the heart of the company.

Real world recruiting: Bring candidates to a meeting, an event or lunch with your team to test for chemistry. Tell stories about other employees — why and how they joined — to get your candidates excited and feeling like part of the team. Continue to have them articulate why they want to join your team. This becomes a virtuous cycle: the more they repeat the story, the more it resonates with them and they more they believe it.

One last tip: It can be easy to look at someone who doesn’t have a compelling reason to join and hire them anyway. Never do this.

Chris Maddern, Co-Founder of Button, pointed out that although his company only has one person with the word “recruiting” in her job title, the entire company, from executives to engineers, are expected to act as recruiters. Getting developers to hire other developers was the focus of Chris’ talk.

Developers hate recruiting. While it takes a lot of time and it’s contrary to engineers’ natural mode of operating, Chris believes that employees who are hired directly by the team they’ll be working with are much more successful. Button gives its engineers a lot of recruiting training and uses methods and tools they already know.

Button treats recruiting the same way it does its products by using a product roadmap, optimization pipelines, and incremental improvements as they do with their products. Button keeps their engineering recruiting process on GitHub, and for a period of time, job candidates were even tracked as GitHub “issues” and moved through the different GitHub labels.

Jeremy Gordon, Redpoint Entrepreneur in Residence, former VP of Engineering at Twitter, shared that recruiting is all about company fit. He believes recruiting is less about hiring killer engineers than it is about hiring killer teams.

But what is fit? Jeremy pointed to a recent New York Times article that says fit is not a matter of personal similarities but instead is a matter of testing a candidate systematically against business-driven company values and business-driven company culture.

How do you systematically source candidates who will be good fits? Jeremy said he’s generally found the best method is simply going after people you already know and relying on referrals. This method works early, and it works at scale.

But sourcing from your colleagues can have side effects, like hits to company diversity. Jeremy isn’t necessarily talking about racial or gender diversity, though he believes these matter, but more about experiential diversity, a diversity of viewpoints.

Jeremy pointed out that when a team is still small, reduced experiential diversity may actually work in its favor. Speed increases and creative friction decreases. But as a team and product matures, recruiting only people with similar experiences damages creativity and can lead to ruts.

And how do you maintain a high bar while going through a period of high volume recruiting? Start with having a very engaged hiring manager and designate that person to own the recruiting process. You can have the best recruiter in the whole world, but if you partner that person with an unengaged hiring manager who is trying to outsource the hiring, it’s a recipe for disaster.

These technical leaders shared additional advice, plus answered Q&A from our audience, which you can access here.

Redpoint believes in the power of bringing people together to foster community with shared stories and practical advice. If you, have ideas around recruiting topics for future events, or want to sign up for upcoming gatherings, please drop us a line here.

Redpoint Ventures

Since 1999, Redpoint Ventures has partnered with visionary founders to create new markets and redefine existing ones.

Redpoint Ventures

Written by

Redpoint partners with visionary founders to create new markets or redefine existing ones at the seed, early and growth stages.

Redpoint Ventures

Since 1999, Redpoint Ventures has partnered with visionary founders to create new markets and redefine existing ones.

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