Hiring: Striving for a 1% success ratePosted: June 16, 2011
On our wiki there is a list of our company priorities. It’s on the front page. Among other purposes, this list helps ensure that everyone knows how their work fits into our overall roadmap and help people prioritize what they do. The contents of this list change every month as we knock big-ticket items off of it. One item, though, always remains at the number one slot, and that is hiring the best people.
For every 200 or so candidates that apply for a position, we will call about 40. Of those 40, about 15 make it through the initial call to a technical screen. This second line of filtering is carefully tuned – we read candidates resumes, and craft a technical interview whose intent is to create as realistic an image as possible about the cultural, technical, and personal fit.
We look for exceptional individuals, but we are not dogmatic about what exceptional means: We ask questions about Java, about databases, about algorithms and distributed systems. For senior hires, we ask questions about team building, management, process and execution. We look for strong communication skills, clarity of thought, passion and interests. This is difficult to do in a phone interview that takes an hour, but we’ve gotten decent at it.
Of those 15 calls, about 3 people end up coming into our office for a face to face interview with the team. We make every effort to ensure that the significant investment in team time that an interview loop demands has a high likelihood of success. Even so – of the three people who come in, we may hire one. These interview loops take not only the three or so hours in the office – an hour each with three developers – but also at least an additional two hours of preparation time, where the team gets together, talks about the candidate, selects non-repeated interview questions, and everyone on the interview loop is expected to carefully review the resume, as well as get together after the loop and provide detailed feedback.
An interesting advantage of this approach is that new hires have an instant level of credibility when they come in: Everyone here knows how difficult the interview loop is, so anyone else who has passed it is given a certain level of credit. This helps new people integrate into the team much more easily, and helps us bring in the kinds of people that other engineers want to work with.
We invest a lot of time in hiring, and in our teammates while they are here – we see ourselves as the equivalent of a high performance sports team – where everyone is expected to be able to play ball, where success is only assured by all team members working together to kick ass.