Most technical managers find the interviewing skills of their recruiters woefully inaccurate. They contend this is largely due to their inability to accurately assess technical competency.
Most recruiters find the interviewing skills of their technical hiring managers equally inaccurate. They attribute this to a narrow focus on technical skills while missing the candidate's ability to successfully achieve consistent results doing the real tech work required including working collaboratively on project teams.
While the Sherlock connection was coincidental the metaphor is appropriate. The approach starts by rethinking how non-techie recruiters (or any non-technical person) can interview technical people for technical skills using the same approach Sherlock uses to gather evidence. (Here's a video lesson covering the process in step-by-step fashion.)
The investigative technique starts by asking the candidate to describe the projects he or she has been assigned 90-120 days after starting any new job. During the fact-finding I find out if it was a stretch project or an important project, who the person was working with and if the task was at or below the person's current skill level. This simple approach quickly reveals what the person's supervisor thinks of the candidate. I then ask what projects were assigned to the person as a result of his or her performance on the first project.
The degree of recognition on a technical project provides clues to the quality of the person's work and upside potential. Recognition could be in the form of a pat on the back, some special award or letter, a promotion or simply being asked to handle another critical task or being assigned to an important project team. Most often the tasks assigned reveal the person's dominant strengths or an area the candidate's manager wants to strengthen or leverage. Getting evidence like this for 3-4 jobs indicates if the person is in the top half or top quartile of his/her peer group. (Note: For customer-facing jobs, like sales, consulting or public accounting, ask about the clients the person was assigned to work with soon after joining the team. The best people in these roles are assigned to the most important and/or the most difficult clients to work with ahead of their peers.)
However, this is only half the solution. The other half is ensuring any technical interviewer, including the hiring manager, assesses the person properly. Too often these interviewers focus on depth of technical skills and the person's ability to cleverly answer some unrelated technical problem-solving question. This is how fully qualified candidates often get excluded due to improper interviewing. To address this huge problem, I use one of my favorite assessment techniques inspired by Charlie Rich's epic song, Behind Closed Doors.
How to Control the Interview Behind Closed Doors
To make sure the technical interviewer conducts a proper interview, have the candidate summarize in two or three paragraphs his or her most significant technical accomplishment most closely related to the requirements of the job.
Then have the hiring manager review the technical accomplishment for fifteen minutes at the start of the interview and reject the person outright if the accomplishment doesn't meet the requirements for technical competency. If it does, the hiring manager then needs to ask the candidate to describe one or two other major technical accomplishments related to real job needs. For example, "Now tell me about your biggest accomplishment related to achieving six sigma yield." Getting examples of major accomplishments most comparable to real job needs not only increases assessment accuracy but also minimizes the impact of first impression and the tech interviewer's natural tendency to box check skills and ask brain teasers. (In this Sherlock Holmes Interviewing lesson you'll find the ideal format for the write-up and the fact-finding approach the hiring manager needs to use to validate the information presented and the role the person played.)
When it comes to interviewing, it's important to ensure that what goes on Behind Closed Doors is an accurate and objective assessment of the person's technical ability to handle the actual requirements of the job. This starts by first understanding how the person will actually use his/her technical skills on the job and then finding out what recognition the person received for doing comparable work. Once you do this a few times you'll then want to thank Mr. Holmes for giving you a better approach for assessing any technical competency.
For your company to grow you need smart people to work for you. I'm sure that comes as no surprise. But there's a lot of smart people out there, so how do you attract them to join your business rather than your competitor? Talented candidates are able to pick and choose their career path like never before. They hold all the cards. They can research your business from any number of angles before deciding if they want to join your team.
So your employer brand game needs to be strong, to make sure you're catching the eye of the candidates you need to apply to join you. And the good news is that a strong employer brand positively impacts your consumer brand, too. Companies are starting to realise that employer brand is worthy of their investment, and I'd argue that it is increasingly more valuable than the consumer brand.
That's because a strong employer brand is often more human than a consumer brand. The perception that a company is a good employer with a happy team that is contributing to its success and are rewarded for it sends out a really positive message that influences buying decisions. Simply put, if we like how a company treats its staff we are more likely to buy their stuff. People buy people.
That's a view shared by Ed Nathanson. He runs Red Pill Talent and has been blazing a trail for employer brand for twenty years. I spent some time with him recently and we discussed how the people in a business can often be the best recruiters. They're a secret weapon, and here's how they can help bring the best people to your door.
1. Harness your team's connections.
Be honest, is your LinkedIn company channel working for you, and full of content that's shared? Or is it more of an echo chamber, with content that's only liked and shared by your staff? Nathanson suggests the latter is true of many companies and I absolutely agree. Getting people to follow a company online is difficult. But the people in that company have followers galore. So why not encourage your team to share your content on their own channels instead?
Your people are way more connected than your company. Amongst their connections will be an abundance of people just like them. Similar interests, similar skill sets. If you encourage your people to share your content and tell the world how much they love the cool work they get to do for you, that's way more powerful than anything you put out in the company name.
Too many businesses impose restrictions on their people when it comes to what they can say on social media. Instead, encourage them to share. They will give an authentic picture of what its like to work for you that will reach and resonate with the people you need to recruit.
2. Share the love far and wide.
You may well have an "employee of the month" or similar internal recognition process to award someone in your team for a job well done. So they get their name in the staff newsletter, they get a round of applause at the team meeting and a cheque or a bottle of something fizzy. Nothing wrong with that.
But what if you tell the world instead? Put that person front and centre. Tell the story of the great job they did across your social channels. Tell the world how grateful you are for that person's input and hard work. Your member of staff is going to feel loved, recognized and wanted, and is highly likely to stay working with you. So your staff retention gets a boost.
Plus, those you want to attract get a really positive impression of how well you value your staff. Your employee will likely share your praise on their channels, and people just like them get interested in your company. That's a simple win-win.
3. Give them plenty to talk about
I've written before about the goldmine of content that exists in any business if we just take the time to look for it. When it comes to talent attraction, the stories your people can share about the culture at your business, their experiences and their job satisfaction, are hugely powerful. But don't just set up a camera and get three or four staff to read out a few words. Think creatively.
Decide on a theme or format that will get noticed by the people you want to attract. Take a risk. Do something different that your team will love being part of and can't wait to share. Make people laugh or stir up an emotion. Work with your team to come up with a concept that will attract people like them to join you. It may be that your content reaches a smaller audience as a result, but if the right people see it and respond, that's the best result of all.
Last weekend, "Black Panther" roared into theaters with dramatic success. Similarly, "Wonder Woman" had an impressive box office performance last year. The investment the studios made in these movies paid off, but they were not sure things when they placed the bet.
There was a widely-held belief among studios that movies with predominantly black casts, or superhero movies with female leads, simply did not perform as well. The belief wasn't totally without merit (sorry, Elektra), but it also wasn't highly tested. But these two movies shattered expectations, and businesses should take notice.
What "Black Panther" and "Wonder Woman" have taught movie studio executives is applicable in any business. Sometimes the employees you assume will be under- or average performers, are actually superstars in the making. So don't assume your assumptions are true!
Here are characteristics to look for in undercover superstars in your office:
1. Consistent Improvement
Superhero origin stories often involve struggling misfits. They might be a diamond in the rough at the beginning, but give them a chance, and they will shine. Even Wonder Woman and The Black Panther aren't fully formed heroes from birth. Like them, the superstars in your company might not have discovered all their powers in the beginning. But over time, they will reveal their true superhero colors. You can help bring them along by offering mentoring, training, and encouragement.
Real superheroes are always ready to confront a challenge. Whether it's an enemy intending harm, or a friend offering constructive criticism, superheroes handle confrontations with alacrity. Office superheroes are similarly comfortable working with difficult colleagues and demanding clients. They seek out feedback from bosses, and aren't afraid to present their ideas, even if they go against the grain.
3. Always Willing to Do More...
Superheroes always want to do the best they can to solve a problem. They don't mind going the extra mile to get the job done. Superstars in your office share this trait, demonstrating a can-do attitude and a willingness to be a team player. And they don't do it just for praise and credit, either - they want the best result, even if they don't get the glory.
4. ...But Know When to Ask for Help
If The Avengers taught anything, it's that even superheroes work better when they're part of a team. In their own movies, Wonder Woman works with the Allies to liberate villagers, and Black Panther requests assistance from M'Baku. Superstars in your office, too, know when they can't go it alone. They're not afraid to ask for help, and they do it before they start sinking and putting the whole project at risk.
5. Anticipate Needs
Superheroes never go in unprepared. They learn the skills they need to defeat their enemies before they ever fight, and they arrive to the fight with top-notch equipment. Superstars in your office are comprehensive planners. They attack a problem from all angles, and anticipate what could go wrong before it happens. Even if what happens isn't a specific outcome they prepared for, they're still in a far better position to handle what comes their way.
6. Good Attitude
Sometimes superheroes are unassuming and quiet, which can make them especially difficult to identify. But their ability to be pleasant and blend in is as much a superpower as any other on this list. Attitude is everything, and the superheroes in your office have a tangible impact on the atmosphere. Colleagues become more enthusiastic, harder workers when they're around the superstar.
You can learn a lot from years of hunting and hiring.
My grandfather owned a hunting and fishing lodge in northern Ontario. And as you might imagine, I spent plenty of time "up north" as a kid.
He was an excellent businessman, but he was an even better hunter. His patient, precise approach to duck hunting meant that he almost always got the birds he wanted. Spending time with him in the blind taught me some invaluable lessons that I've carried ever since.
I've used those lessons throughout my career when I needed to go "hunting" for great employees. You name it--CEOs, CFOs, COOs--I've hired them. And I rely on the same principles that I learned duck hunting.
Know What You're Hunting For
When you set out to hire, you need to know exactly what type of candidate you want. List all the traits that candidate would have. Do they need a certain number of years of experience? Should they be willing to travel? Do they have an MBA or another graduate degree?
Create your list, and always keep it in mind. You have to understand who you're looking for before you start, otherwise you may wind up with someone who doesn't fulfill your requirements.
When Grandpa set out to hunt, he knew he wanted. He would be happy bringing mallards, blue-winged teals, and wood ducks back to the lodge.
Don't shoot at every duck you see.
Know What To Ignore
Grandpa didn't just know what ducks he wanted. He also knew what ducks he didn't want. For example, he would never shoot at fish ducks because they're renowned for their terrible taste.
You should know what you don't want in a candidate, too.
I know a CEO who gave the keynote speech at a COO training seminar, simply because he wanted to scout for a COO. He ended up writing off nearly everyone at the convention because they showed up late to the training seminar. He didn't want someone who would brush off training, and he stuck to that--even when it meant getting rid of a lot of otherwise qualified candidates.
Knowing what you don't want in a candidate is just as important when scouting for the right hire.
Don't Be Afraid To Leave With Nothing
There were days in the duck blind when we wouldn't take a single shot. As a 14-year-old who loved to shoot, that was torture for me. But it taught me the value of patience. My grandfather said he'd rather leave without a single duck than leave with a bad one.
When hiring, don't choose a candidate you don't like because you're desperate for anyone.
I've had to put this lesson into practice on multiple occasions. Once, I was involved with a company that was looking for a fearless COO who could transition a company through some difficult times. A director and I whittled down 150 resumes to 16 final candidates. Then, we flew to Boston to interview them.
After multiple interviews with each candidate, neither of us could pinpoint one candidate that blew us away. This was a tremendously important hire, and there was a lot of pressure on us to get it done, but we had to trust our instincts.
We flew home empty-handed.
Remember, it's always better to leave with nothing than to leave with the wrong candidate.
Preparation Is Key
We could afford to go home empty-handed on occasion because there was no rush. There would always be another day. We didn't have to get a duck.
But a lot of companies put themselves in the opposite situation. They only hire when a gap appears. At that point, patience is no longer possible. They need someone now.
To avoid this, map out your hiring needs for at least one year out. Why? Because scrambling to hire someone is a sure-fire way to get the wrong candidate. Filling holes as they open leads to compromises, quick decisions, and less-than-ideal hires.
You put yourself in a situation where Grandpa's advice no longer works. You need to come home with a duck if there's nothing else to eat.
Have a plan in place for low growth, average growth, and hyper growth, so that you're prepared for any situation.
I'll always look back on those hunting trips with fondness for my grandfather, because the lessons I learned have helped me recruit some fantastic employees over the years. Hopefully, they'll do the same for you.
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As our businesses become more digital, data plays a vital role in everyday work functions. And this goes beyond measuring sales or web traffic--there are teams throughout the organization that can benefit from tracking and processing data to ensure they're meeting business objectives. Nearly every department--from marketing teams looking for metrics on ad performance to facilities technicians that want to streamline operations--can benefit from data analysis.
For digital native companies, you'll typically find that they have an entire data department run by a chief data officer. These companies leverage dashboards and real-time metrics to make key business decisions and improve their bottom lines.
But for companies who are still undergoing a digital transformation, even hiring just one data scientist would be a major step in the right direction.
However, like many other highly specialized digital roles, finding the right data scientist can be a challenge. Here are a few things to consider before you post the job.
1. Do you know what you're looking for?
One of the issues many companies experience is not knowing what they need. They know they need someone who can pull and analyze data but what does that look like in a role? Will this person report to one specific department or will they manage high-level information across the company?
A general overview of this role would be to collect, organize, and analyze large data sets, using software that is designed for the task at hand. The analysis then needs to be presented in a way that's easy to digest and act on.
But the role can get more granular depending on the industry or department. This is why it's important to know exactly what you need well before you start interviewing candidates.
2. Is your company ready?
Knowing you need a data scientist doesn't necessarily mean you're ready to hire one. There are several things you'll need to outline first:
The salary The data scientist role is in hot demand these days. Due to the demand and skill set of this role, the salary you pay might be outside what the organization would pay for talent at a similar level. For example, if you're looking to hire a chief data officer, then you might need to offer them nearly double what the CMO or CFO makes. Research the market values thoroughly to make sure your offer will be competitive.
The role Because this role is so in demand, many data scientists (especially the good ones) are looking for opportunities where they can make their mark and grow. If you don't have a solid outline for the job or have the systems and software in place to support the role, then you might find applicants passing on the opportunity.
The strategy Does your company have a solid data strategy? Do you know where you want to be in six months, one year, or five years with the company's analytics? Do you know what problems you're trying to solve using data? The more defined your strategy is, the more compelling the opportunity will be to an applicant.
And remember, success in this role is only as good as the data itself. If your company is processing worthless data, then your data scientist will be working with worthless insights. This creates a no-win situation they want to avoid.
3. Can you make an attractive offer?
Like any high demand critical role, the negotiating process for a data scientist can be tough. Make sure you've researched the market value of the role and levels of experience. Another thing to consider is industry-specific experience and how to compensate for it.
If you find yourself offering the role to a candidate for $100,000, are you prepared if they counter it with $140,000? In negotiating situations like this, if I really like the candidate, I'll offer to split the difference for the first six months. If, after six months on the job, they've lived up to the role and proved their worth, then we'll bump the salary up to the what they originally asked for. This is a great way to motivate the employee and ensure they're a good fit for the organization.
The right data scientist can help you streamline operations, find ways to improve sales, and strengthen your company's position in the market. This is not a role to take lightly. As our world becomes more digital, the data companies can leverage will continue to rise. It's vital to have professionals in place who can help you make sense of this information. For small businesses, this may mean hiring a data scientist to manage projects across the organization. For larger businesses, this may mean building an entire data department.
Either way, when it comes to hiring a data scientist, you need to be prepared. Otherwise, your job postings will either go unanswered, or you'll end up with the wrong individual in the wrong role. To avoid this, make sure you A) have a solid data strategy in place, B) you understand the ins and outs of the role and that you can show prospects that the company is ready to support it, and C) you have some serious negotiation tactics in your back pocket.
It's a tight talent market and finding people to make a positive difference in your company is challenging for even the most sought-after employers. Here's how to hire the brightest and most motivated people for your team, according to more than a dozen executives at companies who know what they're doing when it comes to finding the perfect fit.
1. Have them do a case study.
"We provide a case study example relating to the position, and give candidates a few days to work on it. They are then asked to come back to present on how they would go about handling that particular issue or project. This not only allows for the team to learn how this person would approach tasks and challenges in their role, but it also gives the candidate a chance to interact with potential team members in a way that helps them decide if they would be comfortable and would thrive in our company environment. We want hiring to be a two-way street to ensure the best fit."
-Heather Baker, VP of talent management at InContext Solutions, a virtual reality solutions provider for 70-plus retailers and consumer brands, including Walgreens, Walmart and Kellogg's
2. Ask them do a mock presentation and see how well they handle coaching.
"Above all, we look for coachability at Jellyvision. We've very much built our interview process around the ability in mock-coaching sessions. For instance, we have our candidates lead a presentation to a mock organization and kick off the debrief with coaching. We provide feedback and see if they can adjust in real time. Moreover, we're vetting resiliency which is a key component to success in any organization."
-Jessica Hay, VP of sales at Jellyvision, a software provider which helps more than 8 million employees at over 1,000 companies make better decisions about health care benefit options, 401(k) allocations and financial wellness, representing employee insurance premiums totaling more than $110 billion
3. Find their passion.
"At my last venture, a key differentiator for us was that the developers who built our technology stuck around for 10-plus years--8 to 9 years longer than the average employee sticks at the big tech companies in the Valley. If you want people to stick around for 10 years, they'd better be crazy about the work you're paying them to do. So, during the interview process, I always ask potential hires to describe a favorite project they've worked on, whether for work, school or fun. I know I've got a good prospect when they can't stop talking about their project because they're so excited about it."
--Chris Gladwin, cofounder and CEO of Ocient, which makes data analytics software for massive datasets, and founder and former CEO of Cleversafe, a company purchased by IBM for $1.3 billion
4. Figure out what drives the candidate.
"We recruit top talent by ensuring that we can offer them a platform to do the best work of their life. We spend time understanding what inherently drives an employee or candidate, including their long-term goals, even those beyond ThoughtSpot. Companies spend a lot of time to understand what the candidate brings to the table but not nearly enough to understand what the company can bring to the candidate. Striking that balance, however, lets both the candidate and company succeed. It's worth investing the time to provide candidates with a true, 360-degree perspective of the company--everything from your vision to people to culture--to make sure there's a good fit between what you're trying to accomplish as a business and their personal interests."
--Ajeet Singh, cofounder and CEO ThoughtSpot, ranked number one by Forbes as best big data startup and CEO to work for
5. Live the values your company espouses.
"At the core, attracting and retaining top talent is the same thing. You need to be a great place to work and provide a strong community. Every company talks about values and a mission, but the key to getting new people to join and keeping them engaged once they're there is by finding people who share your common values and can help ensure you're actually living them. At the end of the day, that shared culture is the only thing that scales. Whether it's finding people with minimum ego or those with the empathy gene to really focus on customers--these shared values create community. Community is what keeps everyone rowing together towards the same goal. And it's why people choose to join a company when they have other alternatives, and ultimately why they dedicate so much of their personal energy to a shared success."
--Frank Bien, CEO of Looker, a 400-person company with $180 million in funding from Google Capital G, Redpoint, First Round Capital and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers
6. Ask questions which gauge self-motivation.
"In my experience rock stars are self-motivated people with a passion to do something big. The business world is changing rapidly, so you have to like to learn new things, new technologies, and new skills all the time, and it takes self-motivation to do that. I typically ask interview questions that help determine if someone is self-motivated, such as finding out the last book they read... Of course, in order to attract and retain rock stars, employers must have a positive work environment, humble and transparent leadership, and ample growth opportunities. So it is the responsibility of all groups within the company to hire the best people and keep them happy. You can't fake a happy workforce."
--Eric S. Yuan, CEO and founder of Zoom Video Communications, named fifth best U.S. SMB workplace by Glassdoor in 2017
7. Create a sense of collective ownership.
"When employees share a common purpose, they feel emotionally invested in the team and those connections are the foundation of retention. Our culture also helps foster retention by creating a culture in which it is safe to make mistakes, and to own those mistakes. Organizations that have and communicate a strong vision, that provide clear-cut goals with understandable metrics, and that allow employees to learn from their mistakes are more likely to succeed. They will also have a more tight-knit team that performs like rock stars, and that wins together and celebrates success together."
--Mike Tuchen, CEO of Talend, a provider of cloud and big data integration solutions, which saw its stock rise nearly 60 percent over the past year
8. Use values-based behavioral interviewing.
"We've found some of our best hires and top contributors are those who align to our values, culture, and performance expectations from the get-go. To identify them early, we've mapped our desired employee behaviors against our core values so that during the interview process we can quickly assess how a potential new hire would perform in certain situations. Those who align, move quickly through the hiring process. Their success and longevity validates our approach."
--Chatelle Lynch, chief human resources officer for McAfee, and named Chief Human Resources Officer of the Year at the Stevie Awards for Great Employers last year
9. Identify the superpower skill set that maps to your goals.
"Throughout my career--formerly as a CMO and now as an operating partner--CEOs and other executives have asked me 'How can I hire a great marketer?' What makes a good marketing hire depends, in large measure, on your company's primary goals. That's because the marketing team should help every other team succeed and move faster toward those goals. I advise executives to identify their company's big goals, prioritize them, and then map out the marketing expertise they most need to support them. This is an important step because marketing is a broad discipline--it's not a one-size-fits-all field. In most cases, marketing professionals' expertise is focused on one of four areas: performance, corporate, product and brand/creative marketing. To get the best fit, it's essential to ensure your hire's skill set embodies the superpower that best aligns with your goals."
--Viviana Faga, operating partner, Emergence Capital which was named National Venture Capital Association's Venture Capital Firm of the Year, 2017
10. Hire to build your culture, not to fit it.
"For a startup to survive in its initial stages, you've got to innovate, move fast and think differently. Innovation thrives where different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences come together in a healthy way. So, every new hire has to not only offer the right skill set, they have to add to the team's nascent culture. This doesn't mean they have to already fit into the existing mold - but rather should bring a variety of different perspectives to the table."
--Eyal Grayevskey, founder and CEO of Mya Systems, named to CB Insights AI 100
11. Be authentic and transparent.
"People want authenticity and transparency. Sharing who we are as a company, what we stand for and what we care about has been our greatest asset. If you're misrepresenting the true identity of your company when interviewing, you're doing your company and your potential hires an enormous disservice. Be sure you align your culture with your values, hire people based on those values and recruiting talented folks will be no issue at all."
--Amy Zimmerman, head of People at Kabbage, ranked one of the Best Places to Work by GlassDoor in 2017
12. Provide growth opportunities.
"The most sought-after employees want to continuously learn and be constantly challenged. So, during the interview process, it's essential to understand how they want to grow and explain how you will give them that opportunity. Of course, then you need to deliver on it and set them up for success. When people love working for you, they tell their high-achieving friends too."
--Donna Morris, EVP of customer and employee experience for Adobe, which has grown its employee population nearly 30 percent in two years