Tech Hiring: The Top 3 Mistakes Companies Make

A stack of resumes to get through
How am I going to get through these resumes?

A lot of the work we do at Essilen Research revolves around helping tech companies improve their hiring of engineers, developers and designers. That’s because the old saying is true: almost all the value of a tech company is in the people who walk in the door in the morning and out the door in the evening. That means hiring is the most important on-going activity you do. It literally defines the value of your company.

But what’s interesting is that almost every CTO, VP Engineering, or manager I talk to will (sheepishly) admit they’re not doing as well as they’d like at hiring. And it’s true: we see some of the same mistakes come up again and again. But fear not. These mistakes are fixable, and you’ll marvel at the resulting improvements in your hiring. Here are the top 3 mistakes we see in tech hiring. And at the end of this blog post, we have a little bonus for you too!

Mistake 1: Not having a tech hiring plan

It sounds crazy right? If you want to hire someone, you should probably figure out who you need to hire. But over and over, we see companies just wing it. Here’s the usual process:

  • Hiring manager quickly writes a job description.
  • Toss the job description to a recruiter or staffing agency.
  • Recruiter comes back with a pile of resumes.
  • Overwhelmed hiring managers picks out a few that look promising.
  • Someone does a phone screen, randomly asking things about the candidate’s resume.
  • A few candidates get invited onsite. Interviewers ask random questions, usually ones they were asked when they got hired.
  • There’s a hiring meeting where people go back and forth arguing, then the hiring manager makes a decision.

Do at least a few steps here sound familiar? What I’ve just described is a common but terrible process. You’re almost guaranteed to get poor candidates, and worse-than-you-want hires.

Get a plan! It’s not hard, and it makes a huge difference.

  1. Get everyone together: hiring manager, interviewers, recruiters.
  2. Collaboratively decide on the skills, abilities and preferences you need out of new hires. Make sure everyone agrees.
  3. Figure out how to test for those characteristics. This isn’t easy. Random interviewers asking random questions doesn’t work nearly as well as a structured plan for evaluating candidates. Plus: putting together a plan is one of the best ways to reduce bias in hiring.
  4. Focus the candidate offer meeting on those characteristics you’ve already decided you need. You get less debate, more agreement, and more engagement.

I know, this stuff is obvious. So why aren’t you doing it?

Mistake 2: Not training interviewers

Ok, so you’re trying to hire great technical talent. It’s the lifeblood of your company. But how are you evaluating that talent? By now we’ve talked to hundreds of companies, and let me tell you the correlation is stark: the quality of a company’s technical workforce is very correlated to how much training interviewers get. And let’s face it, interviewing is really hard.

The human brain is the most complex single structure in the known universe. Now, take someone with no training and give them an hour to figure out how that brain works, and how it will interact with the other brains you already have in your organization. This should sound crazy. I’ve trained over a hundred technical interviewers in my career, and believe me it takes time and effort.

And the results do show: great candidates can tell when their interviewers are incompetent, or just going through the motions. After all, your company is auditioning for their services too! You owe it to yourself and your company to put your best foot forward in the cutthroat competition for technical talent.

Mistake 3: Poor on-boarding and training

A new hire walks in the door on the first day. They get their paperwork out of the way, they sit down at their desk and log into the company computer system. Now what? If you’re like most companies, you find them a manager and have them start learning some non-critical part of your technical environment. Maybe a test system, or something similar. And slowly they learn the tools, the environment, and the work. Hopefully, eventually, they become useful contributors.

Well, this is an incredibly sub-optimal way to on-board and train new hires. The best tech companies in the world have well-thought-out training plans for their new hires. These plans give new hires a common denominator of critical knowledge that levels up everyone at the company. By getting them to hit the ground running, you accelerate a new hire’s growth trajectory. Sometimes by years. It also improves engagement and significantly reduces employee turnover.

If you’re at a smaller company, you might argue you don’t have the time or resources to invest in training plans. Well, how much time do you have to find their replacement when they leave for a company that does offer them the training and career growth they’re looking for? Besides, we’ve worked with dozens of small tech companies on cheaply and efficiently building training plans that work for them. This is totally doable on a budget, you just have to know how.

A tech hiring video series that will help!

Level up your tech hiring

It can be a bitter pill to swallow, admitting your tech hiring isn’t as good as it should be. But being honest about this is the first step to improvement. It sounds daunting, but there are concrete steps you can take. Start by fixing the mistakes we just showed you. You can do it. And if you need some help, I’ve got good news for you! Essilen Research has just released a free video series on technical hiring. We cover these and other mistakes, and answer common questions people have:

  • Full-time vs contractor
  • Seniority
  • Making offers that get accepted
  • Structuring interviews properly
  • Creating on-boarding and training plans

And much more besides. So check it out!

Originally published at on February 4, 2020.

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