Owner of Primos Populi. As a manager, I prefer to use a “people first, the rest will follow” kind of approach. My favorite topics are organizational culture, safe work environments, and lowering the center of gravity of the decision making process. I cultivate people’s awesomeness.
Having to go through frustrating pain points and turning them into springboards is not something uncommon in my career. The dehumanization of the recruitment world is hurting my values? Well then, I’m going to be the one to rehumanize it.
In my manager role, I sometimes have to hire people. I must admit that it is an art, and the one holding the brush has is fully in control of the painting. Even though I’m not a regular painter, I know what kind of painting I want in the end. The first thing I had to do was to acquire a brand new canvas.
Here is how we completely repainted the recruitment approach in my department at Marine Press.
We are about 60 employees in our company, and our HR department is proudly represented by its director, and that is pretty much it. She’s alone. So when I offered her to take charge of recruitment for developers, she happily delegated this responsibility to me and made sure I would reach for her if we needed guidance.
The first thing I did was to see who wanted to volunteer in participating to the hiring process. Four or five developers raised their hands. Some wanted to help find candidates, and others wanted to play a role in the interviews. I have to mention that the ownership level among our employees is quite high, and people are included in the majority of decisions that are taken in our department.
We created an environment where people volunteer to do the work rather than having it delegated to them. Since we believe that people who will live with the impact and consequences of a decision are often better suited to take the decision, it was elected that the developers would meet people in the interviews, and would decide who to hire.
So we got in a meeting room, and we tried figuring out what is it that made hiring difficult in the past:
- We were mostly taking into account the technical skillset of candidates
- The teams need soft-skills, not just technical skills, and those needs were rarely fulfilled by candidates
- We were very interested in knowing what candidates could do, but not what they wanted to do
- Our job opportunities were quite formal and zombified, not very welcoming or friendly
- The hiring was mostly done by two more experienced developers (who would be called “seniors” in more traditional companies). We just fixed this by asking for people to volunteer.
In light of this information, we took many action items to create a new approach that was more human.
People first, then technology
Equal consideration of soft skills and hard skills
That’s what got out almost immediately. My colleagues determined that while hard skills were important, the mindset was equally important. It has caused us problems in the past, since what we were doing was closer to ensuring candidates had all the required skills from a checklist.
We then agreed to also consider people’s attitude. We didn’t just want to find good developers, we wanted to find a colleague with whom we would enjoy spending 40 hours per week. The first thing to do, then, was to find which personality traits we needed to really fulfill our team’s needs. We wanted curious developers who contribute to the development community, who can take ownership of their product and do what’s necessary without having to tell them. All right. How can we implement this? Let’s see…
An inspiring job opportunity
This proved to be a difficult exercise: coming up with a job opportunity text that not only told about what we believe in our department at Marine Press, but that could also indicate that we were looking for colleagues, and not code monkeys.
I came up with a first draft during the weekend and sat down Monday morning with my colleagues and we ended up changing half of it. After gathering some feedback here and there, we were able to improve it to a point where we felt it was pretty solid.
Its title was “People first, the rest will follow“, which tells a lot about us. The first paragraphs were about what we believe: our guiding principles that put the focus on people. It would then be about what kind of people we’d like to work with, followed by basic responsibilities and a high-level list of required technical skills. Nothing too much in detail. The last paragraph was “About Marine Press”. People first, and the business will follow. You can still access an example of this job opportunity on the Marine Press website.
Selecting candidates: the résumé is not enough
Most personality traits don’t appear at all in someone’s résumé. We had to invest much more time in getting to know people by accessing their LinkedIn profiles, see if they have a GitHub account, if they contribute to StackOverflow, etc. Sometimes we couldn’t find anything and we had to ask them about it.
And it is this part that was the most difficult to apply: with the number of résumés we were receiving, I would have needed to do this full time for months, something which I couldn’t afford. We still had to sort the resumes based on what we could find on LinkedIn or the CV. Something I didn’t like doing, and I’m still looking for a better solution. But I’m not losing hope.
Leveraging people’s aspirations
At Marine Press, we work in self-organized squads. We needed to increase our capacity. But we didn’t use the “case of beer” approach I wrote about in my previous article. We decided not to bias our choice by hiring for a particular squad. Everyone can find a place in our department, so we kept our focus on this mentality: “We are looking for good developers, and we’ll see in which squad they can bring the most value”
This stopped me from saying “Hey I have a position for you, do you fit the mould?” but rather “We are looking for developers. What is it that you want to do?”.
In the end, the selected candidates were a good fit for the new squad we created earlier, and that’s where they started their journey with us.
The benefits of our (re)humanization
One thing that I find quite hypocritical about organizations is that they seem to care a lot about candidates when they have a position open, but when there isn’t… “Sorry, we’re not hiring”. The interest fades almost instantly.
I believe we need to reverse that trend immediately, and that’s why I make myself available to meet with any developer throughout the year, no matter if there is an open position or not. This creates very interesting relationships, and I know that if ever there is an opportunity, I will already have 3-4 people to call. Otherwise, I would still offer to help them find a job elsewhere if they are actively looking. That’s what it means for me to apply the “Make People Awesome” guideline from Modern Agile.
Reaping the rewards our hard work
I had a nice surprise last week. A candidate who fell very sick during the hiring process back in February hadn’t been able to turn in his results to the technical test in time. He took for granted that the battle was already lost for him. I wrote to him a few times to see how he was doing, and I told him “When you feel better, send us your test results anyway. We look at all the test results”. He was stupefied by this answer and sent his results a week later. We liked it, so we met him in an interview. He wasn’t selected by the squad, but he liked the humanity of our approach so much that he referred one of his friends to me last week, with whom I had a long discussion.
It is at moments like these that I can tell myself “It was a lot of work, but we made a difference for someone”.
We created an ambassador for Marine Press just by interviewing him.