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28/Jan/2008 | 22:35

Hiring Smart People

HYPOTHESIS:

You cannot hire amazing people with terrible job postings.

The project is in need of new blood and the bosses say they want to hire the best possible people to sate the team's needs. Some insightful soul (DELEGATOR) has decided you should be the one to take point on filling important open engineering positions (SLOG THROUGH SHITTY RESUMÉS), so you march off to the nearest recruiting site (BARREN WASTELAND) to get started.

S t o p right there. Do you just want to fill desks without concern for quality? Do you even know how to attract people who don't suck?

Intelligence Rises to Its Own Level

Let's get this out of the way right now:

If you aren't hiring the best people—if you're shooting for adequate or warm bodies—you're playing to fail. Just don't even fucking try. If the bosses don't carry this same concern, I can't help you. Dust off your resumé, because you'll probably need it in the next 18 months. They don't have the right outlook and aren't capable of hiring to stay relevant through the long-term.

Now, it's completely possible to hire a bright electron without understanding what it means to be one, but you won't be able to keep him (or her). If you're all on the same level, however, not only are you going to understand how to make sure he doesn't run off to Mountain View, but you'll be more likely to attract him in the first place.

That's the problem, isn't it? You want to hire smart motherfuckers, and you can't fool smart motherfuckers. Just as dooming as bullshitting smart hires is not showing them that your company is a good place for them to move—you gotta show that you understand them before you even talk to them.

They can smell incompetence, and if your job posting reeks of it, you're going to be stuck with a thousand resumés from that kid who dropped out of JavaSchool and can't design his way out of a paper bag.

Looking Like a Dumbass on $10 a Day

Think of the job posting you're about to write as a special kind of personals ad. In so many words, your task is to entice them into burning their time custom-tweaking their resumé to the position as well as your company, going through the devil phone screen, coming in for a round of interviews, and then possibly coming back for another round. You want them sitting by the phone in-between each date, waiting for that next callback. DO YOU LIKE ME? YES/NO/MAYBE.

There's a right way to do this, and a wrong way.

The following is a real job posting I came across today, reproduced in its entirety with no corrections or changes whatsoever. It's so thick with examples of the wrong way that you practically need a chainsaw to cut through the dumb:

Product Support Engineer

Financial software firm is looking to hire a product support engineer.

Details of the role:

Technical Skills

1.Computer science or software engineering degree from an accredited, 4-year program.
2.Knowledge of SQL, database admin
3.Proficiency with Microsoft Excel
4.Good grasp of scripting languages: ASP.NET,JSP,.Net, Java
5.Basic grasp of OS admin issues
6.Good knowledge and interest in financial markets a plus

Personal Skills

1. Self-starter, highly motivated
2. Good interpersonal skills as candidate will interact with end users and developers at client firms.
3. Ability to manage own time

I'll let that sink in.

The only question I have is . . . who the fuck is this supposed to fool? This was written during a lunch break. No effort at all. The bright future star you should be trying to hire will see right through this and move on to the next posting. You're going to get green candidates and mediocre candidates. Unless you were looking for green in the first place, you're going to file-13 those responses because they're FILLING UP YOUR INBOX, so you're just left with lackluster.

OKAY SMARTASS. WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT?

Product Support Engineer

So far, so good. A fairly normal title. I wonder what the job is.

Financial software firm is looking to hire a product support engineer.

Okay, financial applications. No mention of the company, but we're just getting started. Let's finish reading the job description.

Details of the role:

Technical Skills

Wait, what happened here? You haven't described the position, and you're already making demands of candidates?

To be honest, it really doesn't make a difference what comes beyond this point, because no one with the potential to do his boss's job in five years is going to apply for this ghost position. Let's pretend you didn't just nose dive off the high board into the cement and someone's still reading this wreck-in-progress, though, because otherwise I have no article.

1.Computer science or software engineering degree from an accredited, 4-year program.

Most of us realize that for most positions, the degree requirement can be swapped out for "equivalent experience", though it does make us feel better to see it written out in the requisition. It's a handshake of acceptance to those who didn't go the formal route and busted their asses solo to get where they are. IT'S JUST A NICE THING TO DO.

But:

accredited

Fluff.

4-year program

Pompous.

Looks like there isn't a silent "equivalent experience" on the end of that after all. You have now cut your potential hiring pool. Bright is bright—don't discriminate.

2.Knowledge of SQL, database admin

I guess you aren't too picky. Whose SQL package? What's the administration scope? Next time, just put "database stuff" and take an extra-long smoke break. It'll be just as informative.

3.Proficiency with Microsoft Excel

It's a little-known fact that most accredited 4-year CS programs require you to take both the low-level and high-level Microsoft Office courses. This shouldn't even be on here.

4.Good grasp of scripting languages: ASP.NET,JSP,.Net, Java

Whoever wrote this has no idea what .NET and Java are, which tells the reader that your company may not have its crap together. If a team manager wrote this part, this is true. If a recruiter wrote this and it went unchecked . . . well, the company may not have its crap together. Someone's letting HR play dice with buzzwords or there's a communication problem that a bright candidate might not want to deal with.

There's no reason to be lazy here. Don't talk out of your ass.

6.Good knowledge and interest in financial markets a plus

Love that this is under "Technical Skills" and not in the barren job description. (NERDS ARE PEDANTS. DON'T DO STUPID SHIT LIKE THIS.)

Personal Skills

2. Good interpersonal skills as candidate will interact with end users and developers at client firms.

YOUR LEAD ENGINEER PROBABLY SPENDS 30 HOURS A WEEK LEVELING UP HIS NIGHT ELF, WHAT MAKES YOU THINK HE HAS ANY INTERPERSONAL SKILLS WITH NORMAL PEOPLE?

Smart People 101: If they're smart, they probably don't enjoy talking to people who aren't smart. Which means they probably aren't good at it. This position is labeled "support engineer", which implies people interaction, but we're again shot in the face by the empty description and have no idea whom we're interacting with and under what circumstances.

I don't mean to imply that you should hire some rude rock star nerd—or that no bright engineer has any social interaction ability—but when you have an entire section devoted to personal skills, make sure you keep in mind that you're still looking for a nerd. This person probably has spent more time indoors than you ever will. Heck, if you're not in HR, you're probably a big nerd too, just not as much ever since you became MR AWESOME MANAGER. You've got to define what kinds of interactions you want from your future nerd better than this.

It's the Little Things (That Bug Me)

If some of this sounds obsessive-compulsive, you're right. There are some major mistakes and some minor ones. The idea is that if you're paying enough attention to what your team needs and what appeals to smart people, you won't want to make any mistakes.

We still don't know what company is trying to hire us. That means good people can't research us and discover they want to work there before applying. The secret here is that good people are busy trying to get awesome jobs, and their time is finite. If you want to find yourself on their radar, you'd better give them a reason to put you on it.

Bright candidates can tell how much effort you put into the posting when you don't construct meaningful sentences, when you're feeding them buzzwords you don't understand, or when you think you know what knowledge base you want when you really have no clue. They even will take note of really minor stuff like inconsistent, haphazard formatting and comma-delimited lists without FREAKING SPACES AFTER THE COMMAS MY GOD I'VE BEEN WAITING HOURS TO TYPE THAT OUT.

It all boils down to effort. If you can't put real effort into your hiring process, what does that say about the process that drives your team to their goals?

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