When we look back on a successful project, we look at the skills and competencies that helped the team reach their goal, the methodology, the problem-solving process, and the communication. Rarely do we take into account the hiring stage, what went right or what can be improved, and that’s a huge mistake.
Teams grow, adapt, and change as their members get to know and understand each other. But as any artist knows, the quality of a sculpture depends on the quality of the raw material. No matter how good an artist is, there’s a limit to what it can achieve when the stone to be sculpted is brittle. The same can be said for teams.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the foundation of a project lies on the back of the recruiters since they are the ones tasked with finding the raw material to create an outstanding team. A team’s potential is limited by the individual capabilities of its members. For instance, there is so much you can achieve with a person who lacks communication skills.
Recruiters come from all walks of life. Some are dedicated HR experts or psychologists who may know their way around a recruitment process, others may be developers looking for a specific skill set for their teams, with little to no experience in recruitment. Whatever the case, recruiters (like any human) are prone to making mistakes that can compromise the hiring process and, ultimately, have negative effects on the team-building effort.
That poses the question – what are the most common mistakes and how do we avoid them?.
1. Skills aren’t everything
Some resumes are rather impressive, with hundreds upon hundreds of courses, amazing tech demos and portfolios, and a knowledge base that would be better suited for the SpaceX program.
But, what about communication? Reliability? Teamwork? Leadership capabilities? How does this person handle developer-client relations? Great developers often show a healthy mix of core skills and soft skills, while some may even have more of the latter than the former.
Keep in mind that core skills most often than not can be learned with enough practice while soft skills are more reliant on personality traits, which means that they are harder to develop.
Instead of focusing on job experience and accomplishments, explore team relations and be sure to ask about previous conflicts and how they were resolved. If you are so inclined, try doing some roleplay exercises that involve conflict resolution or client interactions.
Focus on short-lived projects or projects the candidate left. Ask them about what happened and what they would do differently. A good indicator is that the candidate is honest about their mistakes and that they show a disposition to learn from those mistakes.
2. Find the value in personal interests
Aside from soft skills and job experiences, a person’s interests tell a lot about who they are and what additional skills they can bring to a project. A common mistake I’ve seen is that recruiters often focus on side projects that involve software and coding, leaving other areas of interest almost unexplored.
Hobbies, like any other activity, can tell us a lot about the person in front of us. Something as simple as baking can tell us that a person is good at following instructions and being cautious.
On the other hand, sharing similar interests with other team members is a great way to quickly establish rapport and build team culture. In one of the best job interviews I ever had I was introduced to other team members and we spent a good half hour talking about hobbies, we got to know each other and figure out if we could work together.
3. Figure out the candidate’s priorities
One of the best recruiters I worked with once told me that recruitment is like a date to look for a long-term relationship. In other words, both sides are getting to meet one another and figuring if they are compatible so as to move forward.
A candidate’s view on life, their values, and their long-term goals are as influential to the decision-making process as their knowledge of UIs and databases. Going back to the dating analogy, imagine finding someone who clicks, and after years of dating you both realize that you have radically different stances on having children and no one is willing to change their mind.
Even if a person is a perfect candidate for the project, their priorities simply won’t align with the term or the long term goals of the company, someone who is after a career inside a business will probably feel constrained if they are working with a small scale start-up.
Most recruiters already know the classic question “where do you see yourself in five years?”, that’s one way to get to know their goals and ambitions. Additionally, a candidate’s background is a great source of information to explore what their priorities in life are.
For example, the candidate’s reason for leaving a project is a great indicator of needs that were not fulfilled in their previous work experience, and their concept of an ideal workplace is a good measure of what they are expecting from you and the company.
4. Involve the specialist/recruiter
Ok, this is kind of cheating, since most recruiters involve a specialist in the recruitment process, but the key lies in the level of involvement. Some specialists are just there for a second phase interview, or the coding interview, with almost no input in other steps of the process.
The most successful hiring processes involve working side by side with someone who has a clear understanding of the skills needed for the project, someone who knows the team culture (if there is an established team), and someone who can help the recruiters with the profiling and assessment.
This also applies to specialists who are tasked with recruitment. Professional recruiters bring a set of invaluable assessment skills to the table, from psychological tests to in-depth interview strategies.
Candidates will always try to show their best side, and a trained professional has the toolset to peel away the mask and get a better picture of the person in front of you.
5. Don’t be afraid to outsource
What if you don’t have a dedicated HR department? Or what if you can have expert help with the recruitment process? Recruitment is difficult and time-consuming, and there is no shame in outsourcing the process to companies who specialize in the area.
First, there is the matter of scale. Small companies have one or two recruiters at best while hiring services can have dozens of recruiters screening candidates all day long.
Then, there is the matter of technology, as recruitment companies have tools that speed up the hiring process. For example, many have a pool of pre-screened candidates, established and validated through coding exercises, AI-assisted filtering, and digitized psychological assessment tools.
In-house recruiters can work hand in hand with the hiring services, providing feedback and getting involved in the process as much as it’s needed to find the best candidate to fill the position.
But, what’s “the best candidate”? It’s not the one who knows the most or the one with the most experience, mind you. The best candidate is the one that’s the right fit for your company, for the project, and for the team, the one who will identify with what they do and do it with passion.
I hope you find that person.