I received an email from Craig James that contained superb insights into the art of recruiting. With Craig’s permission, I provide it below. As the chief technology officer of eMolecules, Craig is responsible for the design and development of the www.chmoogle.com chemistry search engine. Craig worked with chemistry, chemists and chemical databases his entire career, including management of a low-cost (<$50K) mass spectrometer project while at HP Scientific Instruments (now Agilent) and as director of core engineering for Accelrys. He can be reached at email@example.com.
I had the pleasure of being on the recruiting team at Hewlett Packard that had the highest success rate in the company, measured by the retention rate and the eventual performance of the people we hired. Our team leader taught me something that you don’t mention at all in your chapter on recruiting.
Interviewing is a highly-specialized skill, and some people are MUCH better at it than others. Identify the good interviewers, the ones who seem to have a second sense, and intuition, about others. Make a team of these people, and have them do ALL of your interviewing.
In your book, you discuss what you’re trying to learn, but not HOW to go about learning it. That’s the real art of recruiting. We treated the interview like any other project. There was a team leader, and each person specialized in a particular task. Every interview followed the same “project plan.”
1. Host. This person’s job is to greet the candidate, welcome them, give a tour of the facility (if appropriate), explain the interview process and the other people the candidate will be meeting, and answer initial questions. 20-30 minutes.
2. Technical #1. This person’s job is to grill, HARD, on technical topics. This is the toughest interview of the day, and is designed to find out if the candidate is technically competent. Problems, often real-life that the team is currently facing, are presented and the interviewee must show competence in answering. The candidate must answer basic questions about his field, for example an electrical engineer must be able to solve circuit problems, find flaws in a circuit diagram, etc. This interview usually leaves the candidate rather rattled. 1 hour.
3. Project Manager. The hiring manager gives a non-technical interview, but with focus on the specific job: Does the candidate seem suited? Is the candidate interested? The candidate can ask questions about the project, etc. 45 minutes to 1 hour.
4. Lunch. Project manager, plus one project team member. Informal, chit-chat, ask about candidate’s background, school, etc.
5. Human Resources. HR presents company benefits, etc., asks for references, answers candidates questions about the company, and so on. 30 minutes.
6. Technical Interview #2. Like Technical #1, but usually less intense. Delve more into candidate’s specific accomplishments, ask about candidate’s best achievements and most dismal failures. Ask the candidate to describe one project in detail, and “deep dive” into the candidate’s explanation. This puts the candidate on his own territory, where he should shine. 1 hour.
7. Host (reprise). Follow up questions, explain what’s next, thank the candidate. 15-20 minutes.
We also arranged interviews so that for one job opening, all candidates would be interviewed in as short a time span as possible (usually in a single week). That gave us a good comparison of each candidate to the others, and also allowed us to give the candidates our final decision in a short time.
At the end of the interview day, there was a required team meeting. The leader would go around one time, each team member would give his/her findings and opinion. Then a discussion. It was remarkable how a concensus would almost always emerge — I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t obvious whether to offer the job or not. Almost universally, if one interviewer said “no”, that was it.
It’s critical that you keep the same members on your interview team. They get better and better at it, they get to know each other, and their shared experience gives them perspective, a set of common reference points for discussions. If one of your team isn’t good at it, get rid of him and find someone else that has the intuition needed to be on your team. And just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean YOU should be on the interview team!
A curious thing about our interviews: We were VERY hard on the candidates (particularly the Tech interviews), but instead of resenting it, the candidates uniformly were impressed and wanted to work for us. They knew that if they joined, they’d be joining a top-notch R&D group.
I have been a candidate on interviews where it seemed like my interviewers didn’t even know each other, their questions overlapped, they missed entire areas of stuff they should have asked me and so on. I turned down their offers.