Agile Hiring Book Review
While working for Time Warner Cable last year, I experienced a unique challenge: building a team of strong developers in a short amount of time. With the help of colleagues and my network, we were able to hire a team of 10 in 2 months. The reason for our success was largely because we experienced a number of strong applicants and we didn't have to reach beyond a couple Twitter posts to find anyone. I realize we were lucky in our pursuits to find strong people. We didn't have much of an interview process and we relied on friends' recommendations moreso than interviewing and evaluating candidates.
My contract ended with TWC in December. I could've converted to a full-time employee, but my boss recommended against it since it would've been a 50% salary reduction and lots of TWC politics if I moved into management. So I moved onto a great opportunity I had at Overstock.com. I started talking with Overstock shortly before I left for Devoxx and scheduled an interview in mid-December. My interview at Overstock was incredibly enjoyable and I quickly agreed to work for them.
A couple weeks ago, I received a copy of Agile Hiring from Sean Landis, one of the architects at Overstock. Sean was part of the team that interviewed me and joined a few of us for the 2nd part of my interview, a beautiful day of skiing at Snowbird. As I flipped through the pages of Agile Hiring, I realized they might've used some techniques on me, hence the reason I liked the interview so much and agreed to work there.
One of the things I liked best about Agile Hiring is that it emphasizes one of the guiding principles of Agile Development: people over process. It recommends you adjust your interview tactics for each candidate, rather than using a boilerplate approach for all candidates. It stresses the importance of a Tracking System (Overstock uses JIRA) to record notes during the process and notify those involved. One thing that became readily apparent as I read this book: if you want to interview right (and hire strong people), it's going to take a lot of time investment from your company. I don't think this is a bad thing, but it seems like a lot of companies viewing hiring as a nuisance, not an essential part of their business.
I chuckled a bit when I read that Sean recommended not hiring contractors (I am a contractor at Overstock), but loved his honesty when talking about the Google Effect during phone interviews. He also mentions a bunch of real-world issues with candidates, such as the Dunning-Kruger effect or getting candidates to admit they don't know something they've listed on their resumes. Also, he has great advice for getting straight answers from candidates when they keep skirting around the question. He emphasizes ending the interview process as soon as possible when the candidate doesn't fit in order to reduce costs and time investment. This is another agile recommendation: fail fast.
Section 3 on Reviewing Resumes has excruciating detail on what you should look for and how you should perform reviews. It also explains how many resumes will have truth stretching, but shouldn't have outright dishonesty. I think it's great how Sean recognizes the skills section of a resume will typically be stuffed with a list of buzzwords that add very little value. He says "the skills section is written with the purpose of getting the resume through filtering software." He also recognizes that those with certifications don't always have the most knowledge: "Unless you have good reason to act otherwise, treat certifications with skepticism."
The Phone Interview and On-Site Interview sections are great as they emphasize the importance of being a respectful interviewer and doing your best to sell your company. My favorite line is on page 176 when Sean talks about giving candidates a quick tour of your facility.
If you feel embarrassed to give candidates tours, put down this book and figure out why. Some salespeople can sell anything, but the best salespeople are selling products they believe in.
You can tell that folks at Overstock are proud of what they've built, especially when they post recruitment videos like their recent Looking for Java Developers.
The last chapter on Closing the Deal gives some unique insights to the interviewee on how companies might negotiate. Sean recommends giving fair offers, never lowballing and refusing to negotiate on salary (instead using one-time costs like signing bonuses and relocation packages to sweeten the deal).
I think Sean does a great job in showing how you can apply agile principles (people over process, tracking tools, failing fast, continuous improvement, constant feedback) to improve your hiring process. As a person that interviews often, I think it also gives great insights into how companies interview and what they're looking for. I've often thought that being honest about my skills and what I'm looking for is a good tactic and this book seems to confirm that. One things for sure, if I'm ever in the position to hire folks again, I'll have Agile Hiring by my side.
One of the things this book doesn't cover is how to source candidates or advertise positions. If you're looking for advice on that, I think A Vision for the Future of Recruitment: Recruitment 3.0 is a good start. This article has good advice, especially in that it points out the best candidates aren't looking for jobs. Posting on job boards, CV searching, etc. are only going to find candidates that are searching, and it's probably not the best talent pool.