Engineering Management - Hiring


This is the first part of a series of notes regarding my thoughts during my time in engineering management at Facebook. Read the intro here.

Hiring is number one

This means "make hiring your number one priority, always."

This means that it needs to be your organization's first priority, it needs to be each manager's first priority, and it needs to be each engineer's first priority.

Hiring is a function requiring cooperation from multiple departments and consists of multiple phases; roughly speaking: sourcing, screening, interviewing, deciding, offer-making, and closing. At each stage this means making the relevant actions the top priority of the responsible actor, e.g. it means that recruiters contact a lead immediately, and schedule an interview or follow-up conversations to occur at the first humanly-possible time slot. It means that doing an interview takes priority over other work. It means that hire/no-hire decisions are made as soon as possible upon conclusion of the interviews, and offers made with subsequent speed. Recruiters don't wait until the next day to call a candidate or schedule them for next week. Interviewers don't skip an interview because they have other things to do. Interviewers don't wait a few hours or days to give their feedback on an interview. Hiring managers coalesce the feedback, facillitate a decision, put together an offer, and begin closing the candidate immediately.

The resultant execution speed of the hiring process is a side-effect and a good indicator of whether or not all parties involved are upholding this value. It happens to provide a competitive advantage in hiring certain candidates (typically satisficers), but the real benefit of consciously making hiring the top priority over everything is that it drives other behaviors, values, and results which improve the quality of people and the workplace.


1) It creates a focus on high-quality hiring standards, and how to achieve them in practice. "Hire the best" is a well-known Silicon Valley maxim, but many companies fail to diffrentiate between "hiring the best" and "hiring the best candidate you interviewed." Successfully hiring the best is a side-effect of making hiring your top priority, because attracting the best candidates to your company, making yourself a viable employment option to them, evaluating them effectively, and then standing out among competing offers is a holistic effect that can only be achieved if everyone involved cares about it enough to do the nitty-gritty things that make all of that happen.

How do you have high standards? Furthermore, how do you test if a candidate measures up to them? Since both are easier said than done, it is only once a culture of giving hiring top priority in peoples' attentions will individuals and managers naturally begin directing their energy into doing things like deciding what constitutes effective interviewing techniques, what kinds of questions are best to ask, how to effectively diffrentiate between good and bad signals in an interview, etc, and subsequently how to train the entire cadre of interviewers to be able to effectively and repeatably practice this. The willingness to do this takes an enormous amount of collective energy, and it simply can't occur until everyone is suffused in a culture that values the practice of hiring above all else. Hiring is hard; it is messy and imprecise (which technical people hate), and so you can't make anyone do all this unless they first believe it's important.

2) It also means that everyone interviews (or everyone who has been at the company at least some minimum amount of time). Since hiring is everyone's top priority, there should be no one for whom interviewing (and participating in other hiring-related activities) is an optional activity. It should eliminate the occurence of the engineer who says "I just want to code; you guys do the interviewing and hiring."

This has a number of effects. First, it means that more people are bought in to the candidates who eventually join, and team bonding gets a jumpstart - new people join a workplace where they have already met several people, and know that these people approve of and welcome them. Second, it puts the power of maintaining the quality of one's workplace into everyone's hands. Personnel excellence is not just something management handles off in some ivory tower, it lives and dies through the practice of individuals. A question is often asked in hyper-growth companies, "How are we ensuring that all these people we're hiring are top-notch people?" The answer, if everyone interviews, is "It's YOUR job." To each and every individual, it's your job to continually make yourself better at determining if someone is qualified to join, it's your job to test them rigorously, it's your job to say no-hire if you're just not sure about them and perhaps most importantly, it's your job to sometimes put your foot down and insist on vetoing a hire ("over my dead body") because there is just a red flag with a particular candidate that you can't let pass, because YOU TOO are a guardian of our standards and our culture.

The quality of coworkers is the single greatest determinant of workplace happiness, and fully engaged participation by everyone is the primary way by which everyone exercises direct power over making their job experience better.

3) It also improves your sourcing pipeline. Recruiters are not able to find and screen the best technical talent. They are not technical people. Hiring as a priority is what will motivate your best existing people to seek out and refer their best contacts, and this is what will constitute the majority of your successful candidate pipeline. Again, this is easy not to do (there is a natural reluctance to bug one's talented friend over and over again) unless everyone believes in the priority.

4) You will begin to get the (objectively) best candidates. This is the obvious and desired final outcome, but only begins to happen once the priority and practice are in place. Hiring is a zero-sum game. Candidates that don't join your company will join a competitor's, and your loss will be their gain. If hiring isn't your number one priority, it's unlikely you'll be number one at hiring, which means someone else will, and the true best candidates will go to them, while you'll be left to hire the "best candidate you were able to interview."

Longer-term effects:

1) The most obvious one is that the effects of attention to hiring compounds itself. Once it's shown that it breeds success in hiring, it is easier to continue, especially as good people join the company and enthusiastically support that element of the culture in order to ensure that more good people join. These effects are felt for years to come, since having even slightly better people than the competition is a growing force multiplier as time progresses. First you work hard to hire the best, then you get the best people, then you produce the best results.

2) On a broader organizational level, this also results in hiring high-quality managers and management candidates (individuals who can be later promoted internally to managers). Great managers recognize that people count, and look to find an organization where this value is reflected in practice. The presence of high-quality managers is critical to several other important aspects of operation, including effective performance management, designing and deploying effective incentive structures, and driving a culture of strong execution.

3) Succesfully hiring the best people at all levels means that down the road, your internal promotion pipeline is strong. This allows you to promote more easily from within and relieves you of the need to source external candidates (always risky). This in turn means that new initiatives, organizational growth, changes in strategy, and backfilling retiring leaders - all things which potentially need new leaders to step up - can be undertaken with greater confidence and lower risk.

Originally posted here on 2009 Oct 23, by Yishan Wong.