Keeping standards high when hiring engineers

My last post on hiring engineers got a lot of attention, and I wanted to do a followup with a technique that you can use to keep hiring standards high.

Typically engineering hires happen in a situation where there’s a serious need of another set of hands to do some work. I say this in contrast to the idea that sometimes gets mentioned in the tech industry of “if you find someone really good, just hire them and then figure out what to do with them”.

This idea matters because¬†when there is a serious need, the people closest to the situation are the ones who know what skills are needed, and these are the people who are brought in to handle the interview. This is entirely reasonable, but it also means that the people tasked with the hiring decision all have an incentive for a hire to occur — they want the position to be filled so someone can take over the work. When incentives are strong enough, it sometimes leads people to make decisions that they otherwise might not — hiring a candidate who isn’t as good as they should be to avoid some short term pain.

If a team is really committed to hiring very good candidates, there is a straightforward way of minimizing this type of mistake. When the interview team is put together, you should include one person who isn’t directly impacted by the hire. This person won’t have the same time pressure as the people who are directly impacted. Their role is to be a detached observer and help keep standards high in the face of the (relatively) short term pressure to make any hiring decision.


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