Don’t Over-Optimize Your Candidates

This post is inspired by the recent article in the Harvard Business Review blog called “Job’s Titles Aren’t That Important” . I absolutely agree with Matt Ferguson that, rather than looking for perfect matches, the hiring managers shouldn’t be afraid to hire the candidates who have experience in adjacent areas. In fact, the statistics provided by the author show that successful hiring managers do that more often (by 10+ percent) than those who struggle to close the positions (though no surprise here).

It resonates with my personal experience—I was switching from engineering to business development to general management and back, and I wouldn’t say the gap was that big despite the difference in the titles, though I was lucky to do it inside the same organization. And it aligns well with our company’s approach to finding the best person for a position. As I already wrote before, general experience (that leads to such things as improved communications, architecture, leadership, and other similar skills) is more important for the success of a given project than technical skills in a specific, narrow area. You can get the extra skills quickly enough, but to get 10 years of engineering experience, you need, well, 10 years.

Thus, it’s usually more rewarding to find an adequately experienced engineer that was previously working in a similar (but not the same) technical area and put him on the job right away than to lose two more months searching for the perfect fit. First, the person with the similar tech background will catch up during the same two months and will already be bringing value by the time you would have found your perfect candidate. Second, you will overpay your dream candidate for the illusory benefit of the narrow-focused work experience. And third, if you are in a complex enough area, two months to find the right person may be a huge underestimate. In some cases, the absolute majority of engineers who could have previous experience with the exact technology combo you are using are already working at your company.

So instead of inventing long technical tests to give to your candidates, look for other qualities that will make them successful team members and indications that they can learn new things fast. And invest a little bit in training to make the inevitable learning curve (and you’ll have it with all new team members, even perfect matches) a bit shorter. Or, in the case of our industry—software development outsourcing—trust the providers a little bit to pick adequate engineers, and don’t disqualify an engineer with years of automated testing experience simply because she didn’t have a chance to work with the particular stress-testing framework you use internally. All mature provider organizations have internal training capabilities that they will gladly use to speed up the ramp-up process.