Hiring and Team building is the toughest challenge in a tech-start-up. A high quality product cannot be built by average talent. Superstar techies are the soul of a successful tech start-up. Finding the right blend of technical mindset and entrepreneurial attitude needs a lot of patience and hard-work. The whole process of selling job-profile, scheduling and conducting interviews takes away substantial management bandwidth. While hiring process can never be fool-proof, the more hand-picking is done, the better. It needs a lot of self-motivation to maintain the quality. Below I am sharing some best practices based on my experience.

  1. Strong screening of CV should be done internally. This work should not be outsourced. An outside recruiter will focus on quantity and not quality. If you can afford an internal HR person, make sure to get the smartest person who does the job with full dedication.
  2. Technical interviews should focus on hands-on programming. Truth unleashes only when somebody writes actual code. To cut the travel costs for face-to-face interviews, Google Docs or other similar tools can be used for live document sharing.
  3. Evaluate past experience and projects done. Evaluate if the person did only the assigned task or goes beyond expectations. Passionate coders will not stop talking of their past achievements. Job-hoppers give best interviews because that is the only thing they do. Need for achievement should be given more weight-age than the technical acumen.
  4. Team-work is NOT the necessary quality. Super-geeks are nerds who do not like intervention. Such guys can alone do the work of two.
  5. Specific technical expertise is NOT the necessary quality. With right aptitude and urge to learn, technology can be grasped in days.
  6. College text books do not teach everything, college projects do. A self-driven coder would have done enough hard-work in college projects. Hobby projects and technology interests should also be discussed in detail. Such information is not there in CVs.
  7. Big companies (mostly) fail in utilization of best resources. Identify if the focus is on learning or earning. Start-ups are about facing new technology challenge everyday. Person should be driven by milestones and not processes. Reference checks should be done on doubtful candidates. Competitors could be knocking to rob your intellectual property.
  8. Avoid close relatives. Personal commitments in hiring should be kept at bay. Competitive environment cannot be build having relatives working on same product lines.
  9. A bad hire is worse than not hiring. Say No when you don’t want to say a Yes. Hiring mistakes should be corrected sooner than later.
  10. Higher rejection rate = Higher success rate of project. Hit rate of 1 in 20 is acceptable. Patience is the key.

Related Post: Hiring in Tech-Startup: 10 Tips on Accelerating

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10 Responses to Hiring in Tech-Startup: 10 Tips on Quality

  1. Rajeev Arora says:

    Well written.

    Beyond a certain minimum knowledge level, attitude counts.Attitude cannot be easily judged in an interview. It can only be confirmed through an honest reference check.

  2. Ameet says:

    I agree with Rajeev, if concepts are clear than attitude is a key.

    Second, your last point Higher rejection rate may not be right in all cases. Higher rejection rate means interviewer is restricted to get just desired skill sets and with very high ( very high should be read literally) expectation from candidate.

  3. I always cringe at the suggestions about code vs documentation. There is a lot of nuance about what the right level is at the right time. As the codebase grows, the span of understanding decreases. The only way to bridge this is via experience with the code, or by some level of documentation. Getting the experience with the code is costly, making mistakes based on poor assumptions even costlier.

    The minimum I look for is a library of top level architectural viewss that provide a high level map. These views form the basis of the engineer groupthink and force a lingua franca. You can couple this with high level automatically generated API docs and at least have a sound basis for spinning up engineers with some efficiency.

    • Hi Matthew,
      I completely agree that there should be some high level documentation for sure.
      As I have seen, companies have a lot of legacy code and legacy employees as well to bridge the gap 🙂

  4. tehnyit says:

    Good advice. One more item I would add is to get them to talk about their previous successful projects to get a sense of how passionate they are about their projects. A developer with passion won’t require any prompting for more information as they will spend all the time telling you about their baby. It would be more of a case of stopping them and moving on to the next topic.

  5. Abhinav says:

    I’m sorry but I do not agree on your point, “Higher rejection rate = Higher success rate of project”. This might confuse you often..for you always in a perception that you will be getting better than this candidate but you lose your best because of this perception. These are my thoughts as a interviewer…may be the thinking of interviewing persons are different.

    • Let me explain my view point. Higher rejection rate is the by-product when you maintain high standards for recruitment. I am NOT suggesting to maintain Higher Rejection Rate. You can be lucky to hire good focused people very quickly. The point of emphasis here is to maintain patience, not to degrade the hiring quality if rejection rate seems to be high.

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