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Hiring the Candidate Who Will Stay

Building A Team
Hiring
Retention

1 June, 2021

Stefan Khan-Kernahan
Stefan Khan-Kernahan

Director of Engineering at Beanworks

Stefan Khan Kernahan, Senior Engineering Manager at Beanworks, knows that technical ability should never outshine the integrity and the character that a potential employee has to offer your company.

Problem

Hiring is one of the best aspects of the work that I do. One of the challenges is telling the difference between potential hires that are very skilled technicians and those who have more to offer. Some candidates care a lot about the wrong parts of the job. This is especially relevant when hiring a new leader. In order to successfully lead a team, you have to care about the people who are working for you.

I’ve been in talks with candidates who will openly balk at the idea of devoting resources to co-ops and other philanthropic programs. You have no interest in leveling up people from below? Don’t work here. That’s not how we operate. If you’re “too good” to help somebody who is new in their career, what potential do you have as a leader? We steer clear of this type of attitude; there is an art to knowing when somebody that you want to hire is in it for the right reasons.

Actions taken

Everybody has a different opinion about this, but apart from the technical interview, we also do an in-house version of topgrading. We look for more than technical ability; more important to see is how a candidate approaches a situation, the work to be done, or even a previous role. We are not an institution that heavily weighs the coding evaluation. We have three questions that we ask, and that’s it. Soft skills are what we look for more than anything. We ask that the potential new employee walks us through how they would handle a challenge or a specific aspect of the role that they would like to earn.

You can tell when you’re getting through to somebody who has been through something and has learned about communication, about struggling, or even just about getting through a difficult project. Of course, you want them to be technically proficient. But those soft skills learned along the way are an invaluable asset to any company.

It’s the same thing with the juniors. So many of them are so committed to getting a job. Plenty of them have never had the chance to participate in a co-op or other type of employment program and are just desperate to find a job. We spend a lot of time with this type of candidate, finding those who are passionate and hungry and who want to collaborate.

Lessons learned

  • You can’t have a revolving door as you hire people. The people we hire tend to stay with the company. Before, our churn rate in the engineering department was fifty percent. We really learned how to read the answers given in an interview that show who is hungry and passionate enough to stay.
  • Another thing that we do is that we do a cultural interview. That is, we let all candidates meet every other person from the other teams. It allows the candidate to ask any questions about working with our company that they may have. We also have a chance to see how our current team perceives the potential hire, which I think also helps.
  • We really do dedicate a lot of time to our interview process. Five or ten minutes is not enough time; we try to give the candidate some time to ask us questions themselves and to engage with us more. Most of the people who we have hired are those who are able to keep that sort of conversation going.
  • Vancouver is quickly becoming the Silicon Valley of Canada. We really try to hone in on quality candidates and give them an understanding of our company in order to compete with these bigger companies moving in and paying above market. If people leave us for the money, so be it. We offer ownership and flexibility, and we believe that the right people will stay for that sort of experience with us.

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