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Hiring the Right People: Looking Beyond Just Technical Skills

Scaling Team
Building A Team

25 April, 2022

Matias Pizarro
Matias Pizarro

CTO and VP of Residents at ComunidadFeliz

Matias Pizarro, CTO and VP of Residents at ComunidadFeliz, describes his lessons after hiring on technical merit alone and shares how a revamped hiring policy helped him find the right people for his team.

Having a 1-Step Technical Hiring Process

In 2016 our company went through a significant growth phase. Unfortunately, we didn't have a standardized hiring process at the time. The only requirement for our developer candidates was passing a 2-hour technical test on college-level programming knowledge. If you passed, you were hired. Within a short span, our developer team doubled in size.

The problem with this approach was that we ended up with many talented individuals who didn't fit into the company culture. And while they were entirely capable of doing the job, the lack of chemistry in our team led to poor overall performance. Eventually, we couldn't retain most of the new hires and had to restart the hiring process.

Adopting a Holistic Hiring Approach

Reflecting back, I realized how important it is to have synergy between developers. That's where we were lacking— because you can't measure synergy with a programming test. So I did some research and reshaped our entire hiring policy. I wanted to focus on the candidates as a whole, not just their technical ability. In coordination with HR, I implemented a 3-step vetting process:

Step 1: The HR Interview

This first interview enables our HR team to gain a holistic understanding of the applicants. At the same time, we give candidates a clear picture of what it's like to work at our company. We describe our culture, show them how the teams are structured, and explain our developing processes. While I'm not personally present at this stage, I know that our HR representative asks some of the following things:

  • The candidates' experiences with startup culture
  • Their process of learning
  • Their understanding of culture and diversity
  • A description of their dream job or company
  • Their goals
  • What they achieve to learn
    Following this interview, we evaluate whether the person's goals and visions are a match with ours.

Step 2: The Technical Test

This step consists of several tests and an interview that measures the candidates' technical proficiency. While conducting the interview, I also like to inquire about people's past experiences. These conversations give me a feel of what the person is like.

Step 3: Meeting the Team

Applicants who move on to this final stage are required to give a 20-minute presentation to our team. The presentation doesn’t have to be technical and can be on any topic— candidates can even talk about windows if they like! The remaining 10 minutes are dedicated to a Q&A.

For me, this is by far the most important step in determining whom I want to hire. My team gets to interact with the candidates. They ask questions. They converse. At this point, I observe the room and feel what the synergy is like. Is there chemistry or is the atmosphere uncomfortable? Did my team understand the presentation? Were the questions well answered? Afterward, I have a debriefing with my team where we assess if the person is a good fit.

After renewing our hiring policy, our new teammates are 100% more engaged compared to the previous ones. Now, our candidates become familiar with the company before they're hired. They choose to join the team. And we have a better screening process to select the best-suited people.

Focusing On the Traits That Matter

  • It's not always the best policy to hire the smartest person for the job. Finding someone who's a great fit for the team yields much better results. (Here's an anecdote: in 2017 we hired a highly intelligent developer who had zero team spirit and wanted to work on his own. So we set some milestones and he single-handedly delivered the code for an app. It worked, but in the end, he resigned. Later, when we wanted to add a feature, we couldn't do it because the code was too complicated and misaligned with our business. We had to build the whole thing from scratch!)
  • Remember that skills and knowledge are things that people can gain. Technical skill gaps can be filled with teaching, courses, or mentorships. So focus on hiring people who are team players and who align with your goals. I always consider things like: commitment to taking classes, sharing knowledge with coworkers, contributing to solving problems, and being engaged in meetings.
  • A person-centric approach to hiring won't just reflect on your culture, but it will also affect your deliverables. Ultimately, hires who aren't committed to your company's mission and goals will harm the team.

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