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How to Bring New People to Your Team

Building A Team
Hiring

22 April, 2021

Alessandro Bahgat Shehata
Alessandro Bahgat Shehata

Staff Software Engineer/Engineering Manager at Google

Alessandro Bahgat Shehata, Founder in Residence at Google, speaks of bringing new people to his team and how making candidates excited about joining, as opposed to assessing their skills, made all the difference.

Problem

I am managing a team I have built from scratch after I was promoted to a tech lead role. I never found the transition itself particularly difficult, but I was burdened by having to bring more new people to my team. Not only that I had to extensively hire and fill in many openings, but I had to hire in a thoughtful and sustainable way, making sure that I would balance the needs of our team with those of candidates. I had to find people with the right skills and mindset as well as with interest and potential into roles we had to fill. Getting them excited for a role as opposed to merely assessing if a person is a right fit for the role was making all the difference.

Actions taken

To start with, I did some serious thinking about the gap between where we were as a team and where we needed to be. That helped me sketch an ideal team composition if I wasn’t constrained by resources or else. I kept asking myself what I would be hiring for -- what skills, expertise level, and mindset -- if I had no constraints at all.

Then I initiated a series of conversations with people expressing their interest in joining our team, regardless of whether they wanted to transfer internally or join from the outside. Through those conversations, I would try to assess if they had the skills and attributes I was looking for. Also, I wanted to learn about their untapped potential and how it could benefit the team beyond the role itself. For example, I would question their interest in particular technologies critical for our domain or their passion projects related to what we were building.

Early on, I would ask them what was that they were looking for from their next job. If I decide to hire new people, I wanted to be sure that I could provide what they were looking for, whether it was more responsibility, the opportunity to learn a new domain/technologies, mentorship from senior experts, etc. Based on that, I would have to assess if there was a sweet spot where our interests would overlap.

Also, I gradually realized how important it was to sell the team and present myself as the face of the team. Luckily we work in travel, and most people love to travel or at least can relate to that. That made it easy to communicate the value of what we were trying to build. People could relate to our team mission as something positive that evokes pleasant memories. However, having to pitch a job that was not about travel proved to be a bit more challenging, and I had to develop some new skills. However, most projects had at least one interesting segment, and being able to connect that with their interest would help me close a deal.

Inevitably, I also had conversations where I could see how my team would not be the right fit for what a particular candidate wanted. I would rather be open and explain upfront that this was not the team to what they were in their careers or aspirations.

Lessons learned

  • At first, I didn’t have much of those conversations with other people, and I was trying to establish on my own if a person would be a good fit for the team. But that is only one half of the story. I naturally started to probe the other side and see what they are looking for. I would ask them if we can offer something that is fulfilling and rewarding for them. That turned out to be the most important part of our conversations because their sense of fulfillment instigates their excitement and helps them enjoy their work, day after day.
  • As long as people are interested, most projects have some tasks or features that could be fun and stimulating to work on. When selling a team, don’t tell the same narrative to everyone, instead tailor the story to match the interests and aspirations of each and every individual.

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