Interviewing for the Future of the Company
21 July, 2021
When I became a manager at my current company, we really didn’t have a process for interviewing. We had a couple of questions that we would ask a candidate, and, if we liked what we heard, we would send them an offer.
This way of hiring builds into this mindset where we decide whether or not the candidate has “passed”, but, in reality, we have learned very little about the candidate themselves. You want to avoid this type of mindset if at all possible. Hiring in this way builds a very static culture within the company. You ask whether or not the candidate is “the same” instead of whether or not they bring value to the table objectively.
Hiring is a powerful tool of change. You need to use it wisely in order to invite that change into the organization. We found that a leveling rubric that defined each level of our career ladder clearly was exactly what we needed. What does success at our company look like at every phase of one’s career?
We came up with five overarching dimensions that described what a valuable engineer within the organization looks like at every level. We incorporated these dimensions into our interview process in order to evaluate for them.
We use this framework to learn more about the candidate. In which areas are they very strong? Where do they have room to grow? We can then take what we’ve learned back with us after the interview and place them somewhere on our leveling rubric. They’re great at everything? Awesome. The areas where they have room to grow? Maybe we can support them in those areas.
If there are areas that interest them but in which you and your company are not able to provide support, that’s another type of conversation that you need to be able to initiate. Maybe we’re not a great fit for this candidate right now. We leave the door open for the future, just in case there eventually comes a time where our interests are in alignment with where they wish to go. At that point, the match would be a much better fit.
There are a sequence of conversations that take place, the last one being something that we call a manager blueprint. We use this blueprint to ask the candidate what they feel has made them successful in their career. We ask about the most effective team that they’ve ever managed, as well as about more difficult topics, such as their greatest failures. What type of environment does this person need to be in in order to be on top of their game?
Recruitment is a long game to play. Somebody who wasn’t quite there a year ago may be a great fit for your company now. You never want to build a bad relationship during an interview. We try to eliminate as much of the anxiety that surrounds these processes as possible. Now, a junior-level manager has the leverage that they need to initiate conversations about advancement and everything that comes with it, where, without this system in place, they may not have known how to do so. The framework enables these conversations to happen naturally, and to everybody’s benefit.
- Having a leveling rubric like this in place protects our younger employees. This industry is fraught with legal complexities and it can be easy for somebody without a lot of experience to be taken advantage of. This is our way of telling them that they don’t have to worry about this part of the job. The process has got their back here.
- You should never be hiring to meet an immediate need. You should always be hiring for a need that you are anticipating in the future. You may not have the same needs that you do now in six to twelve months. Hiring for the needs of the present will often leave both you and the person that you hired in a very bad position.
- A good leader knows where their company needs to go. Take some time to understand what those challenges in the future are going to be. There are many paths that will lead you to your goal. How does the team that you manage today need to change in order to take one of these paths? I try to find ways of aligning the personal goals of my employees with the future of the company. I am able to see where there are still gaps in our team and how I can help my employees gain the skills required to fill these gaps.
- One thing that a lot of managers forget to ask their employees is where the IC does not want to go. This is just as important as asking them where they would like to go. Knowing both of these things allows you to focus as a leader on what the person in front of you needs to meet their goals. You can give them the right training early on, supercharging their growth.
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Albert Lie, former Founding Engineer and Tech Lead at Xendit, didn’t know what it takes to become an early engineering hire and not a lot of people around him experienced this unknown and arcane path. He had to learn it the hard way from the pitfalls he encountered along the way and he has been creating numerous frameworks to measure his growth and keep burgeoning in this role since then. He codifies and expresses the systems he put in place surrounding the balance of customer inquiry to product building and growing the engineering team.
Former Tech Lead at Xendit
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