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Regrettable Hires: How Many Are Too Many

Scaling Team
Company Culture
Hiring

27 January, 2021

Giorgos Ampavis
Giorgos Ampavis

VP of Engineering at Tide

Giorgos Ampavis, VP of Engineering at Tide, explains how to accept and move past regrettable hiring decisions, especially during the phase of rapid scale.

Problem

Small companies with balanced growth can afford to spend more time on hiring and onboarding. But, as you start to scale rapidly -- especially in the fast-paced environment of fintech -- you will need to interview fast and make decisions even faster. The UK market is very competitive, and the best talent doesn’t stay for longer than two weeks in the market; therefore, you can’t allow your hiring process to last long. Optimizing the hiring process would mean fewer interviews and a more compressed hiring process with less time to talk to people and assess their technical abilities.

In these circumstances, things will inevitably diverge from the desired outcome. Regrettable hires are people who we probably wouldn’t hire if we could afford a longer-lasting hiring process. But as we had to move fast, we accepted that we should take some risk and for us, 20 percent of regrettable hires were an acceptable risk and for my team, this number never exceeded five percent. Fortunately, there is a probation period and these people could be flushed out because they don’t belong with the organization.

Actions taken

We optimized the hiring process to make sure that we were bringing in enough people by expanding to recruiters and various tools like Stack Overflow. At the same time, we had to filter candidates and move them fast through the funnel, making an offer as fast as possible. We reduced the process to include only two steps -- one video chat followed by an in-house, three hours-long interview. The decision would be reached immediately after the interview and no time would be wasted to make an offer.

Some companies would go slow and lean toward certainty and perfection, but since we were scaling fast, we had to hire fast and accept failures. We established an acceptance-failure rate (where failures were regrettable hires) that allowed us to mitigate hiring risks. We had to be on the lookout, identify less-ideal hires, course-correct as early as possible, and let people go within probation. Every decision had to be well communicated with the team and their Whys clearly explained. I recently let go of a person who I wouldn’t hire if only I had the opportunity to talk to them a couple of times. However, as you move fast you won’t have a chance to meet all the people and some, unfortunately, would turn out to be regrettable hires. I explained my decision to the team and they accepted it with a sincere understanding.

Going from a team of ten people to 50 in only a couple of months also threatened to impact the team culture. While I would try to communicate our values during the interview, many people who wouldn’t belong with us would nevertheless end up joining our team. However, if someone is not a collaborative personality, they would never make it in our highly collaborative environment.

Being able to identify early on and minimize regrettable hires is crucial. Sometimes we would spot some red flags during the interviewing process. A couple of times I was impressed by the technical capabilities of a few engineers that I missed some of the red flags, but then another person who was on the interview panel alerted me of them. We were cautious not to rush into a decision and scheduled another session with the person that resulted in a rejection. We have a solid onboarding process that also helps us identify regrettable hires during the probation period. We have a buddy system and every person would be assigned a buddy in addition to a lead to whom they report to. Through constant interaction with them, we should be able to assess if someone is the right fit. Though the probation period lasts three months we are usually able to make that assessment within the first couple of weeks.

Lessons learned

  • Follow your guts. Our talent partner was often pushing for their own targets. They would bring a great many candidates in the funnel and if they were able to close them they would meet their targets. For me, hiring is about hiring the best people, even if that means not meeting my own targets, but especially not someone else’s.
  • Your first impression is what matters. On a couple of occasions, I was convinced to hire people I wouldn’t hire myself and they turned out to be regrettable hires. Also, don’t let the CEO or anyone above make you hire people who you will be responsible for.
  • Protect your team culture. I would interview every single person we would hire on my team (around 300 people annually) because I wanted to make sure that we are hiring the right people.

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