Regrettable Hires: How Many Are Too Many
27 January, 2021
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.
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.
- 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.
Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader
Vadim Antonov, Engineering Manager at Meta, details his journey to improve his personal hiring process and team pitch.
Engineering Manager at Facebook
Andrew Tsui, a Product Leader, works to build great teams that are independent, demonstrate mastery of their domain, and fully commit to their purpose.
Director of Product at Startup
Albert Lie, former Founding Engineer and Tech Lead at Xendit, shares his annual performance review process implementing principles from the Ikigai framework into regular check-ins.
Former Tech Lead at Xendit
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
Han Wang, Director of Engineering at Sonder Inc., shares the ins and outs of working successfully with the other half of the team after a merger.
Director of Engineering at Sonder Inc
You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.
Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.