In a pivotal scene in a movie the general manager of a baseball team is confronted by the team manager, about scouting team players. It’s portrayed as a clash of philosophies — tradition and instinct against modernity and analytics. Spoiler alert: science wins.
In many ways, hiring top talent is subject to the same dueling ideologies and is playing out with the same results. In a book on human capital, the authors identify a class of companies and individuals as those that add or deliver ten times greater value than their peers.
For a knowledge-based company like Visa, finding and retaining the best people is our single-most important priority. And it’s never been more critical than right now: we are undergoing one of the most aggressive hiring processes within my group with the goal of creating 2,000 new full-time technologist positions at the company.
However, it goes without saying that great people are in extremely high demand and attracting them will require greater rigor and control. Most of us haven’t been trained in hiring talent — we get there from being well-trained in our respective disciplines. But talent acquisition is a separate skill that takes time and devotion to build. Without that skill, the price of making a mistake can be quite high and impacts not only the hiring company but the hired candidate as well. Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to directly or indirectly be part of hiring several thousand great people. Over time, I have created a system that helps me assess and recruit top talent and, no pun intended, increase my batting average of finding the best people for my team and the company.
1. Develop hiring muscles. Most people approach hiring as an art not a science. Without question there is a great deal of subjective judgment involved when hiring someone and equally so for the candidate who decides to join a new company. However, the more hiring managers can be trained to objectively evaluate talent through consistent and repeatable interview processes, the better the odds will be that the right candidate gets offered the position. First, the hiring process should start with a detailed and specific job description, which forces the hiring manager to articulate what skills and accomplishments are important in order to be successful in the role. It also encourages the most qualified candidates to apply. Managers should avoid falling into the trap of cutting and pasting from old job descriptions. A good description allows the hiring manager to map the best questions and techniques to assess the applicants as well as invite the right internal interview panel. I always spend an hour or two writing a job description with the view that I am explaining the real job to a new employee. At the same time, I map my interview questions and scenarios I want to explore with the candidates to the job description, which allows me to be consistent. Asking the same set of basic questions with all candidates provides a good baseline for comparisons at the end.
2. Screen, carefully. Each hiring manager should ensure they have diligently screened all applicants for a job before setting up formal interviews for the final slate. As a hiring manager, I rely on my recruiters to do an initial screen and spend time with candidates upfront so they understand the job, the skills needed and answer the basic questions that will help us shortlist candidates for an in-person interview. This also gives the candidates a much better sense for the role and the expectations. I also invest time upfront with a 30-minute telephone screening with candidates who I feel are best for the job. The initial discussion, as brief as it is, helps ensure that we invite candidates with the best potential to the next phase of the interview process.
3. Put candidates to the test. One thing that is abundantly clear is that there is no substitute to seeing someone’s real work and to observe them in action. For college recruits, the internship program is the best way to observe a potential new hire in the actual work environment they will eventually join, and it gives the intern an opportunity to experience the culture and work environment of a potential employer. Imagine if both hiring companies and candidates could test each other out before making a decision that has such big and long-term implications. This is of course much harder to do when hiring someone who is already in the workforce. Many companies are trying different techniques to simulate real work in different ways. At Visa, we are moving toward coding challenges and hackathons to meet great developers and also show the candidates a sample of the real work that they will encounter if they join us.
4. Aim for diversity. A diverse workforce is good for business. There are no two ways about that. The more a workforce represents the general population and the customers we serve, the better it will allow us to perform. At the end of the day we are solving problems every day at work and a diverse workforce helps us solve these problems better by bringing different perspectives and experiences to bear on the issues. A diverse set of thinking, research shows, contributes to greater innovation within an organization. After all, if everyone was exactly the same, they would look at every problem the same way and come to the same conclusion. It is therefore incumbent upon hiring managers to demand more diverse slates of candidates and be open to hiring people with different backgrounds and perspectives. The best and most qualified candidate should always be hired for the role. However, a diverse slate gives a hiring manager the ability to talk to and pick the best people for an organization.
5. Implement the Rule of Seven. It is easy to quickly assemble an interview loop with two or three interviewers and pick those who are most readily available. This will not serve in assessing the best candidates. Just like preparing questions for the interview, the hiring manager should reflect early on the best interviewers who can judge different parts of the candidate’s fit to the job description and then select those interviewers based on that particular alignment. I aim for a pool of seven and always include interviewers from groups adjacent to my team so there is variety in the discussion and assessments. I also pick interviewers from teams who will interact with the candidate after they have joined the company so early bonds can start at the interview itself. This gives the best 360-degree view to the hiring manager, who should then incorporate the feedback. I also recommend that the hiring manager always be last in an interview loop so they can incorporate all the feedback from the other interviewers. After my initial 30-minute screening, I conduct the final interview as well as incorporate all the feedback from the panel.
6. Be fast…with purpose. Feedback sharing in an interview loop should happen in real-time with structured emails sent around to the full interviewing panel. Each email should conclude with a direct: Yes, No or Maybe, along with initial observations (including areas of strength) and recommendations for others to explore any specific follow-on areas. Real-time interview feedback allows a panel to correct its course or validate someone’s positive or negative experience while they have a chance. If this is not done, too often strong opinions by one panelist can impact a hiring decision.
7. Make an immediate final decision. Once all the interview feedback has been collected and ideally at the end of the interview day itself or as soon as possible, the panel should meet in person and go over their full feedback and impressions of the candidate with the hiring manger. The hiring manager and their support team from HR now have all the information needed to make an informed decision. At Visa, we have formed hiring committees that review all the hiring feedback and make a final decision recommendation. Given the importance of talent to our future, I review all packages and recommendations personally.
8. Hire horizontally. When I recruit, I am focused on two things. The first is the fit of the candidate to the role and the second is the fit with the company and their ability to have a great long-term career. Projects come and go. Strategies evolve and pivot. Technologies and architectures change over time. Recruiting narrowly has dangerous long-term implications. Recruit for movement in the company rather than the job itself to ensure the candidate has a long bright future. Testing for solid fundamentals in the broad area you are recruiting for is key. A great developer will do magical work if they have strong fundamental and foundational skills in their area, even if the product they are working on and the programming language changes. If a candidate is only qualified for one job, they will be challenged to grow as the company evolves.
9. Consider the candidate. When you are hiring someone, you are impacting someone’s life. A candidate joining an organization is taking as big a bet on the new company as the company is taking on them. A career decision to join a new company has implications on the candidate and their family. That is why candidates should also do deep diligence before accepting an offer. In an earlier post, I wrote about how a candidate can interview their hiring manager before making a big career change. It is even more important for a hiring manager to have this important fact front and center in their decision and ensure they are setting up a new employee for long-term success and job happiness. A systematic and disciplined approach to recruiting ensures that each employee who joins the company feels motivated and fulfilled.
This may seem like a lot of effort. However, by ensuring a consistent and thorough interview process you are more likely to find the right person for the right job, saving time and disappointment later. That’s good for the employee and for the company. I am interested in other perspectives. What about you? How do you find great talent?