TOP 3 MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN HIRING AN ENGINEER

by RYAN AYLWARD

KieranSnyder-Headshot

Ryan Aylward is vice president of engineering of Glassdoor.com, who brings more than 10 years experience in the software development field.

Previously, Ryan was the senior director of engineering at EzRez Software where he led the development organization responsible for supporting more than 50 travel Web sites. Prior to EzRez, Ryan spent more than five years with Hotwire, where his duties involved both management and development roles, including building the original Web site. Ryan also served as an engineer at Motorola. Ryan holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Notre Dame.

Webinar Transcript

Man 1: To close out our day, please welcome Ryan Aylward. He is the Senior Vice President of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer of glassdoor.com. Ryan brings more than 15 years experience in the software development field. Glassdoor is a career and workplace community offering a free inside look at jobs and companies with access to millions of job listings.

Ryan: Today, I'm here to talk about something I've got a lot of experience with, that is hiring engineers, and mistakes that you can make along the way. A few things we're going to focus on. Part one, why is hiring so tough? Part two, some of the top mistakes engineering recruiters make, and three, how to successfully recruit engineers. So, part one, why is hiring so tough? Why does it feel like climbing this impossible mountain? First, it's because competition is fierce. If you search engineering jobs in Glassdoor, you'll see there are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs that are matching. If you're hiring an engineer, you're in one of the toughest job markets that there has ever been. And you're not just up against a lot of other companies, you're up against companies with some really crazy perks.

Many of us know about the crazy perks at Google. Google has an on-site chef, they've got slides in their office, as you can see there in the picture. But they aren't the only ones. More and more companies are all starting to compete for top tech talent by offering these fancy perks. Netflix, just very recently, announced that they have a year, a whole year of maternity or fraternity leave for their employees. Facebook doesn't just have this great gym that they're showing, but they actually have standing desks with treadmills underneath them. Infosys actually has a bowling alley in their office. Twitter, along with lots of other companies, have these really gourmet lunches. Great food, really healthy stuff. Caribbean [inaudible 00:02:24] Travel Company actually has a yearly stipend they offer to all their employees. We know this at Glassdoor because we have these photos online at our site. These are photos that were submitted by employees.

You know, it's funny. My father-in-law is a long-time executive in manufacturing. He just laughs at these kind of ostentatious, kind of crazy perks. You know, I think we all kind of laugh about them. When you really think about it, this is stuff that comes along with hiring top tech talent. But it's really what it takes to compete. We've all had to kind of live in this ecosystem, this is what we're living in. And, of course, it goes without saying, that beyond these perks, there's really competitive salary packages, great equity in companies, it's a tough, tough market to compete in. All the more reason why recruiting strategy has to be excellent to be successful is this space.

So I'm going to take us through some of the common mistakes that I've learned over the last decade or so. First point, hiring for skill vs. intelligence. Hiring someone who happens to know your technology stack is great. It does make an easier transition. But far more important is hiring someone that actually can learn new things, can be a great problem solver. Unfortunately, that's something I've learned the hard way. It's been too often I've hired someone that's a great Java programmer. that really understands the Java programming language, which is the language we use here at Glassdoor. But you find out, that once they're on-site and they're actually trying to work, that they really have a hard time working effectively with the business, collaborating with other people. You know, it's too slow to just really solve problems, too slow to learn new technologies that they're ramping up on.

So we really learned to focus really, really hard on that interview process. We take a lot of extra time in the interview process, to make sure we're asking you hard problem-solving questions. Ones that can really show that the candidate can think on their feet, that can make good choices, not just apply a specific technology.

Another really big area, ignoring emotional intelligence. So this slide is showing a snapshot of the kind of jobs that we have on Glassdoor, and you can see, you know, they're all skill-set based. There is an accountant, an actuary, mechanical engineering, right. Those are the skills that you need to have learned to be able to get the job. But there's a lot more than just having those very specific skills to being successful. So IQ is important, raw smarts is important. But organizations need to care more about the emotional intelligence. What we refer to as EQ. As our VP people would say, there's the what, and there's the how. There's a lot of people that can be good at the what, but not so good at the how. So IQ is the what, IQ is being good at specific skill, or having a specific type of smarts or talent.

But the EQ, the emotional intelligence, is how you complete a task. How do you go about interacting with people to get something done? Again, many people are really good at the what, but they often can struggle at the how part, and it really is just as important. People that are bad at the how, don't just impact the team's productivity, they impact the morale of the entire team, which is much more damaging.

One thing that we really focus on at Glassdoor is the training program. So every single employee at Glassdoor goes through this emotional intelligence training. We think this training is really, really important, because it helps people really achieve their full potential, by being able to work really effectively with their coworkers. We all sort of really enjoy it, because it's helped influence our company culture. It's helped make sure that as we scale, we don't become a bureaucratic, political organization, because people relate to each other. They work well directly, one on one.

Another big area for us, forgetting to let the candidate interview you. You might love your company, but that doesn't mean everyone will. Glassdoor has over eight million reviews, interview reviews, salaries, photos on hundreds of thousands of companies. But one thing that we have learned. That different people love different elements of their companies. What may be a pro or a great thing for one person, really isn't that important or is, in fact, a con for another person. So this snapshot, that you're seeing, are a bunch of photos that are on Glassdoor, about Glassdoor.

Some things that I really like. I really like the kayaks that we have. We have them right outside. we have a beautiful office. So we can go duck out, and go out on the kayaks straight from our office. We have a lot of great team events that I love. I happen to be allergic to dogs. We have a really dog-friendly culture. I happen to be allergic to dogs, I'll been able to make that work. I make sure I have a seat that works for me, but, you know, that's not the perfect thing for me. But that really isn't a differentiator for some people. Some people actually choose to work at Glassdoor because they love being able to bring their dog to work every day. And it creates a really comfortable, relaxing environment when you see lots of pups having fun around the office.

You know, the point is you don't want to get someone in the door, and have them be surprised by the culture or the things that are happening in your office, right? Hiring mistakes cost a lot more than actually just passing on the candidate, or making sure that somebody chooses not to join your company because they realize the culture doesn't really match their needs. This may seem really obvious, but 6 in 10 employees say that job realities are different than they expected. So we commissioned a survey with Harris Interactive to find out just how much of a problem this really was for people. And it turns out, companies mismanaged expectations around many elements of the job.

Looking at this list, you see things that are probably important for you. Your boss's personality, really people are surprised by that. Job responsibility, you should at least know what the job itself is. Employee morale, that makes a big difference. So you know, it's really important to make sure you take the time to let the candidate interview you and the company. And you have to be honest. Don't shy way from telling the truth.

One specific example for Glassdoor, we often interview engineers that are really, really excited about being able to work on the latest and greatest new technology. And we do that in many cases, we do work on the latest and greatest sometimes. But we can't let every engineer pick the latest and greatest and throw a new technology into the mix all of the time. Sometimes we just have to stick with what's working, to make sure we have a cohesive system.

But if that's really, really important to someone, that they're always gonna get to work on the latest and greatest, you know, it may not be the right place for them, and that's okay. We kind of try to set that expectation and be realistic about it. The most successful employees are people that really understand the company, as much as the company understands them. It's also one of the reasons why we believe in Glassdoor. You know, you can research what it's really like to work at a company. Encourage your employees to ensure they're posting on Glassdoor, so that candidates that are interviewing your company can really get an inside look at what it's like to work there.

Which leads me to why we're all here. What do we need to do to successfully recruit engineers? We know software engineers get recruited all the time. So in February of 2014, we did a survey. Glassdoor did a survey of engineers that are on Glassdoor to see what they think. What do they appreciate from recruiters? What do they find annoying, and how can hiring managers really set themselves apart? So here's some of what we found. Eighty-one percent value when a recruiter is transparent about the pros and cons. Other factors that seem really important.

Sixty-three percent like when you're knowledgeable about their experience. A really simple thing like taking the time to really read their resume, look at their LinkedIn profile, do just a little bit of research before you start talking to someone. It shows that you've taken the time to care and really understand their person. Fifty-three percent prefer that you not be pushy. Engineers don't like feeling like they're being sold to. And if you're really pushy, it's just not going to come off well.

Fifty percent want the recruiter to work as hard for them as they do for the employer. Again, they don't want to feel like they're only getting, you know, they're getting fully supported. They don't want to feel like they're being sold  to. Forty-two percent prefer a strong technical background. This made sense to me. You want to be able to interview with people that you feel like you're going to be working with that you know you're going to be able to learn from. As an engineer. you want to know that they're good at technology, so you want to interview with people that show that.

So these are some of the keys of success. You've got to create a recruiting process that gives engineers what they really need to make the process work for them. Some do's and don'ts. We gave our engineers an open text box to tell us what they like and what they don't like about the recruiting process. Here's some things that bubbled up to the top. They want to know about the good and bad about a company. Again, transparency. It's hugely important. Engineers need to know why they should work at your company instead of somewhere else. They really want to understand that their skills and backgrounds really fit the role they're being considered for.

So at Glassdoor, one of the benefits that we've added as we've gotten to be a bigger company is that we are usually hiring a bunch of engineers across different teams. So when the candidates interview with us, we take time, we really try to understand the candidate. We talk about the different teams that there's opportunities in, and we really try to match them up with the group that would fit them. Some of it is personality, some of it is a type of technology, some of it is just matching skill sets, but we really take the time to try and match them up with a group and role that fits their interests and goals.

Be transparent. Again, this transparency thing keeps coming up. It's not just about the job itself, it's not just about the role, but it's about the overall company. The culture, the values. With the focus job-seekers have on transparency, again, it becomes really important to leverage resources like Glassdoor.

Things that don't work. Don't omit the salary package. So this is a tough one for me. As a hiring manager, I know it's kind of tough to start with the salary way up front. Until I really know a candidate, it's hard to know exactly what the right level is, what the right salary should be. You know, we believe in transparency of salary information, that's a part of what our business is. But it's hard to say. It's not like there's an absolute set number that is going to work for a given role.

So talking about the numbers really early in the process may set wrong expectations. You may be thinking they're more senior than they are, or the opposite. But it's definitely important that we set some expectation setting. Make sure that you're in a realistic range. You know, if you don't, you're just wasting everybody's time. At the end, if you miss because there's a big gap in salary expectation, that's frustrating for you. You put a lot of time in it. That's frustrating for the candidate. So it's worth taking some time upfront to at least to make sure you're in the right range.

Another one, if an engineer isn't interested in the opportunity, don't ask that person to reach out to your friends. It feels lazy. It feels like you as a recruiter are asking the engineer to do the work for you. And please don't send mass generic emails. There's nothing more insulting than getting an email that you can clearly tell was sent to a big bulk audience. It just shows right from the beginning that you don't care enough about individuals to really start to identify them and understand them as a person. So you're kind of off on to a wrong foot right from the beginning.

So a few strategies that can really help. One, 33% say blog posts from engineers at the hiring company helped with recruiting. Encourage a few engineers to contribute to your company's blog, or even better, what we started to do, we created our own engineering-specific blog. It's called geeking@glassdoor. Engineers really like this, so candidates really like this, because they can get a look at the kind of problems that we're solving inside of Glassdoor. They can really get a sense of some of the more interesting problems that we've addressed over the last several months. Which is really at the end of the day what engineers want. They want to know if they're going to be solving interesting challenges.

So if they can see on your blog that you're solving the kind of problems that they'd like to solve, it's a big win. And the other great thing about an engineering blog, unrelated to recruiting, it really is for pretension. Engineers really love to have the opportunity to kind of tout all their successes, all the wonderful things they've gotten to do. Sharing all that information with the world feels pretty good for engineers. So our engineers have loved being able to have that platform.

Another big one, meet-ups. Forty-one percent value meet-ups, to help them connect with other engineers. [Inaudible] meet-ups is another great transparency move. And it's one of those channels that allows you to have more informal interactions. It's not just a very formal recruiting environment. It's very informal. Have some engineers in for some drinks, a little bit of food, and then have a presentation on a really interesting topic. Typically one that your company is trying to solve, or is learning, or already learned from recently. So we've had presentations that we've done from our own engineers. We've also brought in outside presenters.

One other thing that we've learned to be successful is partner with an outside meet-up group. They can help with the marketing, help you connect with a bunch of engineers around a specific topic. One of the recent ones we've held, we held a meet-up on web performance. By one of the web-performance gurus, Steve Souders. It was great. Our engineers learned a whole bunch. You know, most of our engineers attended, but we also had a whole bunch of people from outside that attended. And there was just a lot of discussion that happened. It was a lot of fun. We met some great people along the way.

Another one, 65% say social media outreach from other engineers is the most effective. All the more reason to ensure that your engineers are empowered to reach out. Encourage engineers not only to share on Glassdoor, but also to engage on other social channels. Get them to tweet, get them to connect with old colleagues. Offer a bonus, a referral bonus to engage your top talent. And we found that to be hugely successful. I'm sure that many other companies have as well. Referrals are the best way to hire engineers. They're known quantities. You're getting people somebody that you work with and you care about and trust is bringing in someone they also like and know and trust. So it's the best way to find the best talent.

So conclusion here. Some of the top tech hiring mistakes, again, hiring for skill vs. intelligence. You just want people that are just really smart, and they can learn things on the job. They're good problem solvers. They don't have to necessarily have the skill right out of the gate. Ignoring emotional intelligence. You've got to find people that aren't just good engineers but are good engineers because they collaborate with other people. They work effectively with other teams. And forgetting to let the candidate interview you. It's just as much an interview of you, and your company, as it is you interviewing the candidate. So to avoid these pitfalls, be really transparent.

Make sure that the job fits the candidate. Make sure that you really understand the person, and that you're putting somebody in a place that they're going to be successful. Encourage engineers to share their experiences. We talked about blogs and social outreach. There's lots of ways to let your engineers become your biggest channel to share how great it is to work at your company and that can go viral. It can really engage other engineers and bring them in. And host events, invite people in to visit. Let them actually see your real work environment. I know for our office, it's been really a great way to engage with some engineers that we've had success hiring. Thanks very much. I appreciate all your time, and for attending this webinar.