Our recruitment process

We are a small company that doesn’t hire often. But when we do, we try to make the process as effective and pleasant for everybody involved as possible. Here’s what we do.

huerdenlaufWe are a small company with a focus on delivering high quality software to our customers. Therefore every developer represents a substantial share of our organization. Every time we hire, we need to make sure that the decision in favor or against a new employee is profound. So we established a recruitment process that tries to evaluate and communicate both our requirements and the possibilities of the candidate. Without going into details, this is how we will interact with you if you apply for a job.

First contact

The first contact is usually an application including a curriculum vitae sent to us by the candidate. We will read your application and look for possible matches with our required skill set. If there is a chance to work together in the future, we will answer back with an invitation for a first talk, usually done via telephone.

The first talk is mostly a getting to know each other on a communicative level. We might ask some questions about your curriculum or past jobs, but the main purpose is to establish a mutual understanding. We probably end the talk with an appointment for a first meeting.

First meeting

We really want to know who you are, not only what you can offer on a professional level. Remember that you will represent our company substantially if we hire you. Both sides need to be sure that they understand what they commit to. Because it always is a real commitment and a substantial investment for us to hire a new developer.

The first meeting will be rather short and kept on a casual level. We don’t want to build up pressure, we don’t want to judge your abilities as a developer, we want to get a first impression of you in person. And you will get a full tour of our company and get to know the whole development team, also as a first impression. If you like what you see, we will make an appointment for a second meeting that will go into the details.

Detailed meeting

The second meeting will be much longer and more stressful than the first meeting. The goal of this meeting is the examination of your professional skills. Most companies use trick questions or “how to approach this?” tasks to challenge your abilities to solve difficult problems and deduce your skills from that. We decided not to do that.

We want to see your performance in a normal work situation – as normal as it can be under the circumstances. So you will have to program a non-trivial assignment, with the help of the whole team. The assignment doesn’t contain any “tricks” or common pitfalls that you can fall into and a lot of different solutions are possible without us wanting to see exactly one (the “best”). If you are an experienced developer, you will feel at ease with the task.

Another important skill of every developer is the quick assessment of existing code in regard to bugs, security risks and bad practices. We have prepared a piece of code riddled with all kinds of quirks and will review it with you. None of us finds them all, too.

We orient our work around a set of core values that are very congruent with the values of the Clean Code Developer Initiative. So it helps tremendously if you are firm with the practices of a clean code developer. But we also want to know if you can convey the ideas and principles behind the actual practices, so you will have to explain some of them to us.

These are the three parts that we want to see of your professional skills:

  • Programming
  • Analysis
  • Introspection

After this meeting, we will have a fairly detailed picture of your abilities and you will know a lot about the level of skill that we require for daily work. If we come to the conclusion that everything matches, we will invite you to the last official step of our recruitment process, the recruitment internship or probationary work.

Internship

In the previous steps of our recruitment process, it was mostly us that examined your skills. Now, after we are sure that you might complete us, it’s time that you get a chance to examine us. So we invite you to accompany us for several days in our normal work. You can team up with whoever you want and join in his (or her) development task. You can ask questions. You can just watch. You can complete your picture of us. You can make sure that you will feel comfortable when joining us.

Welcome aboard

If you’ve seen nothing that scares you during your internship, we will discuss the details of your employment, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Inspirational source

We don’t hire very often and couldn’t sustain the process for a large number of applicants because the effort required from everyone involved is substantial. But we wanted to make sure that we don’t hire blind and don’t torture our applicants. We compiled our process from a lot of sources, mostly blog posts around the internet and one noteworthy book by Johanna Rothman: “Hiring The Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds”. That’s exactly what we set out to do!

An experiment on recruitment seriousness

I had the chance to witness an experiment about the seriousness of companies to attract new developers. The outcome was surprisingly accurate.

Most software development companies in our area are desperately searching for additional software developers to employ. The pressure rose until two remarkable recruiting tools were installed. At first, every tram car in town was plastered with advertisement shouting “we search developers” as the only message. These advertisement have a embarrassing low average appeal to the target audience, so the second tool was a considerable bonus for every developer that was recruited by recommendation. This was soon called the “headhunter’s reward” and laughed upon.

Testing the prospects

The sad thing isn’t the current desperation in the local recruitment efforts, it’s the actual implementation of the whole process. Let’s imagine for a moment that a capable software developer from another town arrives at our train station, enters a tram and takes the advertisement serious. He discovers that the company in question is nearby and decides to pay them a visit – right now, right here. What do you think will happen?

I had the fortune to talk to a developer who essentially played the scenario outlined above through with five local software development companies that are actively recruiting and advertising. His experiences differed greatly, but gave a strangely accurate hint of the potential future employer’s actual company culture. And because the companies’ reactions were utmost archetypical, its a great story to learn from.

Meeting the company

The setting for each company was the same: The developer chose an arbitrary date and appeared at the reception – without an appointment, without previous contact, without any documents. He expressed interest in the company and generally in any open developer position they had open. He also was open to spontaneous talks or even a formal job interview, though he didn’t bring along a resume. It was the perfect simulation of somebody who got instantaneously convinced by the tram advertisement and rushed to meet the company of his dreams.

The reactions

Before we take a look at the individual reactions, lets agree to some acceptable level of action from the company’s side. The recruitment process of a company isn’t a single-person task. The “headhunter’s reward” tries to communicate this fact through monetary means. Ideally, the whole company staff engages in many little actions that add up to a consistent whole, telling everybody who gets in contact with any part of the company how awesome it is to work there. While this would be recruitment in perfection, it’s really the little actions that count: Taking a potentially valuable new employee serious, expressing interest and care. It might begin with offering a cool beverage on a exceptionally hot day or giving out the company’s image brochure. If you can agree to the value of these little actions, you will understand my evaluation scheme of the actual reactions.

The accessible boss

One company won the “contest” with great distance to all other participants. After the developer arrived at the reception, he was relayed to the local boss who really had a tight schedule, but offered a coffee talk for ten minutes after some quick calls to shift appointments. Both the developer and the company’s boss exchanged basic informations and expectations in a casual manner. The developer was provided with a great variety of company print material, like the obligatory image brochure, the latest monthly company magazine and a printout of current open job offerings. The whole visit was over in half an hour, but gave a lasting impression of the company. The most notable message was: “we really value you – you are boss level important”. And just to put things into perspective: this wasn’t the biggest company on the list!

The accessible office

Another great reaction was the receptionist who couldn’t reach anybody in charge (it was generally not the most ideal timing) and decided to improvise. She “just” worked in the accounting department, but tried her best to present the software development department and explain basic cool facts about the company. The visit included a tour through the office space and ended with providing generic information material about the company. The most notable message was: “We like to work here – have a look”.

The helpless reception

Two companies basically reacted the same way: The receptionist couldn’t reach anybody in charge, decided to express helplessness and hope for sympathy. Compared to the reactions above, this is is a rather poor and generic approach to the recruitment effort. In one case, the receptionist even forgot basic etiquette and didn’t offer the obligatory coffee or image brochure. The most notable message was: “We only work here – and if you join, you will, too”. To put things into perspective: one of them was the biggest company on the list, probably with rigid processes, highly partitioned responsibilities and strict security rules.

The rude reception

The worst first impression made the company with the reception acting like a defense position. Upon entering, the developer was greeted coldly by the two receptionists. When he explained the motivation of his visit, the first receptionist immediately zoned out while the second one answered: “We have an e-mail address for applications, please use it” and lost all interest in the guest. The most notable message was: “Go away – why do you bother us?”.

What can be learnt?

The whole experiment can be seen from two sides. If you are a developer looking for a new position in a similar job market situation, you’ll gain valuable insights about your future employer by just dropping by and assessing the reactions. If you are a software development company desperately looking out for developers, you should regard your recruitment efforts as a whole-company project. Good recruitment is done by everybody in your company, one thing at a time. Recruitment is a boss task, but to be handled positively, it has to be accompanied by virtually everybody from the whole staff. And a company full of happy developers will attract more happy developers just by convincing recruitment work done by them in the spare time, most of the time without being explicitly aware of it.