Recruiting Principles

Usually, it’s immediately obvious whether or not we’ve done a great job hiring someone. However, we don’t have the usual checks and balances that come with having managers, so occasionally it can take a while to understand whether a new person is fitting in. This is one downside of the organic design of the company—a poor hiring decision can cause lots of damage, and can sometimes go unchecked for too long. Ultimately, people who cause damage always get weeded out, but the harm they do can still be significant.

During the recruiting process we want to check if people are VSHNary, but what does that mean?

People we enjoy working with

Before assessing any professional/technical skills we need to find out if we can effectively collaborate as a team. We value people who can deconstruct problems on the fly, and talk to others as they do so, simultaneously being inventive, iterative, creative, talkative, and reactive.

There are many questions to help reflect on a person:

  • Would I want to talk to this person daily?

  • Would I want this person to be my boss (if we had bosses)?

  • Would I learn a significant amount from them?

  • Do you feel a constructive, positive, reflected attitude?

  • What if this person went to work for our competition?

In essence, we need to filter out all "genius assholes" first that would be able to do the job but that we would not want to collaborate with daily.

People with T-shaped skills

"People with T-shaped skills" are people that are both generalists (skilled at a broad set of valuable things - the horzontal bar of the "T") and also experts (among the best of their field in a specific discipline - the vertical bar of the "T"). Many experts with too narrow of a field have difficulty collaborating. A generalist who doesn’t go deep enough in any area has difficulty contributing as an individual.

Many technical skills, like experience in a specific programming language, people can learn quickly if they already know a few other languages. We’ve more difficulty teaching non-technical skills like collaboration, motivation, learning, etc. These we need to see present.

People stronger than ourselves

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so that they can tell us what to do.

— Steve Jobs

I surround myself with people who have knowledge and talents in areas where I might not be so well versed.

— Richard Branson
Founder of Virgin Group

I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.

— Mark Zuckerberg
Founder and CEO of Facebook

We need to hire people we can trust to get on with the day-to-day, those who we don’t feel the need to constantly micromanage, because we feel confident in the fact that they’re the best people for the job. It’s always been important to hire people who are somehow ‘better’ than ourselves (particularly in terms of specific skill sets and areas of expertise). Then collaboration is much more fun and we can entrust them easier with our tasks, on-call duties or work while we’re on vacation.

There are many forms of bias that might cloud our judgement though, as Madan Pillutla, PhD, professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, states: “Even if people are well-meaning and well-intentioned, it’s very difficult to act against your own self-interest by hiring someone who could outperform you.” Hiring someone we perceive to be "better" than us almost goes against our primal sense of self-preservation and taps into the unspoken fear that we’re somehow replaceable. It also feeds into the nagging feelings of insecurity we all experience from time to time. Hiring useful but lower-powered people is a natural response to having so much work to get done but it’s a huge mistake for the long-term company culture and collaboration environment.

Being aware of possible unconscious bias and reflecting on your "first impression" of a person is the first step of overcoming them. For example, was your negative first impression of a person caused by the person’s difficult to understand accent, creating a language barrier? Might be a sign of Similarity attraction bias. Or, did you change your negative into a more "might be OK" review because there were already a few positive feedbacks and you didn’t want to be the only negative person? Might be a sign of Conformity bias.