I’m Hiring Great Engineers Faster Because of what I do First

January 10, 2022

min read


Recently, I wrote about my hiring philosophy that engineering hiring should be culture-first. Now I’m in another hiring push and once again centered on bringing behavioral and mission fit to the forefront of our data-driven, structured hiring process.Full disclosure, we use our own product, Searchlight, to drive our own hiring process, but the concepts here can be applied universally.Our hiring process can be broken down into 3 main stages:

  1. Intake / Kickoff - Deciding what we’re looking for in a new role
  2. Sourcing / Screening - Finding candidates who might fit our role
  3. Interviewing - Assessing candidates against our success criteria and deciding if they’re a fit for our team

‍This time, I doubled down on nailing the intake step of the hiring plan for three reasons:

  1. Studies show that knowing a hiring manager’s vision from the get-go makes companies 3x more likely to reduce time-to-hire and 2x more likely to improve quality-of-hire.
  2. I want to be strategic about finding teammates to complement our engineering team’s existing skill sets and working styles.
  3. I’m interviewing and onboarding my new hires remotely for the first time, and want to find people who I can set up for success.

‍After a few tweaks, the results speak for themselves: I closed one of our most senior engineering roles in 24 days - half the benchmark time for a role like this.

Here’s how I run intake for our engineering candidates at Searchlight

  1. I start by reviewing success criteria I’ve used in the past. Searchlight’s software remembers every success profile we’ve ever hired against and compares it to the outcomes of those hires. This lets me learn from the past and improve how I define the roles I’m hiring for today.‍If you don’t already have a repository of success profiles, start by thinking back to what you looked for in prior roles you've hired for and see if you can focus on patterns that predicted great hires.

A screenshot of our repository of success profiles
  1. I think about the core questions we need to align on to fully understand what we’re really looking for in this new role. There’s a lot of literature about the questions we should ask during intake, but here are a few of my favorite questions:
  • What are the milestones in the first 30 / 60 / 90 days to help this new hire be successful and set the cadence from day one?
  • What are my must-have technical and behavioral skills? What does great look like for each of these skills?
  • How can we bring more diversity to the team?
  • How do we sell this opportunity to a superstar candidate?
  • What are the career development opportunities for a new hire in this role?
  1. We invited the interview panel to answer these questions async through Searchlight and then reviewed our answers collaboratively during an Intake Meeting to reach conviction on our success criteria as a team.
  • In the screenshot below, you can see how we work together in Searchlight to align on behavioral attributes important to the role.
How we use Searchlight to collaboratively align on success criteria
  • From our Intake notes, Searchlight surfaces the most important behavioral strengths determined by the hiring team.
  • In addition, Searchlight creates visualizations of the working styles that would fit best on our team.

Running a great intake impacted every aspect of our process downstream

Once our team aligned on the success profile, the granular list of signals helped us focus our energy on candidates with a high likelihood of fitting our criteria. In a startup environment, time is valuable; I believe we saved 100+ hours over the course of 2 months. We spent less time writing emails and having introductory chats with candidates that were not likely to be a great fit. Our hiring manager intro screen approval rate was 70%. Our first interview pass rate soared to 66% -- both outstanding numbers compared to the industry benchmarks of 57% and 44%, respectively.When a role remains open, it's natural to get frustrated as hiring processes draw out. In fact, LinkedIn reports that only only 30% of companies are able to fill a vacant role within 30 days. The other 70% of companies take anywhere between 1 - 4 months to process a new hire. Nailing our success criteria prevented us from compromising on what we were looking for, and gave us conviction when we found it.To reduce bias in our process and increase signal, we used consistent interview scorecards for every candidate interviewing for the same role. Every candidate had the same interview panel, even if they were a referral, and each interviewer was responsible for signing off on the same competency every time. Below, you can see an example of a scorecard for a senior engineer role that we created from our success criteria.

A subset of our success criteria for senior engineers

Searchlight References were also helpful here, because our intake results were stored on the platform and Searchlight visually showed us how each candidate mapped against all of the things we were looking for.

  • Searchlight automatically customizes its reference questions based on success criteria. In the heat map below, each of the competencies on the leftmost column are the same as the competencies in our interview scorecards. We were able to see at-a-glance how the candidate's past performance rated on these dimensions. Better yet, we were able to corroborate and question the signals we picked up during our own interviews.

  • By using Searchlight to store our success profiles during intake and gather feedback from references, we benefited from Searchlight's Intake Match Score. The software learns from thousands of success profiles and reference assessments in the system to determine how closely a candidate's strengths and working styles map against the success criteria.
  • The software shows where the candidate's strengths and areas for growth align and diverge with our success profile so we know where to focus.
  • In the screenshot below, the green shows how the candidate’s working style aligns with our target. The more overlap there is, the more the working styles match our ideal. You can see why we were excited about this candidate!

It’s not just about speed, it’s about quality-of-hire

After making a few hires and onboarding our new teammates, we realized that the benefits of a great intake process go deeper than reducing our time-to-fill.When we asked one of our new hires what made him choose Searchlight in a competitive talent market, he shared this: “My mind was made up after meeting the team... it was clear what you knew what you wanted, and that I could be successful here.”Shauna Geraghty, SVP of People at Talkdesk, once told me, “If companies don’t successfully align on hiring criteria upfront during intake, it shows up later in the process. It negatively impacts new hire quality and candidate experience, prolongs the interview process, and reduces our close-ratios. Meanwhile, a great intake creates alignment between hiring managers and recruiters, increases velocity, and brings in higher-quality candidates.”My own experience mimics what Shauna has found: upfront investment during intake improves almost every part of the funnel and drives up the elusive quality-of-hire metric. Running a great intake should be top-of-mind for any company that believes in recruiting excellence.‍

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