Don’t recruit like my grandma

My grandma likes to read people’s fortunes in flipped over coffee cups after a long dinner. Its Turkish coffee so the grounds make little shapes that she can interpret as they collect on the saucer. Its all fun, and makes for an entertaining post dinner conversation. But we all know its utterly meaningless. I mean, maybe it was used seriously like 1000 years ago or something, but come on, we’ve come a good way since then and know better.

Everybody except recruiters that is, who continue to use cryptic, random, and useless techniques that sound like they were conjured up by a witchdoctor circa 1053.

For everybody’s harping about how recruiting is the most important part of their business, most recruiting processes are run like a fortune telling operation where everyone’s an expert. Everybody has an old trick, a random technique, or some super intuition that allows them to peer inside the depths of a candidate’s soul with just one simple question.

Such as “how many jelly beans are in a jacuzzi”?


This sort of ad hoc approach is folkloric at best, but usually is just ineffective and pisses people off. You think you are being clever with the hidden meaning of your question and all, but really your just wasting time. Google, a company known for a thorough recruiting process admitted as much.

Why do people who seem perfectly sane and competent in most fields, resort to asking cryptic questions like the bridge keeper in Monty Python?

  • “She sat awkwardly on the couch” PASS
  • “He gave a weird answer to my question about how many jelly beans are in a jacuzzi?” PASS
  • “I don’t know why, I just like the guy” HIRED.
  • “Meh.” PASS

Yes, ladies and gents, this sort of enlightened thinking is what determines who you spend most of your waking hours with. For some reason its affected recruiting only. Does your marketing guy ever say “I saw that people were clicking on our About page a lot this week, let’s double our ad spend” or “I’m not feeling this keyword”? If so, I would advise you to move your headquarters to Iran so you can legally flog him.

The supposedly most important function in your company is being run by a bunch of goddamn alchemists, old wives, and people like my grandma!

The solution lies in SYSTEMS

We need a recruiting Renaissance. Out of darkness, light. Out of superstition, SYSTEMS. Recruiting needs to be a machine like any other in your business. Here are the 4 main pistons in your machine.

A constantly replenishing funnel: you’ll soon find out that to hire X number of people, you’ll need Y number of candidates. Take a cue from your sales team and ensure that you are reaching that Y number regularly. If you don’t, you will be scrambling and most likely will have to pay a fat fee to an external recruiter. And even if you are not looking, you need to nurture a warm talent pool for future hires and attrition.

A consistent evaluation process: find out what you are looking for in a candidate, what questions will help you find that out, and who will ask those questions. That way everybody is measured with the same yardstick, and the company can recruit along an even playing field.

Logistics like clockwork:  many people’s workdays get messed up by recruiting. Engineers need to conduct code tests, CEO’s need to sell the vision, and candidates themselves have to schedule interview after interview. I would say that one hire involves several hundred emails from first contact to close. This process needs to be AS SEAMLESS AS POSSIBLE. It will never be fun, it just needs to be managed.

Improvement and optimization: the best part about doing all the above is you suddenly have something you can measure. And when you have that, well,  you can begin making improvements. Perhaps candidates are dropping off after one particular assignment. Maybe this one event is responsible for 20% of your engineering hires for last quarter. Knowing this allows you to improve.

Recruiting is inherently nebulous – both parties are making a very big decision without all the information or experience. Humans have a natural tendency to resort to ritual and superstition in those situations. But you are more enlightened than that.

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