Good technical people are the foundation on which successful high technology organizations are built. Establishing a good process for hiring such workers is essential. Unfortunately, the generic methods so often used for hiring skill-based staff, who can apply standardized methods to almost any situation, are of little use to those charged with the task of hiring technical people.
Unlike skill-based workers, technical people typically do not have access to cookie-cutter solutions to their problems. They need to adapt to any situation that arises, using their knowledge in new and creative ways to solve the problem at hand. As a result, one developer, tester, or technical manager is not interchangeable with another. This makes hiring technical people one of the most critical and difficult processes a technical manager can undertake.
"Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets & Science of Hiring Technical People" takes the guesswork out of hiring and diminishes the risk of costly hiring mistakes. With the aid of step-by-step descriptions and detailed examples, you'll learn how to:
write a concise, targeted job description
develop ads for mixed media
review résumés quickly to determine Yes, No, or Maybe candidates
check references with a view to reading between the lines
extend an offer that will attract a win-win acceptance or tender a gentle-but-decisive rejection
An effective hiring process is crucial to saving an organization the costs and consequences of a bad hiring decision. Not only is a bad hire costly in terms of recruiting expenses and the time spent hiring, it can also bog down or derail projects that may already be running late.
You, your team, and your organization will live with the long-term consequences of your hiring decision. Investing time in developing a hiring strategy will shorten your decision time and the ramp-up time needed for each new hire.
Technical leaders, project and program managers, and anyone putting together a team of technical workers will greatly benefit from this book.
Review By: Lee Copeland 07/09/2010
They say there's nothing as uncommon as common sense. If that's the case, "Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds," is an uncommon book. Author Johanna Rothman fills it with common sense ideas that everyone involved in the hiring process should understand. I echo Jerry Weinberg's words in the Foreword: "I sure wish I had this book fifty years ago. I cannot even estimate the number of times I’ve seen hiring problems that would have been prevented by [this book]."
The first chapter of the book, called "Developing Your Hiring Strategy," is the perfect beginning because many managers don't formulate a strategy for hiring--they just start reading resumes and scheduling interviews. Johanna points out that before hiring, we should determine the problem a new hire should solve. Do you need additional people to do the same type of work you’re doing now? Are you changing your products and/or technology and need to respond? Do you need to finish the current project faster?
Chapter two deals with "Analyzing the Job." This entails understanding the job requirements including the technical and non-technical skills necessary for success. One key thing Johanna mentions is the need for "cultural fit." Even the most technically capable person who does not fit into the organizational culture will become problematic. She also explains the importance of developing a set of elimination factors--if the candidate can't or won't do certain things, then they must be eliminated from consideration. Examples are the necessity to travel for the job, the need to relocate, salary requirements that don't match what the organization can or will meet, and legitimate personal characteristics such as the ability to speak multiple languages or lift 100-pound sacks.
The chapter titled "Developing Interview Questions and Techniques" reminds us that far too many interviewers try to "wing it," making up questions as they go. Unfortunately, as candidates are being compared later the invariable comment is "Oh, I didn't ask about that." A key idea in this chapter is "auditions"--actually asking a person to perform a job-related task. Many years ago Tom DeMarco asked, "Would you hire a juggler without seeing him juggle?" Johanna reminds us of this important idea.
Chapter thirteen, "Creating a Great First Day," is another gem. Far too many of us have arrived for the first day of our new job only to find no office, no desk, no chair, no phone, no computer, ... essentially no job. As panic sets in we ask ourselves, "What have I gotten myself into?" The first-day experience can set the tone for the entire employment relationship. The author tells how to make it a good one.
I could have benefited from this book as a new manager. As I read through the book, I constantly circled ideas and made notes like "Wonderful phrase," "I like this," "Exactly," "Great stuff," and "YES!" Every chapter resonates with my experience. Many of Johanna's ideas I discovered as a young manager. Others, unfortunately, I discovered later in my career after doing disservice to both my organization and the few people I hired. For example, Johanna explains that "A candidate's education or training only tells you the candidate has gone to school. What you want is to find the candidate who has learned to think." A few ideas were new to me but as I read each one I exclaimed, "Of course!" Johanna takes the dreary work of writing job descriptions and turns it inside-out. She argues that if we have difficulty in writing the description it may be because the job is still ill defined. And, if we were to rush to fill the position, everyone involved could be disappointed.
Another key idea Johanna emphasizes is the importance of having multiple interviews to gain multiple perspectives on each candidate. Some years ago, I was the first manager in my organization to ask other coworkers to interview the candidates. Until that time, it was the manager's responsibility to do all the interviewing and make all the hiring decisions. Unlike the other managers there, I wasn't smart enough to do that by myself.
I'd like to suggest another use for this book. Read it as if you were looking for a job. Turn each chapter around. Ask yourself, what does this chapter offer to a person searching for a job, writing a resume, interviewing, and negotiating. You'll find it extremely useful if you do.