Somehow I Hire: Value VS Risk when recruiting

Welcome to post number 1 in sub-section Somehow I Hire.

I wanted to talk about hiring from an organizational level and one of the things I wanted to write is how to make a decision-making system that helps us make calculated choices.

Basically, no system or process is perfect and we can’t “air-tight” processes around people, people are complicated and people are… well not machines… they are people πŸ™‚

First, let’s talk about the last part of Wikimedia’s hiring process

  • We bring a candidate to an Insight-Day, this day is usually 3-4 hours, the candidate will meet future potential peers, managers, other people he/she may interact with…
  • By the end of the day after the candidate left, we all sit in a room together and we do an “Insight-Day” retro, well sort of, it’s more like a candidate retro, we follow our Retro guidelines (can be found here) (A hint for a future post about hiring processes below)
    • We take 5-10 minutes and write in individual post-its the “positives” and the “uncertainties”) – We do this step as individuals and we try not to hint what we feel or write so we won’t anchor our opinions on others.
    • We go one by one to a board and hang our positives while giving more info about why we wrote it or what it made us feel
    • We cluster together – which makes us converse of the things
    • We do the same with the “uncertainties”
    • In the end, we look at the clusters and we try to ask ourselves:
      • Do these clusters fit the role we wanted to be filled?
      • Do we see ourselves working with this person?
    • We discuss (The most important step)

Asking the Big Question

So let’s talk about the big question “Do these clusters fit the role definition?” that’s the point where Value VS Risk negotiation starts, it starts with me as an individual when I need to answer this for myself, and it is followed up by me needing to defend it with the rest that interviewed that person. A perfect fit is rare to non-existent!

When I try to answer the big question I try to answer small questions to lead me to it:

  • Can this person do the role we wanted/Can this person bring a different flair to the role and perform it from a different angle?
    • Important! the non-compromising points for me are always:
      • Technical skills, if that person can’t/doesn’t have what it needs to make this role happen (bad developer or bad UX person), no need to move forward
      • Soft-Skills: if the person lacks basic soft skills, I would say, forget about it and move forward (Unless it’s a remote freelance person that you just ship work packages to, and even then… tread lightly)
      • Are there red-flags of behavioral issues? if so, don’t move forward… I draw my line on the “Rockstar” mentality, I’ve been burnt so many times already by developers who were amazing devs, but terrible people, in the end, it never worked well, if I see this type of pattern I always say no.
  • What are the things I hoped to find and what is this person missing?
    • Do I see a potential for this person to pick them up? //If no, how important are they really to the mission statement for the role and to me?
    • How important are they to me on an immediate level? //If I need a solution now, but this person can get there in 2-6 months for example and I know recruiting might take me statistically 4-6 months, but she/he seemed like a great fit from other levels – its worth the effort of hiring and investing time…
  • What added value does this person brings that we get and didn’t expect?
    • Does this improve us in ways we need?Β //Basically, when I write a job description I assume to know what I need, sometimes when you interview, people bring things to the table I hadn’t thought of, and it’s good to be dynamic and acknowledge that! don’t be dogmatic with the role definition
    • What is she/he bringing to the table that our current team lacks?Β //Will these things improve the team?
  • Is there a Culture Fit/Culture Benefit by having this person?

After I answer all those questions with myself (and others do the same), we vote, we are not looking for unanimous decisions, in the end, I feel like the hiring team and hiring manager have the right to choose, but by having a vote we end up discussing, we ask those questions out loud, we share perspectives and we negotiate, we take calculated “risks” by hiring a non-perfect fit person, but by discussing we come up with a plan to onboard, we know what to follow-up on.

This post is not to sell you the process, it doesn’t matter how you do your decision-making round, This post is to talk about what should we ask, what should we take into account when we do those decisions…

The classic rejection example

A classic rejection by hiring managers and teams in this example: a person worked in 5 jobs in 5 years.

So yes, there’s a risk here, but those should be asked during the interview, this should be explored as far as the motivation and the reasoning if 3 of the 5 startups got shut down?

Sometimes there are people that move on each year, but the year they give in a place is so impactful, by their nature they manage to change a place completely, when they “fix” the place they have the urge to move on… these are things you as the interviewer need to explore, you basically need to find all the information, all the concern you see and go deep to be able to answer the questions listed above.

And now for some NBA anecdote, in the NBA there are a lot of role players that “survive” the league for many years, even though they are not good players, a lot of the times people ask what do they bring? what added value do they have if they don’t play well (or even play at all)… This is where I would stress how much we underestimate how some people bring value just by being good people to be around, there are some people that make their surrounding better, in the NBA there are a lot of talks about locker room culture…

My last point

Aspire to hire those “locker room” people, try to give that weight when you hire, but never hire the opposite, doesn’t matter how good they are, the “locker-room cancer” as amazing of basketball players they are will leave you with a “scorched-earth” and the value you gain is nothing, you’ll find yourself with a lot of open positions and good talented people leaving! Hiring a jerk never ends well!


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3 thoughts on “Somehow I Hire: Value VS Risk when recruiting

  1. I guess I can elaborate on the culture topic, given I’ve been bathing in that topic for the past 2.5 years. Beware, it’s lengthy πŸ™„.

    I think you can look at recruitment as a two sided activity: Strategical and Tactical.

    The tactical one is not so complex, however it is very time consuming. It focuses mostly on the execution, from sourcing, to interviewing, negotiating and onboarding new people.
    It’s usually a very iterative process, where you learn by experience what works best for your organization and there’s no silver bullet (however there are best practices).
    The key to being successful at it though lies in the second one: strategy.

    The strategical part is often the missing one.
    It is not necessarily time consuming, however it is very complex and requires a lot of leadership alignment, and is also the one that will shape the culture of an organization.
    Culture is the bottom-up driver of strategy: in order for the strategy to be executed, you need to build a set of behaviors from the bottom that are aligned with the
    strategical goals of the company. For example, if you’re Netflix, you need to be very result oriented. If you’re Amazon, you need customer oriented teams. If you’re in the
    healthcare industry, then you need detail oriented people. After all, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

    When this alignment happens, it is then easier for hiring managers to define the set of behaviors they’re looking for in candidates, and the more these behaviors are met, the better the culture contribution.
    You might also need in some case a balance between different norms, however focus usually is key to drive execution.

    These are all norms around culture, however there’s also few other models to look into. The two most relevant I’ve found these days are:
    – The five dysfunction of a team. Essentially, you need trust in order to have healthy conflict, get commitment, build accountability and keep attention on results. I recommend the book 😊
    – Psychological safety. You can read more about by searching work from Amy Edmonson, and you can also check out the Aristotle project. Amy also published a book recently, the Fearless Organization. Also recommended 😊

    The key here is to have the missing part between job descriptions and candidates, that is the cause of many failed onboarding: a scorecard.

    A scorecard is essentially an internal super-powered job descriptions. It should contain time based objectives such as:
    – Within the first 3 months, we except you to be able to [objective 1]
    – Within the first 6 months, we except you to be able to [objective 2]
    – Etc…
    If you’re using OKR, the transition and onboarding is very easy to make, and the new person who joins the team already has a clear view on their objectives and key results.
    The other things to include in the score card are the behaviors and expectations. These are usually harder to evaluate, however making them explicit and giving radically candid (another book to read ^^) is usually enough.

    A wise man once said “Culture can be seen as patterns of behaviors reinforced through people and structures” (that’s Charles O’Reilly, read more here
    – Structures are the scorecards, 1-1 meetings, all hands and all other rituals in the organization.
    – People are the managers, leadership and other co-workers.

    Once this strategical task is done, the tactical ones are much easier:
    – Define a set of repeatable questions (i.e: using the STAR framework) to evaluate specific behaviors.
    Have expected pass/fail answers to avoid being biased when evaluating candidates, and make sure everyone interviewing is aware of the behaviors needed,
    and why they matter for the company’s strategy
    – Hard skills: this is often the easiest to evaluate. There are many different ways to evaluate candidates, whatever their position is, so I won’t elaborate too much on it.
    The key is to keep it short to remain inclusive (think of people with family life or side projects in NGOs, can they afford a 2-3 days work assignment?)

    That’s all, I guess πŸ˜…

    Oh, and if you’re wondering how search for behavior in candidates you want to interview, check-out what we do at or shoot me a message πŸ˜‰


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