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Engineering Management Recruiting is Broken — Here’s How to Fix It

Engineering management recruiting is broken.


The fundamental reason is that companies have done exactly what comes naturally to them: to be self-centered. They focus on what they want, and unfortunately, this tends to turn recruiting into a skill-set wish list. As a result, companies seek candidates that can check boxes on a job requirement — rather than the specific ability and hunger to tackle a company’s most pressing challenges.

To make matters worse, the interview process itself is a one-way conversation. The company gets the information it thinks it needs, while the candidate is left with far from enough data to make an educated decision on whether or not to join a company. The final result of this process can be costly for both the individual and the company. The new engineering manager might not realize what they’ve gotten themselves into, and the company may end up no closer to solving those top priority problems. In fact, the resulting unhappiness and dysfunction caused through this mismatch might just create more problems.

How do you fix this broken process, then? You turn the whole thing on its head.

I’m not just making this up — I recently went through a process just like this. And it was the best (and scariest) process I’ve been through.

This unique approach centered around an onsite challenge that asks candidates to think about their first year on the job. To look into the future and lay out their successes and failures. To point to where their skills served them well and where they need improvement. And how the combination of all this impacted their team and the company. What this challenge does, in turn, is to frame the bulk of the recruiting process through the candidate’s lens — their true interests, wants, and capabilities in a specific context. Rather than the company’s skill-set wish list.

In order to collect data to execute this challenge, candidates are invited to shadow the team, sit in on standup meetings, and pick out individual engineering team members to conduct 1-on-1’s with. More than simply role-playing, it ends up being a total immersion.

Though I’ve voluntarily shadowed at other companies I was interviewing at before, what I liked about this process was that it:

  • Was clearly designed by someone who had stood in the candidate’s shoes.

  • Provided a framework to parse the data I was collecting about the company — in terms of the team dynamic, the challenges the company faces, and how I would fit into this environment.

  • Informed me, in a much more direct way, what kind of company this was. I wasn’t just being given transparency — the company was putting itself in a vulnerable position by showing me its true colors (and challenges/problems). And I respected this.

When it came time to make a decision, I felt like I had the data I needed to know that the company was the right fit for me — and vice versa. I had sized up the challenges and goals ahead, I had put my real skills on display, and I was ready to hit the ground running to address and execute them.

Lastly — and this is the part that has really stuck with me — there was something scary and liberating about writing down and presenting my fate a year from now. Something I know can be pulled out of a drawer at the end of that real year. I love the accountability that’s been created through this. It’s as if the line between my recruitment and my first day has been blurred.

See you in a year.

Photo credit: ishawalia

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