Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hiring practices

I interviewed for several positions in the last few months, and that too fresh from listening to people like Paul English who have finessed the practice of hiring to an incredible art+science. I had drunk the kool-aid and only interviewed for positions I was passionate about and with companies that I thought I could make significant contributions to. My experience and the prescribed best practices were a world apart.

It started with a company trying to source authoritative information from the wikipedia, assuming it would not have crossed my mind to Google myself. They topped it off by sending me an email (which I have saved) questioning my integrity and intelligence. Struck rather speechless and extremely offended, I escalated the issue to a certain level within their organization, and then moved on, overwhelmed by the negative energy, making a mental note to never ever cross paths again. I was off to a great start at the races.

It was followed by an experience where it took a full 6.5 weeks from the date of initial contact to hear the outcome and this experience was even more strange - they requested FIVE references overnight after 2 rounds of interviews, and I pinged a lot of very busy people who were very gracious and agreed to serve as my reference at such short notice. These references were then made to wait a week, in some cases called late, in other cases had their requests for preferred communication modes ignored. Each reference was interrogated for at least 45 minutes and *then*, I was told that I didn’t meet the basic job description after all. I had already completed 2 round of interviews before this. I might be forgiven for thinking they’d figure out I didn’t meet their basic criteria a lot sooner than this! Chalk that down as weird experience #2.

Then came two interview experiences where no one would tell me what POSITION I was interviewing for, or even which group within the company, but instead repeatedly kept asking me “what would you like to do?"! Apparently this is a part of their strategy to assess where I would fit best and to prevent candidates from giving canned answers. (Yes, I had applied for a specific position - but the minute I walked in, my interviewers made it clear that it’s not necessarily the position I was being interviewed for and wouldn’t tell me what else I was being considered for!). Seriously, if the candidate doesn’t even know which group they’re interviewing for, leave alone the position, how on earth are they supposed to tell you what they can do for you?! Maybe this strategy might work if they only interviewed people with the exact background and skill set needed, in which case they will be able to hear what they want to hear. But given my diverse background, I need to know what it is you want done before I can tell you whether I have any relevant experience, and how I can help! It’s simply not possible to list every skill, kitchen-sink style, on a one page resume, and not confuse the heck out of the reader. I was surprised to come across not one, but two companies that followed this interview method.

Next came another interesting experience - this company made me go through 3 rounds of interviews, including a take-home exam! I invested over 20 hours interviewing with this company. I thought the interviews went extremely went well and was therefore shocked to hear that I hadn’t made the cut. I requested feedback and got none. I then tried escalating my request for feedback and got no response - not even a polite email explaining it’s not company policy to provide feedback. Really? And this is considered acceptable? You ask a candidate to invest 20+ hours of their time interviewing, but will not take 10 minutes to provide one-time feedback even after I had made it clear, in writing, that verbal feedback is perfectly fine (in case they’re worried about liability issues) and I was strictly asking for self-improvement purposes only. That completely turned me off the company culture.

I muse about this for a couple of reasons:

1. Are our hiring practices so screwed up in this country (I have no outside the US interview experience) that interested AND qualified candidates must jump through ridiculous hoops in order to get hired? Maybe it’s a function of the economy - hiring managers only want to hire people who are an exact skill fit. It flies against Paul’s wisdom (which I agree with) about hiring for
intelligence, attitude, lack of dysfunctional behavior and the ability to get stuff done.

2. Is my experience just an unlucky coincidence or have others experienced something similar?

3. Why is there such a huge disconnect between the theory and practice of hiring?

When it’s my turn to hire, I intend to hang Paul’s advice on my wall and make it my mantra.

UPDATE: I heard from a number of friends after they read this post. The story has a happy ending fortunately: I will be joining a stealth start-up come January.

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