How to avoid unconscious bias when hiring

Edited excerpt from The Boss Doesn’t Want Your Résumé ($$) by Rachel Feintzeig:

Research on unconscious bias has shown that information like a person’s name can affect how they’re viewed and subtly prompt managers to make unfair decisions.

So-called “blind hiring” redacts information like a person’s name or alma mater, so that hiring managers form opinions based only on that person’s work. Companies invite job candidates to perform a challenge — writing a software program, say — and bring the top performers in for interviews or, eventually, job offers.

Bosses say blind hiring reveals true talents and results in more diverse hires.

(1) Thank you Persha Valman for the tip.
(2) “Unconscious bias” — cf. How to avoid hiring someone just because you like them.
(3) “Form opinions based only on that person’s work” — see (i) The best way to find out how good a candidate really is, (ii) How to run a job interview and (iii)  How to test job candidates for “learning agility”.
(4) However, there are pitfalls in testing and looking at past work — see The limits of trying to test people when you’re hiring and Don’t hire based on past experience.

Don’t hire based on past experience

Edited excerpt from Happy Birthday HubSpot! 9 Lessons From Our First 9 Years by Dharmesh Shah:

When building the early team, don’t get hung-up on how people look on “paper”, i.e. how experienced someone is. Brian (my co-founder) calls these kind of hires the “Press Release Hire”. Litmus test: Imagine you hired this person. Would you issue a press release to let the world know that you brought this awesome person on board? If so, you’re probably more focused on what they’ve done instead of what they will do for you.

Don’t get me wrong, if you can get someone that’s a great fit and they’ve accomplished something in the past, and you think that’ll translate to doing great things at your company, go for it. But remember, past successes at really big companies don’t guarantee future success at your company. The context is very different.

Also, don’t ignore talented future stars because they lack experience and nobody has heard of them. At HubSpot, in those early years, we were all relatively unqualified for the roles we were in. Some might argue I’m still unqualified for the role I’m in. But we were hungry, willing to learn and most importantly — we cared.

(1) “Hungry” — see 5 testable qualities that determine a candidate’s potential.
(2) “Willing to learn” — see How to test job candidates for “learning agility” and The 3 things Google looks for when hiring.
(3) “Most importantly — we cared”. How would you test for that?

What to look for when hiring someone to work remotely

Edited excerpt from What distributed startup Zapier learnt while building a 100% remote team by Marina Janeiko:

What skills or mindsets are you looking for when hiring for remote positions?

— People who write well, since most communication is written.
— People who are self motivated, since there is no one around to tell them what to do.
— People who are curious, because they tend to try things rather than sitting around and waiting for instruction.

What to look for in a great employee

Edited excerpt from Jason Lemkin’s answer to From the perspective of a CEO, what are the most underrated skills most employees lack?:


Most employees just can’t be owners.  This may not matter at Adobe, or Google, or wherever. But up until you have 500 employees or so, the CEO is looking for owners.  People that don’t just play a role, but truly own something, that make 100% sure it comes in ahead of time and ahead of expectations — with as little drama as possible.

Ship your feature ahead of time, and make it delightfully better than expected.  Better yet, ship a feature everyone else said was too hard to build, that couldn’t be done.  Hit your sales plan well ahead of time, while still making time to help others and show them how to do it as well.  Hit your lead commit ahead of time.  Don’t just balance the books, but exceed the collections goal, every month.  Whatever it is.

This isn’t the same as “taking the initiative”, it’s a superset of that.  It’s delivering.  And it’s very, very easy to do in a start-up actually.  Vs. almost impossible in a BigCo.  Just overdeliver on everything you’re given to do.  And not just your part — the whole project you are working on.  See where others are falling behind, and help them.  Folks around you will naturally gravitate toward that.  You’ll become a natural leader, over time.

(1) How could you test for this in the hiring process?
(2) Cf. Setting clear goals = empowerment.

What to look for when hiring sales people

Edited excerpt from What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest by Steve W. Martin:

I recently conducted a research project involving nearly 800 salespeople and sales leaders to better answer this question: What separates high-performing salespeople who exceed their quota from under-performers who miss their quotas by more than 25%?

1. Verbal acuity. On average, high-performing salespeople communicate between the 11th and 13th grade level when scored by the Flesch-Kincaid test as opposed to the 8th and 9th grade level for underperforming salespeople.

2. Achievement oriented personality. They are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals. Over 85% of top salespeople played an individual or team sport in high school.

3. Situational dominance. A relaxed-dominant salesperson speaks freely and guides the conversation as he confidently shares his knowledge and opinions with the customer. An anxious-submissive salesperson is forced into reactive behavior and his tendency is to operate under the direction of the customer, never being in control of the account.

4. Inward pessimism. Over 90% of all salespeople described themselves as optimists, but two-thirds of high-performing salespeople actually exhibit pessimistic personality tendencies. I theorize the explanation for this dichotomy is that salespeople always have to maintain a positive attitude and pleasant demeanor while in front of customers. However, inward pessimism drives a salesperson to question the viability of the deal and credibility of the buyer, and thus to ask the customer tougher qualifying questions and to seek out meetings with senior level decision makers who ultimately decide which vendor will be selected.

(1) “Over 90% of all salespeople described themselves as optimists, but two-thirds of high-performing salespeople actually exhibit pessimistic personality tendencies.” How can we test for this?
(2) Cf. How to interview sales people.

The limits of trying to test people when you’re hiring

Edited excerpt from Why we don’t hire programmers based on puzzles, API quizzes, math riddles, or other parlor tricks by David Heinemeier Hansson:

I remember the first time I interviewed for a front-end programming position and got asked how to do something in JavaScript on a white board. The specifics are vague, but it’s crystal clear how stupid it made me feel and how little it had to do with the actual job.

I’ve known fabulous programmers flame out in the quizzing cage and terrible ones excel. So unless you’re specifically hiring someone to design you the next sorting algorithm, making them do so on the white board is a poor gauge of future success.

The only reliable gauge I’ve found for future programmer success is looking at real code they’ve written, talking through bigger picture issues, and, if all that is swell, trying them out for size.

(1) In other words, the problem with using tests to ascertain a candidate’s capabilities is that tests don’t replicate a real work context.
(2) Here’s an alternative approach: How to run a job interview.
(3) See also The best question to ask in a job interview: Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough.

How to hire senior executives for your startup

From The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:

If you’ve never done the job yourself, how do you hire someone good?

Step 1: Know what you want
Resist the temptation to educate yourself simply by interviewing candidates. The very best way to know what you want is to act in the role. Often, CEOs resist acting in functional roles because they worry that they lack the appropriate knowledge. This worry is precisely why you should act — to get the appropriate knowledge.

It also helps greatly to bring in domain experts.

Finally, be clear in your own mind about your expectations for this person upon joining your company. What will this person do in the first 30 days? Do you want them to build a large organization right away or hire only one or two people over the next year?

Step 2: Run a process that figures out the right match
Write down the strengths you want and the weaknesses that you are willing to tolerate. Develop questions that test for the criteria. Assemble the interview team. And get backdoor and front-door references.

Step 3: Make a lonely decision
The ultimate decision should be made solo. Only the CEO has comprehensive knowledge of the criteria, the rationale for the criteria, all of the feedback from interviewers and references, and the relative importance of the various stakeholders. Consensus decisions about executives almost always sway the process away from strengths and toward lack of weakness.

How to hire someone to handle outsourcing for your startup

Edited excerpt from The Most Effortless and Effective Outsourcing System I’ve Used by Scott Britton:

1. Hire or designate someone to be your Virtual Team Architect. Find someone who’s internet saavy, like a college student, and invest some time in them. Have them go through video tutorials online for popular sites like Elance and Odesk. There will be some upfront time costs, but in the long run it will be incredibly worth it.

2. Once you have your Virtual Team architect, have them find you a dedicated virtual assistant. Identify the key pieces of software that you use (i.e. google apps, aweber) and have them identify assistants on sites like Elance and Odesk that have experience with this. Also set a price range and the expected number of hours that you anticipate this person working for you per week.

3. Identify tasks that can be outsourced. The best way to identify tasks that can be outsourced is to keep a log of everything you do for a week. Using this list, ask yourself what doesn’t require your unique set of skills to identify what to outsource.

4. Begin ramping up your Virtual Assistant by building a video library of tasks. I’ve found that creating videos where I explain and demonstrate exactly what I want is the most time efficient way to delegate a task. It minimizes the back and forth and makes things crystal clear. To record my screencasts, I use Screenflow for Mac.

(1) Scott focuses on outsourcing for individuals. But his advice can be extended to an entire company.
(2) At Seeking Alpha, we’ve found that offshoring is more effective than outsourcing for many tasks. We’ve built an outstanding team of 40 people in India. The core was built by Tova Citrin, who now runs her own business helping companies to build offshore teams.

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring rule

Mark Zuckerberg, quoted in Entrepreneurial Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg:

What’s the right heuristic for determining if someone is really good? Over time, what I figured out was that the only actual way to let someone analyze whether someone was really good was if they would work for that person. I don’t think that needs to recurse too many levels down in the organization but I basically think that’s a really good heuristic. I believe that. If you look at my management team today if we were in an alternate universe and I hadn’t started the company it would be an honor to work for any of these people. I think if you build a company that has those kind of values, rather than just saying ‘oh I want to hire the best person I can find’ or whatever, if you hold yourself to that standard then I think you’ll build a pretty strong company.

The first hire after your core team: a great office manager

Excerpts from The Controversial First Role to Hire After Your “A Round” by Mark Suster:

Your first hire after that first round of capital is an office manager / company-wide assistant.

Your single most valuable asset in the early days is your senior team and presumably nobody is more valuable than the founding team. And you’re bogged down in expense claims, booking hotel rooms, scheduling meetings, dealing with a leaky toilet, processing payroll, ordering computers, etc.

So what would you look for in an ideal world? Somebody who:
– Knows that their job is to be administrative so that they won’t feel like they’re being asked to do a role they feel is “beneath them”
– Aspires to be more than the CEOs admin
– Is extraverted and pleasant and has great “bedside manner” with customers, investors, press, recruits, etc. who might be calling
– Is organized, disciplined & trustworthy
– Can work with many people. You’re not looking to hire a personal assistant so much as an “office manager” who doesn’t mind helping with coffee, copying, faxing
– Is numerate and can do some basic data entry, accounts payable, collections, etc, until you’re ready to bring on more accounting staff.

The 3 things Google looks for when hiring

From How to Get a Job at Google by Thomas Friedman, quoting Google SVP of people operations Laszlo Block:

“For every job the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.

[The second] is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

What else? Humility and ownership.

Trial periods and deferring premium pay

From Reinventing Hiring by Dr. Todd Dewett:

Use non-permanent initial employment.  It’s often called probation, but I’m sure we can come up with a better label.  In the US it’s fairly rare for professional roles, though more common in other countries, for example, the UK.  Zappos is really onto something in this regard by paying people to quit, but I think they could save their money by simply initiating a 6-12 month try-out period.  Nobody can hide real deficiencies or fool you by managing impressions for that long.  Over this period, you honestly get to know someone and can then make an informed decision since you’ve observed them produce work and collaborate with the team.

Defer premium pay.  Instead, go market or submarket.  Are you willing to pay top wages for top talent?  Yes.  Should you pay it before seeing what they can do?  No.  A better alternative is to agree on a much-improved second year compensation package that kicks in after they survive the probation period.  If you’re a destination employer due to overall culture, opportunity, and pay, this will work.  You’ll find the talent who really wants to build something meaningful with you over time and you’ll weed out the mercenaries who are always looking for the next jump.

Do you think these suggestions are fair and would work?

Advice for graduating college students

From the Corner Office interview with Ariel Investments CEO John W. Rogers Jr.:

I try to get them to focus on a few things. One is the importance of hard work and really putting in the extra effort from Day 1, when they start their careers. Surprise your boss that you’re there on a Saturday or a Sunday or late in the evening. It shows people you’re committed.

The second thing is to always look for ways to help your teammates. And the third thing is to make sure you live up to the commitments that you make to your teammates. Become that rare person where people know that your word is your bond and you’re going to do exactly what you say you’re going to do.

Should you hire consultants?

You meet a terrific person, who is unable to accept a full time position with your company, but offers to do some paid consulting for you. Should you bring them on as a consultant?

My view: Almost never, for two reasons:

  1. Your long term success is entirely dependent on the team you build. As Vinod Khosla says, “the company you build is the team you build”. So your goal is not to “execute a set of tasks”, but to “build an outstanding team”. Consultants are therefore only valuable if they help you build that team faster. That’s rarely the case, because managing a consultant takes time and mindshare, which reduces the time and mindshare you can spend hiring a great (full time) team.
  2. Your biggest challenges often require you to “figure things out”. External consultants rarely figure the hard things out for you, and if they do, much of the knowledge is theirs, not your company’s.

None of this is affected by how good the consultant is, or the potential short-term achievements from hiring the consultant.

What makes people successful?

From Amy Chua and Ben Rubenfeld:

It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

Any individual, from any background, can have what we call this Triple Package of traits. But research shows that some groups are instilling them more frequently than others, and that they are enjoying greater success.

It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself. Add impulse control — the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.

I’m not sure I agree with this, and the ethnic characterizations in the article leave me uncomfortable. For example, do successful people have “a superiority complex”, or rather strong belief in their own potential? These are  not the same — one is relative to other people, the other is entirely personal. But the article is thought provoking nonetheless.

Should you hire superstars?

From Untangling Skill and Luck by Michael Mauboussin:

Some companies seek to enhance their performance by hiring stars from other organizations. This practice has a number of challenges. First, a good deal of performance is context dependent; an individual can thrive in one setting but struggle in another. Second, stars tend to be, in part, beneficiaries of luck. A .300 hitter in baseball, for example, will go through periods of hitting .400-plus or sub-.200. Players who go on the market after a period of above-average results will be evaluated, and paid, based in part on luck. Research shows that stars rarely deliver good value for their new organizations.

(1) This reminds me of the small print at the bottom of ads for mutual funds: Past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Michael’s point is that you shouldn’t pay up for past performance, because it’s a poor predictor of future performance.
(2) But if you can identify the factors which are correlated with future performance, then shouldn’t you hire and pay up for future stars?

The ideal personality type for product managers

Excerpted from Ben Foster:

Some types are (a lot) better suited for Product Management than others.

Since most people are familiar with Myers-Briggs and it offers a more robust profile than most other personality assessments I’ve seen, I’ll use that standard.  If you’re not familiar with the Myers-Briggs type indicators, you should be. Having worked with literally hundreds of different Product Managers, I’ve also pulled together some observations about what works and what doesn’t for each spectrum.

  • Extrovert vs. Introvert: Get someone who is somewhere near the middle. Product Managers need to be comfortable working alone at a whiteboard for 3 hours and equally cofortable chatting it up in the hallway.
  • Sensing vs. Intuiting: This is a no-brainer: N (intution) is better than S (sensing).
  • Thinking vs. Feeling: Thinking is more important than feeling.
  • Judging vs. Perceiving: Product Managers need a balance between the two.

(So) if I were forced to hire based on Myers-Briggs alone, I would hire my first Product Manager as an INTJ.

Here’s how strongly correlated Product Management and Myers-Briggs assessments can be. Around early 2005, eBay did a Myers-Briggs analysis of the entire Product Management team (over 100 people), and the results were staggering: Entire U.S. population: only 2.1% is INTJ. eBay Product Management: INTJ accounted for over 50%.

Five hiring tips for managers

From Sarah Allen’s little rules for working life:

  • The #1 job of a good manager is hiring and retaining great people.
  • Never hire until you’ve interviewed at least three great candidates.
  • Move fast on a great candidate.
  • If all of your candidates look the same, you have a recruiting problem.
  • Always be recruiting.

How to hire – drill a well before you need a drink

From Bill McComb, CEO at Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc:

Drill a well before you need a drink—Start looking for the unstoppables and don’t stop the hunt. Meet people outside the company to learn, not judge. When I switched industries, leaving Johnson & Johnson to join Liz Claiborne Inc. (now Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc.) I knew I had to learn everything I could about fashion and retailing. To do so, I began “interviewing” talented people in the industry. Quickly I accumulated a talent map of the industry. My goal wasn’t to actually hire at that stage, but to know a broad range of leaders at competitors— and to find some unstoppable leaders in my new industry. Some meetings were a waste, sure. More often, insights were shared, friends were made, and a network of potential future candidates was built in the process. I continue to talent map today, well after fully staffing my leadership bench, and always will.

Hiring millennials – what to avoid

Lesley Jane Seymour is Editor in Chief of More Magazine at Meredith Publishing Corp. From her advice about hiring millennials:

Don’t hire them if you sense even a whiff of entitlement. I tell every prospective employee that they will be gofers for the first two years (that means chores like packing clothes for shoots and doing their boss’s expenses) even if they won’t be.

When one young man who wanted to be a magazine writer said, “But my university led me to believe…,” I said, “Stop right there. No one cares what your college led you to believe. They only care if you can use a copy machine and answer phones. That is how we all started.” No surprise: Our discussions ended there.

Lesley Jane is right: great people don’t have a sense of entitlement. They’re prepared to roll up their sleeves to get stuff done.  And because they succeed, they end up with better careers and far greater financial rewards than the people who feel entitled.

But this true of everyone, irrespective of career stage, age, and generation. Not just millennials.