Everyone wants to hire the best talent. You want someone with enough experience, enough hard technical knowledge, and enough soft skills to drive your project and perhaps even build a team. The issue is that it’s currently an employee market—senior Engineers have the ability to pick which company they want to work for. So, if you’re a startup trying to compete with huge brands like Google, Amazon, or Apple, what do you do?
Take a chance on someone who’s not senior.
We recently hired an intermediate Engineer. What factors did we consider in our process? Let’s start from the beginning.
Commit’s core platform is growing and we decided it was time to expand the team. We needed to bring on a few hands to help us through our growth phase of the platform. As with any other promising startup, we wanted to bring on key people for key roles.
The current team stands at about five Engineers, one of whom fills in the role of tech lead. This means that there’s already a senior there to help with technical decisions and mentorship. However, to grow this team, we’d need to be able to bring in someone who could take on the responsibilities of this role, so we could free up our tech lead to focus on other areas of the organization. Thus, it was the natural move to hire a senior Engineer.
We quickly executed and did the obvious things: posted on job boards and our career site, reached out to our network, blasted messages on Linkedin, and so forth. We attracted a few interested candidates, so we put them through meetings with our team.
How did we assess these candidates? Commit has a stringent process for our Engineering Partners (the baseline would only be higher for someone on the core team who would be interviewing EP candidates). Here are attributes we assess:
- Technical skill
- Breadth and depth of technologies and programming languages
- Systems design knowledge
- Projects they’ve done outside of work
- Do they fit our values?
- Can they work with empathy?
- Do they work out loud?
- Is this someone who can take our current devs to the next level?
- Have they truly mentored other engineers in the past?
- Do they not only drive project success and engineering quality but push organizational initiatives as well?
- Can they communicate effectively with team members as well as non-technical stakeholders?
After speaking with many candidates, we weren’t able to hire anyone. There were many factors that came in play, but there’s also a good chance our bar was a little bit too high. We took our requirements back to the drawing board and prioritized what we really cared about.
Long story short: we decided to focus more on culture and potential for leadership. Why? If a candidate has the right attitude and a mentality that fits a startup environment, and they’re coachable, then we’d be able to accelerate their growth quickly to a senior level. We believe that technical skills can be learned rapidly under the right guidance, but mentality and culture fit are much more difficult to change.
With these new targets, we lowered our seniority level to look for an intermediate candidate, and were able to find and hire a promising future leader in just a few weeks. We’ve noticed a huge boost in the team’s energy from bringing in someone that’s super excited to contribute and grow—something that can be seen less often among senior Engineers.
It’s still a bit early, but our new hire is adjusting incredibly well. We’re incredibly optimistic about this strategy, and we’ll be looking at intermediate-level Engineers moving forward.
Over the last 10 years, Phong Thieu has led teams, planned projects, laid out project roadmaps, and mentored other software engineers to reach business goals on time, within specification, and with low burnout.