CTO RoundTable #2 - Hiring Myths and Fairytales
In our CTO Rountables, BitWise discusses some of the common myths and fairytales prevalent in the tech world. These notes are for everyone who is recruiting, hiring and seeking great talent.
There are three main myths that are preventing many CTOs from moving forward: Chasing talent, Hiring for cultural fit, and the technical / soft-skills split.
MYTH 1: YOU HAVE TO CHASE TALENT
Hiring managers are trying to hire like they’re ordering at a sandwich counter – but people aren’t a sandwich to which you get to add your “10 requirements”
Job descriptions are littered with fad phrases like “agile’ and “family” that have no meaning behind them
Hiring managers are not discerning between primary, secondary, and tertiary candidate attributes
In the tech world, bringing in “outside help” is frowned upon
Many CTOs want the Justice League at Batman prices or even Marvel at DC prices
It’s like grocery shopping: at home you imagine the apples you want to buy. Once in the store, you see that the produce availability, variety, quality, and prices are very different. You may actually decide to purchase something very different from what you originally intended
By copy and pasting job descriptions, you create “bugs”
Mindlessly adding “hybrid” to your job description because everyone is doing it means you have shrunk your talent pool from global to whoever can/ wants to make it into the office twice a week
Many countries bring in thousands of wealthy, highly-educated immigrants a year who end up taxi-driving in order to support their families because they are not “found” by hiring managers
Hiring is often done by HR (from job description to interview) who may have very little idea what the role is actually about
They’re hiring for a mythical person, not reality
Small to medium-sized enterprises don’t have proper hiring processes in place
Everyone changes after a hire, so hire someone flexible
Who does the organization need in terms of personality?
Job description statistics show that women in particular are put off by job descriptions that aren’t “real” – if they don’t have everything you’re asking for, they won’t apply
There is a myth circulating currently that education is of no value and that it is better to hire someone you like
The tech ecosystem is so massive, that if you haven’t got someone who has coded in the last 5 years, you might as well have got someone straight out of high school
There is a massive lack of training and on the supply side, techs are afraid of new stuff
CONCLUSION: Talent is NOT difficult to find
MYTH 2: YOU HAVE TO HIRE FOR CULTURAL FIT
Where does this mythology come from? It oozes of ego and inflexibility, and lack of awareness as to how diversity can benefit triple bottom line
One common mythological solution is to “hire people that can think” – but those people may be hard to find Another common mythological solution is to “just pay for it” – but there are still no unicorns
People don’t want to invest time or money into their employees – they’re expected (ubiquitously) to “hit the ground running” – the trouble is, they may be sprinting in the wrong direction
HR tends to bring out fancy interview assessment scorecards, where the scoring sheet is far more important than a conversation with the candidate
Often the candidate leaves the interview never having had the opportunity to showcase themselves, or set right an incorrect assumption
If you hire for fit, you may hire a room full of white guys and end up with a college dorm
The interview process is broken in general as the point of interviews has become to judge someone else and find them lacking – and scoring humans leads to all kinds of issues
Introverts and people on the spectrum are disproportionately attracted to tech, yet they fare the worst in scorecard interviews
Getting people to code while someone watches is a terrible idea, it’s not assessing coding, it’s assessing the ability to ignore micromanagement
Cultural fit is more about finding what enables people to work and be productive
There are enormous cultural barriers to finding a person-to-company match – e.g. in many cultures you don’t express opinions to superiors, let alone ask questions
Organizations need to explain what “cultural fit” even is (i.e. “open source”)
Culture is a value: Do you believe what I believe?
Diversity will lead both to innovation and to conflict – culture is what you do with differences in opinion or even conflict
“Commonsense is common, but culture is unique” – culture is not a one-size-fits-all measure
Ethics and conduct are private, so how do you talk about culture for a private company?
There are some attempts to address culture on platforms such as Glassdoor
Small to medium-sized enterprises are often too resource-poor too cope with diversity
The set of features that goes into a culture is not easily definable
What is needed is cultural accommodation – it’s not a source of stress, it is a natural outcome of properly structured communication
Culture is not something you can agree on because it’s what emerges under stress
Culture needs to be stated in job description
Even in a company that has been intentional, there are a lot of cultures within the main corporate culture, like fit in a team where you buffer between company culture and team culture, which can be very different
Hiring managers try and ascertain values during the interview, but a person may be able to adapt – give them an opportunity.
Hiring managers think they’re omniscient, that they can discern the cultural fit of a candidate
Personality compatibility is what people mistake for cultural fit – likeability is what is actually being evaluated
We interview, then send a recorded interview to the teams
CONCLUSION: Hiring for fit creates homogeneity and kills innovation
MYTH 3: YOU HAVE TO SPLIT SOFT SKILLS & TECH SKILLS
The proportion is position-dependent
DISC and other personality assessment tools can be helpful to set a baseline, but should not be used as a basis upon which to exclude or eliminate candidates
Our industry is full of prima donnas
Find opportunities for mavericks to be successful
Companies must provide training so that candidates will have an easier time adjusting
CTOs need to establish clear communication rules, but the rules must be flexible
Once you have the ability to accommodate, your candidate pool becomes much wider.
Soft skills are technical skills, the distinction is facile
CONCLUSION: Everyone thinks they are a great communicator, yet everyone has blind spots.
Everyone is in a hurry. But it is the shallow understanding of reality and insufficient analysis that results in myths and their perpetuation. As a CTO, if you don’t have a clear picture of what needs to be done and how to communicate that in an iterative fashion that’s open to diversity, you will have trouble retaining great talent even if you are able to find them.
CTOs must cultivate patience, and the ability to break down what is required into measurable elements. Not only new hires, but all contributors must have the psychological safety to communicate their understanding of each element and ask questions and be able to offer critique on an iterative basis.
It is the role of the CTO to consider the feedback, and make sure that there is a fulsome understanding of each element and a way of accomplishing it. The time spent on role-play and readiness – walking through scenarios without actually doing them – will actually save time in the long run. CTOs can thus teach people to be self-managing, beginning with tools for tracking tasks and time.
But rather than thinking this is a one-and-done, check in periodically and offer guidance on how to accomplish what they’re trying to do and listen to their concerns. It may come as a surprise, but listening is key. Training, accommodation, and communication bring blind spots to light.