October 01, 2019
We sat down with ShowTech CTO, John Kerr, to reflect on what he’s learnt over his years of experience hiring tech talent. And what his top tips would be to others.
John’s role at ShowTech is a bit more rogue than the typical Chief Technology Officer. Usually, CTOs of start-ups tend to be whoever created the product, but that’s not the case here at ShowTech. John joined a bit later with previous experience in both developer and managerial roles. The climate of a start-up is already vastly different from larger companies because there are fewer people to do specific things, so everyone has to get a bit more involved in everything. This has meant that whilst John takes a broader step back to do the strategic planning, hiring and managing, he’s also been involved in the development, infrastructure, support and design.
With years of experience behind him, let’s see what lessons John has learnt as a CTO when hiring tech talent.
The last thing you want to do is to spend an hour interviewing someone who you realised in the first 5 minutes wasn’t right for the role. John explains that this nightmare can easily be avoided if you thoroughly review the candidate before you meet them in person.
For example, rather than doing a quick sense check of a CV, he likes to thoroughly read through and pick out any interesting bits that he can discuss in more detail later. It might take more time, but it’s worth it in the long run when he’s got the right hire.
Pre-interview tests are a great way to find out lots of useful information about your candidates. John usually sets questions to assess both technical ability and interpersonal skills, so a mixture of code challenges, technical knowledge and competency-based questions. Technical testing gives him confidence that they can actually do the job so he can get more into the why and how during the face-to-face interview.
If you want to find a good fit for your team you really need to understand who they are and what makes them tick, so take the time to find out more about them before the interview. Automated technical assessments it what John uses to gather this information, freeing up time and it means you can ask candidates the more interesting, telling questions in the interview.
You know what they say, honesty is the best policy. And not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’ll actually make hiring the best candidate much easier.
Being transparent about expectations from the start means he can avoid wasting time when there are discrepancies further down the line. He believes a vital step in the process is checking what the candidate is looking for matches the vacancy he’s trying to fill. Also, from having had experience of being both sides of the table, John strongly believes salary expectations should be discussed at the start, not at the end when it usually is. In his experience as a candidate, he applied for a role where he made it through to the final interview but found out they couldn’t meet his salary expectations. This was a huge waste of time for both him and the company, which could have easily been avoided if discussed earlier.
John says it’s also important to give candidates honest feedback when they’re not successful. If they’ve spent time in assessments and interviews you should be upfront with why it didn’t work.
“We need to hire 5 developers” – That’s a phrase you’ll never hear John say, because if you need to fill a certain number of roles then you’re bound to compromise on quality. John would much rather not hire at all than hire badly, which isn’t always doable but bad hires can be more costly than they can do good. If you don’t hire quality candidates, then it can take the team more time to pick up the pieces fixing their mistakes. Having high standards ensures you only accept those who are truly right for the role and the team, which can sometimes mean not hiring at all.
John aims to hire candidates who are just as smart or smarter than him because he wants people who will challenge his ideas. If he has a team of people who agrees to everything he says, he wouldn’t get the best results. Imagine being on a project and no one questions or challenges your approach, then in the end when something goes wrong, you’re the one responsible. John wants to find candidates who will challenge his ideas and come forward with different solutions at the start of the project, before its too late.
Setting the standards high might mean it takes longer to hire, but in the end, you’ll have the best results.
John has learnt that being open-minded about what you’re looking for is the key to finding exactly what you need. He doesn’t look for specific skills or experience but rather focuses on fundamentals and transferrable skills. It’s important to remember that people are the product of the place they have worked, they only have the specific skills they acquired there, but that’s not necessarily all they are capable of. Someone who has various skills across the board may be able to bring something to the team you didn’t know you needed.
John has found that when a tick box list of skills approaches has been used to identify talent, it can cut off the right people, so it’s more helpful to maintain a holistic view where possible. In tech especially, the skills you want one year might differ from the next. Stacks are getting reinvented all the time (or at least they should be) for example, 3 years ago you would be hiring for Angular but now it’s all about React. You want people to know the fundamental skills of the technology but it’s more important to find transferable skills and people who can adapt.
It’s important to be flexible on things like budget because you wouldn’t want to let the right person walk away. But at the same time, it’s important to remain open-minded because you don’t want to get stuck on one candidate who could completely blow your strategy way out the water.
Being open-minded could help you find the perfect candidate, but it also means you may need to commit to more training for long term results.
Interpersonal skills are just as important, if not more important, than hard skills to John.
Two heads are better than one when it comes to problem-solving, so the ability to communicate and work with the team to solve problems means you’re finding the best solutions. Finding a creative person to join your team can also bring creative ideas and solutions to your everyday challenges.
John wants to find people who are committed and passionate, not necessarily to the role or the company, but their craft. When he’s looking through CVs or chatting in interviews, he wants to find out if they have any side projects or attend any outside events. The tech industry changes so quickly and it can be easy to fall out of the loop, but John wants to find passionate people who make the extra effort to stay up to speed.
Succession planning isn’t always a CTO’s top priority when you want to support and retain your current staff. But people inevitably move on, and since you can’t hold on to the same people forever you need to think about your talent pipeline. John explains that when a vacancy arises it can be easy to fall into tunnel vision and try to fill the gap by looking for a clone of what you just had. However, it can be more beneficial if you look at the bigger picture and hire for what the business needs for the future.
This takes time and when you’re busy with hundreds of other things this doesn’t take the top spot on the list. John admits that he would have liked to have done more succession planning as it can make hiring easier when the time comes.
John believes the current recruitment process isn’t working the best it could be for anyone. Frustrated hiring managers trying to frantically fill roles, frustrated recruiters trying to find talent in a competitive market, and frustrated candidates ruling themselves out of roles because they don’t tick enough boxes. John says LinkedIn is bombarded with messages, but often remains opaque. He thinks transparency and honestly would make the process much smoother, as it manages expectations from the start and could save people much more time. He stresses the importance of being opening minded and flexible with candidates as non-standard career paths increasing and especially with remote working becoming more prevalent.
The main message from John is to focus on hiring with intention and aiming for quality over quantity.
If you want to see how technical testing with our ShowTech Tech Assessments Platform can give you more insight into your candidates, confidence in their technical abilities and streamline your recruitment contact Team ShowTech today!