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Finding the best people
By Duncan Austin on Tue 4 July 2023

Great teams need good people. But how do we find the right people? Research by Daniel Kahneman shows that many interview processes are about as effective as pulling names from a hat.

I've learned, in my 2.5 decades in the business, that hiring primarily for skills is shortsighted: skills change quickly. Why make long-term hiring decisions based on short-term factors?

Rather, while skills obviously are important, I'm convinced we should be hiring more for long-term traits like aptitude, diligence, intelligence, grit, humility, industriousness etc.

So I introduced a quirky take-home assessment for my interviews. It's fun, has some gotchas, and has lots of room for applicants to shine. It can be done in 4 hours, but I give them 4 or 5 days.

Then in the interview, they walk us through their assessment and we have a discussion. The assessment is really about the interview. While there are specific things we look for, we are also looking for unique treasures. People excel in individual ways.

My job as the interviewer is to uncover how this candidate can shine. I'm a treasure hunter and in each candidate is some treasure. The assessment gives the candidate that room to shine in their unique ways - ways that they may not be aware of. I need to uncover that.

This is how we now hire developers. It gives us a better picture of their skills because it more accurately recreates the actual job environment. It also gives us a much clearer picture of their attitude and aptitude, and it gives the candidate plenty of room to show what they've got.

Someone who is bright, motivated, and hard-working will close any skill gap very quickly if we provide the environment for them to thrive.

I hired a product manager who had no SAAS experience (her background was dairy!). In her interview, she was clearly bright, honest, specific, and hit the nail on the head with her suggestions for our product. I thought she was more impressive than candidates with years of SAAS behind them. She had done her homework and put in the effort. If she could do that without SAAS experience, what would she do once she had it? Turns out, she's a brilliant SAAS PM and her lack of SAAS-specific skills was very short-lived.

Several developer hires were behind other candidates on skills, but are now stars in the company, people I would do whatever I can to keep. They're bright and motivated. If we give them the environment to shine they will shine. Every time.

People aren't machines and excellence isn't one-size-fits-all. People are often not aware of their areas of strength - it comes so naturally to them that they don't know it's a thing. Our hiring process needs to reflect this reality. It's good for the candidates and it's good for the business.