Dear Advisor: How can I hire and retain candidates during the "Great Resignation"?

December 2021, updated April 2022

I’ve been recruiting and hiring Data professionals since 2012. To help you stand out for the crowd of companies hiring and backfilling roles during the "Great Resignation", I’m here to share my process, after many lessons learned along the way.

At one start-up I worked for, we made it our priority to have each candidate go from application to offer in 1 week (!), this included 4 rounds of interviews and a scoped-down take home assignment for entry-level candidates that followed the guidelines I share below.

We were able to do this after we had a hiring workflow in place, which I outline in Part I below. I'll then share links to (non-affiliated) job boards in Part II, and advise for retaining candidates in Part III.

Part I: Ahead of Hiring

I’ll preface this section to say that it will take some time to iterate on this section, but once it’s in place, you’ll be able to talk to candidates that are a better fit – and shorten the time it takes between a candidate’s resume submission to getting an offer.

A. You’d also like to hire and retain more diverse candidates. What’s the context around diversity in your company:

  • As you know, diversity is not all about protected classes, but also about different interests and experiences (professional or personal), native languages, and socio-economic backgrounds. Why are you looking to bring on diverse candidates now? What’s changed?

  • Is this a priority for company leadership [HBR]? How?

  • Do you need different viewpoints? How will they be heard?

  • Are you trying to hire your first diverse hire or the next one?

B. Aligning expectations: crafting the job description to attract the right candidates, by addressing the following:

  • Start with the end goal in mind: what gaps on your team is the role is trying to fill, to help you reach your team's goals? How will it contribute to the company’s product and bottom line?

  • Why your company: Different candidates are motivated by different things, including: company mission, great colleagues, challenging projects, autonomy, growth opportunity, and money. Which (combination) of these are you able to offer (at least in part) to your new hire, to get them excited about your company and the role?

  • Think ahead to performance evaluations for the role: What does success in the role look like? What would you like to see a new hire in this role accomplish -- and by when?

  • Think ahead to promotions to/for the role: What does growth in this role for the candidate – and the team look like? Is there a career ladder/progression you can discuss with candidates?

  • To help the candidates see themselves in their new role, visualize how the role will contribute to the company's goals, and evaluate how their interests align with requirements, I recommend checking out the following companies’ career pages to see how they’ve outlined how a new hire will ramp up in a given role:

      • GitLab includes more about the team they’ll be joining;

      • Netlify mentions what you’ll contribute to within 1, 3, 6, and 12 months;

      • Bambee includes a plan for your first week as well as a 30, 60, 90-day plan.

  • What are the (absolute) minimum requirements the role requires to deliver on what you’ve outlined in the previous step? What are nice-to-haves? Is a higher education degree required?

      • Each bullet -- and word – matters, as you’ve probably heard Sheryl Sandberg’s quote that women apply to roles when they can meet 100% of the requirements; men apply when they meet 60%. Tell candidates (in the job description) to apply even if they don't have all of the qualifications, as Netlify does.

      • Does the candidate need to have a public GitHub repository with production-level code? Or is a talk/blog post a better nice-to-have?

  • Does the job title reflect the role?

      • Is it clear whether it's a management or an individual contributor role from the title?

      • Do you really need someone who's Senior -- and has all of these skills -- or can a more junior person be trained up? (I understand that this is a hard decision, because most likely you needed this person 6 months ago, and the current team is overcapacity as it is.)

  • To have inclusive job descriptions; try using Textio or any of the tools mentioned here

  • What perks and benefits do you offer? Is the role actually fully remote, or do you expect candidates to be back in-person even for 1 day a week at some point in the future?

  • What’s your budget for the role? Is it in line with the market for role with similar requirements? If not, what’s competitive about the whole package? To attract candidates, can you share it in your job description [Inc]?

  • How easy is it to apply?

  • What’s the interview process? (Advice on this in the section below)

C. Create as unbiased of a hiring process as possible, to help you evaluate what on-boarding and training the candidate will need, to help you fill the gaps on the team as soon as possible

  • Who’ll review the resumes as they come in? HR, hiring manager, or someone else?

      • When I helped companies hire Data professionals most recently, I was the first person to review resumes and flag them as "yes" for the next round (to talk to HR), "maybe" (for HR to also review and talk to them about points I’d like more clarity on around their expertise) or pass.

  • How will you evaluate each candidate? How many stages do you need to evaluate the minimum (and nice-to-have) requirements of the role? What’s the end goal of each stage – and the rubric to evaluate this?

      • To help evaluate alignment between what you’re looking for and what skills the candidate has, and create rubrics around this, my friend Michelle put this together for hiring Software Engineers

  • Take home assignments are biased; please see here and here as to why. Do you really need one?

      • If yes, is it specific enough to have an end goal – and be completed within a few hours? Does it evaluate the minimum requirements for the role? Do you have a rubric for evaluating each assignment? Will the submission be graded anonymously, within 2 business days hours of submission? Will feedback be provided on request?

      • I’ve found that the greatest signal comes from either the candidate giving a short 5-10 minute talk to the team, with 20-30 min Q&A -- or conceptually walking me through a project they've done using the STAR framework. This way, I get a better idea of their thinking process, talk through the tradeoffs made, and get a sense of their curiosity and passion for the field. (I can always teach someone to write better code.)

  • Will you have diverse interviewers? If you have multiple interviewers, who owns the hiring process, including hand-offs for next steps and budget? Will candidates meet diverse colleagues?

  • When it’s time to decide to hire/pass on the candidate, how will you make the decision?

      • Do you need to be unanimous, or is it a majority vote, or does someone have final say? If it's a majority vote, and your 1 diverse colleague had a different experience that everyone else, what steps do you take?

      • What if someone is a "maybe"should that be a "pass"?

  • What's the expected length of the interview process, for one candidate to go from application to offer? Is it 1 week or 1 month? How long does it take your competitors to hire? (As you’d expect, the longer the process, the more candidates you’d lose out on to competition.)

Part II: Hiring

A. You now have the hiring workflow down. Where can you advertise to hire beyond your network?

  • Does your whole team (not just your current diverse candidates) have ideas?

  • Do you offer referral bonuses?

  • Here’s a non-exhaustive list of (non-affiliated) job boards to advertise with (in no particular order):

  • I’m also happy to share your listing on my website here

  • Is your team consistently (virtually) meeting people in tech communities? Here's a non-exhaustive list (in no particular order) of tech communities:

B. You’re now at the end of the interview process you’ve set out in Part I, you’ve found a great candidate, you’re both on expectations for the role. It’s time to make an offer! I recommend giving the candidate at least a few days to review the written offer of the whole compensation package.

Part III: Retention

Congratulations on your new hire! There’s many, many resources out there with management and leadership tips. I’ll share some of what’s worked for me.

  • Is there an onboarding process/document for the new hire to go through to learn about the company, culture, customers and software?

  • How are decisions made and shared out, especially around pivots, reorganizations and diversity? Is there time for iteration and feedback, or is communication made after the fact?

  • Have regular conversations with each of your direct reports (here’s my agenda for my first 1-1s), around:

        • What each of them is motivated by, what they’re interested in, how they’d like to be recognized, and how they’d like to increase their influence.

        • What it will take to grow in the role and the company, with the help of the career ladder you talked about during the interview process;

        • Aligning on company goals and priorities.

You got this!

If you’re looking for an interim Data leader, need help hiring, or have any feedback/questions, please reach out!

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References