On Hiring a Team

It’s been about two years since I last hired someone, but I can feel the muscle memory kicking interviewin.  That delicate balance of both buying and selling at the same time; the drive past where the candidate starts towards what I need to know about what they’ve done and how they’ve done it; the explanations of what the role, team, product, and company are like.

The first time I was involved in hiring people it was at a small reseller and I interviewed all our potential college hires.  I learned how to disarm people to get to the meat of their accomplishments.  My favorite example was of someone who leaned back in his chair and proudly told me that he didn’t buy any of his textbooks in college.  I also learned how accurate first impressions usually are in the long term.  It wasn’t solely up to me whether someone got the job or not, but I often was the gate through which candidates had to pass.

When I hired at Dell, it was for my own team that I was building, somewhat from scratch.  I learned that people usually forgot to ask about what the role entailed day-to-day, and that was a major source of issues down the road.  “Solutions Marketing Manager”, as it turned out, could mean a lot of things, and not all of them had to do with what I was hiring for.  I learned that finding things people were proud of was the best way to learn who they really were and what they really wanted.

Maybe most importantly, I learned that a former manager of mine was right in valuing a diversity of skills on a team over any one top contributor, although I probably didn’t appreciate that until far after the interviewing part was over.  Hiring a team from scratch really forced me to think through what I saw the team as growing into.  Handling people’s questions about culture and career path and priorities forced me into forming opinions about those things in a way no other exercise would have.

Now I’m hiring again for my own team, from scratch.  What I’m learning is not really about the process or the hiring per se, but about how to describe the job to someone.  Startup jobs by their nature are less well-defined than jobs at larger, more established companies, and yet someone has to decide to take a job doing something.  I’ve been breaking it down for candidates as I mentioned earlier: role, team, product, company, which seems to work for most people.

What’s also been really interesting this time around is that I am working on our company and product messaging at the same time as I’m recruiting people.  So each interview or phone screen is also an opportunity to hone our messaging, to practice explaining what we do to someone who is smart but not familiar with us, and see if it works.  I’m not hiring IT professionals (our target audience) but people who professionally market and sell to IT professionals are a good proxy.

Hiring: it’s one of the most important things I will do in the first half of this year.

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