Don't Hire the Stepford Wives

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Fast Company has a very interesting interview with Matt Mickiewicz, CEO of engineering recruiting firm Hired. Matt discusses recruiting mistakes common to startups (and even more stablished firms).

While other outlets trumpeted the (out of context) soundbite, "don't hire Google engineers," the pearls of wisdom run deeper. Top mistakes:

  • Seeking star companies (Google, Apple, Facebook), rather than star individuals
  • Underpaying (also known as "being cheap")
  • Cloning the founder, the "Stepford Wives" effect
  • Valuing effort - "I can work 80 hours a week; will you???" - over results

I had a similar experience about a decade ago, while I was a VP of technology at a large financial firm The CEO of an Israeli security startup tried to hire me to run his US operations. Over coffee, he kept on reiterating how hard his staff work. They go home at 2am; they sleep at the office; they pull all-nighters; weekends don't exist. Not even once did the young CEO discuss results as opposed to effort. Personally, I would be more impressed if his staff shipped twice as quickly as the nearest competition, but still got into the office at 10am, had a long lunch, and was out by 4:30pm! That would be serious productivity.

These mistakes in hiring all come down to a lack of two things: humility and experience. Someone who has worked for long enough, and, hopefully, had a few failures on the way, has learned that there are many ways to get things done, and his/her way is not the only or even the best way.

  • Google has a shine to it, leading a young founder to think, "boy, their engineers can scale, that is what I need." Someone with more experience asks, "that works for them, how similar are our circumstances?"
  • Someone who has $1MM in investment money and needs, to his mind, 5 engineers, wants to stretch the cash as long as possible. Someone who has been around a little longer realizes that it is not the engineers that count, but the results. If I can get it done with 3 star engineers (40% fewer) for 25% more compensation, that is a great deal.
  • A few years out of college, most of your life experience has been with your cohort. 10-15 years later, you will have interacted with many people older and younger than you, from varying backgrounds and of differing personalities, and (hopefully) have been enriched enough by them to know you need them.
  • The second best teacher of results over effort is a bad performance review when you worked hard on the wrong thing; the best teacher is managing someone else who falls into that trap. But it takes years of real-world experience to get there and learn it.

So how does a young startup founder break past these challenges now? Simple: open your mind, use your advisors and Board, and ask for reviews and help.