Want A Good Candidate? Ask Them To Do The Job

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HR departments, hiring managers, college admissions officers... all of them spend inordinate amounts of time looking for better and more effective ways of determining if a candidate will be a good fit for the job. In essence, the problems usually boil down to two:

  1. Will they successfully do the job?
  2. Will the fit in with the people?

Number two, in many ways, is the hardest, because it cannot be measured. But number one is also challenging. We as a society use grades (GPA), test scores (SAT/GMAT/MCAT/etc.), school affiliation, past promotion, even past compensation all as proxies for trying to determine if a person can and will be successful at the job, whether it is as secretary, intern, college freshman or CEO.

In the last week, I have seen two interesting takes - one in college admissions, one in job applications - that simply say, "to see if you will be able to do the job, let us see if you can do the job."

The first is Bard College. The New York Times reviewed Bard's experiment that offered applicants the ability to dispense with the usual college-application "waste", and simply write long essays on four of any of twenty-one offered topics. A grade of B+ across the essays means automatic acceptance. Assuming a liberal arts degree - or any real college degree - is supposed to be about thinking, writing, challenging, growing, what better way to see if someone will be able to write complex essays on complex topics than to ask them to do so.

Do four great essays mean the person will fit in culturally? Not necessarily. But someone who can sit, think and write not one but four great essays on challenging topics is far more likely to have the intellectual chops to fit with that sort of environment.

The other case was the famous venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz, a.k.a. a16z. Apparently a16z is looking to build an engineering team. Since both founding partners, Marc Andreesen and Ben Horowitz, started as engineers - and engineering never really leaves your heart - it is unsurprising that they want the skills in house and want the best they can find. And how are they going about doing it? Right here is their online test. Write a particular program in any language you choose, from beginning to end, in a timed fashion. You can pick your language; they don't care. You can pick your tools; they don't care. They don't even care if you have an engineering degree or no degree at all. They do care if you have a GitHub account and some interesting projects.

In short, a16z cares that you have done it and can continue to do it. All of the rest is secondary.

In my days of hiring, I always asked for engineers. Not developers, not coders, not administrators, but engineers. I didn't care what they knew; I cared how they thought, and what their mindset was. It wasn't about the credentials, nor even the skills, but the capabilities and thought-processes.

These are just two good examples of sanity returning to the recruiting process. All they are asking is if you want to do the job, show us you can do the job.