Do we hire “The Best” then?

In all my recruiting activities I’m committed to hiring the most talented individuals working within the IT sector. I’d love to say they are “The Best” on the planet but then, I’ve not met every one on the planet to compare them. So who do we hire, and how do we do it? When I talk to a candidate I’m trying to assess whether I have to offer what they are looking for. Sometimes we don’t, even I didn’t get the helicopter on the roof and the golden toilet. However, if their motivations are more modest – the will to work on a number of different projects across multiple domains, to work with other talented people who are always keeping their skills sharp and freedom from heavy weight hierarchies, maybe we can help them.

As a recruiter I’m wholly aware that tenure is not automatically a guarantee of suitability for the unique demands that ThoughtWorks asks of its’ professional services staff. 10 years in a cubicle not raising your head to take stock does not a ThoughtWorker make… a will to change practices that are out dated or inefficient and a will to deliver value to the business above all are better markers of a consultant.

So how do we go about getting people on board? How we find them will be another post but what do we do with them when we find them?

We Interview them! I know… I wanted it to be something amazingly different and innovative too… that’s not to say we don’t have an interview process that’s a bit different.

The interview process for developers (who make up the majority of ThoughtWorks) is designed to measure both technical proficiency and overall cultural fit to the organisation. On application candidate’s resumes are reviewed by an in-house recruiter, those selected are invited to a telephone interview where they undergo a first level of scrutiny, if they are successful here they will be asked to write a solution to a small coding exercise. The code test is a level playing field for all our applicants – a stark contrast to allowing previously written submissions or a simple “general knowledge” style test of coding. We want to know if you can code, not audition to appear on a special tech edition of “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader”.

The coding exercise is reviewed internally by at least two employees. From here the successful applicants are invited in for a long day of office interviews. We try to expose candidates to a variety of different ThoughtWorkers so they are able to get an impression of the makeup of our organisation. We don’t wait to spring the mad ones on them later…

During the first office interview candidates are asked to pair with a current ThoughtWorker in adding functionality to the code they submitted for review. This process helps us to gauge how a candidate will respond to our style of working and how they respond to both praise and criticism. The old Good Cop Bad Cop… This interview is followed by a round of tests the Wonderlic Personnel Test and the Predictive Index are 3rd party assessments of verbal and numerical acumen and a psychometric test respectively. After this candidates are given an in-house test designed to mimic the process of logical thinking in coding – ominously it’s referred to only as “The Logic”.

A second interview, often with a pair of consultants is designed to illicit information as to a candidate’s cultural fit – do they share the same values as ThoughtWorkers, in a given situation how would they react, and most importantly what questions do they have for us? This is followed by an interview with one of the management team to give a broad overview of their experience and suitability for the role – it’s also another chance for candidates to ask any questions they may have.

The process can be daunting for applicants and although the atmosphere is relaxed we try to alleviate what could be an otherwise stressful day as well as keep your blood sugar levels up. In a recent analysis we found that ThoughtWorks UK employs one candidate from every one hundred and thirty applicants.

Does all this mean we employ “The Best”? Nope, but it does mean that out of those that go through this gruelling process we employ people who have a great idea about what they are getting into, they’ve met with current employees at all levels – some newbies and some old hands and they’ve had the opportunity to question all of them and then we give them some thinking time too. The process is always changing and we’re always trying new things but hopefully everyone get a fair idea about what the future would be like. Hopefully this is also a pre-emptive strike on those readers who want “ThoughtWorks interview tips” – this is full disclosure…. apart from telling you about the song and dance number you have to do and giving you “The Logic” answers I can’t help anymore…

Hiring “The Best”?

In my role I am always interested to see how organisations market themselves to prospective job seekers. Amazon is a wash with books dedicated to the subject. Better interviewing techniques, different questioning styles and shiny new assessments to avoid actually talking to a candidate. In all this how can an organisation justifiably say they hire the “Best” candidates? What does “Best” really mean? I’m currently in Calgary and travelled through Chicago to get here, one only has to walk down a busy street to see how many shops are serving “THE BEST!” coffee, and it must be true…they’ve got the neon signs to prove it!

If we can all see the holes in that argument as soon as it’s made why then do we attach values to prospective employers? There are no “Best” employers, it is of course an opinion, a mediated position arrived at somewhere between the expectations of candidates and the advertising of employers. If all major technology employers are to be believed they all employ the top 2% of graduates of global graduating classes. That 2% must be stretched a little far!

“The Best” place to work is the place that suits you. A place where your motivations are understood and catered for. If you want to work 20 hours a day, risk not seeing your children until their 18th birthdays and work your way up to be “Vice-President of *insert something about architect here*” there will be hundreds of companies happy to take you on! Likewise if you’d prefer to work less time, take the option of flexible working and not be penalised for it, there are companies out there that are right for you too. “The Best” is every case is what’s right for you, you can’t really make a fair judgement call on any organisation until you’ve worked there yourself, and a great place to start is by thinking about your own motivations. What’s right for you? What concessions can you make and what in your work/life balance in non-negotiable? If an employer thinks you’re their perfect person there are ways to make things work out for both parties.

Personally, I like to think I’ve hired people for who ThoughtWorks was the right choice. They give up certain things – for some it’s that hefty amount of travel – to work in an organisation that they feel works for them too. Their colleagues share the same passions, they appreciate similar things and share common goals. Before this trails off into advertising territory I’ll end and save the advertising for later…