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Unicorns! 10x Engineers! We only hire the best! The War for Talent!

Hiring quality developers is a hot topic, and you can’t move for guides on how to get the very best to work for you. But hiring is only part of the problem. In order to be successful, a business needs to be able to build highly productive, durable teams that can adapt to changes in the business over time. To do this, good recruitment is essential, but good retention is much more important. Sometimes this is called "hiring for fit."

A strong culture is essential for retention because it binds people together. Life is easy when all the graphs go up and to the right, but it is during the periods of slow growth that you really need the team to pull together, and it is culture that will get you through. 

I define culture as simply what is rewarded, what is tolerated, and what is punished. It is a company’s leadership, formal as well as informal, that sets and sustains the organizational culture. In order to maintain a strong sense of culture, it is essential to consider the cultural fit of those entering the organization.

Hiring for fit means hiring for softer attributes, very different to the skills typically selected for in a software development interview. I’d like to share some ideas on how to do this.

How to Effectively Hire for Fit

First and foremost, fit must be considered a first class citizen in your process -- as important as coding, and as important as architecture.

Secondly, it is essential to write down what is meant by fit and then live it. If you don’t do this then fit just becomes “people like me” or “people I like”. We know that diverse teams generally have better outcomes. If you can identify your company’s key cultural traits, then all that matters is satisfying these specific characteristics. Everything else is open and, therefore, your team will become more diverse.

For example, at Lumi engineering, we look for three things:

  • Humility
  • Curiosity
  • Adaptability

This isn’t a magic formula -- what works in one environment will not be appropriate for another.  What is most important is that there is consistency in the process, and the traits that you identify can reasonably be supported by the leadership of the organization.

Thirdly, call it out. Through experience, I’ve found that until you pass on a really good candidate purely on grounds of fit, your team won’t really believe that you are serious. As an engineering manager, it is always tempting to find some technical deficiency to explain a rejection, but if fit is the reason for rejection, then call it out loud and proud. 

Finally, once the team really understands how important a factor fit is, then you need to help them get better at assessing fit through the interview. Rather than have a specific fit section in your interview process I’ve found it much more effective to infuse fit throughout that the whole process.

The aim is not to ask “Tell me a time when you were adaptable”, but instead to give the candidate multiple opportunities to demonstrate their adaptability throughout all interview sessions. For instance, you can learn a lot about adaptability during a pair programming exercise or a free-form architectural discussion.

Hiring for fit is hard. Hiring for fit means having the confidence to pass on people who are perfectly capable of doing the job. The ideas I have outlined have certainly helped, but the most important thing to keep in mind is the end goal.

If you can hire for fit, then it means only people who will positively support your culture enter the organization. This improves retention, which in turn enables the building of highly productive, adaptable, durable teams that are essential to long-term business success.

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