Friday, March 8, 2013

I'm Bad At Recruiting

As an engineer at a small but rapidly growing startup (Coursera), I know that recruiting is incredibly important, and that referral recruiting is the best source of good employees at this stage.

However, I have realized that I'm just not that comfortable with recruiting, and I think it comes down to two particulars of my personality.

I'm afraid of being wrong

Joining a company is a massive decision - probably the biggest you can make as an adult, outside of family decisions. It's also a very personal decision, based on what you like working on, what your desired work environment is like, and what sort of people you work best with.

So I find it hard to aggressively suggest to anyone that they should join a company, even if it's a company that I'm happily working at. I don't feel like I can know enough about most people to know what company is best for them, and if I do, I worry too much about the implications of my suggestion. What if they join and they don't like it? Do I want to carry that burden with me forever? No, I don't.

As I recall, I've only aggressively recruited one person in my life: Andrew Gerrand, for the role of Go Developer Advocate. I knew Andrew quite well, knew his current job situation, knew his passions, knew the Go team, and felt that it was the perfect match. I also knew that Andrew is an independent, smart individual that would make the decision to join based on evaluating those factors himself, and not just join on my suggestion. He did join, and as we both predicted, he was a great fit for the team, so I feel good about that decision.

I simply do not have the confidence to think that I know what another person should be doing in life (I barely have the confidence to know that about my own life), and that makes it hard for me to impose an opinion on someone.

I'm averse to being a "salesman"

For whatever reason, I am overly wary about becoming an accidental salesman. I'm always on the lookout for signs that I'm selling something without truly believing in it or signs that I'm selling something just because someone told me to. When I was a developer advocate at Google, this wariness was on high alert, particularly since some of us actually had titles like "Sales Engineer".

I like to think of myself as an educator, not a salesman, and that means that when I share information, I want to share *all* the information - not just the positive, but a balanced perspective of what I know. I want whoever is listening to get the full story, and be able to make their decision based on that.

To me, recruiting can feel too much like me trying to "sell" the company - like you're trying to "win" the candidate. I'm not saying that recruiting is always selling, but to someone like me who is overly sensitive to the idea of being a salesman, it often feels too close for comfort.

...But I'm Good at Spreading Awareness

So, I'm not very good at traditional recruiting - like sending emails to people who could be a good fit, manning booths at career fairs, or mingling at networking fairs. But what I can do is spread awareness, as that's what I try to do with everything in life. I can make people aware that we are a company with interesting problems and innovative solutions. How?

  • Tweeting out my day-to-day work life (the good and the bad, of course).
  • Speaking about the technical challenges we've run into and overcome (like on Backbone).
  • Writing blog posts with snippets of code from our codebase and our solutions (like on feature detection for a sign-up process).
  • Open-sourcing parts of our code that the rest of the world could benefit from (I haven't managed to do this yet at Coursera, but it is very high on my TODO list).
  • Answering questions from people interested in Coursera (I often meet for tea to chat with potential candidates that message me).

My hope is that I am doing my part to help grow the company by making more people aware of what we do and how we do it. Perhaps someone will see my posts and think "oh, wow, I'd like to do that" and apply, or maybe they'll see them and think "hmm, nevermind, it's not what I thought". In either situation, we should end up hiring that people that want to do what we do, and not hiring the people that don't, and I think that should be our goal.

I hope. ☺

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