Anyone who’s been involved in hiring knows how vital the partnership is between hiring managers and talent acquisition teams. Yet, strategies for how to make this crucial working relationship a successful one is a topic that’s been left largely unexplored. That’s why we decided to start a new event series that examines the cross-functional team sport that is hiring engineers. In this series, we’ll uncover tactics and practical advice for how Engineering and TA teams at high-performing companies partner together to win technical talent.
We recently hosted the first of these conversations with hiring leaders from Tally: Jan Chong, VP of Engineering (and former Senior Director of Eng at Twitter), and Beryl Wang, Senior Technical Recruiter. In the conversation, Jan and Beryl shared hard-earned wisdom about how they’ve helped construct a consistent, high-quality hiring machine at Tally and their advice for maintaining a productive cross-functional partnership. Here are my top takeaways from the chat, which I hope are useful to any team looking to up-level the partnership between Engineering and TA.
Make it clear: Interviewing is part of the job
If you’re at a healthy, growing company, you’re going to be spending a ton of time interviewing and engaging in the hiring process. Like code reviewing, it’s part of the job.
Jan and Beryl stressed the role that prioritization plays in successful cross-functional collaboration: Without fundamental agreement that interviewing is a crucial activity that deserves engineers’ time and attention, teams will struggle to maintain a quality hiring process. I thought it was pretty revealing when Beryl said she relies on Engineering leadership to make sure that interviewing is factored into team’s workloads so they have the proper time and resources to dedicate to it. For this to happen, TA must keep Eng leadership up-to-date on who’s heavily involved in interviewing during a given timeframe, and in turn Eng leadership needs to take this into account when planning. This pragmatic approach to actually giving engineers the time they need to prioritize great interviewing is great to see.
All of this has to be underpinned by a culture that values the importance of interviewing well. Engineers at Tally know that making meaningful contributions to interviewing is an expected, and respected, part of the job. Jan also gave an example of her time at Twitter where she made the decision to add interviewing to the career ladder, meaning it was a required responsibility to undertake in order to progress. As she put it, “If you’re at a healthy, growing company, you’re going to be spending a ton of time interviewing and engaging in the hiring process. Like code reviewing, it’s part of the job.”
Align on what is needed from the candidate on day one, and what can be worked on over time
It takes a couple of tries to align on what skills a hiring team wants to prioritize for a particular role. The panel might speak to a few candidates and then realize that maybe what they initially thought they wanted isn’t what they actually care most about.
To make sure interviewers at Tally are well prepared, Jan and Beryl ensure there’s agreement amongst a hiring team on what they’re trying to assess for in a role, ideally in the form of a robust rubric. Jan likes to call a dedicated meeting to go through a list of competencies as a kickoff with the full interviewing team. She pushes the team to pare the list down to five competencies that are then rank ordered. It’s effective because it forces people to think hard about what they really care about and helps the team make decisions when tradeoffs have to be made.
Beryl pointed out that “It takes a couple of tries to align on what skills a hiring team wants to prioritize for a particular role. The panel might speak to a few candidates and then realize that maybe what they initially thought they wanted isn’t what they actually care most about.” I particularly liked this approach because it mirrors the prioritization frameworks engineering teams use when building products. Though they’re accustomed to making tradeoffs when building, there’s sometimes cognitive dissonance when it comes to hiring—they want to find every possible skill in one person. By forcing teams to identify and rank what they actually care about when hiring new people, that process becomes much easier.
Similarly, Jan highlighted that when looking for key signal, she first sits down and thinks through “What do we really need a candidate to come in the door knowing how to do already, and what can we really easily teach them when they’re on the job?” For example, Tally uses Scala but is happy to interview people in other languages and teach this particular skill on the job. On the other hand, essential soft skills like communication or empathy are somewhat teachable, but take a ton more effort to help someone improve upon. So, the team might want to focus on bringing people in who already have those tough-to-learn skills nailed. To use another product analogy, I think this can be compared to a “build vs. buy” decision. Teams can identify where they need a clearly-specified set of skills and where there’s more malleability and room to develop once someone is in the door.
Don’t default to assuming the process you were hired with is the right one
If people haven’t spent time thinking about hiring, they generally assume that the process that hired them has to be a good one, so they should just go with that.
According to Jan and Beryl, investing in a structured interviewing process at the outset can prevent a lot of pain later on. As Jan says, “If people haven’t spent time thinking about hiring, they generally assume that the process that hired them has to be a good one, so they should just go with that.” This lack of thought and preparation will lead to interviewers making questions up on the spot, introducing bias, and putting forth low-confidence decisions. While it’s a time-intensive undertaking to build from scratch, establishing proper training and rubrics will enable you to maintain consistency and quality over time. Tally uses Metaview to onboard new interviewers through virtual shadowing of hand-picked interview recordings and relies on the platform to provide ongoing coaching and visibility into interview quality. A structured process where all of the prep work has already been done upfront also reduces the time investment required of interviewers, helping them to balance interviewing with other responsibilities.
Your assessment is only as good as your interviewers.
I learned a lot hearing about Jan and Beryl’s thoughtful approach to maximizing the quality of their interviewers and the tactical tips they shared for how they achieve this at Tally. To quote Jan’s parting advice, remember that “Your assessment is only as good as your interviewers.” If you’re interested in hearing more about the keys to their successful partnership, you can watch the full recording below.