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Recruiting Methods for Startups: Balancing Objectivity & Subjectivity for Tech Roles

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June 23, 2017

Tech recruiting is a challenging mission. We’re looking for specific skills, strengths, and experiences to supercharge our team’s development. And at the same time, we need to consciously curate our team to complement the personalities, expertise, and backgrounds already at the table.

What are the best recruiting methods for startups?

When considering different recruiting methods as a startup, here’s one of the biggest questions you’ll ask yourself: How can we optimize the recruiting process to fairly, correctly, and quickly identify the best candidates?

As the Head of Engineering at Codility, I often find myself trying to find a balance between objective and subjective recruiting methods.

Subjective recruiting isn't enough

Traditionally, recruiting methods for startups relied heavily on subjective insights: experience indicators (e.g. former job titles, previous employers), knowledge indicators (e.g. level of degree, college attended), and character indicators (e.g. referrals from former colleagues, in-person impressions).

Recruiters use these indicators to build a “gut feeling” about candidates. While it’s only natural for interviewers to look for qualities they, personally, value in candidates, it’s difficult to arrive at a consensus because all those opinions come from different people with different filters.

These indicators are useful, but they don’t paint the full picture of a candidate’s qualifications and fit for the job. Assessing candidates on subjective criteria allows unconscious bias to enter the conversation, and tends to overvalue personality factors like charisma and extroversion. Assumptions can be correct, but often, they can be very wrong. And false negatives are as frustrating as false positives.

These indicators are essential and informative, but they shouldn’t be the only determinants in your hiring decision.

When considering recruiting methods for startups, we’ve seen some of the advantages and disadvantages of subjectivity. So where is the place for objectivity in tech recruiting and how is it valuable? Are there any drawbacks?

Objectivity is valuable, but in isolation forgets the human element

When searching for programmers, you need to go beyond experience, personality, and cultural fit and instead, focus on coding expertise and problem-solving skills. When incorporating more objectivity into our recruiting process, the biggest question I face is whether the personal, intuitive aspect will be lost.

The short answer: yes, but only initially, and it’s not a bad thing.

Objectivity allows you to recruit at scale and quickly identify the most skilled programmers to advance through your pipeline.

But when you turn to a fully objective recruiting process, it’s easy to forget the human element of a great hire—understanding motivation, attitude, communication style, and alignment with team values. 

The objectivity/subjectivity balance

To effectively find new employees with the best long-term potential, we need to marry subjective and objective recruiting.

finding balance between objective and subjective measure in tech recruiting

The best success for us comes from focusing on objective insights in the first part of the recruiting process, and then increasing subjective assessments later on.

As the Head of Engineering, I work with my tech recruiting team to build out a process to match this flow. We start by sending Codility assessments to candidates so we have a baseline of their coding skills. That helps us build an objective picture of the candidate’s competence, indicating whether the candidate has the prerequisites to be successful in the role for which they’re applying.

In one of our most recent recruitments, we had 242 candidates apply, with 194 completing their Codility assessment. Of those, we did preliminary phone screens and brought 24 for onsite interviews, ended up inviting 8 candidates back for a second round of interviews and were successful in having 3 offers accepted. The shape and size of our recruiting pipeline tends to differ from role to role, however we always use our Codility assessment as a signal for which candidates we want to bring for onsite interviews first.

Tech recruiting assessments complement subjective interviews, allowing you to quickly and comprehensively determine the candidate’s fit for the position. Coding assessments also reduce hiring costs, increase candidate engagement, and produce better long-term results for us and our clients.

Conclusion

Now you’ve seen how subjectivity and objectivity build on each other in the hiring process. When developing your recruiting methods for startups, try to strike a balance between the two.

This blog originally appeared on the Greenhouse Blog.

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