‘We only hire the best’ – I don’t believe you

Ask anyone about hiring developers and the advice is always the same ‘only hire the best’. The principle reasons being that

On the face the face of it this seems like great advice, who wouldn’t want to hire the best? It turns out pretty much everybody.

For instance, how long are you willing to wait to fill the position? What if you are really really stretched? What if you’re so stretched that you worry for existing staff? What if hiring a specific individual will mean huge disparities in pay between equally productive staff? What if not making the hire is difference between keeping a key client or losing them? At some point every company has to draw a line and elect to hire ‘the best we’ve seen so far’.

The difference between the great companies and the rest is how to deal with this problem. Great organisations place recruitment at the centre of what they do. If hiring is genuinely everyone’s number one priority then hiring the best becomes more achievable. For starters you might even have half a chance of getting ‘the best’ into your interview room in the first place.

Of the rhetorical questions posed above, in all cases the impact can minimised (though not eradicated) so long as management understands and anticipates the challenges in recruitment. For example “What if hiring them will mean huge disparities in pay between equally productive staff?” A company that intends to hire the best understands the value of keeping the best. So compensation of existing staff, especially longer serving staff relying on annual raises to ensure market parity, must be at an appropriate level. Doing so can be hugely expensive when multiplied over all employees and this cost comes directly from the bottom line. Companies that put recruitment at the core are willing to make the investment. Yishan Wong’s writing on this subject is brilliant.

If hiring really is everyone’s number one priority then there is a trade off to make, something has been deprioritised or sacrificed to make room. As a result hiring is much more than a partitionable activity, it is a statement of corporate identity. Proclamations like “we only hire the best” are meaningless without an understanding of the trade offs and sacrifices made.

7 thoughts on “‘We only hire the best’ – I don’t believe you

  1. Thanks Neil –

    This needed to be said. I’ve heard this a dozen times this week while scouting out a new job, and I suspect their understanding of the phrase is weak.

    – Rodney


  2. interesting article. There are a lot of myths around recruiting, I think techcrunch yesterday were trying to say there’s no reason to hire anyone who hasn’t created their own app online somewhere (http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/07/why-the-new-guy-cant-code/) which would have meant not hiring a number of great people I work with.
    Joel Spolsky sums up the problem of everyone hiring the top 1% here http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070501/column-guest.html.

    ‘what happens to the 99 people you turn away. They don’t give up and go into plumbing. They apply for another job’

    ie someone somewhere hires one of thm and probably still thinks their hiring the top 1%. But it’s just the top 1% of applicants they saw.

    Anyway, thanks for the blog post (shameless self promotion, my new jobsite is over here http://www.jobstractor.com, I’d kind of like to help fix some of the mess recruitment can be in our industry)


  3. Hi Robin, thanks for the comment. I agree, even if you genuinely believe that you are hiring the best, you have no way to know for sure if that is the case.

    I think that Jobs Tractor is a really interesting idea, I’d probably shy away from ads on fragile right now, but can you point me at a blog that uses Job Tractor?


  4. @robin, just read your blog, sounds like things are in the early stages. Really cool idea though, looking forward to seeing how it plays out.


  5. Neil, I completely agree that companies that put a premium on recruiting the right talent are indeed stronger for doing so. When I say “right talent” I mean appropriate technical as well as cultural fit. Hiring a technical architect that has deep technical skills over consensus building skills maybe exactly what a team needs or a complete disaster depending on the culture of the team and the organization as a whole.

    A bit regionally focused to my locale in the USA, but I’ve written on this topic before but from the angle of talent and compensation in a low growth local economy: http://bit.ly/4wl2Oe


  6. @jfbauer
    That’s a really interesting post. So I guess the three ingredients are, setting yourself up to be able to source and assess well, make the candidate feel /really/ wanted, and finally make sure that the job on offer is something that ‘the best’ really want to do.


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