Hiring and the Black Box

I often read how some organizations care more about someone's online presence and open source contributions than their resume or college degree. The idea is based on the concept of talking the talk versus walking the walk. I like the idea, but online presence alone can’t drive the hiring process for my company.

Small Ponds

We’ve been interviewing developers and engineers at my day job. We’re located in suburban New Jersey. Not exactly a technology hub. Not even a city. And mostly because of FDA regulations, we require our employees to work on-site. So unfortunately we can’t hire the best person we find regardless of geographic location. We have to pick from folks within a commutable radius.

Despite the progressive nature of my company’s work, our hiring process is fairly traditional. When we have an opening in my group, we solicit resumes. Based on the collection of Word documents we receive, we call in a few candidates.

When we interview for a technical position, my team follows a loose script. The candidate’s technical chops are tested by our developers. There’s a code review and usually a role play towards the end.

Somewhere in there, it’s my job to evaluate each candidate’s character. See how they think. Find out what they care about. What they currently learning or excited to try. I ask about what they’ve read. If they’re on Twitter, Github, or CodePen. Brownie points if they’ve heard of Dribbble or Behance.

The Black Box

As a responsible interviewer, I do my research before meeting each candidate. I don’t expect everyone who walks into our lobby to have hundreds of followers and a stable of side projects, but I expect every candidate who builds for the web to be online in some way.

I’m usually on Google before I finish reading each resume. I look for the kind of work candidates put out and what they say online. This all helps me predict how they might fit in with our team.

During my Internet sleuthing, I’m astounded by how often I find nothing. No Twitter, no GitHub, not even a personal website. I worry about hiring someone with no portfolio, no online presence, and no referral to build web tools for our company. My team has to make a decision based on the information we have, and often we have very little.

Candidates like this are essentially a black box. The only way to tell what’s inside is to hire them and see how the first few weeks play out. Sounds like a gamble, but my company is often forced to hire folks like this.

Web Gems

You may not believe this, but I’m usually pleasantly surprised. One developer came on with little JavaScript experience and learned jQuery top to bottom inside six months. Another came in and moved most of our markup-based charts into Raphaël effortlessly. Our mobile developer, who came on having only developed for Android, now has four iOS apps under his belt. Ironically, the last developer we hired who was on GitHub and knew about Dribbble lasted eight days.

Don’t be so quick to write off these “black box” candidates. There are diamonds in the rough out there. More than you’d think. Anyone who prefers online activity to resumes might just miss out on these folks.