We are in the engineering software and services
business. Our greatest assets are our people. The
success of our business hinges purely on our ability
to hire and retain people. In the past 30 years of
being in business, we’ve been fortunate to hire and
retain exceptional talent, which has been the key to
all the success we’ve had as an organization.
Here’s our little secret. There are 5 key things that
have helped us hire great engineering talent over the
years. In a way, these really are our trade secrets. But
in the spirit of openness, we are hoping you share
some of your experiences and what has worked for
you in the hope that we learn from each other.
Tamper your excitement. This is not a discussion
around the 90s blockbuster (sorry to disappoint).
What we have learned over the years hiring great
engineers is that focusing on the basics or
fundamentals is a lot more useful to judge a
candidate than focusing on advanced knowledge or
skills. Before you jump and say, it’s a waste of time
focusing on basics when interviewing a candidate
with advanced degrees, we think that’s one common
mistake most companies make. We’ve had great
success with this approach. What this does is
demonstrate, especially for engineers, whether the
person really understands the building blocks of
engineering. Throw questions on fundamental
concepts in physics, mechanics etc. – nothing that
the person is expected to remember by rote but
something that once they understand, they never
Get in the weeds
As part of the “show prep”, before any interview,
spend time understanding the project that the
engineer has included in the resume. It’s okay if you
don’t understand everything. In fact, you’re likely
better off. Why? Because it then gives you the
opportunity to ask questions that will force the
candidate to explain the work/project in simple
terms. What we forget is that it’s a lot harder for
someone to simplify a complicated subject than vice
versa. Only when you have a good understanding of
the subject, are you able to break it down into
chunks easily understandable by a layman. Falling
back on rote is a sign that you don’t have a good
grip on what you did.
Self over team
As the saying goes “No man is an island”. This is
especially true today in a collaborative work
environment, and more so in engineering. Any
product/project is a collective effort. But even in the
midst of this “team effort”, it’s important to distil
individual contribution. Candidates often have the
habit of using “we”. Steer conversations back to the
individual and force them to use “I” to explain their
contribution to the project. It’s very easy to bask in
the glory of others’ achievements.
Back to class
This is a very effective way of identifying great
candidates that we have successfully used. Have the
candidate pick any technical topic of their choice and
take a 5-min class explaining the basics to you as if
you’re a novice in that field. Give them a few minutes
to put their thoughts together and then talk you
through it for the next five minutes. What this does is
demonstrate their ability to think on their feet,
explain in simple terms a topic of their
interest/choosing and be lucid in their explanations.
All these are important qualities for any new hire,
and most definitely for engineers.
This is a curve ball. Challenge the candidate on any of
their assertions. For example, when they are
explaining some specific engineering project they
worked on, challenge them. Even if you know you’re
in the wrong. This helps you identify how they are
able to handle adversities, and hold their own in a
collaborative environment. There’s no design meeting
involving engineers that will not eventually devolve
into a discussion, often times heated, where multiple
people are defending their own positions. Only one
will likely be right, but spirited defense of one’s own
beliefs shows confidence and leadership – invaluable
traits for engineers.
We aren’t perfect. No one is. But these are some of
the things that have worked well for us. We have a
great team of engineers working on some really cool
products. In the next blog, we will share some of the
pitfalls you should avoid while hiring. Those are
(hard) lessons we learned along the way and have
worked tirelessly to remove from our hiring process.
And God knows we are better for it.
Ok. Got It.