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"A certain amount of people don’t give two shits about your company mission and that’s actually fine"

Furthermore, sometimes the not-give-a-shit people are better quality and get things done better than the give-a-shit people who may refuse to do something or fix a process because it doesn't fit 'mission' or 'culture' or 'brand' or some other intangible based off of their personal interpretation of it.

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I don't think I agree with you about false negatives. A false negative is only bad if you can't fill the position.

Like say you interview Anne, and you're on the fence so you turn her down. Later you interview Betty and hire her. What have you really lost by not hiring Anne? A week or two of work? If you hire Anne, the position is filled and you won't hire Betty, so either way you lose out on a good employee.

Meanwhile, if you hire Anne and she turns out to be a bad employee, that can cause you real damage. Potentially could even cause some of your existing employees to leave because they don't want to deal with Anne.

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I wonder if you have anything to share about employee stock incentives.

From an employee perspective these are only worth as much as I expect the founders and investors not to screw over employees. Subsequent funding rounds can result in dilution, and beyond that employee stock tends to be in a separate class that can be given terrible preferences.

My history: I worked at one startup that was acquired but not on good terms a year after I left, stock completely useless. I did get stockholder comma that included some payout information for different share classes as well as how many shares were issued, and calculated that the whole company sold for $120,000. Talking with some former coworkers I found that this was basically for patents. Almost everyone was laid off, development halted, and a skeleton crew remained to service remaining customers.

From there I jumped to another startup. I worked there for two years before departing for Big Tech. They had two successful exits, but my hail from both was worth less than one of my quarterly Big Tech RSU vests.

Big Tech was just RSUs, publicly traded, no nonsense.

I’m now at another startup. I’m somewhat confident the founders will do right by us, since they are alums of the same Big Tech and worked there when we were doing a fantastic job screening out jerks. The VC firms involved also have minted some millionaire engineers. But still, even if the company does fantastically, there’s no guarantee I would even be able to break even on the exercise price.

How would you convince a candidate that their stock options will really be worth something in a successful exit?

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founding

I’m reading McKeown’s Essentialism right now. I know people love it but... I don’t. The chapter I like LEAST is on hiring, and your post is an exact response to all the reasons why his chapter is absurd. He goes ALL IN on never, ever, ever having a false positive and being okay with having no one in the role. I’m a worker bee (well compensated to be fair) and I get screwed and work too much because we don’t want to hire badly. One anecdote in the book has a founder saying, “unless I can imagine the person as one of our founding team, the person would be a bad hire.” What?! Founders and engineers or whatever are different categories. People care about money! People who care about money and would never start a company could very well be the perfect hire because they are careful and have some degree of risk aversion. To say nothing of getting generally different viewpoints to make the business better. So: as I prep to talk about this chapter with a group of us reading this, thanks for the ready-made points I can use!

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In the Liabilities section, “unpaid time off” appears twice - the first is “consider the following variation on unpaid time off, which I’ve simulated based on several job ads I’ve seen:”

I think these should be “unlimited”, not “unpaid”? (Always possible I’m badly misreading)

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I think on a fundamental level there are two issues. First, companies recruit by thinking about what they want and not what the kind of person they want to hire wants. Secondly, companies are unwilling to have frank discussions about what they are and their strengths and weaknesses as employers.

To take an example, can you get people who are so mission driven they don't care about money? Absolutely. But what does that sort of person want? A really compelling mission! So, how compelling is your mission? Are you saving millions of lives? Revolutionizing how politics is done? Building stuff that's cooler than any lab in the world?

You're building a marketplace for chemical lubricants? Yeah, sorry. Doesn't work. No matter how much you put the words "revolutionary" or "impactful" in the description. And that's fine! To be clear it's a really needed service and a great idea for a company. But maybe don't expect to find an amazing senior engineer who feels insanely passionate about chemical marketplaces to the point they're willing to take a salary cut.

The best way to recruit people is to think: Who do I want to recruit? Drill down. Don't say "Interested in chemicals," ask why you want that in the first place. For example, if you want someone interested in chemicals because then they'll go the extra mile with clients... Well then you don't actually care about whether they're interested in chemicals you just want someone who will go the extra mile with clients.

Once you've got that, what does that person want and what can we offer them? Be brutally honest. Money is part of it. What about work environment? What kind of people work on your team already and who likes that sort of person or dislikes them? How about time off? Career advancement? Lifestyle accommodation? Do they get to brag to their friends? Are they going to get access to certain products? (If you're a clothing line you'll get a lot of interest from fashionistas!) Are you primarily recruiting young women into an industry filled with well earning, fit single men? (Hello, medicine.) Etc.

Compile a list of what is standard in your industry and then add some unique things on top of it. If you're small then focus in. Specialize. You're not going to out-benefit Google but maybe you can be the company that really does family benefits well. A great daycare or even just a culture of automatic accommodation for seeing school plays or picking kids up from school. This kind of stuff can drive companies' entire cultures and give it a recruiting edge long past the early stages. And it's much more memorable than a generic list of benefits everyone has.

But always remember: your culture is only what you're willing to pay and/or fire for. If you won't pay for people to take time off to see their kids and if you won't fire someone for preventing engineers from taking time off then you don't actually have a culture that's parental friendly. Culture is what your employees experience, not what you write in an orientation book.

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Feb 7, 2023·edited Feb 7, 2023

I'm happy that I no longer have to deal with this from either side, now that I've retired, but I certainly don't find it boring. I mostly haven't dealt with it from a start up perspective, but I spent my career as a software engineer, and the last 25 years of it in Silicon Valley. Everything you say rings true, except that the problem is not at all unique to startups. If anything, it's worse for small companies which aren't startups, including private companies well past the startup stage (often misrepresented to prospective employees as "startups".)

I don't have solutions for any of this.

I've seen companies get themselves excellent hires simply by ditching the usual requirements. You don't need a comp sci degree to do software QA, and approximately no one with such a degree wants to work in QA - but it's a very common requirement. But in one company I worked at, there were several excellent QA people, who'd been there longer than the usual (short) Silicon Valley tenure (loyalty to the company - what a concept) - who didn't have the right degree. At one time, back in the early days of the company, some hiring manager had decided to give a few non-traditional applicants a chance, in spite of the common wisdom of the industry, and it had worked out incredibly well.

I've also seen companies do well by recruiting new graduates from colleges that weren't on the tiny list of top tier institutions. Those top tier U graduates are in very high demand, which falls off pretty fast for institutions which are almost as good.

Finally, of course, getting a reputation for honesty or good working conditions really helps, but while it's easier to be unusually good (or bad) if you are small, it's harder to get any kind of reputation. (But don't bother with the "best companies to work for in ..." lists. I think everyone knows they are gamed, at least by the time they are looking for their second position.) There's no substitute for word of mouth, and your best recruiters are the employees you already have - but not if they're hitting up all their contacts looking for a better job themselves.

The other thing I'd suggest is flexibility, and non-standard value propositions. Some number of potential good hires want something unusual. If your company is honestly trying to do well by doing good, you can get the ones with an altruistic streak. If you are located in the right place, you can get the skiers, or the hikers, or the surfers. And these are just banal, obvious examples. What has your workplace got that most of its obvious competitors lack?

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founding

"Some companies are overly-afraid of overhiring and are afraid of firing without an awful lot of just cause."

This is a trade-off between making companies efficient and disrupting people's lives. It's a hard trade-off because even if you decide that you only care about the efficiency part, making people's lives miserable by hiring and firing them often will make them less productive.

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I'll comment on your actual post in a minute. For now, I just have to comment on substack. They just made me climb through a fairly minor hoop in order to comment. According to them "for your security, we need to re-authenticate you". Of course they do. Perhaps they'd like to buy some well watered land in Florida, for *their* security.

The relevance, of course, is to your section "There's a 'liar's version' of everything you want to say." Sadly, I "trust" substack to do whatever it takes to garner more money, or at least whatever they believe might get them more money, regardless of honesty, let alone costs to their users, with the *possible* exception of unambiguous law-breaking.

So while I don't know how/why this waste of my time potentially benefits their bottom line, I don't believe it had anything to do with *my* security.

And if people with my level of trust in them are common, they will eventually have a problem.

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