You’re Done Recruiting When?

I recently experienced one of the worst possible recruiting nightmares.  I had been engaged in a search for a Senior UI Developer for nearly six months.  Senior Javascript development is a high-demand skill set right now in Austin.  This particular search involved our internal recruiter, multiple agencies and of course elbow grease from my fellow hiring managers.  We finally found someone that — on paper — was a great fit.  We’ll call him “Bob.”  Bob interviewed well, was a good cultural fit and he had the skills we were looking for.

The Start Date Approaches

Things seemed to be in order for Bob’s start.  He seemed eager to join, and he had even dropped by paperwork before his planned start date.  Unfortunately, Bob came down with a pretty bad illness that required antibiotics.  He came in on his first day and powered through 4 hours of paperwork and workstation setup.  After that, he was out for several days to recover.  This wasn’t the ideal start for a new employee, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that bad things happen to good people.

Things turned sour quickly when, a week after Bob “started,” our admin gave me his laptop and a hard copy of his resignation letter.  Back to square one.

What are the learning moments here?  Read on.

Stalk Candidates

Bob gave us references that turned out to glow for him.  The “professional reference” is so 1980s.  It’s easy to coach 3 of your closest colleagues to say nothing but glorious things about you when a potential employer comes calling.  It’s so easy to find out real “dirt” these days.  Even more importantly, a quick internet search can quickly tell you where the candidate is really spending most of their time.  Look for red flags like:

  • a side business or an interest that is on the cusp of turning into a full-time gig.
  • a short shelf life, a.k.a. “job hopping.”  Tech is a volatile space.  But, if a candidate hasn’t stayed still for at least a year, what are the odds that working for you will be any different?

Tap your network for references.  The low-hanging fruit here is to look for contacts on LinkedIn or other social network sites that are mutual connections between you and the candidate, or with whom you trust enough to put you in touch with people that can give you a true picture of the person you’re about to hire.

Be Shrewd About Start Dates

Looking back, one of the things I would have changed about Bob’s hire is the span of time I allowed between his acceptance and start date.  In this case, it was nearly a month.  Anything beyond two weeks seems to rapidly increase the risk that candidates will find a better offer or otherwise develop a reason to change their mind.

In other words, if the candidate can’t start sooner than 2-3 weeks from accepting your offer, there’s a decent chance you’ll lose that candidate in the meantime.

So, When Are You Done Filling a Position?

“You don’t score… until you score!” — Lacrosse coach, American Pie (1999)

After my experience with Bob, I’ve decided that I’m not done recruiting for a position until the person I’ve hired a) shows up for work and b) looks like they’re worth keeping after 2-3 workdays.  That might be on the conservative side, but that’s where my pendulum is right now.  Your mileage may vary.

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