Monday, December 6, 2010

Wish you had a Computer Science degree?

Interviewing for a Software Engineering role is tough, we’ve discussed it before in this blog so I’m not going to recreate the wheel. It’s especially hard if you come from an engineering background but not Computer Science. Lots of great engineers have degrees in Physics, Electrical Engineering, Math.....anything really, including no degree. However, some companies interview in a way that really gives classically train computer scientists an advantage as the really look for the kinds of skills you’d learn in a Computer Science program.

So, you’re interviewing at one of these places or thinking about it so what do you do? Well, here’s what you take a free set of courses from the MIT Open Courseware program and give yourself a crash course in Computer Science that’s what you do.

It’s amazing really if you think about it, a school as prominent and prestigious as MIT offering free courses online. If I was a Software Engineer, these resources would be critical to my success and long term ability to keep learning new things.

Anyway, here’s a few quick recommendations on courses to take and give yourself an ad hoc Computer Science education:

- Introduction to Computer Science and Programming - have to start here. Some of this info might basic but getting the basics right will ensure you’re on the right path.

- Introduction to Algorithms - this course covers common algorithms, data structures and search trees.....have to know this stuff and know it like the back of your hand.

- Introduction to C++ - I’d consider this one the bonus course. Not every job requires C++ programming skills so it’s not like you HAVE to know this stuff...I will say thought that knowing C++ is never a bad thing so taking a few days to knock the rust off your coding skills will serve you will either in the interview or in your next job.

That’s a start, there are a ton of great free resources out there that people tend to ignore. If a school like MIT offers you free courses.....take them, learn some new skills, improve a few old skills and ace that next interview!

Good luck!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Do coding interviews work?

I hear a lot of talk that coding interviews are a waste of time and don’t really tell a potential employer anything. Well, I disagree and here’s why:

It’s like role playing, but different – Every interview I’ve had has asked some variant of “Close me on a job w/ XYZ company” Which asks me to go through who I “close” an offer. Isn’t a coding interview the same thing? I mean, if I can’t close than I can’t recruit right? If you can’t code up some simple problem on the fly…, well, yeah…exactly.

Thought process – It’s not about coming up with the master solution…although it helps. What people are trying to assess is your thought process. Did this person attack the problem in a thoughtful manner? Did they use the right algorithm? Data structure ok? Sloppy code is forgivable if you’re solving the problem the right way.

Bugs Kill – The old saying is that your average engineer produces zero lines of code a day b/c of the amount of bugs created. So, um if this is true why even build software? Well, if this is true then you have to try and find the engineers that don’t break the code. How? Coding interviews. Ask them how to improve performance, complexity, testing philosophy etc etc and try to reduce the odds of hiring the engineer who breaks your code.

Hiring engineers is hard, I mean really hard. Take a look at a few resumes. They are all covered in buzzwords and everyone claims to be an expert in Java, C++ and a few other things I’ m not even sure exist. In my opinion, the only way to truly figure out who knows their stuff and who doesn’t is to get them on the whiteboard and ask them to code up a solution.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Refer a friend?

Everyone knows that referrals are the best source for great hires. Makes sense right?

So why do so many companies drop the ball here? Because you want to treat your referrals REALLY well so the employee is happy w/ the experience and the potential new hire is encouraged to refer their friends too and that is hard to do. What makes this hard is that one bad experience does more damage than 10 good experiences. Hire 100 people, ten of them are bound to have had a glitch, or something go wrong….negating the good experiences of the other 90. So, how do you do a bang-up job with your referrals and have a great referral program?

First, the execution must be flawless by the staffing team. Staffing teams are made of people, people are not perfect and here lies the problem. Now, the occasional mistake is not a big deal but continually botch up good referrals and people stop referring their friends regardless of how much they love their job they don’t want to punish their buddies.

Second, most people refer friends in their first 6 months and then never refer anyone again. Why? Because they THINK they don’t know anyone….when they really probably do. A good recruiting team will work w/ employees to help generate good quality referrals…..and as you may have guessed is REALLY hard to do without overextending yourself and falling into pitfall #1.

Third, referrals are a reflection on the person who refers them (say that three times fast!). When someone you really respect sends you a referral who’s a total jerk and make the whole process miserable you start to rethink how much you really like that other person too. The old “If you’re friends w/ that jerk than you must be a jerk too” disease. I’m here to say, don’t worry about it, referrals come in all shapes and sizes. Hire the good ones, treat the bad ones really well so they will say nice things about you and the organization and everyone wins.

Finally, set your incentives properly. Remember the 90’s when people would give away cars? 10K? Well, crazy times meant crazy incentives. Figure out what works with your team and implement it aggressively. Cash? Prizes? Pats on the back? Doesn’t matter as long as the team responds and helps you find great people.

Hiring great people is about doing what it takes to build a great team, referrals absolutely have to be central to any plan you’re developing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How recruiting has changed...

People always say they want change; but the truth is most people are afraid of change and struggle to embrace it. Why? Who knows but try floating some new ideas around your office and see what happens.

I’ve been recruiting for over a decade and I can tell you without a doubt…if you don’t like change don’t get into recruiting. Here are just a few ways things have changed since the pre-internet days (and yes, I’m dating myself):

1) Rolodex, what the hell is that? Right, anyone have a hard copy rolodex anymore filled with cards? I doubt it. But that was THE tool back in the day and if you didn’t have a good one you were clueless. (I still have “most” of mine, in a stack of nasty cards on my desk, I call that Old School). Nowadays we use LinkedIn (you’re welcome Janice) or Plaxo or Facebook or something to track our leads……..paper rolodex on the desk? Not so much.

2) Cold calls – I love cold calls and frankly miss them but they just don’t work like they used to back in the day. Why? Most people don’t answer their desk phones or even have them anymore! I know a TON of great engineers who never answer the phone and only respond things via email. Ten years ago, you had to make your 100 calls a day (minimum)….now, you need to keep making contact via email, “In-Mails”, Chat or Facebook……cold calls are for dinosaurs.

3) Research – Ten years ago, research was the holy grail of recruiting. Hit the library for some data; cold call the after-hours night security guy for some names, read the paper for articles on a company etc. etc. Now? Um, “Google it”. Post a question on a “Linked In Group”, we’ve literally got hundreds of sources to do research, all of them at the tip of our finger, free and produce results in seconds. Amazing.

4) HR Generalists who recruit – This may be the biggest change of all. When I started, HR Generalists did 90% of the recruiting and outsourced the work to agencies…than in the late 90’s or so companies started hiring “recruiters” to do the staffing. HUGE HUGE HUGE change! Why? Because you now had companies building teams of people that could fill any job, in any industry without paying an external fee to find the person.

There is more change coming. Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc are all changing the face of recruiting again. Social networks, video resumes, tweets, blogs etc etc make recruiting a never ending game of innovation, creativity and competition to find the best people you can for your organization.

Monday, September 27, 2010

P is for Process...

How good is your recruiting process? Most people think they have a pretty good process…odds are, it’s not and it’s completely dependent on the people running it. A good process works regardless of who’s on the team and scales to handle the the needs of your organization.

Here area few tips on building a great recruiting process.

1) It serves the needs of your organization – Need 10 pieces of data to make a hiring decision? Then build a process that gets you 11. Need to hire huge a ton of employees fast? Build a nimble process that can handle a huge volume of candidates. Get this right and the rest will follow….get it wrong and the whole thing falls apart.

2) Repeatable – Every candidate, no matter the location or job level should have the same experience (or at least a very similar experience) Why? Because you need to evaluate who to hire and a consistent “standard interview” will give you the same data over and over again allowing you to really determine who’s the best and who you want to hire. File that one under “common sense”

3) People independent – Don’t build a process that relies on the institutional knowledge of your recruiters. Asking for failure. Build a process that is systems based and allows your team to use their tools properly to do their job. You need a rock solid process that works with anyone running it. Why? Star Recruiter is on vacation, anyone can cover for them. Star Recruiter leaves to start their own agency? Hire someone else, plug them in and no one misses a beat.

4) Automate, automate, automate – The more you can automate the easier things will be. Asking your recruiters to send a “test” to every candidate after the 3rd interview is a disaster waiting to happen…instead, customize your ATS or email systems so that the recruiter can’t do anything until they’ve sent out this test. Looking to have an offer approved? Automate your systems so recruiters can’t generate an offer letter until they have all the data the organization asks for to make a hire. Your process will only be as good as the systems you use to manage it.

Your process is the most important thing you’ve got, most people just throw one together and hope it works. Don’t do it. Develop a process that works and tweak it as the needs of your organization change.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A guide for using Twitter to find a job in Boston!

Sorry it's been so long since my last post! Between buying a new house (yes, I'm moving!), a vacation and a bout with the flu it's been a tough few weeks...but I'm back!! Quick blog this week but an important one.

I talk to a lot of people who are looking for jobs in the Boston. What's weird is, I can't seem to find a single blog or article that lists "all" of the resources available to help you in your search. So, I figured I'd pull a quick list of folks I follow on twitter who I think are worth following/reading to help with your search. This list is only a start and if you have other folks you'd recommend please comment, email me or DM me!!

Without further adieu, here is one man's guide to using Twitter to find a job in Boston

Industry Sites/Job Boards - Not all of these are directly job related but are great places to learn about different companies, projects or ventures in the Boston/Cambridge area.


People - The folks below are a broad mix. Lots of recruiters, HR professionals, consultants, entrepreneurs or VC's. Use these folks to learn more about the market, hire someone to help with your search or get into their professional network.


I hope this list is helpful to people, I'm really just scratching the surface...frankly there are folks I follow I've even left off this list! So again, if you have folks to add please send them my way as I really think we need to build a definitive list. Boston is a great market with a TON of great Tweeters so take advantage of may just find your dream gig!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ace the Software Engineering Interview....

Going in for that awesome software engineering job interview next week but no clue how to prepare? We'll you're in a a few tips, some of them pretty basic but the lesson here is that there is no substitute for being prepared.

(For anyone hoping I'll reveal the secret sauce of the Google interview.....sorry, during this blog we'll pretend I'm interviewing for an engineering role at Microsoft)

1) Remember what you've done - Sounds simple right? It's not. What technologies did you use in 1999 when you built that "web application'? Now, just because you used Visual InterDev on Windows 95 doesn't mean you should go buy an InterDev book and brush up.....not at all. But you DO want to take a few minutes, remember what you did, how you did it and what you liked about it. So that way when someone asks the information is fresh and you can answer even the most trivial question intelligently.

2) Dust off your old CS books - That's right, take them off the shelf and relearn everything you've forgotten about Computer Science. The goal here is to be able to show your interviewers that you know the core principles of your job. Crank out data structures, algorithms and nail a few complexity questions and your interview will go much better than replying with something thought provoking like "when I need answers like that, I Google them", that's great but it's likely the company your interviewing with wants you to push the envelope, not just use Google (Bing? or Yahoo? Altavista still around?) every time you get stuck....

3) Do your research - Recurring theme here, preparation. Take a few minutes to search out blogs or news groups to give you some sample interview questions. Sounds simple, but so few people do it, it's amazing. Let's say I'm interviewing at Microsoft for a job as a software engineer...ha,ha, riiiight. Here's what you do:

- Search "Microsoft Interview Questions" and you'll get about 2.3 millions results - this one looked pretty good

- Check out (propaganda alert!!!!) and get some "insider information

- Ping people in your LinkedIn network or other folks who you know have interviewed with Microsoft....pick their brains and learn from their experience.

4) Practice, practice, practice - Go to a site like "", "" or find other coding contests, competitions etc. You can also find tons of puzzle sites and things like that to really help you get your head around the kinds of problems you are likely to find. Check out books like "Smart and Gets Things Done" by Joel Spolsky, or "Ace the Technical Interview" by Michael Rothstein. A quick search on Amazon for "Technical Interviews" will find a ton of great resources.No magic bullet here, just time and due diligence. Trust me, THIS will pay off.

I think those tips will help, there is no one piece of advice to help you with the technical interview. Just be prepared, know your stuff and take a deep can't interview well if you aren't relaxed.

I'm on vacation next week...but good luck and happy hunting everyone!

Friday, April 2, 2010

When should you look for a new job?

I've been a bit busy so apologies for not writing lately.....but, this is a topic I've been meaning to discuss for a while now. For any job seeker, I think it's a critical thing to think about...when do you decide, it's time to look for a new job? If you're not the kind of person who thinks about long term growth and building a personal brand....stop reading now as this won't be of interest to you. If you care about where your career will be in 10 or 15 years...this is for you. The following are my quick thoughts on when it's time to make a change

1) You're miserable - Wake up cranky? Dread going to work? Complain all the time about how much your job stinks? Time for a change my friend. Life is to short to be miserable 40 hours a week. This is so obvious I'm not even going to go deep. And for those of you saying, "Yeah, but I'm always miserable at work"....find a new career, again, life is too shot

2) You're not growing - Maxed out? Doing your job with your eyes closed? Time to move on then. A good job forces you to learn new skills, to grow and progress as an employee. If you are done growing, start looking around and find a job that will force you to push the envelope.

3) Good job, bad company - Seem like a weird reason to look around? It's not. If you are working for a "bad" company or a place that's known to be a tough environment but love your should find the same role or a better role at a better company. Think about this - you are the #1 performer at your company but most people look at your employer and aren't, do that same job, same performance at an industry leader or "cool" company.....presto, your personal brand is worth a lot more and suddenly your the person everyone wants to hire.

4) It's a recession - What? It's a recession so I should look for a new job? Yep, that's right. Not saying you need to TAKE a new job but recessions are the best time to network, interview and potentially land a new gig. Companies who are hiring during a downturn are likely come out of the recession even stronger....and usually with a significantly stronger position in the market. Yes, it's harder to find jobs and lots of them will be uninteresting.....but if the market slows (like now, although the "experts" say we are recovering) than the time is now to start poking around. A side benefit of this, by interviewing and keeping yourself current when things REALLY turn around you're interview skills will be sharp as ever helping you land the perfect gig.

5) You're happy in your job - Jeff are you crazy? No, I'm not. Looking at new jobs while being perfectly happy is the BEST time to consider new jobs. Why? Because you'd be making the decision to change jobs when you don't have to make a change - better comp? better commute? better team? Does not matter, whatever is most important to you. Take the interview, evaluate the job and if it's better than your current job....accept it. LOTS of people will disagree with this sentiment, but really, anytime you can get a better job or join a better company or do anything to upgrade your it and don't look back.

There are many, many other reasons to look for a new job but these are a few of my favorites. What do you think? When do you start looking?

(note to any current colleagues...I'm not looking, no really I'm not!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ace any (non-technical) interview

Ever wonder how to ace an interview? Seriously, walk in, sit down and blast through the questions and walk out feeling like a million bucks? Well, it CAN be done and you can do it. I will say, this advice does NOT pertain to technical interviews......those are a whole different animal, more on that in a later post so for now consider this advice for most any "non-technical" role.

Here's how you do and there are only two things you need to do.

1) Answer questions with detailed, specific, and relevant answers - Simple right? You'd be surprised. If someone asks you "Tell me about a time you were proud of your work"....give the a specific example, cite the company, the project, the folks you worked with, how you did it and why you were proud. This is called "Behavioral Based Interviewing"....and it's very powerful if you know what you are doing. Most people ask these questions because they sound good. You can ace them by being prepared. Have specific examples in mind before you interview so when you get asked these questions you can quickly gather your thoughts and ace it.

I've asked these types of questions for years and although they are not perfect...good candidates can fire back specific answers that really get to the meat of the question. You can find a bunch of sample questions here - and by searching for "behavioral based interview questions" on your favorite search engine..ahem, Google.

2) Leverage your experience to fill in the gaps in your experience - What? Is that even a sentence? Let me explain. Let's say I'm interviewing for a role as a Biotech Recruiter. HR Manager asks me "Jeff, tell me about your experience recruiting computational biologists?" Well, I've never done that. Pretty sure I could, but have never done it. So here's the deal, you don't say "Well, I've never done that but I haven't done it before." BAD ANSWER!! A great answer would be this " Well, over the last 10 years I've been recruiting some of the best software engineers on the planet. I order to do this I have to spend a lot of time networking and really learning the engineering community. By doing that I've learned that in order to attract top tier technical talent you need to really explain the opportunity and why it could be a good fit for them. So while I've never hired computational biologists, I have been hiring some of the best talent in my current industry and I'm confident that my recruiting skills are transferable to the biology market"

Make sense? Let's face it, if you are in the interview your skills are at least CLOSE to a fit for the job. Your task as the candidate is to use your experience to your advantage and allay any fears the interviewer has about your background to prove you are a great fit for the role.

So there you have it, two HUGE tips this week. Detailed, specific and relevant answers and if you get asked about something you know is a weakness, use another detailed specific answer from your past to turn that weakness into a strength.

Until next time, good luck and let me know how I can help in the search!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Put away that suit!

Got an interview coming up soon and don't know what to wear? Don't assume you should just wear a suit. It's not 1950 anymore and most companies don't expect or even want you wearing a suit to the interview. Now, that's not to say you should NEVER wear a suit...quite the contrary. Here are a few tips to help you figure out what you should wear in your upcoming interview

1) Dress for the role - Interviewing for the CEO role? VP of Sales? Wear a suit, executives wear suits. You want to be a big shot you've got to look like one, in this case wear the suit and make sure it's not "dated". No one wears a 3 piece double breasted Olive Green suit anymore.

2) Know the company - Don't show up assuming a suit is appropriate. Take some time, do some research. You don't want to show up and be "that dude in the suit" who everyone wonders what/why you are interviewing. Many companies are "business casual" now, meaning you'd NEVER wear a suit to work.

3) Be comfortable - Can't stress this one enough. You may be in a 6 or 8 hour interview, you've GOT to be wearing something that you can be comfortable in for the whole day. I know personally, wearing a tie is brutal for a few hours, so if I can avoid it, I do!

4) Ask somebody!! - Seems like common sense, but ask someone. Ask your recruiter, the hiring manager, your buddy in accounting.....doesn't matter. Take a few minutes to find out the inside scoop and plan accordingly. Take advantage of your connections to make sure you look the part.

That's about it......don't just assume you need to wear a suit or even a tie in your interviews. Those days are over for most employers (finance, legal, C-Level, excluded of course). Remember, it's not about what you wear, it's about how you interview, communicate and your fit for the job.

Good luck, sorry for the short blog been battling a cold the last week....


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Don't ask stupid interview questions!

Like any recruiter, I'd heard some really crazy interview questions. The worst one I've heard was "what's your favorite kind of music? Now, we're not talking about someone working at a record store or Christian radio station.........this was for an engineering job. Needless to say, that question does nothing to help evaluate an engineering candidate.

Why does this matter? A few things:

1) It's a waste of time! Other than breaking the ice, every conversation with a candidate needs to be helping you make a hiring decision. That's it, nothing else matters. When you are done with the interview do you want to hire this candidate? If the answer is "Not sure" but you know they like Snoop Dogg than you're missing the whole point

2) Stupid questions, give the wrong impression - Never get a second chance to make a first opinion.....riiiight. Image having an interview full of silly questions, would you want to work there? No way!

3) You're hire the WRONG people - This is the most important. Interviewing is a science and and art. You need to be consistently asking questions so you are calibrated to determine good or bad answers. Asking about musical tastes, or favorite book, etc are not good predictors of future success. By focusing on the wrong stuff, you're hire the wrong people and ultimately undermine your whole effort.

The point here? Don't ask stupid interview questions. Find out what the job requires, ask relevant and detailed questions....over and over again so you can tell the good candidates from the bad............and if the person you hire likes some form of music or book you'd never enjoy....maybe you should just open up, relax and realize that you work with these people, and that's it. What they do or enjoy in their own time...will most likely not impact their ability to perform in your company.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Building a better recruiting metric?

How do you measure a good recruiter? Metrics of course, but really are the metrics we use that accurate in determaining how your recruiting team actually perfoming? Probably not, most of the metrics I've seen or talked to people about tend to be things like : Time to fill, Cost per hire, Acceptance Rate, Number of hires, Source, etc etc. Some of these are GREAT metrics but can't we do better? I feel like these metrics have been around forever with very little innovation or change.

So, let's dig a little deeper and see if we can find a few better metrics based on the Sabermetrics that they use in baseball. Wikipedia says the following:

"Sabermetricians frequently call into question traditional measures of baseball skill. For instance, batting average is generally considered by them to be a statistic of limited usefulness because it turns out to be a poor predictor of a team's ability to score runs.[2] A more typical sabermetric reasoning would say that runs win ballgames, and that therefore a good measure of a player's worth is his ability to help his team score more runs than the opposing team. In particular, they tend to emphasize on base percentage."

Ok, so let's think about "recruiting skill" by questioning some traditional recruiting statistics. Let's start with number of hires. You have two recruiters, Recruiter A hires 10 engineers while Recruiter B hires 7 over the same time period. Traditional recruiting metrics would say Recruiter A is the stronger performer. Now, in some ways, number of hires is the most important metric however, if dig deeper there may be more to the story.

If we cross-reference the performance rating of each hire, there may be a different picture. Assuming we rate employees on a 1-5 scale, the average performance of Recruiter A's hires is 3.5 while Recruiter B's folks perform at an average rating of 4.5. You metrics would know look like this:

Number of HiresAverage Performance Score
Recruiter A103.5
Recruiter B74.5

Now multiply the average score by the number of hires we come up with a statistic we'll call "Total Performance Score", which isl basically measuring not only how many hires your recruiter had, but what kind of a performance impact those hires actually had. The metrics would now be:

Number of HiresAverage Performance Score Total Performance Score
Recruiter A103.535.0
Recruiter B74.531.5

Does these metrics tell you anything? Well yes, Recruiter A hires more people but Recruiter B hires better performers. But there is more here. Recruiter A's scored a 35 out of a possible score of 50 while Recruiter B scored a 31.5 our of 35. So the performance difference is even more profound. Doing the math here we come up with a statistic we'll call "Hire Impact Ratio".

Number of HiresAverage Performance ScoreTotal Performance ScoreHire Impact Ratio
Recruiter A103.535.0.70
Recruiter B74.531.5.90

This "Hire Impact Ratio" shows us that Recruiter B hires candidates who have a much bigger impact within the company than Recruiter A. Does this matter? Sure it does! The goal of every recruiting organization is to hire the best people possible! I'm not saying this metric above is the greatest thing ever, but I am sure that we as recruiters can and should do a better job of finding ways to measure our performance than the same old metrics of the past! Thoughts?