On defining hiring strategy; Thoughts on getting the right people into the right roles

On defining hiring strategy; Thoughts on getting the right people into the right roles

February 8, 2023


As an Engineering Manager, I've had the opportunity hire for my team. A practice that has proven helpful is that of writing a hiring strategy - essentially technical specifications - for each role. While a job description outlines the what's of a role, the hiring strategy captures the why's and some of the how’s. It serves as a guide for writing job descriptions and accompanying internal context around those descriptions.

For me, writing hiring strategies has

  • Increased clarity by getting thoughts into writing.
  • Increased transparency by being in an asynchronously ingestible, easily shareable format.
  • Increased accountability and alignment by increase ease of gathering feedback, having assumptions challenged, and having principles audited.

Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions on hiring and as such are not intended to represent the specific viewpoints of any employers past or present.


I’ve previously written about developing a team growth strategy. Whereas the growth strategy represents a path towards achieving the team’s goals (high abstraction), a hiring strategy describes in detail how to secure the skills and knowledge to walk that path (low abstraction/concrete implementation).

Target audiences

There are a variety of stakeholders who should leverage and ideally contribute to the formulation of a hiring strategy.

The hiring manager

I’ve found that going into interviews with the purpose and goals for the role clearly stated makes it easier to be decisive and consistent. If, for instance, as a hiring manager or someone otherwise involved in the hiring process, you find yourself inclined to see the potential in people, it is easy to find yourself envisioning scenarios where candidates who don’t quite fit the role as described could work out. This is not inherently bad and may actually be the right thing to do depending on how much flexibility the situation allows for. But it is something that should be done intentionally.

Adjacent leaders

The other leaders in your org will be (perhaps indirectly) affected by your hiring decisions. You’ll likely want to include in your hiring panel. Involving them in the formulation of the strategy leverages their perspective on what is essential vs incidental to success. Involving them in the application of the strategy encourages more consistent calibration throughout the course of the hiring process.


A good hiring strategy will identify the essential information that recruiters need when opening a role such as leveling, core skills, etc. Recruiters sit at the top of the candidate funnel, so it’s important to be on the same page.

The team

Of course, the teammates that a new hire would be working with will have valuable perspectives on what does or will contribute to the success of the team. Sharing hiring strategy and job description drafts provides an opportunity to get early feedback from people who will be directly working with and ideally interviewing prospective new hires. Getting this down in writing presents an opportunity for folks to process and provide feedback asynchronously.

Connect to vision

As with the growth strategy, it is important to keep your team's purpose and goals in focus. Restating the teams vision connects what you're doing with why you're going it.

Defining the role

The goal is to avoid overfitting for today’s challenges. It is worth thinking through if a temporary role such as a contractor or internal embed would be sufficient to meet your team’s needs if those needs are expected to be short term. Hiring is a long term decision, and so should factor in long term considerations. Do you have a good sense of where you team is strongest and weakest today? What challenges or opportunities are on the horizon? What do you envision this person’s or people’s day-to-day-will be like? This should feed into the requirements.

Define leveling

Being clear about leveling helps to set recruiters, interviewers, and the hiring panel up for success.

Leveling shouldn’t change how you or other interviewers interpret your interviewing rubric, but it will inform what signals are most relevant for interviewers to look out for. For example, it is not uncommon to see folks who focus on tech/team leading score a little bit lower on technical rounds, but then you’d expect them to very strong in behavioral rounds. If you are looking for someone to take charge of projects more holistically, then that’s a trade off that makes sense to accept. Otherwise, it may be best to keep looking.

Define requirements (and non-requirements)

Ensure that the competencies, skills, etc being called requirements are actually core to the role as envisioned. A litmus test for whether or not a skill is required vs nice-to-have is, would someone not be set up to succeeded if they joined without this skill or would it be OK to learn on the job? If a new hire wouldn’t be positioned to succeed without it, it’s a requirement. Everything else can be called out as a bonus.

If a hiring strategy is about walking the path laid out by the growth strategy, inclusive interviewing, then, is about striding with good form. For teams that value diversity, this is important to invest time into getting right. This Harvard Business Review article on Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified provides further data and context on the widely circulated statistic, “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” The author, Tara Mohr, suggestions that for women,

What held them back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process.
This is critical, because it suggests that if the HP finding speaks to a larger trend, women don’t need to try and find that elusive quality, “confidence,” they just need better information about how hiring processes really work.

I’d go a step further. The most immediate change that needs to happen isn’t for women and other minoritized folks who are at greater risk of self-select out of opportunities to gain either confidence or hiring process awareness. That tackles the problem at the individual level. The most immediate response should be for hiring managers to address the self-selection challenge by making sure that job descriptions are written with this in mind.

Changing society to produce fewer gendered and racialized outcomes may be out of our immediate control as managers, but the way we do hiring is in our direct control and there are things that we can do to mitigate the impact of those biases. Once you know better, do better.

Wrap up

Hiring is one of the most important things you can do as a manger, so it only makes sense to do everything you can to get it right.

A common theme across my reflections is this: when you organize your thoughts into writing and share with the right folks, you end up with better thoughts which leads to better actions. Hiring is no exception. Using this approach, I’ve helped to build a team that that I am proud to work alongside.