On defining hiring strategy

On defining hiring strategy



At the time of this writing, I am eight or so months into the Engineering Manager journey. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to fill a few roles through various processes/pipelines. One practice that I’ve found helpful is to exercise of writing a hiring strategy - effectively a tech spec for hiring.

The final output can either guide the writing of a job description or serve as an internal companion to one. If a job description captures the what’s, the hiring strategy exists to capture the why’s.


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


In previous months, I’d written about developing a team growth strategy. Whereas the growth strategy presents a path towards a destination (high abstraction), then the hiring strategy describes how to take a step (low abstraction/concrete implementation). Inclusive interviewing, then, is about striding with good form.

Target audiences

You, the hiring manager. If you are someone who is inclined to seeing the potential in people, it is easy to find yourself envisioning scenarios where a candidate that you like who doesn’t quite fit the bill could work. I don’t think that is inherently bad and may actually be the right thing to do depending on the situation, it is something that should be done intentionally. I’ve done hiring with and without a written strategy in place (previously, it all lived in my head and scattered meeting notes). I’ve found the written approach to make easier to decisive.

The other leaders in your area. These are people who will be (perhaps indirectly) affected by your hiring decision and will likely be involved in your hiring panel.

Recruiters so that they can help you to recruit the right talent.

Last, your team. A job description is one of the outputs, but the thinking around the why’s and the what’s is a conversation worth having. This is a chance to get early feedback from people who will be directly affected by and likely interviewing whoever it is that you hire. 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.

Define 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 might be best to keep looking.

Define requirements (and non-requirements)

Ensure that the things you are saying are required are actually core to the job as you envision it. 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 a requirement. Everything else can be called out as a bonus.

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 view gendered and racialized outcomes may be out of our immediate control as managers, but the way we do hiring is in our direct control. 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.

For me, writing a hiring strategy has provided the benefits of

  • Increased clarity through putting thoughts into writting
  • Increased transparency by being in an asynchronously shareable format
  • Increased accountability and alignment by getting feedback, having assumptions challenged, and having principles audited