Hiring Tips for First-Time Engineering Managers
The difficulty of hiring engineers has become so pervasive that it has evolved into a tech zeitgeist. And while my previous role as a Team Lead gave me some context to the scope of the hiring challenge, it wasn't until I joined Dashlane as a full-time Engineering Manager that I understood how dramatically my priorities would need to shift in order to attract great engineers. I quickly learned that you can't rely on luck or inbound applications when you're trying to achieve scale, and now nearly a year into my new role, I wanted to share some of those key insights that have helped me double my team in roughly 6 months.
Before getting into the details, it's worth providing a little context on Dashlane. Over the course of last year, we've accelerated growth thanks to a new round of fundraising from Sequoia, and wanted to allocate significantly resources towards R&D to enhance our product and build new features. Back end improvements were critical to achieving these goals, which meant my team needed to grow. And unlike some companies, hiring is not done at the department level – Engineering Managers are responsible for building their own teams (with lots of in-house help of course!).
To make my experience as easy to share as possible, I've outlined five steps that I believe can be useful for all Engineering Managers looking to build an efficient recruitment process, but especially those in the role for the first time.
Step 1. Be ready to invest (lots of) time into hiring
You're going to need to spend more time on recruiting than you think. The sooner you accept this, the better you'll feel and the better you'll be able to switch your priorities. When I started at Dashlane, I thought I'd be able to focus on hiring during pockets of free time. But when our hiring plans were reevaluated post-fundraising, it became clear that I had to reshuffle my objectives and elevate hiring as my number 1 priority for the following months.
It's important to communicate with your direct reports why you're making this shift. If you want to build an efficient recruitment process, you will need as many people as possible on board to participate in the effort: not only blocking time to do more interviews, but also to make sure that no one feels overwhelmed because they are doing too many interviews. This can take many forms depending on people's preferences: participating in sourcing, leading screenings, conducting technical interviews for example. As a manager, you can highlight to your reports the fact that interviewing is a great way to grow as an engineer. It is also ultimately the best enabler for getting more things done and prioritizing projects that are left behind for lack of resources.
While hiring is critical to being a successful Engineering Manager, so is protecting the time and energy of the team you manage today. Each team (and person) is different, and hiring can't bring your team's output to a halt. It's up to you to find the right balance.
Step 2. Build a strong relationship with your recruitment team (if you have one)
Not all companies can afford to have an internal recruiting team, especially earlier-stages startups. If you are lucky enough to have one, it's essential you work to build a strong relationship. You should commit to frequent checkpoints so everyone stays aligned, and to understand from their point of view what might not be working for candidates.
As I will detail below, one of the first topics we tackled as a team was sourcing. It was a great way to learn each others' work styles, and better understand what it'd take to collaborate effectively.
As we have now entered a phase where sourcing is streamlined, we have more regular checkpoints and do recruitment standups twice a week. As in Agile standups, we have a board (we use https://talentwall.io/) where we discuss the last updates for every candidate in our pipeline.
Finally, don't underestimate how important it is to build a relationship of trust between the company and the candidate throughout the recruitment process. You want candidates to be as transparent as possible about the other opportunities they are exploring and understand what they are looking for in order to make the most attractive offers. You can do that yourself as well if you want to, but it is also something that your Talent team can be of invaluable help with. That trust will also make their transition into the company much smoother.
Step 3. Invest time in sourcing and improving process
As I said previously, the majority of my time working with the recruiting team was covering the following topics:
- Identifying the experience and background appropriate to each role
- Finding the right platforms for sourcing candidates
- Understanding how much my team and I should be involved directly in sourcing to maximize the chance of getting new candidates in
- Crafting the right introduction messages so that they highlight our upcoming work and make our offer as attractive as possible
- Making sure we contact people as quickly as possible. For example, we use talent.io and know that new profiles appear every week. After a few days, candidates will usually be overwhelmed with interview proposals and tend to skip other companies that could have been interesting. We always make sure to have someone looking at new candidates on talent.io every Monday
Working on all of this made a huge difference for us, and ensured nothing was subject to interpretation. We now feel confident about our capabilities to not only source great candidates, but create an engaging candidate experience that leads to accepted offers.
Step 4. Make your process fast for candidates
It is hard to get the right balance between a process which is thorough enough for the company while being as quick as possible for the candidate. Engineers looking for jobs typically have plenty of potential job offers; it is really important as a company to be aware of that.
At Dashlane, we typically have 3 interview stages:
- An initial screening phase
- A phase of technical tests
- A last phase of non-technical tests
We initially asked people to come onsite twice, but realized that it is sometimes very difficult for people to come twice to the office, and we occasionally lost good candidates just because it took too long to organize the interviews. We now try to be more flexible and have remote interviews when necessary. Actually, hiring remotely for our Lisbon and New York City offices forced us to make remote interviews a normal part of the process. We are now trained to do technical and non-technical interviews remotely and are much more comfortable doing it.
We also notice that the earlier we can get candidates talking to other engineers, the more engaged and interested in the role they tend to become. Because of that, most of our initial screenings are done by engineers in the team.
Step 5. Make your process efficient for the team
Once you start regularly seeing a lot of candidates in interviews, you will more easily identify what works and what doesn't. Here are two tips that don't have immediate benefits, but can save a lot of long-term frustration:
- Involving lot of people in the interview process means that there can sometimes be lots of debates on whether a candidate should be hired or not. It is important to identify who makes the final call in case of disagreement, before there is one.
- Standardize the technical and non-technical interviews as much as possible with detailed scorecards for the evaluated criteria. Not only it is more transparent for everyone since all interviewers know to assess particular criteria, but it is also good to reuse templates and scorecards for different roles.
And obviously, asking candidates for feedback on the process can be of invaluable help. We can always make things better and are eager to hear people's opinions to make the recruitment experience even better.
A large part of any company's culture is the ability to attract and retain top talent, which makes hiring one of the most important responsibilities an Engineering Manager has. And while the transition from an individual contributor to Engineering Manager may not seem intuitive, there's a lot of skill overlap: getting alignment among stakeholders, running a process with lots of feedback along the way, being willing to iterate, and having a system to diplomatically handle disagreement. I hope this guide helps give some structure to your hiring process, and would love to hear your recommendations.
Interested in helping Dashlane build great products and scale our teams? Check out our careers page!