How Tech Hiring Works

As we discussed in The Resume Black Hole, applying for jobs can be stressful and disheartening. Often, it feels like you’re doing a lot of work but not making any progress. I think part of this feeling of hopelessness stems from the fact that many people just don’t really understand the process a large software organization uses to hire people.

Today, we’ll talk about all the key players involved in moving you through the hiring pipeline from a resume in someone’s inbox to a new hire at Day 1 Orientation. I’ll cover the process in as much detail as I can, placing special emphasis on the role of the hiring manager (HM). I’ll be focusing on this role for two reasons:

  1. The HM is ultimately the essential decision maker in terms of whether or not you get a job, with few exceptions. For someone looking for a new job, this person is very important to you.
  2. I’m an HM at Uber, so I have quite a bit of experience in this area and can confidently speak to the motivations and considerations of the role.
About to snatch up an awesome candidate for my team before they end up in the resume black hole

I should note that I am going to draw largely from my experiences at Google and Uber. Based on my background (and tips from my friends that work at places like Facebook, Github, etc.), I can tell you that the process I describe below is fairly popular at many top tech companies. However, there will be some differences, and certainly smaller or non-tech organizations may utilize slightly different interviewing and hiring processes.

Let’s get started.

Sourcer

The first person to interact with your application, although you’ll most likely never even know they exist, is the sourcer. A sourcer’s job is to source (or find) qualified candidates that should be considered for a role. The sourcer is the person who filters through the applications that are submitted on a company’s career website and decides which should move forward and which should be rejected without further review. This is called inbound sourcing.

Some sourcers also do outbound sourcing. This involves seeking out candidates on sites like LinkedIn or other professional portals and contacting them to see if they’d be interested in exploring a new opportunity.

For both inbound and outbound, a sourcer must use some criteria to figure out who should be contacted/advanced, and who should be passed on. This guidance is typically either derived from the job posting itself (which is why using the language in the job posting can be such an effective application tactic, as explained in The Resume Black Hole: Part 2) or provided by the hiring manager. We’ll talk more about the hiring manager’s role later.

Recruiting Coordinator

If a sourcer decides that you should be screened, you’ll often be contacted by a recruiting coordinator first. (Sometimes, unbeknownst to you, a hiring manager will first review the recommendation and give a thumbs up/down on interviewing you.)

A recruiting coordinator assists recruiters with things like determining candidate and interviewer availability for interviews, getting interviews scheduled, etc. In some ways they are like an Executive Assistant, except that instead of helping an executive manage their calendar, they directly service the interview process.

In my experience, many recruiting coordinators are contract workers (e.g. not FTEs) while recruiters are more often full time employees of an organization. This isn’t especially important, but you may notice that they have an external e-mail address or have something in their e-mail signature indicating that they are not directly employed by the organization.

Be nice to Recruiting Coordinators. In fact, be nice to everyone.

Being kind and respectful will cost you nothing, but it can go a long way. Hiring managers, recruiters, and others will definitely find out if you’re rude or inconsiderate with anyone throughout the hiring process, and it will reflect poorly upon you. Often, it’s grounds for ending any hiring discussions.

Recruiter

The recruiter serves an essential role in the hiring process. If you’re an external candidate and you end up receiving a job offer, you’ll probably talk to the recruiter more than you talk to anyone else with all of the back and forth involved in the process. A recruiter can serve many roles in the hiring process, and the specifics will vary slightly from company to company.

Often, you’ll have a pre-interview screen with a recruiter. Sometimes these are formal phone interviews where you can be rejected if you’re a very poor fit for the role, or in very extreme cases a recruiter may be given some basic technical criteria to assess you on. I personally don’t think having recruiters conduct scripted technical interviews is a good (or reliable) screening process, but some companies do this. More often, the initial recruiter call will be a quick chat to discuss the role and your interest, set expectations, and brief you on what to expect.

Many times during this initial screen, the recruiter will tell you about the team and role as well as the interview process. For example, they might explain that there is a phone interview, and if you pass that, you’ll be brought on site for a day of interviews.

After your phone interview, you’ll have a status call with the recruiter. They’ll either inform you that the company is not moving forward with you or, hopefully, they’ll be interested in talking about next steps: scheduling your on-site interview.

They’ll likely cover the format of the on site interviews in this call. They may tell you something like, “You’ll have 4 interviews and lunch with a member of the team you’re interviewing with. The interviews will cover X, Y, and Z. You’ll be meeting with the tech lead, the team manager, and a member of another team. You’ll have a coding interview and a system design interview.” Etc. These details are extremely helpful, as they can hopefully reduce some of the anxiety of going into an interview not knowing what to expect.

Another thing a recruiter is often the main contact for is salary negotiation. This can happen at almost any time during the interview process. I’ve had experiences where salary was discussed during the initial call with the recruiter “just to make sure we’re on the same page”, and other times when salary didn’t come up at all until they were ready to make me an offer.

This brings up a very important point. Recruiters are friendly and helpful, but remember that they work for the company, not for you. They will do a lot of work to make you feel at ease. However, they may also use some information you disclose to them in future salary negotiations or to help “sell” you on the job if they make you an offer. I have a personal example of this.

When I was working my consulting job, I traveled full time and I was pretty unhappy about it. A common question in the initial recruiting chat is “Why are you interested in Company X?” or “Why are you looking to change jobs?” I mentioned offhandedly that one of the reasons I was looking is I didn’t want to travel full time. A few weeks later, when we were in the offer stage of the process, the initial offer wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be salary-wise. When I expressed my dissatisfaction, my recruiter made sure to remind me “Well, Brad, this will get you off of the road, so you can spend more time with friends and family. You’ll probably be much happier.”

Was she right? Absolutely. Is this still pretty manipulative? Yep.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t share information with recruiters. You absolutely should! They’re often your main advocate and point of contact throughout the process. But just be mindful of everyone’s incentives in the conversation, and treat it as a business transaction. I could write pages and pages on salary negotiation and the related considerations, so let’s hold that for future posts. The last thing I’ll say on the topic here is: Be kind but firm. Some people get extremely hostile due to the seemingly adversarial nature of salary negotiations. Other people are overly friendly, give up their hand, and get less than they should. Find a happy medium. Be respectful and pleasant, but don’t get less than you’re worth.

Assuming all goes well in your interviews, you’re excited about the job and the company is excited about you, the last thing you’ll have with a recruiter is an offer call. This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bit of a formality, but the recruiter will basically say, “We’d like to offer you the position. Your compensation package will include…” Typically, they will ask you to verbally accept. You aren’t obligated to do so, and obviously shouldn’t if you intend to keep negotiating. You can definitely say “I’d like to think it over” or “I’m really excited about the position, but I’d really like to see the offer details in writing so I can review them closely and consider my options.”

Either way, you’ll eventually have to formally sign/accept your offer letter. This is almost always handled electronically now, and will be done via some document management service that is sent to you via e-mail.

WHEW! That was a lot about recruiters. I hope you stuck through it with me. The reason I have so much to say on recruiters is that they are a super important part of the hiring process. A great recruiter can often mean for a great hiring experience for candidates.

Let’s take a deep breath before we move on…

Phone Interviewer

This should be much simpler than the recruiter.

A phone interviewer is just the person assigned to do your phone screen. I’ll assume we’re talking about a technical phone screen, since tech is my area of focus. The format of this can vary, but lately many companies are favoring things like HackerRank, which lets you do a screenshare/coding exercise.

Either way, you’ll be assigned someone to work through a problem with (an engineer in the case of a technical interview.) Sometimes, this person will be a member of the team you’d be joining. Other times, companies will have a general interviewing pipeline and the person you’re talking to may not know anything specific about the role or team. Their job is just to come up with a yes/no recommendation as to whether you should be advanced. Don’t be surprised if they can’t provide you with tons of details about the role.

After your phone interview, the interviewer will write up a scorecard of some sort. This is just a way to collect written feedback. In short, they’ll be writing things like:

  • Did the candidate come up with a solution to the problem?
  • Was the solution reasonable/feasible/efficient?
  • Were they able to communicate their ideas, identify gotchas, etc.?
  • Do you recommend we bring this person on site for an interview?

Based on this feedback, you’ll either be advanced or not.

On-Site Interview Panel

The on-site interview panel is the group of people assembled to ultimately decide if you should receive a job offer. For a technical role, this is typically a few engineers and at least one manager (almost always the hiring manager.) Each will interview you in their own target area/domain and collect feedback. This may consist of whiteboard (or computer) coding, systems design, behavioral questions, or other challenges. You’ll almost certainly be asked to talk about your past work and educational experience, as well as have the opportunity to ask your own questions. Asking good questions is definitely an indicator of being a strong performer, and we’ll talk more about that in a future post.

Typically the interview panel is largely shaped/defined by the hiring manager. While I can’t get into the specific mechanisms used at Uber as they are confidential, I can say that most organizations have some sort of controls in place to prevent panel stacking and other practices that could potentially compromise the hiring process or talent bar. In short, it is very rare for an individual to have the power to independently hire someone. Almost all hires at top tier tech companies are made by committee.

After you’ve completed your day of interviews, a process somewhat similar to what followed the phone interview will occur. Each interviewer will complete a scorecard. The panel will then convene (often along with representation from recruiting) and debrief on the interview. Essentially, the group will discuss their interview experiences and collectively come to a recommendation as to whether or not an offer should be made.

Hiring Manager

The hiring manager has many responsibilities throughout this process, some of which have been previously noted. In short, this is the person that is actually trying to bring you into the organization, most commonly as an additional member of their team.

The hiring manager will often have significant influence over the composition of an interview panel. They will provide recommendations based on role, tenure, and other qualities as to who should interview a candidate and what the focus areas should be. They also often create the initial job description (sometimes called a “req”, short for requisition.) They define the needs of the team and create the role to fulfill those needs.

During the actual interview process, the HM will almost always be one of your on-site interviewers. They’ll typically focus more on culture, team fit, and behavioral questions. This person is going to have to manage you, so they’re going to be looking for signs that you’ll work well with the team, take feedback when it is needed, and be able to meet the expectations of the role. Bad hires are very painful for organizations and managers, which is why many top organizations have a strong bias towards not hiring if they aren’t very sure about a candidate.

To this end, hiring managers cannot hire you alone (as noted above), but they often can prevent you from being hired even if the overall panel is positive. For example, if I were interviewing a candidate and the overall technical debrief was positive, but I thought the person would be extremely difficult to work with or would have a negative effect on team culture, I could decline to extend an offer. Even if the rest of the panel was positive, ultimately I would be responsible for managing this person and making sure they’re successful and productive within the organization, and thus I have the ability to decline to hire.

In short, it’s important to get along with the HM, and it will likely be one of the most important interviews on your panel.

If your interview goes well, and the hiring manager wants to extend an offer, the feedback will be assembled into a packet that outlines the case for hiring you. This is often presented for a final offer approval, after which you’ll be formally extended a job offer.

The last thing a hiring manager does (before they become your real manager) is sometimes participate in a “sell call.” A sell call is just a quick chance for the HM to chat with you about the role now that you’ve been extended an offer. Typically this is to let you know that the team is excited about you joining, and to hopefully get you excited about coming to work with them. Sell calls are more common with candidates that are unsure or that may be considering competing offers (e.g. they need to be sold.)

Final Approver / Executive Review

Many organizations have a final approval step, where each new offer goes through an executive-level review. These are typically just formalities, and it would be an extremely rare case in which an offer was completely rejected due to executive review (e.g. the company was planning to hire you, but some executive intervened and said no.) More often, there may be minor adjustments to compensation or questions about scope/role to ensure a good fit and likelihood of success for a new hire.

This part of the process is entirely invisible to external candidates.

Summary

This ended up being much longer than I expected, but again, I think the complexity in the hiring process is very helpful to understand and hopefully me demystifying it assists in reaching your career goals.

The hiring manager and recruiter are key figures in helping you explore opportunities and ultimately join a new company. You should do your best to be positive and enthusiastic when going through the process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and also don’t be afraid to decline to disclose information (such as current salary) if you aren’t comfortable doing so.

I’ve done my best to be as comprehensive as possible, but every company is slightly different, has its own policies, etc. If you’ve had a vastly different hiring experience at a tech company, please feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

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