Business ResourcesTech Recruiting: Hire for Fit, Train for Skills


Julie Menge
writes on July 25, 2016

Technical recruiting can be quite a challenge. It seems like no candidate ever has the right combination of skills that hiring managers are looking for. What’s going on?

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Imagine this scenario: the hiring manager comes to you and says, “We need to hire a JavaScript developer.” You post the job and applications start coming in. And coming in. And coming in. (It wouldn’t be uncommon to receive hundreds of applications in just a few days.)

Great! …Right?

You start sorting through resumes and cover letters. Hmm. This candidate hasn’t used JavaScript in a few years, but they seem very experienced with similar languages. That candidate doesn’t have a degree, but they’ve been working full-time using JavaScript for years. Another candidate just sent over a link to their Github account, but you can’t make heads or tails of their portfolio.

As you dig a little deeper, you start noticing that some candidates are well-versed in newer frameworks like AngularJS and ReactJS. This tells you these candidates are staying on top of all the latest technologies, which could be a great help to the team in the future. So, should you put those candidates at the top of the pile? The technology landscape is changing quickly, and JavaScript is a great example of that. Who knows whether these technologies will change or be replaced in the next year?

Your head starts spinning. You know technical skills are a must-have, but how do you make sure your top candidates truly have the skills you’re looking for?

Luckily, there are many ways to technically assess candidates these days:

  • Have them share a portfolio
  • Send them a programming problem
  • Have them come into the office for a paired programming exercise with another developer

But how will you narrow the pack from 200 to a manageable 3 or 4 candidates to begin with? On the surface, dozens of candidates may  seem technically capable. The last thing you want to do is pass all of them on to the hiring manager, shrug your shoulders and say, “OK, pick one.”

At Treehouse, we are big fans of hiring for fit and general technical ability. Knowing that technology changes rapidly, we’ve found the best hires are the ones that not only have a firm footing in technology but also have great soft skills and a propensity for learning.

Why does this work for us? Well, take a look at the top reasons employees don’t succeed in their jobs. Of course, technical competence can be a big reason. But more often than not, managers struggle with employees that are creating friction because they have poor communication skills, no desire to collaborate, or a lack of accountability. Soft skills are hard (sometimes impossible) to train for. You either have ‘em or you don’t.

So how do you assess for fit? If your company has a set of core values, that’s a good place to start. At Treehouse, we ask questions that dig into our values, all while keeping the interview conversational.

Here are a few examples of real interview questions that we ask candidates based on our values (in bold):

  • Personal Accountability – Tell us about a time you made a mistake
  • Collaboration – Have you ever taught a coworker a new skill? Tell us about it
  • Student Focus – Have you ever had to hold up a deadline because something wasn’t good enough for the customer?
  • Work-Life Integration – Describe a successful day
  • People Centered Design – How do you explain something very technical to a non-technical user?
  • Fiercely Competitive Nature – What tech skills are you interested in learning outside of what you already know?

If your organization already has a list of core values, it can be a very fruitful exercise to sit down with your colleagues to create a similar list of questions that align with your values.

How many times have you considered overlooking a potential fit issue because a candidate was a technical superstar? Have you ever said something like, “Well, she’s not a team player, but she’s a great programmer”? If you’ve hired someone based on this kind of logic, how quickly did you start receiving complaints from co-workers? 1 month? 3 months? Or maybe they resigned before the complaints started rolling in, sending you back to the drawing board.

We’re not suggesting that you forego the technical assessment aspect of evaluating candidates. But knowing that your own company’s technological needs are going to evolve quickly, it doesn’t make sense to hire a new developer every time the need for a new skillset comes up.

If you’re looking for a resource to provide new hires or existing employees with in-depth technical training or a refresher, there are several options out there, including bootcamps, conferences, and subscription-based online code schools. So it makes perfect sense to hire for fit and train for skills as you go. This approach will save time, money and headaches in the hiring process. Additionally, it enables you to keep your staff lean,  manageable and provides growth and development opportunities for the outstanding talent you’ve hired.

Does your organization place an emphasis on hiring for fit? Share your ideas with us!

Give your team top-notch, interactive, technical training with  Treehouse for Business!


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One Response to “Tech Recruiting: Hire for Fit, Train for Skills”

  1. Anantha Padmanabhan on September 4, 2016 at 5:43 am said:

    Hello Ms. Julie,

    It’s a pleasure to connect with you.

    Myself, Anantha Padmanabhan, a Software Engineer and an IT Recruiter.

    I have seen many videos of treehouse in Youtube and all are very insightful.

    Regarding this article:

    It’s excellent.

    The theme behind this article: Issues faced by modern day recruiters in identifying the ideal candidate for the specific job and how employee’s periodic development(by doing courses and updating new trends) could make them unique in a job interview.

    The phrase: “hire for fit and train for skills ” is simply wonderful.

    The present world is very competitive. So, identifying the right candidate for a specific role has become complex for both the Recruiters and Hiring managers.

    In that case, deploying the employee enhancement approach “70-20-10” is the key for any organization success in the long run.

    70-Implementing employee’s prior experience in work.
    20- Collaborating with colleagues- To learn new stuff and parallelly help them .
    10-Self enhancement(individually)- By doing online or offline courses and update new technologies to survive in the demanding industry.

    Keep up the good work.

    Kudos all!!

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