February 16, 2023

How to Take Advantage of 2023 Headcount to Build a Better Team

By Casey Higgins

Hiring in 2023 is not like hiring in 2021.

Thanks to the global economy, headcounts are flat or barely increasing. You have to be more strategic in your hiring plans and processes. And every hire matters more.

A former engineering leader at Amazon recently shared his secret attribute for amazing senior+ engineers: their ability to “learn by Roomba.” (Stay with us.)

An annoying thing about watching a Roomba is it seems to randomly bounce around. But somehow, your floor gets cleaned.

The most impactful engineers all have this magic ability to bounce around and somehow solve the problem. They take a complex, unfamiliar, ambiguous problem and instead of getting stuck on where to start, they explore it.

Other engineers might be smarter — but without this quality, they’re less effective. They don’t know where to start. They get stuck.

Instead, the people that have this secret quality activate Roomba mode. They start moving around. As a result, they actually make progress.

Now is the time to find those folks. How?

By digging into the data.

There’s one perk to hiring in 2023 and that is data. All of your 2021 growth-mode hires have a year of tenure, and you have data to work with. Here’s how you can use it to your advantage.

Using data to improve your hiring process

Tactic 1: Appreciative inquiry

Appreciative inquiry involves taking two or three of your best hires — the ones who have performed above expectations and are exemplary in their role — and analyzing their interview packet.

First, gather a small group of managers, a staff-level individual contributor that knows the person closely, and at least one person who is not part of the hiring committee, so they don’t carry any biases about the process.

Then have an hour-long meeting where you go through the hiring packets for each of these people and call out what you saw then (or what you see now that you missed before) that has predicted a great outcome for these exceptional senior-level hires. Take notes and use them as a way to improve your rubrics, your questions, and your interview guides.

This exercise will help you find high-quality candidates while also increasing the speed of your decision making, because you have a better set of criteria to go by in the interview process.

Tactic 2: Post-mortems

We’re all familiar with post-mortems in the DevOps SRE space. Turns out, they’re equally useful when it comes to hiring.

If you’re like most companies, about a third of your experienced hires end up being over-leveled. An engineer will go into their first performance review and get a mark that shows they’re not living up to their seniority. Post-mortems can help you identify why that happened.

Gather a group of people who were involved in the hiring and onboarding process and go all the way back to the mis-leveled engineer’s hiring packet. Was there something that should have been flagged during the interview? Were they given more latitude than expected? Was the job description too broad or too specific for their skillset? Ideally you have a recording of their interview, or at least the transcript, to review.

After you’ve done the post-mortem, you might come away with four or five action items for things to change about your hiring process, rubrics, and onboarding process. Start making those improvements so you can prevent mis-leveled hires in the future.

Final thoughts

During high-growth periods, engineering managers typically spend a third of their time on hire-related activities. Now you have 20-30% more time to find the right candidate for a position.

So what are you going to do with that time? Dig into the data.

A data-driven approach to hiring is essential in 2023. You might not have the headcount you want, but with appreciative inquiry and post-mortems, you’ll have a hit list of high-value improvements to make this year.

Now go find your Roomba. Happy hiring!