Management Hire for your career


Jesse walked.

Monday is the day we set aside for new hires. All the new hires spend the morning learning about the company, figuring out how to create accounts, and becoming indoctrinated in company culture. When lunch time arrives, managers pick up their new employees and take them to lunch.

Their morning starts at 9am, and at 9:15 I got a call from HR: “Jesse’s not here”.

Bad traffic, miscommunication, there were a dozen good reasons he wasn’t there, but I instantly felt a rock in my stomach: “Jesse walked”.

A quick call to my recruiter and the mystery began to unfold, “Oh, yeah, he called just before 5pm on Friday and said he wanted to chat. I was off Friday, should I call him now?”

Yeah, call him. Tell me what I already know.

The recruiter discovered that Jesse was firmly ensconced in a cone of silence because his Friday call was his cold feet call. After three months of phone screens, interviews, offer negotiations, and acceptance of said offer, Jesse was calling to tell us that while he had resigned two weeks ago, a last-minute counter-offer had shown up, and he’d decided to stay… at 4:45pm on his last day.

Jesse walked.

As I sat at my desk, lightly tapping the phone headset against my forehead, I thought how simple it would be to be pissed. In terms of respect, trust, and professionalism, Jesse had screwed me in just about every manner possible, but, in this case, the fault would be mine.

I had not explained to Jesse that he was wanted.

The Requisition Situation

This article is going to talk about the beginning and the end of the hiring process. I’m going to make sure you know two things. First, that you understand how urgent it is that you hire, and second, how to make sure those you hire actually show up. There’s a huge pile of work in the middle of this process involving phone screens, interviews, and offers, but for this article, we’ll just focus on the beginning and the end.

Let’s start by understanding where this whole hiring process starts. We need to talk about requisitions.

In many companies, jobs are ruled by requisitions (“reqs”). These imaginary pieces of paper give you, the hiring manager, the permission to hire, but they serve two other purposes. First, they document and formalize the process of hiring a new full-time person, and more importantly, they give executives visibility into the state of the company’s growth.

It varies by company, but reqs, specifically open, approved reqs, is one of the more popular organizational levers the execs have to control the growth of the company. In software development, one of your larger corporate expenses is base salary, which means the moment uncertainty appears on your company’s horizon, reqs (read: potential large expenses) are one of the first things to vanish.

This leads to the most important rule regarding requisitions:

Reqs vanish randomly, often without notice, without reason, and at the least convenient time.

In larger companies, the bureaucracy involved in actually getting an approved req is impressive. When the req is finally approved by the 17th person you don’t know, you have a false sense of accomplishment. You believe this req is yours, but there is really only one way to make it yours — make the hire.

It’s not just corporate nervousness that causes reqs to vanish. Your boss, who you love, is a likely req stealing culprit. Anton’s got a guy right now who is perfect for his team and we’ve only got one req. He can hire him right now and I swear we’ll get you a req when you find someone.

You believe your boss. You trust your boss, so you give him your req and Anton’s a happy guy and you feel like you’ve done the team a solid. Except when you actually find someone, guess what, you don’t have a req. Neither does your boss because some time between when you gave your req and actually found someone for your position the first rule was invoked: every single req in the company was frozen.

I’m guessing 50% of the reqs I’ve managed to get approved in my career have resulted in a hire. Meaning, a flip of a coin would as accurately predict whether or not I’d be able to hire someone.

From the moment there’s a hint of an idea of a req in your future, you need to work on improving your chances that you’ll be able to hire. And that means, as quickly as possible, you need to: find the person, phone screen them, interview them, interview them again, negotiate an offer, get that offer accepted, and get them in the building. Think of that as you’re staring at your shiny new req. Think that the industry average for hiring against an approved req is 90 days — three months — and each of those days represents a day that someone, somewhere can steal your req. This is why you need to…

Spend an hour a day on each req you have

We’ll talk about how to make sure they’ll show up in a bit, but to start you need to get the pump primed. A former boss helpfully suggested, “Spend an hour a day on each req on your plate”.

An hour?

If you’ve got an approved req, you have approval to grow your team. To add new skill sets. To build more stuff. In your role as a manager, I ask: “What’s more important than growing your team?” No, this isn’t a draconian hour; this is a daily reminder that you need to grind away at this req until you’ve hired someone.

Rands, I have no candidates yet. The req was just approved. I…

Again, reqs vanish. Randomly. At the end of each workday, you need to think, “Phew, no one stole my req.”

Here’s how to start:

  • Search the web for candidates. — Show me a stranger who will be perfect.
  • Mail friends who might know the perfect person. — Know anyone? How about you?
  • Annoy your recruiter. — Where are my resumes?
  • Ping folks who have turned you down in the past. — Are you ready now?
  • Scan your inbox and sent folders for folks you need, but may have forgotten. — Really, are you ready now?
  • Read your job description for additional inspiration. — Do I actually know who I’m looking for?

But isn’t this why I have a recruiter?

It’s terrific that you’ve got a recruiter. They’re going to streamline your entire hiring process, but you still need to spend an hour a day for each req. A quality recruiter is going to find candidates, do time-saving phone screens, and they can keep in-flight candidates warm. When it comes to offer negotiation, they’re great at providing you essential compensation telemetry and they’re good at playing bad cop, but as we’ll see, it’s your job to demonstrate that the candidate is wanted.

I found them! I’m done!

No, you didn’t, and no, you aren’t.

No really! He verbally accepted, he starts in two weeks. It’s a done deal.

No, it’s not. If randomly vanishing reqs are painful lesson #1 of hiring, painful lesson #2 is: people lose their flippin’ minds during job transitions.

Think back to your last job transition. Think about the mental turmoil. When did you actually fully believe that you were going to accept the new gig? For me, it’s about two months after I started.

You keep recruiting; you keep searching for the perfect employee until your new hire is sitting in their office. It’s not common for an accepted offer to be declined, but it needs to happen once for you to learn the lesson, to suddenly realize, “Oh, I need to start over. Crap.”

Until he’s sitting in the seat, in the building, badge hanging from his belt, you haven’t hired anyone.

Deliberate Want

Michele’s team was embarking on a new technology direction and while she had the basic talent in place, she needed two more hires and we had the reqs. In a recruiting brainstorm, I sketched out the type of person we needed. “Ok, we need Alex. He’s the Sr. Architect at this other company, but he’s the right combination of technical brilliance and architectural jerk. We need someone with that technical ability and the will to enforce it because we’re starting from the ground up.”

Her: “Why not hire Alex?”

Me: “He’ll never leave his start-up.”

“Have you asked?”


“I’ll ask.”

She did, and while it took six months, Alex, the perfect fit for the team and for the project, joined the team. Halfway through the recruiting stint with Alex, when it looked like he might not budge, I threw another perfect candidate on her plate and said, “Maybe ask him, too?” Sean was on the team a month after Alex.

Two hires I thought we had absolutely no chance of hiring. Both on the team in a matter of months. Your question is, “What’s her secret?” and the answer is dangerously simple – deliberate, consistently expressed and reinforced want.

Both of the positions we had were attractive. Senior engineering gigs working on a 1.0 product in a name brand company. But these guys were the top of the field. Recognized names. There were any number of opportunities across the Valley that would be attractive. How’d we win?

We continually and consistently explained that they were wanted.

The idea of a new gig, a fresh start, is appealing because of its simplicity. You know nothing about your future team; you have no idea about potential death marches or that guy down the hall that just bugs you for no particular reason. It’s simple to think about the future optimistically because the future hasn’t screwed you, yet.

This optimism fades in the middle of the night when you open your eyes, startled, and think, “Why in the world would I leave a solid gig with people I know and a bright future?” The reasons are myriad, but that’s not the point. The point is for any big decision, you’re going to question it from every single angle. You’re going to have endless inner dialogues with yourself. You’re going to talk yourself into the gig and then you’re going to talk yourself out of it.

It’s exhausting.

Michele’s message during the entire hiring process was, “You are the best person for this gig. We want you.” Remember that we’re not talking about random, anonymous candidates; we’re talking about handpicked candidates.

Before any interview, she’d drive to them, explain the gig, and begin, “You are the best person for this gig. We want you.” After the first round of interviews, her message was the same, “See, this gig is perfect for you. We want you.”

When we started the offer negotiations, she’d worked with the recruiter and knew exactly what we’d need to do to lure the candidates. She knew that base salary was a big deal for Alex. She knew Sean was going to be a stickler about stock. There was no offer negotiation because Michele constructed offers that were going to be accepted. She presented them: “This is the offer you wanted. This gig is perfect for you. We want you.”

Once the offers were accepted, Michele didn’t change her tone or message a bit. She’d had rockstars walk before and she knew the slippery inner dialogues that were going on. She knew that change begets more change and that the easiest time to lose someone was during that post-courtship purgatory between gigs. She had her team take them to drinks. She planted seeds of future work that would need to be done. She reminded them, “We want you”.

This strategy reads like a massive ego-stroke for an attention-starved engineering rockstar, but it’s not. Whether you have pre-identified a candidate for your gig or you’re lucky enough to randomly find a great fit in a pile of anonymous resumes, the strategy is the same — you consistently remind the candidate that they are wanted. In the mental chaos that is a career change, you and your gig are unchanging in your message. You’re not coddling them; you’re a constant amongst mental chaos.

Hire for Your Career

The strategy I’m proposing steps on a lot of recruiter’s toes. Recruiters are professional relationship people and their instinctive reads on candidates can be eerily accurate, but their job is the hire and once the hire shows up, the recruiter vanishes. The relationship is ended because the job is done.

Your professional relationship with those that you hire is never over.

If you’re hiring well, you’re hiring people not just for this job, but for your career. These are the people who, for better or worse, will explain to others what it is like to work with you. They’ll explain your quirks, your weaknesses, and your strengths. When they eventually leave the group, they’re taking your reputation with them. You may never talk to them again, but they’ll continue to talk and my question is: what stories are they going to tell?

Your daily hands-on management of your hiring isn’t just going to improve your hiring process, it’s going to improve your career because you’ll demonstrate from the first moment you interact with your future employee that you care.

Jesse didn’t decide to turn us down at 4:45pm on his last day. The decision began long before that and I wasn’t listening. I didn’t hear the parts of his current job he loved because I didn’t do the phone screen. I didn’t understand his concerns about leaving the first job he loved since college because I didn’t build enough trust in the interview. I didn’t hear him drifting away during the offer negotiation. The last thing I heard about Jesse is he walked.

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26 Responses

  1. Tip o’ the hat on your semicolon use; you used it well. Or, to put it another way, I would even go so far as to say that the more I see you play with the semicolon the more I realize you know what you’re doing.

  2. There’s an extent to which you exude a Dog Whisperer-esque command of how to lead and manage a tough kind of team. I see a lot of value in showing someone worth hiring that they’re wanted, from their first week through their fifth year.

    At the same time, though, if they don’t want you, your company’s mission, and the chance to be a part of your team, isn’t that saying something about the equation too? Maybe they didn’t buy your story, your company’s values, the excitement of their role? In which case, how much wanting could have really swayed them? Building software, you retain and release your objects and have total control over their existence. It’s easy to forget but people, obviously, are more complicated.

    So yeah, it’s important to provide a rock in the midst of the internal back-and-forth that’s a given with any career transition. But hopefully, if everyone does their job right, you’ll be working for a company where truly compatible stars will feel they’re coming home. Where they have found the place they’ve been looking for. A bit like love — you want them, they want you.

    And a bit like love, wouldn’t it be unhealthy not to have a certain amount of wanting reciprocity going on?

  3. Duncan 14 years ago


    While I haven’t—yet—gone to Michele’s lengths, I consistently handle much of the recruiter’s responsibilities. Recruiters are almost always chronically overworked. Often they aren’t technical enough to read into résumés for my admittedly difficult positions.

    Because of these issues, there’s also a risk of not even seeing a good candidate. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some highly desirable employers, which means that I get a lot of applicants, and filtering becomes a problem. One of my best hires ever almost got filtered out by my recruiter. After I became dissatisfied with the initial apparent applicant quality, I realized that because this was a tricky position to fill (the job description was murder), I needed to review every single application for this position. When I said THIS IS THE GUY, she told me that she’d put him in the reject pile “because he doesn’t have experience in one of your preferred areas.”

    Preferred. Not “required.” Deep breath.

    Ever since then, I review every candidate and provide feedback on *all* of them to the recruiter. This is a simple list of how well each candidate ranks on desirable characteristics and job requirements. This helps my recruiter understand what I’m looking for, makes them more efficient, and they’re more likely to go out of their way for me. Lastly, I add a note if I think the candidate’s promising but not a good fit for my open position. This way, I hope that I’m ensuring that great potential hires wind up working for some part of my organization.

  4. They wanted me until I actually came in the door. After that I was owned, and didn’t need to be shown that I was wanted. This is as important after the hire as it is before the badge is on your new hire’s belt.

  5. Man, Jesse’s loss. I’d work for you any day Rands, at pretty much any profession. Something tells me I’d learn tons and get even more done. Don’t suppose you need a *nix admin whereever you are, do you? 🙂

  6. rands 14 years ago

    I agree. For the potential new employee, there is “This could be too good to be true” due diligence to do when you’re getting the full court press from the company. It’s worth figuring out whether they really want you or they’re desperate for unfortunate reasons.

  7. Jibs very well with my experience.

    I lost a manager – a good guy – back in the mid-90s. He hadn’t been looking, at least no more than the rest of us are always looking. But he started talking to people at another local company. Interviewed. They made an offer. He initially declined, citing the exact reasons mentioned in the article. Why change? He had a solid gig. Good benefits. Flexibility in schedule for his young family.

    But a month later, he was leaving. Because the other company kept calling and telling him the exact thing you mentioned, Rands.

    He was wanted. They wanted him on the team.

  8. Mitch Wright 14 years ago

    “Being wanted” not only is a lure to a new job, it is an excellent hook for retention. Far too many employers and managers lose sight of that.

  9. Victor Roy 14 years ago

    Nice ensconced-age.

  10. JohnO 14 years ago

    I’ve definitely felt like Jane has. Walked into a place that was talked up plenty – only to be let down.

  11. Andrew 14 years ago

    Wow. I had not considered the job search from the other side of the table. These pieces on how to manage are great food for thought.

    Have you noticed if the expression of wanting has pushed compensation packages up or down?

  12. Jeffrey J. Hoover 14 years ago

    So, did you follow up with Jesse, or is he not someone you want in your career?

    You are spot on that the relationship is the key. The relationship between you and the hire; you and the recruiter; you and the req holders.

  13. Brendan 14 years ago

    Excellent. Haven’t read this blog much before, and my area of expertise is far from HR. But the combination of personal insight and professional expertise in this post is solid. That’s what made it compelling, thanks.


  14. Agree with Jane – I’d add that it doesn’t finish when s/he sits down, but when s/he has been in your office for a while and you know s/he’s happy :).

  15. Michael Pearson 14 years ago

    I’ve been that guy, nearly. Walked on the second day – right out into the other job offer I had, and I’m still there two years later.

    While they made it clear that they wanted me, the interview environment and culture was significantly different from the actual working environment and culture.

  16. Michael Pearson 14 years ago

    I’ve been that guy, nearly. Walked on the second day – right out into the other job offer I had, and I’m still there two years later.

    While they made it clear that they wanted me, the interview environment and culture was significantly different from the actual working environment and culture.

    (is this moderated? reposting)

  17. Excellent post. And Jane is spot on.

    But in my experience seeking new hires, few candidates question potential employers in a meaningful way. If someone did ask hard questions, would they get hired?

    Sure, the product may be intriguing and the technical challenges stimulating, but do I really want to work for that management team? I’ve wondered whether people frequently change jobs after 18-24 months simply because that’s enough time to get to know the organization and to also find a few things that the organization does poorly and won’t change.

  18. A great post and a great perspective. As I read the article, I reflected on my almost 20 years of IT experience in the MidWest and I could appreciate Rands’s supposition of “wanted-ness” driving employee employer alignment, but I could not find any parallel experiences in my past nor any stories from peers that could mirror this “wanted-ness”. So, I got to thinking:

    “It seems difficult to refute “wanted-ness” as solid goal for all IT organizations regardless of geographic predilection. What might make it less of a priority for a MidWestern company to employ such talent attraction tactics as Rands supposes? ”

    I posted a detailed answer on my blog:

  19. Rands, as a relatively new developer-turned-manager, your blog continues to be an awesome guide. It’s funny that today I find myself navigating and prioritizing my precious, current, fleeting reqs, and find this post.

    I tell this to your blog: “you are wanted”.

  20. “Grow you team” should be “grow your team”.

  21. Unknown Soldier 14 years ago

    You touched on a point that I always hated about every manager I’ve had (i.e., reqs). I have always seen this fascination for reqs as something egotistical about managers. They want their team to grow because that means they have more people under them.

    Of course, sometimes teams do need to grow. But in big companies, it is often the case that the approval of a req is not necessarily tied to a need. I have seen plenty of teams that were not efficient, that had many problems, but hey… I req showed up… let’s go hire someone. A few years later, the company needs to downsize and guess what? Now that team that did not need the reqs to begin with is perfect for the axe because it has so many people, it costs so much, and it is so inefficient. I have seen this time and again. I wish managers were more concerned about efficiency and productivity rather than being so fascinated about bleeping reqs.

  22. Phillip Haydon 14 years ago

    You want me! I haven’t decided why but you want me!

  23. It’s not enough to want the new hire on your team, they have to want to be on your team too.

    I had an offer a while ago which I accepted then I received the contract they wanted me to sign. Their standard contract, this was, nothing special for my role and all I can say is “Oh Hell No!”.

    I politely emailed back and said I was not going to sign that contract and was withdrawing my offer to work for them.

    A little while afterwards, I got a phone call begging me to re-consider and promising that any clause in the contract I was unhappy with could be left out of a new contract, that I could have anything I wanted as long as I joined up… so its fair to say they were showing me the “want”.

    I still said no. My feeling at this point was that regardless of what my “final” contract read, I didn’t want to work for an employer that would consider sending the first contract I saw out to someone.

    They just didn’t seem to “get” that. An example of corporate policy and a HR department screwing it up for the hiring manager perhaps?

  24. Dave Moran 14 years ago

    Great post! I’ve had the same experience of handing a req off to another team and not able to fill a position later. Hand a req off only is you are sure that you don’t absolutely need the req for a critical hire.

  25. Simon 14 years ago

    All true. Excellent post.

    Remember that hiring is reciprocal. Make it clear how the new hire will gain professionally by moving. More tech responsibility? Less management responsibility? Extra skills?

    It helps get past the “Why should I leave my safe, current company?” angst.

    So you have a req for skills A, B, C. You find a good person with skills A, B, C. You tempt them with a raise, stock, whatever. Fine. But they’ve done A, B, C before. Once the novelty of the new job wears off, they get bored. Maybe they walk. Assuming they ever joined.

    Make it clear what the new hire will gain beyond the obvious. “You have skills A, B, C. We like that. We need those skills. But join us and you get skills D and E.”

    Remember to follow-through on skills D and E otherwise the new hire will feel conned and you’ll have employee-from-hell.

  26. I would bet that you lost this person much earlier in the process than you imagine. If your candidate backed out late, they had thoughts early. Recruiting exceptional team members is a discipline that recruiters and hiring teams struggle with. A recruiter is trained to ascertain what the candidate’s motivations are to leave their current employer and what their buying points are. For example: is the person bored with the work, does the person hate their boss, does the person feel like they would be happier if their company sent them to the conference their friends go to or did they have to work two weekends in a row to make up for the lost time and have to pay out of pocket, or is it just about money or commute frustrations. These things are the tip of the iceberg. If you assume that the dialogue is the only factor then you are missing critical details. If someone wants to work on your team, for your company, etc. they will make their move to your team.

    Even if you get it all right, people are people and they make decisions that are emotional or rational to them based on where they are at any given moment. You are right on the money when you talk about needing to spend an hour a day. If they are important then you should consider spending more than an hour in one day early in the week and then plan to do some follow-on time before Friday rolls around.

    Duncan’s comments suggest that someone has an inner control freak tendency that isn’t healthy. The solution is easy: hire a decent recruiter or teach them to be one. If neither of those options is possible then you simply need to learn how to network. If I had an engineer or other employee on my team who was taking the time to read every single resume that arrived to check the work of the recruiter then I would have serious questions about their ability to focus on their own work. You can’t do the work for others on your team. Teach your recruiter, don’t assume they are going to be as savvy as you without some mentoring in your area.