I read two blog posts on Friday that made for an interesting contrast. The first was a post by Mike Loukides arguing that the problem with the economy is not a lack of qualified candidates, but rather a lack of flexibility on the part of employers when it comes to who they hire. The other post I read was by Carlos Bueno on how to get hired at Facebook. He references an earlier post by Steve Yegge on how to get hired at Google.
Not only do the posts from Facebook and Google focus on listing specific skills that engineers they might hire need, but they include skills that engineers will never actually use at work. For example, both of them focus on the need to prepare to program on a whiteboard. I have well over a decade of experience as a software developer, and I’ve never programmed on a whiteboard. I don’t feel particularly uncomfortable with it, but I don’t think it is a clear indication of one’s ability as a software developer.
I don’t worry about how Google and Facebook hire. Their process works well for them, and will continue to, as long as they remain some of the most desirable places in the industry to work. Their method isn’t going to work for your company, though.
For most companies, the way to find stars is to deemphasize skills and to focus on intelligence, attitude, and communication. There are no risk-free hires, and the low risk hires from a skills standpoint often lack creative potential. The skilled, creative people already have great jobs. I can teach a smart person about Big O notation in half an hour. Teaching a poor communicator to be work well with teammates is nearly impossible. Focus on what’s important.
In the end, the excessive focus on skills and experience that seems endemic is hurting more than it’s helping.