This is a story that has been unfolding in the future of work space since Covid hit. For ever and ever, companies hired people by looking at resumes and interviewing candidates. Many of us who have succeeded were beneficiaries of that approach because we went to the right schools, or were white men like the interviewers, so they felt kinship.
This practice needs to end. Resumes and interviews are the perfect process if you want human bias to be the main factor in hiring.
Did you go to the same school as I did? Were you in the same clubs? Do you know the same people? Do you have the same interests? Would I like to have a beer with you?
This has created a significant hurdle for anyone getting into tech who wasn’t a white male. Since 90% of funders are white men, and over 70% of founders are men, good luck to you if you don’t fit the profile. And until a year ago, geography played a huge part in excluding everyone else. If you couldn’t afford to get to San Francisco or New York for an interview or couldn’t afford to live there even if you got a job, tough luck.
Thankfully, a combination of three forces are changing this. I hope it happens quickly and I am betting on it with several of my startups, but I think it’s inevitable over a five to ten year period.
1 — Tech is a hiring machine. We had 3% unemployment in December, 2020, half of the national average. People who think tech is going to eliminate all of the jobs have clearly never been to a Y Combinator demo day. This week, 340 new companies were launched and gobbled up millions more in funding. Tech is a positive feedback loop. As long as Progress is profitable, tech will grow as quickly as possible. I’m a big believer that there is a lot of Progress to be made (i.e. many tough problems yet to be solved). So if you believe that, you should also believe that there will be an increasing number of new companies created to tackle those problems and those companies will hire as many people as they can. It’s very hard for everyone else in the world to imagine a positive sum game, where one new engineer has a percentage to start a new company employing more engineers. That’s the machine we have created. When people use the software is eating the jobs argument, they are half right. Tech is eating the old jobs and is talent-limited in creating new ones. But right now, almost no one has access to tech jobs and tech companies are limited by how many people they can hire. Kind of a perfect storm to create change in hiring practices.
2 — Tech is under increasing political pressure to stop being all white men from elite backgrounds. Companies are going to get a lot more aggressive about hiring women, people of color, and to do anything else that causes the rest of the country to be less pissed off at us. Because HR typically owns both hiring and diversity, that gives us a lever to change hiring practices.
3 — Covid changed everything. We all know remote work is here to stay, we are just arguing about how to implement it now. Once work can be done remotely, it opens up your recruiting to every place on Earth, great for feeding the talent sucking machine and great for diversity. But it also breaks hiring through resumes and interviews.
Hmmm, I’ve never heard of the university this guy in Brazil went to and I’ve never heard of the companies he worked for. He doesn’t have a lot of interests in common, and I’m having a hard time with his accent.
To me, it’s pretty obvious that the best way to gauge talent going forward is going to be having them do trial projects. We already give dev candidates a project to do before hiring. How do we move that to the front, and how do we extend that to all of hirin?
I am seeing several interesting things going on right now that I think paint the way towards companies becoming good at hiring for talent rather than someone’s resume and interviewing skills.
First, I sit on the board of Lambda School. Our students are 33% people of color, 50% have no college degree, 40% women, and the majority are from the interior of the country. For years, we tried to get them jobs by going down the resume and interview route, but ran smack into the wall of ‘Gosh, you don’t seem like me.’ To be fair, there are some companies like Amazon that give a coding test first, which our grads would routinely crush, and get fast-tracked through the interview process. But that was an outlier in a sea of endless interviews by people that shared no network with our grads.
Eventually, we started experimenting with one month fellowships where our students joined the dev team. Instead of having to look like the hiring manager, candidates got evaluated based on things like — — ‘Do you write good code? Do you take initiative? Do you ask questions when you are stuck? Are you good to work with?’ As you might imagine, Lambda grads did very well on these new questions and the hiring rate skyrocketed. While still early, we are finding more and more companies who find this way of hiring gets them better people, and since Lambda gets paid only when we find someone a job, it was transformative for us as a company.
Second, I’m an investor in a company called Major League Hacking (MLH). For several years, they were the largest operator of college hackathons and have hundreds of thousands of coders in their community. When covid hit, they started experimenting with running three month remote fellowships and it worked, companies loved their fellows. What is even more interesting to me is the way they currently get paid. They realized very quickly that companies are really, really bad at onboarding junior engineers. And since they were running fellowships remotely, they had the same opportunity to provide management and guidance for the fellow as the company had. So they stepped in and did that. Now companies pay them a few thousand dollars per fellow to manage the process. Fellows produce good work that moves the product forward, all while giving the company a good look at how they work, while MLH does the hard work of getting the fellow up to speed. We’ve found the same thing at Lambda — architecting the fellowship and providing the support a new engineer needs really helps them get up to speed and show what they can contribute.
Third, we are starting to hack on what a fellowship even means. Paragon One is creating micro-fellowships where companies can publish projects and multiple teams can engage to solve their problems. If you remember the famous Netflix algorithm contest, in some ways, this is taking that type of approach and templating it out so a company can expose a bunch of problems and have the crowd take a shot at the problems. We’ve seen this happen with bug bounties as well, but it has never really been considered as a hiring mechanism. You can imagine a smart high school student doing a bunch of micro-fellowships with different companies, building a team for each one, and in the process learning a ton. Hopefully they would even get support in doing this from their school.
All of these developments give me great hope that we will move beyond the resume and interview ditch and find ways to assess talent based on their ability to make impact sooner rather than later. I tweeted about my interest in getting directly involved in starting something new a couple of months ago. Everything I have learned since then makes me even more enthusiastic.