The Importance of Hiring Late

Always hire after you need someone, "after it hurts," not before. When companies ramp up fast in anticipation of work to be done, it can be really hard to hire good people.
  • Transcript


Question: What rules should companies follow when they're hiring?

Jason Fried: So fundamentally I think it’s important to hire late.  So hire when it really hurts.  So the reason I think that’s important is a lot of companies, I’ve seen especially in our world, the tech world, hire in anticipation of needing people.  And when you do that it’s really hard to judge their skills because you don’t really know what they’re going to be doing yet.  That’s one problem with it.  The other problem with it is you have to keep them busy on things that don’t matter until the thing that comes around that you need them for matters.  And that’s insulting.  It’s insulting to somebody who’s really good to say, "What you’re doing now doesn’t really matter, but we’re going to find something to you that matters in six months."  That’s just an insulting way to hire people and to treat people.  So we’re always hiring after we need somebody, not before.  And that’s the high-level pitch that we talk about when we talk about hiring is, hire after it hurts, don’t hire in anticipation of people.  Don’t hire for pleasure.  And there’s companies that ramp up really fast and just, you know, I think that’s just a really hard... it’s hard to judge.  It’s hard to hire anyone good, really hard to hire anyone good.  To hire 10 people good a month, a 100 people good a month, you can’t really.  I think maybe if you’re lucky you can do that, but I think it’s very, very rare.  Unless you’re a company that everybody wants to work at, a company like Google or something like that, where a lot of people want to work and they can maybe attract the best of the best of the best, but most companies don’t have that luxury.  So hire slowly, one at a time only after you need to.

Try them out.  So we try to try people out, we give them a project.  When we hire designers, we give them a project to do for us, a one-week project to do for us and we pay them for their time.  So because, when you look at someone's resume or the work that they’ve done, you don’t really know like, was this just them or did they work on a team, it’s very hard to tell.  And a lot of work, especially with developers, you can’t see their code because it’s written for proprietary product that’s owned by a company.  So we looked at the open source world, because that code's available.  We can look at their actual code submissions and look at their documentation, look at all the stuff that they’ve actually contributed, not said they’ve contributed.  So we want to try to get to real as soon as we can. So real code, a real design.  If we have to hire someone temporarily on a project basis to show us what they can do, that’s far more valuable than looking at their resume or looking at their portfolio because that’s usually not a great representation of who they are today. 

Question: Are resumes and cover letters still useful? 

Jason Fried:  I love cover letters.  Resumes are just kind of ridiculous things.  They really are.  They’re full of just lies and abstractions and it’s not that people are being malicious, it’s just like, that’s the culture around resumes.  And ultimately, everyone’s resume looks good enough.  Bullet points make people... equalize people. The other problem with resumes is like, you know seven years experience with Microsoft Word, I mean, what does that mean?  What do these things mean?  They don’t mean anything. So, cover letters are great because you can tell someone wrote them for you.  A resume is typically a general... it’s spam, first of all.  But it’s generally a general purpose document that you give out to a lot of people.  If a cover letter is generic, I don’t want to talk to that person.  If a cover letter is written for us clearly, and you can tell in a cover letter, then you definitely want to consider that person because they actually want your job, not just a job, but your job.  And I think that’s really valuable.  

Question: How do you find the right person for a business?

Jason Fried: One of the things we’ve been seeing is that we really like it when people really personalize their job pitch to us.  Like, "I want to work for you, here’s why."  Some people make a Web site, a specialized Web site just for us.  Some people speak our language.  You know, they’ll do research on the company and they’ll understand what we’re all about.  And those sorts of efforts really show to me that someone really wants the job.  And again, not just a job, but our job.  So I look for things like that.  And I would say, if anybody out there is looking for work, and really wants to work for a company, you’ve got to do something special to get that job.  And that just means... that’s not about you, it’s about the company.  What can you show this company that tells the company that you really want to work for them?  So maybe it’s learning something about their history and bringing it up, some abstract thing that someone else might not bring up to set you apart.  Maybe it is showing off your work in a special way, in a different way that's customized to that company.  I mean, you’ve got to go beyond just sending a resume.  And you’ve got to go beyond even just a good interview and you’ve got to go beyond just a good cover letter today.  You’ve got to really show them that you really want the work, and this comes down to really being personal in your approach.  One of our designers that we hired, I think it was about a year or a year-and-a-half ago, Jason Zimdars.  Built a beautiful site showcasing his work for us.  But not just, here’s the work that I’ve done for anybody, but here’s the work that I think is applicable to the work that you guys do.  And here’s some words that I think matter.  And I know you guys appreciate good writing so I’m going to take the time to write something well.  And that really had a huge impact on us.  And everybody who does that really has a big impact on us.  We get a few hundred resumes every time we post a job, you know.  And there’s only a handful of people who really go the extra mile and it’s sad.  I think you know, it’s not that hard probably to get a great job if you make an effort.  But if you just kind of blast out resumes and blast out generic cover letters, forget it.  You’re not going to get a great job.  

Question: What’s the role of higher education in the new economy? 

Jason Fried: We don’t care about higher education.  Don’t care about formal education.  I think maybe... I think, I don’t remember the stats, but it might be like 40% of the company never graduated college.  Things like that.  Some people went, some people didn’t go.  I don’t care about that.  It doesn’t say anything to me.  I actually like when people drop out because if they drop out and follow their passion, I love that.  Like some guys are programmers – I don’t want to be at school for four years because I can’t program at school.  I can program for a company and I can learn more in those two years that I would have gone to school and I can program instead.  So I’m far more interested in real world experience and doing things and building stuff instead of theoretical stuff, which I think is taught in most schools.  I also find in people who come out of school are a bit behind, actually on what’s really going on out there compared to people who have just been in the field for a while.  So I just think experience is far more valuable to us than your GPA or where you went to school.

Question: Are there generational trends you see when hiring? 

Jason Fried: Everyone we hire we make sure that they’re just good people.  If someone feels... if there’s an entitlement complex, I’m not interested, you know, if people feel like they’re owed something, forget it, you can go away.  So if there’s any of that, we just dismiss it offhand and they’re not... but I haven’t really seen a whole lot of that.  So, but again, I haven’t really had a lot of experience.  I think someone who maybe hires a hundred people a year probably has a much better perspective on it than I do, but, you know, our youngest employee now is 21 and he’s just awesome.  Completely dedicated, great mind, great hard worker, I don’t see any sort of different between like his generation and someone who's 30, you know.  Saying well the young guys these days, they don’t do anything.  It’s not like that at all.  I see a lot of drive and, you know, the other thing is, people just are just ahead today.  I mean people; someone who's 21 today is so much further ahead than somebody who was 21, 10 years ago.  And I think that’s great.

Recorded on July 22, 2010
Interviewed by Peter Hopkins