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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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The Importance of Hiring Late

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

Jason Fried: So\r\n fundamentally I think it’s important to hire late.  So hire when it \r\nreally hurts.  So the reason I think that’s important is a lot of \r\ncompanies, I’ve seen especially in our world, the tech world, hire in \r\nanticipation of needing people.  And when you do that it’s really hard \r\nto judge their skills because you don’t really know what they’re going \r\nto be doing yet.  That’s one problem with it.  The other problem with it\r\n is you have to keep them busy on things that don’t matter until the \r\nthing that comes around that you need them for matters.  And that’s \r\ninsulting.  It’s insulting to somebody who’s really good to say, "What \r\nyou’re doing now doesn’t really matter, but we’re going to find \r\nsomething to you that matters in six months."  That’s just an insulting \r\nway to hire people and to treat people.  So we’re always hiring after we\r\n need somebody, not before.  And that’s the high-level pitch that we \r\ntalk about when we talk about hiring is, hire after it hurts, don’t hire\r\n in anticipation of people.  Don’t hire for pleasure.  And there’s \r\ncompanies that ramp up really fast and just, you know, I think that’s \r\njust a really hard... it’s hard to judge.  It’s hard to hire anyone \r\ngood, really hard to hire anyone good.  To hire 10 people good a month, a\r\n 100 people good a month, you can’t really.  I think maybe if you’re \r\nlucky you can do that, but I think it’s very, very rare.  Unless you’re a\r\n company that everybody wants to work at, a company like Google or \r\nsomething like that, where a lot of people want to work and they can \r\nmaybe attract the best of the best of the best, but most companies don’t\r\n have that luxury.  So hire slowly, one at a time only after you need \r\nto.
\r\n
\r\nTry them out.  So we try to try people out, we give them a project. \r\n When we hire designers, we give them a project to do for us, a one-week\r\n project to do for us and we pay them for their time.  So because, when \r\nyou look at someone's resume or the work that they’ve done, you don’t \r\nreally know like, was this just them or did they work on a team, it’s \r\nvery hard to tell.  And a lot of work, especially with developers, you \r\ncan’t see their code because it’s written for proprietary product that’s\r\n owned by a company.  So we looked at the open source world, because \r\nthat code's available.  We can look at their actual code submissions and\r\n look at their documentation, look at all the stuff that they’ve \r\nactually contributed, not said they’ve contributed.  So we want to try \r\nto get to real as soon as we can. So real code, a real design.  If we \r\nhave to hire someone temporarily on a project basis to show us what they\r\n can do, that’s far more valuable than looking at their resume or \r\nlooking at their portfolio because that’s usually not a great \r\nrepresentation of who they are today. 

Question: Are resumes and cover letters still useful? 

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

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

Jason Fried: One\r\n of the things we’ve been seeing is that we really like it when people \r\nreally personalize their job pitch to us.  Like, "I want to work for \r\nyou, here’s why."  Some people make a Web site, a specialized Web site \r\njust for us.  Some people speak our language.  You know, they’ll do \r\nresearch on the company and they’ll understand what we’re all about. \r\n And those sorts of efforts really show to me that someone really wants \r\nthe job.  And again, not just a job, but our job.  So I look for things \r\nlike that.  And I would say, if anybody out there is looking for work, \r\nand really wants to work for a company, you’ve got to do something \r\nspecial to get that job.  And that just means... that’s not about you, \r\nit’s about the company.  What can you show this company that tells the \r\ncompany that you really want to work for them?  So maybe it’s learning \r\nsomething about their history and bringing it up, some abstract thing \r\nthat someone else might not bring up to set you apart.  Maybe it is \r\nshowing off your work in a special way, in a different way that's \r\ncustomized to that company.  I mean, you’ve got to go beyond just \r\nsending a resume.  And you’ve got to go beyond even just a good \r\ninterview and you’ve got to go beyond just a good cover letter today. \r\n You’ve got to really show them that you really want the work, and this \r\ncomes down to really being personal in your approach.  One of our \r\ndesigners that we hired, I think it was about a year or a \r\nyear-and-a-half ago, Jason Zimdars.  Built a beautiful site showcasing \r\nhis work for us.  But not just, here’s the work that I’ve done for \r\nanybody, but here’s the work that I think is applicable to the work that\r\n you guys do.  And here’s some words that I think matter.  And I know \r\nyou guys appreciate good writing so I’m going to take the time to write \r\nsomething well.  And that really had a huge impact on us.  And everybody\r\n who does that really has a big impact on us.  We get a few hundred \r\nresumes every time we post a job, you know.  And there’s only a handful \r\nof people who really go the extra mile and it’s sad.  I think you know, \r\nit’s not that hard probably to get a great job if you make an effort. \r\n But if you just kind of blast out resumes and blast out generic cover \r\nletters, 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\r\n don’t care about higher education.  Don’t care about formal education. \r\n I think maybe... I think, I don’t remember the stats, but it might be \r\nlike 40% of the company never graduated college.  Things like that. \r\n Some people went, some people didn’t go.  I don’t care about that.  It \r\ndoesn’t say anything to me.  I actually like when people drop out \r\nbecause if they drop out and follow their passion, I love that.  Like \r\nsome guys are programmers – I don’t want to be at school for four years \r\nbecause I can’t program at school.  I can program for a company and I \r\ncan learn more in those two years that I would have gone to school and I\r\n can program instead.  So I’m far more interested in real world \r\nexperience and doing things and building stuff instead of theoretical \r\nstuff, which I think is taught in most schools.  I also find in people \r\nwho come out of school are a bit behind, actually on what’s really going\r\n on out there compared to people who have just been in the field for a \r\nwhile.  So I just think experience is far more valuable to us than your \r\nGPA or where you went to school.

Question: Are there generational trends you see when hiring? 

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

Recorded on July 22, 2010
Interviewed by Peter Hopkins

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.

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