• Jan Nuyens

  • CEO

How we get the best of the best of the best.

As a creator of high-end web platforms, we are predominantly recruiting Software Developers and Digital Project Managers. These are professions where the ‘war for talent’ is in full swing. Market research indicates that the 4,000-ish Java Developers in Belgium are faced with roughly 2,000 vacant positions. So, finding applicants seems to be much more of a problem than the selection of good employees.

However, in software development, perhaps more so than in other industries, the value of an outstanding performer is several times that of an average performer. The value of a Software Developer can’t be measured in linear terms (number of lines of code, number of bugs, etc.), but only in the quality of the solutions that they come up with. That is why talent, intelligence, technical creativity and the like make so much difference.

Looking for objectivity

As we acquired this insight, we started putting more and more emphasis on our selection process. Being strict in the selection of new colleagues is not easy, however, especially in a market where finding applicants is so difficult in the first place. That’s why we developed several practices that help us to remain disciplined and somewhat rigorous in selecting new colleagues. We don’t want to be automatons when screening candidates, but without some overarching procedures, it’s hard to evaluate people on their merits, as opposed to their demeanour.

In the early days of Foreach, we were focused on making selections ‘as objective as possible’. We used multiple interviews and conducted technical testing. However, looking back there was still room for an unhealthy amount of subjectivity to creep into the process. The interviews were largely unstructured and would vary greatly in quality and even direction from one day to the next, while the technical testing would often be less thorough for more experienced candidates. Experience should not be confused with talent, though, as we found out the hard way. So, step by step, we made our selection process more rigourous and, frankly, more professional, until we came to our current process.

The process

When assessing potential employees, we evaluate using two broad criteria: talent and skills on the one hand, and fit within our company culture on the other. This isn’t revolutionary, of course, nor are the methods we use to try and keep the evaluation objective. But our goal was never to disrupt the HR world, but to find the best developers for Foreach. To that end, our process now consists of four different steps. We try to limit the time between the first and the last step to two weeks. This makes it easier for our people to stay on top of things, and is a lot more pleasurable for the candidate. Information from one step is of course extensively shared between the people conducting each step.

1. The Culture Fit Interview

This is the first conversation we have with the candidate. We assess personality, general intelligence and fit with Foreach. We attempt to be as open and honest as possible about our company and its culture, warts and all, to try and answer one main question: would working together make both us and the candidate happy?

After the interview, we fill out a standardized checklist to decide and motivate whether the candidate moves on to the next step; if that’s the case, any questions and doubts that lingered after the interview are written down to be resolved in a later step. These interviews, as well as the other steps in the process, are always done by at least two people. We also make sure that the potential future Team Lead is present during the first or second step, because their connection and relation is, of course, an important one.

2. Talent and Skills

This step tests the candidate’s development capabilities on both a practical and a theoretical level. The testing is roughly divided into three types of tests: solving concrete problems through programming; theoretical questions that require knowledge of concepts and terminology; and complex development issues that require problem solving skills and creative thinking. These tests are obviously tailored to the specific function the candidate is applying for. Everybody also takes a cognitive ability test that assesses numerical, verbal and abstract abilities.

Predictors of performance

The ability test was added because it turns out to be a great predictor of job performance, which is affirmed by both science and our own experiences. We benchmarked this test by having everyone at Foreach take it as well. While none of these tests on their own reveal the core of a candidate, when taken together the results will paint an accurate picture of their potential.

3. Red Team Meeting

Our Red Teams are comprised of two people who have never seen the candidate and who assess them first through the written down results of the previous two steps, and then through conversations with the interviewers of those steps. The goal of the Red Team is to find an explicit reason to continue the process. If the Red Team can only come to the conclusion that there are no explicit reasons to stop, the process will (paradoxically) be stopped.
A secondary goal is to eliminate any doubt or, if this is not possible, to formalize it so it can be addressed in the next step. Unanimity is required to proceed past this stage of the process. If a single individual, either one of the interviewers, or someone on the Red Team, is not convinced that continuing would be best for Foreach, the process ends here.

4. Clearing Doubts

In this final conversation with the candidate, we aim to eliminate any remaining doubts on our end, as well as any doubts the candidate may still hold. This includes coaxing out any potential obstacles the candidate may not be aware of, or perhaps has not given enough thought (a prime example of this is a long commute time, which is easily shrugged off in advance, but can quickly put a big damper on motivation). Of course, once we arrive at this point, we mainly hope we can eliminate those doubts and move on to making an offer. However, this step is not a formality, but a final possibility for either party to bow out.

Conclusion

We’ve been applying our current selection process in most of its current form now for about two years. In 2016, we had 265 relevant applications, of which 106 candidates came in for the first step. In the end, ten new people started that year. And without tooting our own horn too much, our improved selection process was clearly an important element in helping us to measurably improve the quality of our teams, amidst the raging war for talent.

Want to experience it for yourself? Be sure to take a look at our job openings.