When hiring a new employee

Since I just joined a new company as a senior software engineer, I thought I’d write a few posts about my experiences, while they’re still fresh. This particular one is aimed at companies and hiring managers intent on hiring new employees like me. It’s advice, if you will, about how help candidates and new hires feel welcome in the company.

These points may be specific to my particular hiring scenario. But I think they’re general enough–and surprisingly common enough–that they’re worth pointing out. It’s also worth pointing out that there is still plenty that I liked about the company enough to join them (and to continue working there). Still, the whole process had room for improvement, and I figured hey, why not let other people learn from my experience?

Inside jokes during the interview

Try to keep them to a minimum. During the series of onsite interviews I had at this particular company, it seemed that every time my current interviewer ran across a coworker (during tours of the office, say, or when transitioning from one interviewer to another) the two would trade barbs of the “you’re lame” / “no, YOU’RE lame!” variety.

So what’s wrong with a little levity like that? Don’t get me wrong; I’d much rather work with people who have senses of humor, and who like having fun. But sitting in uncomfortable silence during these exchanges, with no real opportunity to join in (have you ever tried to join in on someone else’s inside joke, particularly when you don’t know the people sharing the joke? Don’t.) hardly instilled a sense that this was a team that was welcoming to new members.

Now that I’m a part of the company, I still cringe when I see new interviewees in the office, standing there awkwardly as their interviewer trades barbs with another employee.

In sum: candidates generally feel awkward already, and already know that they’re outsiders. You don’t need to reinforce that point.

Are your new hires people or numbers?

I joined the company as it was experiencing a large amount of growth. For the prior ten years it had remained a fairly small start-up, and only recently had started hiring aggressively. This was a fact which, it seemed, many of the old-timers loved to talk about.

For starters, every departmental meeting began with the observations like “wow, there’s a lot more people here than there were last week!” and “do you guys remember when we used to have our company all-hands in that little conference room?” It’s possible that comments like that were intended to impress upon what a great, exciting time it was to be at the company. But, at least for those of us who couldn’t remember that little conference room, it didn’t feel that way.

Instead, what we heard was that the old-timers were the ones who were the core of the company, the ones that mattered. The rest of us, we were just along for the ride on their coattails. And maybe that’s a valid point. But I know that as an employee, I’m most motivated when I believe, rightly or wrongly, that I’m an integral part of the company.

My new manager also decided that I was going to be the first new hire for which he wouldn’t send out a welcome email about me to the rest of the department. There were getting to be just too many people, he said, for these emails to be sent out. Most employees probably don’t even read them anymore. Well, maybe so. But would the token effort to show that you’re trying to integrate me into the rest of the company been so tough?

In sum: help new employees feel like they’re a part of the company, rather than doing the opposite.