The term “rockstar” gets thrown around a lot in the development world. It probably doesn’t mean what you think. It isn’t a developer who can code, spin up servers, debug & triage, manage a team, write copy, brew beer and tame lions. Those are called “unicorns.” They don’t exist unless you tape a horn to a horses head – i.e., find the right developer for the job and mold them into other areas that make sense. The good news is rockstars do in fact exist and it is pretty straight forward to make this illustrious hire. You don’t even need to be technical to do so.
Let’s be clear: You need a rockstar on your team. At least one. They will be able to do exactly what you need them to do and likely a bit more and to top it off, they will be a perfect fit on your team. During my tenure in tech & engineering leadership, I’ve hired one or two rockstars. That’s actually a lie – I’ve hired dozens. This took a painful amount of trial and error and more wasted time than I care to admit. Thankfully, I am an engineer at heart and have boiled it down to six simple steps that gets me the developer that I need every single time without wasting 4 hours every day interviewing the wrong developers.
1: Be 100% up front in the job description
Be as specific as possible in what you are looking for, what the short and long term fit was, what skills you want and what skills you don’t. This will help you get much more relevant resumes in your inbox. Since your job description describes exactly what you want and what you don’t, you can now review resumes in record time. If you aren’t getting a steady stream of candidates that fit your job description, you should be working with a high quality recruiter.
2: Have a technical phone screen
Google around for some relevant questions to ask to make sure that applicants aren’t 100% BS’ing you on their resume. Make sure that they are reasonable questions and make sure you have a list of what you want to hear and what you don’t want to hear. That will make this step go much smoother.
3: Require a test project
If it is for a contractor, pay for a small project. If you are looking for a full time developer, this is part of the pipeline and they have to pass it to get through to the interview. Put a time limit on it and be firm. The project can be irrelevant to your main project and I always make mine ambiguous in what the end result should be so I can see if what they call “done” matches what I call “done.”
4: Tech whiteboard questions
Write up relevant whiteboard questions and I asked the developer to solve on the fly in person or a video chat. If you aren’t technically inclined, have your tech friends (or, Google) list out some questions, acceptable answers and red flags.
5: Face to face interview
This can be in person in a video chat depending on the circumstances. This should be immediately after the white board session to keep the candidate engaged and into what you are doing. At the end of this interview, you will be able to get a solid impression of them and sell the position after you know you like them.
6: Team debrief
This should include everyone on your team that interviewed the developer. If you are the lone wolf interviewing, get a mentor or coach to help you out. Shared my notes and opinions. The debrief should take place immediately after the interview concludes so you can decide and make an offer or move on to the next developer within a few minutes of them leaving.
At the end of this process, you can have an offer out to a rockstar developer within 15 minutes of them leaving the interview. You will have full incite into what they are good at, what they are bad at, how they communicate and how they solve problems in real time. You can have full confidence when you make the hire and, by the end of the interview process, the developer is very invested in your company and is truly excited to play a part in it.