Guest posts / Hiring

4 tips for successful tech hiring. (Hint: It’s not just about technical skills)

Attitude, aptitude, and critical thinking are the strongest traits you can onboard onto your technical team," writes ThinkNimble's Katie McKenzie. She shares four tips from the product studio's CTO William Huster.

At work. (Photo by Flickr user WOCinTech Chat, used under a Creative Commons license)

This editorial article is a part of How to Get a Tech Job Month of's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Flatiron School. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Flatiron before publication.

The biggest mistake founders make when hiring their tech team is focusing on just the technical.

As a product studio, we at DC-based ThinkNimble do a lot of technical hiring — both for our agency and for our clients when they are ready to grow their in-house teams. With no HR team, the man behind the hiring magic is ThinkNimble CTO William Huster.

This year, Huster has led the ThinkNimble team through hundreds of applications and interviews. He has also coached team members on what to look for in technical hires. I took some time to sit with Huster to uncover what he looks for when making technical hires, and the answer might surprise you.

Make holistic hires

Focusing on just the technical part is the first mistake people make. Values alignment and culture fit often trump technical skill. Hard technical skills don’t have a strong correspondence with an engineer’s ability to deliver business value. Except at the most fundamental levels, attitude and aptitude (especially ability to learn) are much stronger predictors of the success of a hire.

Learn how applicants think

Our go-to question during interviews is: “What’s a hard technical problem you had to solve, and how did you solve it?”

Ask candidates to bring work samples to the tech interview, so you can see the outcomes of their work, their understanding of the project, and their thought process. While the tech and the quality of the outcomes are important, what can highlight a strong candidate is their process.

The best candidates have strong frameworks and habits around problem definition, self-learning, and independent problem solving.

Tailor your approach for different experience

The level you are hiring into should determine the type of qualifications you look for.

Juniors are expected to be learning, not operating independently. Teaching is expected. During hiring, the goal should be to identify their current level and get a sense for how quickly they can learn, adapt, and become self-sufficient.

For intermediate developers, expect more autonomy. They should be able to define project goals, success rates and drill down into technical details. To identify that capacity in the hiring process, we have candidates highlight the most challenging parts of their past work and describe how they solved it in the greatest detail possible.

Guide your process

Develop a rubric you can use on every hire to ensure you’re comparing candidates across the same metrics.

Here is a sample hiring rubric so you can see how we think through hiring at ThinkNimble. Feel free to make a copy and adapt it to fit the needs of your organization.

Attitude, aptitude, and critical thinking are the strongest traits you can onboard onto your technical team. From a hiring team’s perspective, tailor your approach and guide your process. Skills can always be learned, and in the ever-changing world of technology, look for those developers with an appetite to learn.

Series: How to Get a Tech Job Month 2021

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