Technical Recruitment Done Right (at the BBC)

Episode 13 - 25 Nov 2015

Here's a Recruitment Funnel that does a great job of balancing efficiency and effectiveness:

  • Efficiency in minimising the workload for both parties
  • Effectiveness in getting the right person for the job.

Download the Tech Hire Funnel (pdf 2.4MB)

Ever wondered how they hire technical "talent" at the Beeb?

BBC Worldwide

I was lucky enough to spend two years at BBC Worldwide

  • long enough to see a fair number of people go through the technical "recruitment funnel".

(And of course I went through it once myself.)

Now, I'm no expert in the area of recruitment.

But it seems to me that the (BBC) process does a good job of balancing efficiency and effectiveness.

  • Efficiency in minimising the workload required by each side

  • Effectiveness in getting the right person for the job.

The Funnel

The first two steps are fairly standard:

candidates are acquired from various sources, and filtered down.

Next is the "Phone Tech 5" - more on that in a moment.

The remaining candidates are then invited in for what will be (for most of them) a two step process:

  • first a face-to-face interview,

    • followed by the "Coding 45". (I'll get into detail about that in a minute or two.)

Then the offer and... with a bit of luck, the acceptance.

The Funnel in Numbers

To give you a idea of rough numbers:

A hundred or more names might be fed in at the top.

Filtered down to a dozen or so for the "Phone Tech 5".

Five of those would be invited for the face to face interview.

And maybe three of those would go on to the "Coding 45"

And then one would be offered the role.

Let's put a little bit of detail onto the two strangely named items in the process, starting with the Phone Tech 5.

"Phone Tech 5"

Here's how it works:

The lead developer gets on the phone and goes through a list of FIVE technical questions with the candidate.

By the end of the call - which typically lasts less than 10 minutes - each side is better informed:

  • The Lead Dev has some feeling for the candidate's technical level. (Enough to decide whether to bring her in for interview.)
  • And the candidate has a better idea of the technical areas that are key to the role.

For the Phone Tech 5 to work well, the questions should:

  • Reflect the the technical areas required by the role, and
  • Require responses that more than one word.... but less than War and Peace.

"Coding 45"

Moving on to the "Coding 45".

This is one that I can talk about with some authority - I ran a fair few of these during my time at the Beeb.

"Coding 45" is a time-limited (45 minute) pair-programming test.

I'd set it up by saying that I'd be playing the role of an indecisive Product Owner:

I'll be asking for something... then asking for something to be modified... and I'd probably be doing that rather a lot.

The keys to success are:

  • Starting with something very, very easy. Then increasing the level of difficulty one step at a time

  • Getting the person to talk about their coding decisions.

  • Providing help and assistance as appropriate. After all, it's an exercise, it's not supposed to be a torture session.

There's another key - something that I stumbled on completely by accident.

The very first time I was asked to run the Coding 45, I made a mess of booking a conference room.

I had no choice but run the session at my workstation.

When the session was over, I realised that I'd been concentrating so hard on "running the process" that I hadn't formed an opinion about whether to hire this person.

I was still wrestling with the thought when I passed a colleague in the corridor.

"Well, that seemed like hard work" he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"That guy you had in. Bit like pulling teeth, wasn't it?"

How interesting.

I hadn't been able to form an opinion, but those around me had formed an opinion easily.

From that point, we made it a REQUIREMENT to run the Coding 45 at at our desks. And to make sure to gather feedback from the entire team at the end.

Free download

If you'd like a copy of the funnel, - which includes example questions for the "Phone Tech 5" and the "Coding 45:

you'll find a downloadable version of the "Development That Pays" [on this page].

Talk to you next time.