Saturday, March 30, 2019

Postcard CV

As a hiring manager it'll often be days between engagements with a candidate. I am not renowned for my memory but, even if I was, it'd be hard to remember all relevant details of all relevant candidates during a recruitment drive. Over the years I've developed a way of taking notes which I find helps me to cheaply review and keep track of what I think of a candidate and why, and which gives me the data I need at each stage.

When we open recruitment for a new position I'll start a new directory and each applicant will get a text file in it as I read their CV. I use very simple markup to record my thoughts into the file and to put notes for myself to pick up when I come back.

I have a handful of key requirements:
  • I want my notes on each candidate to be in one place (for ease of consumption).
  • I want my notes across candidates to be consistent (for ease of comparison and navigation).
  • I want my notes to be put down in real time (for efficiency).

Let's have an example. Imagine a candidate, call him Rupert Rowling. When Rupert's CV arrives, I'll start a new file, Rupert Rowling.txt, and in it I'll type:
== Details ==

== CV ==
I'll paste in any relevant details from the agent, or a cover letter, or our HR staff into the top section, and then my thoughts as I read the CV into the bottom. For Rupert, it might contain this kind of thing:
== Details ==
Currently a teacher, but extremely keen to move into testing. 
Lives in Stoke. Would relocate for the role. 

== CV ==
- testing 
+ tech support role
? ... but 15 years ago
+ open source development
The annotations represent potential negative (-), potential positive (+), potential concern or query (?), a sub-thought (...), and very occasionally a WTF (!). You'll notice that I say "potential"; at this point, all the evidence is from written materials which are, at best, a biased representation of the candidate filtered through my own prejudices.

Here I'm comparing the candidate to the job advert, noting things that stand out, wondering about questions that I would ask if they get to the next stage. This section is rarely more than 10 lines long. I think of it as a kind of telegram, or a postcard of my opinion of the candidate's CV. Once I'm done, I'll add a final line which says what I think I'd do:
No testing, but tech support is often a good fit. Let's interview.
If I'm recruiting with someone else I'll add a subsection with their thoughts:
=== Sheila ===
Worth interviewing.
I like Rupert's obvious enthusiasm for testing.
His experience with foreign languages could be useful. 
If there's no agreement, we'll talk until there is. When there's agreement, I'll copy-paste data from my notes to the place I have to log decisions inside the formal company HR process.

At any point, if I think we'd interview the candidate, I will also make the next section and put any questions I thought of while reading the CV into it. For Rupert this might include:
== Phone ==
> why is now the time for a career change?
> what does teaching give you that would be valuable as a tester?
Notice the annotation (>) again. I use it in this section to represent my input, either questions I asked during a phone conversation or planned to ask beforehand.

I don't generally note down generic questions in this section in advance. I use a separate checklist for those, and sometimes refer to it during the call. For particular specialist roles, I will make up a set of questions designed to exercise the candidate's knowledge and experience and, again, keep that in a separate place, pulling questions from it during the interview, based on the direction the conversation has taken.

In this example, me and Sheila both think Rupert has potential, so a phone interview is set up. Shortly before it, I'll re-skim the CV, review my notes, and add any more questions that come to mind. During the call, I'll record questions and answers as we go. Here's Rupert's answer to one of my prepared questions, and then my follow-up:
> what does teaching give you that would be valuable as a tester?
* prioritisation, time-boxing: content fits to a lesson
* balance with opportunism: follow kids' interest

> when to take the opportunity?
* experience
* rules of thumb: 
* ... class mood; % covered; proximity to the curriculum
The annotation this time (*) is a standard bullet point, where I'll aim to make each a distinct thought from the candidate.

During the call, I'll create a summary sub-section and, when I spot something notable or a pattern, I'll write it in using the annotations from before:
=== Summary ===
+ spoke very confidently
+ good reasons for testing
+ ... appreciated testers on his OS projects
? OK at coming up with test ideas 
- tech support was on Vic 20 network
As some point after the call I'll debrief with any other interviewers, compare to other candidates, and decide whether we'd like the candidate to proceed. If needed, I'll tweak the summary to include those conversations and, as before, it'll form the basis of what I put into the HR machinery.

The next phase in the Linguamatics process is a technical exercise. Again, I'll enter my assessment into the text file as I go through the candidate's response, with the same annotation conventions we've already seen. My review will have a Summary section, and also thoughts on questions I might like to ask at face-to-face interview.

In this made-up story, Rupert's exercise is good enough for someone with no testing experience, so Sheila and me decide we'll ask him to come into the office to talk to us, and some more of the team.

At this point, my personal process switches to being paper-based. Interviews are hard enough for the candidates without an additional distraction of me typing, and the possible perception that I'm not paying attention to them. Later on, I'll summarise aspects of the face-to-face interview back into my notes but those are usually conclusions of the interview panel rather than anything detailed about the interview.

So that's my current note-taking approach, tuned by me for my requirements, and enabled by other things I do, such as:
  • Setting things up so that making a new file is just a handful of keystrokes. 
  • Learning to touch type.
  • Developing my annotation conventions.
Have you got a custom system? I'd love to hear about it.
Image: Discogs

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