We’ve been hiring a lot this year at Vinted. Our hiring pipeline has multiple steps, and we select only a small percentage of candidates. I never previously checked the exact number. A couple of weeks ago I saw a quote with the answer:
1.89% success rate, it’s quite a challenge to join Vinted
This was met with positive reactions. It feels great to be part of this self-selected group called Vinted. My first reaction was also positive. We work hard to select the right candidates, and this 1.89% number is an expression of that.
We’re not alone. “Hire the best” is common advice for startups and established companies alike. Freelancing platforms like FreeUp and Toptal proudly declare that they help identify the best. FreeUp claims that they select top 1% of applicants. Toptal claims top 3%.
Who are those “best”? For one, they are the best out of those who applied or were reached out to. They are also the best at interviewing. Their successful journey through the interview process might or might not correlate with real-world performance.
Trying to find the perfect candidate might also prolong the hiring process. Purple squirrel is used to describe a candidate, who perfectly fits a long list of a job’s requirements. Over-specification of the requirements makes these perfect candidates as challenging to find as purple squirrels.
There are no “best people” in the market, the best people for you are always the ones you train yourself. – Jack Ma
Instead of trying to hire “the best,” I hire for fit and potential. I value training and building a culture of coaching.
Let’s start with something I’m quite familiar with. I want to hire a software developer to work at Vinted. I could find a random person on the street, and we would train them to take on the role. Anyone can be a software developer with the right training. Depending on the person and the skills of my coaches, the training might take a couple of years, or the training might take decades.
Everyone undergoes training starting a new job. Before I’ve joined Vinted as a software developer, I was a software developer at Adform. While both roles are called “software developer,” they are two different roles. Being a software developer at one company is not the same as being a software developer at another company. Languages, technologies, processes, product, culture - a lot of things can be different. Learning to become effective in a new environment requires training, even if it’s not always identified as such.
Companies themselves change. I’ve worked at three different versions of Vinted. And there were many more minor iterations. Each time I had to learn new things and adapt.
“Anyone can be” is true for any position. Anyone can be a product manager. Anyone can be a designer. Anyone can be a CEO. Anyone can be anything. Just not anything at once. All it takes is a willingness to learn, appropriate training and time.
I don’t actually hire software developers from the street. We have a list of requirements for candidates. Not to ensure that we hire the best. They guarantee that the training takes months instead of decades. A requirement should be put on a list because it identifies something that requires a lot of time to learn. Or something that the company is not able to currently teach.
We don’t put things that are relatively easy to learn under requirements for candidates. For example, knowledge of Ruby programming language is not a requirement. At Vinted, we hire software developers without any Ruby familiarity and give them the time to learn it. If you know another programming language, learning Ruby is easy compared to learning our specific code base and understanding what your team is focused on.
The team itself needs to be ready to train a new person. That’s why the right mix of people is essential. A team that consists of only experienced software developers can become stale. While the opposite situation lacks someone to train the junior developer to become effective at their job. Great teams create great things, not great individuals.
What would it take?
“Is this person the best?” is not a useful question to ask when evaluating a candidate. A better question is: “what would it take for this person to become effective in this team?”.
“Does this person fit our culture?” is also not a useful question. Culture can be learned. Even if in some cases, it will be harder and take longer. Anything can be learned. That’s why the question “what would it take?” is so powerful - it helps eliminate biases for specific skills.
I was recently in a situation where I’ve used this question. A member of my team said to me that a candidate is not a culture-fit. I dug deeper and found out that this specific candidate lacked openness and frankness. We had a productive conversation about what it would take to help this candidate become more open and frank. This evaluation helped us better understand what the team lacks before being able to bring onboard this candidate. In the end, we still said “no” to this candidate, but it was a better-evaluated “no.”
There is another way to look at the 1.89% number. This number expresses that we believe only to be able to take that percentage of candidates and help them become effective at Vinted. It leads to questions like: what would we need to do to be able to hire a higher percentage of candidates? How would we need to strengthen our culture of coaching to achieve that? How much would that cost when compared to our hiring costs?
Don’t hire the best. Thinking about hiring through the lens of “the best” doesn’t lead to effective hiring. Instead start with the question “what would it take for this person to become effective in this team?”. This will lead to a systematic evaluation of candidates, the hiring pipeline and the ability to train people.