In a fairly popular blog post, Raganwald advocates against using various heuristics while filtering out resumes. For the most part, I agree with him. Since it's hard to find good programmers, false negatives are very costly compared to the cost of a false positive (a wasted interview).

But I have found one filter which actually works well. Not only did it filter out bad candidates, it actually increased the number of applications (both in total, and the # of good candidates) we received.

Originally, I posted several fairly unspecific job ads on Hacker News "Who's hiring" threads, more or less exactly as Raganwald describes. No discussion of rockstar ninjas, just saying exactly what we are looking for.

We are looking for good developers, no specific skillset or background needed beyond a solid grasp of CS fundamentals. If interested, email me at $MY_EMAIL. Point me to your github/bitbucket, or tell me something interesting you've done.

I got a few responses, one or two good ones, some who couldn't do fizzbuz.

After talking with one too many people who couldn't fizzbuz I decided to try someting different:

Instructions on where to send your resume are contained in our application (you'll need to decrypt them first).

The puzzle wasn't all that difficult. A little bit of number theory, totally brute-forceable. Still, I don't need to waste 30 seconds ignoring the resumes of people who can't fizzbuz, or 30 minutes trying to end the phone interview.

This line in the post caused interest to explode. I got 30-40 applicants, probably 20 of whom were worth interviewing, and several of whom got to the in-person stage. My job ad was voted up to third or fourth place in the "Who's Hiring" thread. I also received many responses like this:

I solved the problem, but before doing the real work of updating my CV, could you tell me...

Cool problem, not really looking to move, but will write to you when I am.

Funny application. More of these kinds would be nice :)

If you solve the puzzle first, then stop to think about whether you actually want the job, you are definitely someone I want to talk to. Also, several of the "cool puzzle, not looking to move yet" people did write back over the next few months.

The biggest problem with this method was a screwup on our part - we hadn't really planned for so many good applicants so we were very slow to respond to everyone (sorry guys, my bad).

But of all the hiring filters I've tried to use, this one is by far the best. Fewer bad candidates and more good ones. What's not to like?

Hacker news discussion here.


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