writing / Hiring is emotional

Story about the emotional roller coaster of hiring

When I’m stressed about work, I pace around the house. I work in our bedroom so I walk back and forth at the foot of the bed. My pacing is a mix of silent rehearsal and fist pumping to psych myself up. But for one call in winter 2022, I struggled to get in the zone.

Figma’s Growth team had just split into three. We hired a manager and promoted another who both reported to me. I also managed the third team directly but we had headcount to hire another manager, which was the purpose of the call.

I had been talking to the candidate for months and they had completed our entire interview panel. We’d had great conversations where I’d learned about their background and developed a sense for how they would fit in this role. Unfortunately, I had to tell them we would not be moving forward with an offer.

It was hard because I wasn’t confident in the decision. They were close and had potential, but we also saw some gaps. After lots of discussion with my management chain, we decided not to extend the offer. After months of reaching out and building a relationship, I needed to let them know personally.

Once we connected on Zoom, we exchanged pleasantries and I launched into my rehearsed explanation. I could tell the moment they realized where I was going and their expression is etched in my memory.

I felt the stark difference between hiring and software development. When we code, we iterate and explore, encounter dead-ends and throw spaghetti against the wall. Decisions are important but generally testable and reversible.

In recruiting, there are intense highs and lows, and I was deep in the lows. I spent months building a human connection that boiled down to a binary decision. I couldn’t compare team performance with and without the candidate, and they couldn’t try out different jobs to find the best fit.

After the call, I wandered around the condo with my thoughts swirling. Did we make the right choice? Was I too optimistic about the candidate’s potential? Did I give them enough opportunity to demonstrate it? Did I advocate for them enough with my management chain? Do I suck as a hiring manager? I have guesses but I’ll never know.

Principles of the emotions of hiring

Hiring is about building an authentic connection. If you view candidates as building blocks, they’ll sense that and look for places they are valued. You’re asking them to trust you with their career and years of their life. To earn that trust you need to show who you are and that you understand who they are now and who they want to become.

While connecting, you’re also assessing the candidate’s technical capabilities and ability to perform in the role. The most important part of interviewing is determining if the candidate could succeed in the job. There’s a tension between passing judgement on someone’s skills and building a relationship. Balancing this is the essence of being a hiring manager.

Recruiting is also a peak-performance activity with a binary outcome. You can’t pause a conversation with a candidate to consider options of what to say. You need to show up and be on. It's crucial for both parties to have the best information to figure out if this is the right match. It’s particularly brutal because you never get to find out the answer to “what if we’d chosen that candidate who we were uncertain about?”. You can’t A/B test people, you just have to do your best to get to know them and make the best decision.

Hiring for an important role is draining because you talk to dozens of candidates, build a relationship while assessing them, and then have to make a yes-no decision. It's tough when you can’t find the right person or someone great passes on an offer, but the high of finding the right person makes it all worth it.

Key takeaways

As a hiring manager, you build a human connection while simultaneously evaluating that person.

Recruiting is a peak performance activity. You don’t get re-dos and never learn the counterfactual.

Hiring is a roller coaster. It involves more ups and downs than normal engineering work.