Recruiting Giants Presentation Tomorrow

I’m doing a presentation on “Recruiting Giants” for a group of tech company CEO’s tomorrow and figured that I would share my presentation and materials here for the benefit of all.  It’s a round table style presentation so I just prepared a few slides as talking points without trying to turn them into a linear narrative.  Also nobody asks The Saint to speak on a subject and expects to hear the usual “Collective wisdom” on a subject.  I try to bring something NEW to every dialog and burn every pretense of political correctness from my materials, it’s impossible to communicate important experience while trying to cater to the emotionally fragile at the same time.  🙂

Recruiting Giants
Recruiting Giants
Recruiting Giants.pdf
473.8 KiB

For this special occasion I dug up one of my favorite recruiting tools.  The original 1997 WildTangent “IQ Test”.

121.4 KiB

In that era we were sifting the market for a rare breed of engineer.  We wanted the young and hungry and didn’t care about their education or experience.  We took the “IQ Test” to local job fairs and had WildTangent employees administer the test to anybody who wanted an interview.  The deal was that anybody who “passed” the test would be guaranteed a job interview.  Of course the test isn’t a real IQ Test and some of the questions have no logical answers.  We wanted to see how well people did… and most importantly… how long they grappled with it before they gave up.  We hired the ones who got obsessed with it and didn’t give up trying to solve or understand the problems.  People who’s minds can’t let a challenging problem go regardless of their education or experience grow up to become giants.  Many of those early WildTangent employees with no Computer Science degrees or industry experience grew up to found successful game companies of their own.

For references to my supporting material  just look in my “Managing Millennials” Category where I generally write about my management trials and tribulations.

Manager Review Training
Manager Review Training
manager review training.doc
22.5 KiB
Microsoft Management Tools
Microsoft Management Tools
Microsoft Management Tools.pdf
6.7 MiB
Recruiting Giants
Recruiting Giants
Recruiting Giants.pdf
473.8 KiB
121.4 KiB



  1. I have to say I take exception to the IQ test – Ever since Google famously used the technique and more recently dumped it, Its been fairly well understood and proven that such QnA’s are a waste of time for everyone and are not an indication of anything at all.
    Random article incoming:

    • With respect, that’s completely untrue, it was the single most valuable recruiting tool I ever used. The fact that people don’t understand WHY is one of its great features. The key to it was that it of course isn’t really an IQTest, it’s a perseverance and creativity test. You need the recipient to believe it’s an IQTest for it to work. What do you think the purpose of a question like #6 is? It’s hardly an IQ challenge, you either know it or you don’t right? Why ask?

      • I have to disagree, wholeheartedly.

        Luckily your test is quite easy so at best all your test does is weed out people truly unfit for your company. Which amounts to simply saving you some time in interviews. However beyond that I cannot see how it benefits you as the interviewer – It tells you literally nothing about the person or their experience relevant to the role.

        How do you gain an appreciation of creativity from those questions?

        • Well that’s the point strichmond, I don’t recruit for experience I recruit for potential. It tells me exactly the things I need to know about talent. Are they hungry? Do they give up? How to they structure their thinking to solve a difficult or impossible problem? What do they care about? Question 6 was the “educated idiot” filter. We saw a lot of highly groomed resumes from recent graduates. CS degree, 4.0 GPA, all the right subjects. We could ask two questions to find out whether or not they were real software engineers after all that.
          1) What’s the square root of -1
          2) Show us the software you’ve written on your own for fun

          If they couldn’t answer that first question, it meant that they went through the motions to get their grades and pass their subjects but forgot everything they learned as soon as the got the credits because they didn’t really care about it. If all they could point to was student projects as examples of their work, again it told you that they wanted a CS degree but they didn’t want to be software engineers because real software engineers just code for the love of it. Simple. Effective.

          The questions were ill formed so that they invited “questioning”. By discussing the problems with them after they had struggled with the problems you could see their mental process very clearly. How had they approached the problems? What had they assumed? What had they questioned? Did they come up with a “right” answer or did they come up with an “interesting” answer based on an unexpected insight or assumption. How structured was their thought process? How many types of intellectual approaches had they tried? How did they deal with FAILING to solve the problem? How long did they struggle with it before asking help, giving up, or solving it? What order did they try solving the problems in? Easiest to hardest? First to last? Most interesting to least interesting? etc. It was extremely valuable in helping me identify and hire people with completely non-conventional backgrounds who had the potential to become “Giants” with the right mentoring. Many of the kids I hired this way went on to become CEO’s of game studios themselves.

          *The recent college graduates with the 4.0’s and CS degrees were the quickest to drop it and move on. They had their perfect resumes and were going to get recruited into a big company without trying… they didn’t need that BS and I didn’t want to hire people with that attitude. Being a software engineer isn’t a job, it isn’t work, it’s a calling, people who think it is a job should mail in their 40 hour days at companies like IBM and Cisco and get home to the lives they actually care about. I hired real engineers.

          • Well it clearly worked for you. But I still feel strongly that the test itself could have just as well been a blank piece of paper.

            You didn’t use it as a tool to efficiently gate people for interviewing as you say you actively engaged with the interviewee.
            The math questions aren’t nearly CS-grad level so you can’t have truly been gating those who didn’t pay attention.
            The rest of the questions are trivia and basic mind puzzles.

            I believe your IQ test did perform some ‘idiot’ gating, but only truly people of average intelligence.
            I believe your IQ test was an okay tool to create some engagement between you and the interviewee.

            But I also believe that it was not the IQ test that helped you find people that fit your mold. It was YOU that did that.
            The IQ test is a waste of time. Use the time to talk to your interviewee. Tell them verbally about 1 or 2 medium-sized problem scenarios relevant to your company or the role and ask them to walk you through the solution.
            Its infinitely more engaging and more fun and you’ll gauge so much more about the person and their interest in your company and the technology relevant to you.

            I’m sorry Alex but I have a strong dislike for questions that have no relevance to the job or even wider industry and technology streams. Its a lazy and inaccurate way of understanding the mind of the person you’re interviewing.
            Asking me questions about colored balls and boxes makes me fall asleep with boredom and I start judging you and your company as one who don’t understand what excites an engineer. Asking me questions about how I might solve complex multi-homed BGP architectures or efficient ways to scale APIs and I’ll light up with the intensity you claim you look for in candidates.

            I think maybe you will achieve this one way or another in your interviews because, as you say, you’ve been successful in this regard in the past. But strongly doubt its your IQ test that did it.

          • I disagree completely, the only job of a software engineer is to solve problems that have not been solved before. Any “solved” software problem isn’t valuable to solve again, so if you are in the business of innovating, the only kind of software engineer that is valuable is one who loves to solve difficult problems and is good at it. You are correct that the entire purpose of the IQ Test is to provide a vehicle to drive an interaction with a candidate that revolves around how they approach problem solving. I’ve run several companies, hired thousands of people and evaluating engineering candidates based on their problem solving skills and persistence is the most effective tool I’ve found for identifying top talent, especially when you’re trying to find people outside the ordinary recruiting channels.

            There is absolutely ZERO chance that anybody who loves 3D and mathematics can ever forget the meaning of the square root of negative one or the third digit of PI. It doesn’t happen. Only people trying to get the credits and the grade do that.

          • I think we’re on the same page regarding the value of asking a candidate to solve a problem as part of the interview process. What I don’t get is the value of the specific test you’ve attached here. The questions in the test aren’t ‘unsolved problems’, they’re just problems and basic ones at that.

            Don’t you think the test would provide more value if you asked the candidate to solve a problem within the realm of expertize you’re interested in, instead of highschool-grade generic mind puzzles?

            It seems like you would more quickly gain an understanding of the engineers’ mind AND skills with a problem scenario that is actually relevant to the company. Doing so sets the bar slightly higher – You will be able to find engineers with the right mind fit as well as experience in the right technology area.
            With your test questions the only thing you gain is an understanding of their mind. You would still need to interrogate them on their skillset.

          • I’m happy to provide smart people with the skills they need, the only skill I’m looking for is obsesive problem solving. We never had a PhD score 5 points on this test, it was always some nobody who just had a mind for problem solving.

  2. Alex,

    How do you recruit the non-enginners in your companies? I mean, project managers, HR people, finance, accounting, etc?

    Do you hold them to the same standards of your engineers, or you allow people who just want a salary?



    • Whole different subject. It’s different for the types of roles you are hiring. Engineers are the only category I claim expertise in. In a tech company engineers and engineering management are the machine that produce the product and typically your largest expense. How you organize and structure an efficient “technology factory” is fundamental to making a working technology business. Innovation and rapid growth happen under pressure, they are never “leisurely” or “balanced” phenomena so if you’re trying to grow then you need to run a very hot aggressive organization. A business that has become mature (Captured it’s market niche and has nowhere NEW to grow) can have a different business pace where the emphasis is on stability and maintenance vs aggressive growth. Those kind of enterprises are understandably more focused on stability, continuity and retention over rapid change and iteration. I’m not the guy anybody hires to “maintain” an established business, I’m the guy who creates new products and markets. I’m in the business of technology disruption, so yes, I’m always hiring the nimble and ambitious. That said, I’ve always been happy to have a stable no drama accounting department.

  3. 1.) The bullet question… Three if you must use the scales. Zero if you feel the weight in your hands or shoot the bullets to see which doesn’t contain gun powder.

    2.) If you ignore, as the title makes you assume… That it must be two cubes. You coould put 0-3 on a tetrahedron. 0-9 on a pentagonal trapezohedron. Because sometimes there is an easier solution.

    3.) Famous Month Hall problem. Switch it.

    4.) Distribute 5 red balls in each box. Throw the white ones in the trash. OR just tell him he picked red. The blind guy won’t know the difference anyway.

    5.) O, although it is assuming the pattern is only 8 characters long.

    6.) Infinity

    7.) All the straws can touch each other in some way. Grind them into a fine dust, collect the powder, and shake the canister. You only mentioned not bending them.

    If they cannot be altered, touch each straw to another straw at least once. You said nothing of temporal positioning of the straws. In the entire span of the exercise, you could say that they have all touched each other.

    • 1) 1 if you correctly guess the lightest bullet then weigh against any other to confirm (not a 100% method)
      2) 0,1,2,3,4,5 … 0,1,2,7,8,9 – only 00, 11, 22 contain repeats, turn the 9 upside down when you need a 6
      4) I had 1 red in one box for 50% chance of red, plus 0.5 * 9/19 from having all the others in the other box, but liked your answer better
      5) One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… oight? 😉

  4. Straw question – I got 4 straws. I do not know how to prove that 4 is the maximum though.

    • Imagine a triangle made of three straws arranged in a triangle, then another stacked on the first and rotated to form a Star-Of-David. Now shrink the triangles with the ends of the straws sliding outward until the triangle on each level has shrunk to a near point. That gives you 6 straws. Stick a 7th straw through the middle and you are at the known maximum.

  5. Does anyone in the audience happened to record your presentation? I wanna watch it.


  1. Recruiting and Retaining : Tips on recruiting talent - Trinfinity

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