Mayer’s Hiring Practices May Not Do Yahoo Any Favors

Marissa Mayer’s ban of telecommuting at Yahoo and the hiring practices she’s said to have imposed on the struggling company smack of practices at her previous employer, Google. So how come everyone in Silicon Valley is crying foul? What’s good for Google can’t be good for anyone else?

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Reportedly, Mayer now requires that she sign off on every new hire, though she denies favoring those with elite university credentials, according to Reuters. Though most people assume this is a practice she picked up at Google, that’s not the case, says Gayle Laakmann McDowell, a former Google software engineer who was one of its lead interviewers and also served on its hiring committee.

Officially, Google has had an executive committee that signed off on every offer. In practice, the committee performed spot checks on application packets in order to avoid slowing down the process, McDowell says. Those packets, in which job offers are usually  made, are assigned a letter grade based on the applicant’s qualifications and education. As with Google, Mayer is most likely spot-checking the packets, McDowell believes.

If she’s following the same process at Yahoo, “She’ll be looking at the packets that received lower grades to see if someone doesn’t look right to her,” McDowell explains. Mayer probably won’t look at those that receive an A or B rating, since they indicate that those involved in the process were pretty much unanimous in their judgment.

On the face of it, such attention to detail is a good idea when a company’s fortunes are as tenuous as Yahoo’s. But San Francisco-based recruiter Jon Holman thinks it’s not such a good idea if Mayer’s involvement slows down the process in any meaningful way. That’s exactly what’s happening, according to Reuters, and as a result, the company has lost out on nabbing several prospective engineers. The news service cited an internal Yahoo staff meeting where this issue was raised.

That said, Holman notes: “As much as I hate to say it, if Marissa were male, no one would be making such a fuss over every little step she takes. It would be just a new CEO trying to fix a broken culture.”

Fast Fix

Mayer needs to move fast, so now is the best time to raise the bar on Yahoo’s hiring practices. This comes just weeks after another outcry over Mayer’s ban on telecommuting.

“It needs to be now, or never,” McDowell says. “It means more if you’ve just come out of a top company and make those changes. To do this two years from now won’t be as meaningful.”

While you could argue that making the process more difficult may create cachet for jobs at Yahoo, Holman and McDowell say that’s unlikely.

“Yahoo, for the past five or 10 years, has been considered a step down from Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft,” McDowell says. “Marissa Mayer’s arrival gives some hope that if not today, maybe in a year or two, Yahoo will be in the A league again.”

16 Responses to “Mayer’s Hiring Practices May Not Do Yahoo Any Favors”

  1. Lee Crites

    I interviewed three times with Yahoo while I was working in the bay area. In all three cases, I was told an offer was coming.

    In all three cases, someone else called to talk to me about another position AFTER I was told by Yahoo that they were going to make me an offer. In all three cases, I went through the full interview process, received an offer, and was already working BEFORE the folks at Yahoo called me back with the offer letter.

    I might not be the “crème de la crème,” but I wasn’t the only one with that story.

    Something is broken in the way Yahoo hires folks; not sure what it is.

  2. Richard Morgan

    Hope she’s prepared to offer a raise to those telecommuters she wants to keep! If not, the best of them will find other jobs, and she’ll be left with second-rate former telecommuters.

    She’s asking the telecommuters to put in more hours due to commute time, as well as expenses. That’s a drop in net income for them.

    That may also negatively impact productivity – most telecommuters work best remotely, or they wouldn’t be telecommuters.

  3. patrioticduo

    If telecommuters were so inefficient then Mayer should have managed the managers that allowed the inefficiency to occur. But to outright ban telecommuting means that all those that were efficient have been penalized just the same as the non performers. That is a anti meritocratic action that will drive an equal percentage of good apples out of the company along with the bad apples. The result is a net loss of production that does nothing to retain efficient talent. This misdirected action represents a significant executive level failure. Mayer can’t make too many missteps like that or she will a) drive Yahoo into junk stock status or b) find herself out of a job.

  4. John Munson

    Dawn, a minor point, but you’ve got a typo:

    “While you could argue that making the process more difficult may create cache for jobs at Yahoo…”

    After being confused for a moment (especially because we’re techies and “cache” means something particular to us!), I realized that you must have meant “cachet”.

  5. “If Marissa were male, no one would be making such a fuss over every little step she takes. It would be just a new CEO trying to fix a broken culture”

    Patently ridiculous. The reason she has a spot light on her is that she claims she’s going to turn the company around and so far all she has done is take some pages out of Google’s play book and slapped bandaids on a dying patient.

    The executives at Google are part of the problem, I doubt that development and design roles have much impact here at all.

    Yahoo is simply providing little to no value to end users compared with other offerings.

    The problem is not that they cannot execute the plan, the problem is that their plan sucks.


    They need better user advocates in the executive staff that can apply creativity and get the company rolling again. Mayer’s is all about the data, that works, as long as your generally pointed in the right direction.

    She has it bassackwards though, she needs to clean house at the top, figure out a strategy, then think about tactics and troops.

    Yahoo is doomed

  6. Is the real reason that Marissa Mayer is under such scrutiny that she is a woman? Or is it really because she is so young and untested? Let’s truly be fair here. If your observation that a male in this role wouldn’t be questioned as much, I would counter that a male in this role wouldn’t be defended as much. Measure Marissa’s performance with the correct yardstick.

    Compare her track record to Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook; Meg Whitman at HP, Indira Nooyi at Pepsi, or Virginia Rometty at IBM. These women are senior leaders well recognized and accepted in their fields. When Pepsi, IBM, HP or Facebook starts tossing around sweeping changes without thinking about consequences then I’ll give Marissa a break.

    The reality is that she’s young, and trying to make a name for herself. You can’t turn around a toxic culture by making a bad leadership decision. And banning telecommuting after you have taken advantage of the same policy yourself, then installing a day-care center at Headquarters for your own use is talking the talk but not walking the walk. And when the original intent was to trim the non-producing ranks, that decision is not leadership. It’s gamesmanship.

  7. I also agree that the statement of “It needs to be now, or never,” McDowell says. “It means more if you’ve just come out of a top company and make those changes. To do this two years from now won’t be as meaningful.” is ridiculous.

    If the decision is bad, then it is bad regardless of the CEO’s gender.

    I think the problem is that she is too inexperienced, she is a micro-manager, and maybe suffers from OCD.

    I can understand a VP of the respective group or department possibly approving every new hire, but the CEO? Really?

    The other problem is that she’s a hypocrite, and some of here decisions adversely affect female more than male prospective employees (e.g., the ban on telecommuting).

  8. Carl Davidson

    Marissa Mayer will fail big time. I don’t think she has what it needs to get Yahoo back on track. I laughed when I learned she was chosen for the job. She really thinks she is something and now she believes she has finally reached some kind of status reserved only to history making poeple. Not yet girl. First do something relevant. I am afraid she is going to be another Leo Apoteker, just a big mistake. Not right for the job. She better stay home and be a full time mom.

  9. This is nuts. Yahoo was already dying, but having the CEO this involved in hiring of every potential employee is a huge waste of the CEO’s time that will only hasten the company’s death. More top-down micromanagement will just make Yahoo an even worse place to work than it already seems to be. The delusional hiring of supposed “rock-stars” hasn’t worked out at the CEO level for Yahoo for some time now, why should it work at any other level? Why would a tech “rock-star” want to work for Yahoo? What possible attraction could there be?

  10. Having executives from Top companies and hiring graduates from Top universities is no guarantee of competence. Todd has it right. Clean out the Executives, define a strategy, and then implement the tactics.

    Yahoo’s Board of Directors is another problem, for hiring someone like Marissa. She had demonstrated a lack of comprehension of what it takes to run a company.

  11. How many telecommuters is she talking about? Leasing buildings to place them plus utilities, coffee, water,… would add more $$$ to the company expense. More traffic, pollution to the area.

  12. Tubaron

    No ‘telecommuting’ is contribution to the already degradable environment. If the CEO wants to see peoples face use video conferencing . People who can work from anywhere tend be productive. This lady want to be Yahoo’s Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady)

  13. There seems to be an awful lot of criticism here about a CEO micromanaging individual hiring actions. People are saying she should instead focus on cleaning out the higher ranks. I think this is somewhat failing to connect the dots.

    Screening of hiring decisions is a good way to figure out which existing managers and organizations are doing a bad job within your company. There is much more benefit to reviewing a job offer than simply wielding the power of a veto. It gives useful insights into how some current employees function. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time per offer. Yes, delays have a downside, but that needs to be weighed against the potential benefits. I don’t know her and so I don’t know if she is smart enough to use it this way, but I would like to think that if she sees a bad pattern from a certain manager or department, there would be internal consequences and that’s where Yahoo reaps the potential benefit of this situation.