In high school I was seriously considering joining the coast guard. That is, until a recruiter came in to speak to us. He was singly the most pompous person I have ever met in my life. Point blank, he told us that he was wasting his time visiting us because 99% of us weren’t good enough to get in anyhow. He then spent 10 obligatory minutes going over what a career in the coast guard was like before leaving without entertaining any questions. I no longer wanted to be in the coast guard. If the recruiter we met was the face of the organization, I had no interest in ever becoming a part of it.
While it is important to be selective, even highly selective, it is equally important to not rub your selectiveness in people’s faces. Companies have to be selective when hiring else they risk becoming diluted with second rate talent and stagnating in the market. However, companies also have to maintain a public persona such that they are viewed in a positive light be the majority. If companies find a hiring model that works for them, allows them to be competitive, and reduces the attrition rate then more power to them.
After passing out a recent post by Steve Yegge to a couple colleagues and friends I solicited a response on what they thought of the process. Some felt that the elitist approach was pretentious but all agreed that is was necessary to ensure a top notch group of engineers. When you are the company that everyone wants to be and most people emulate, you have some leeway to be selective. However, selectiveness should be weighed carefully against public persona. When the selectiveness reaches a point that people lose interest in working for you then it is time to scale back a bit. Google seems to have found their niche in this respect as they are a highly selective company but still the firm that most engineers would work for, given the chance.
There is a blurry line between being snobby and being selective. Snobby in the eyes of some is selective in the eyes of others. The important thing for any company, whether a three person crew in a garage or Google, is to find the balance that works best for their firm. For some this will mean a high degree of selectiveness, and thus perceived pretension, while for others this will mean a less selective process and a slightly less efficient talent pool.