Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
7/29/2014
10:56 AM
Jack Perkins
Jack Perkins
Commentary
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Stop Recruiting, Start Connecting

Software engineers want to talk with their fellow professionals about job opportunities, not run the HR gauntlet.

Recruiting for software engineers and other in-demand positions gives everyone the willies. Engineers suffer from spam, recruiters hate pestering people for a living, and ever-more-desperate employers wish they could just talk to some serious, intelligent developers who know how to get the job done.

We're calling for a reinvention of the entire "recruitment" process, starting with the way we talk about it. With a change of words and practices, we can start to change the system and make everyone happier: hiring managers, developers, and recruiters (except we're not calling them recruiters anymore).

Out: recruiting. In: bringing people together
Serious job candidates want to talk with their fellow professionals. They don't want to be a plug to fill a leaking req. And they don't want to run through a gauntlet of recruiters and HR screeners who know nothing about software engineering. Recruiters make them shudder. Smart, engaged, peer-to-peer conversations make them feel warm and fuzzy.

Out: staffing process. In: grooming your teams, or even hiring a ragtag band of lovable misfits
In a sector that thrives on innovation, it's crazy how engineering teams comply readily to the same old "staffing process" thrown over the wall by the HR department. They cede their responsibility, relying on HR pros to plop perfectly screened engineers into their laps. Then the engineers wind up screening out candidates anyway, which they very much dislike doing.

From the perspective of the interviewees, why would gainfully employed software engineers want to test your waters if their only option is to endure an HR grilling before talking to someone they respect as a colleague?

Let your engineers engage with their peers. They want this! So many of them are introverts, and they keep hearing that they should be networking more, but they don't have enough valuable networking opportunities. Why not let your engineers and other IT pros network as part of the recruiting process, and then bring in the professionals who most impress them?

Out: war for talent. In: finding the people who are the best fit for you
The war for talent is really a war on talent, as inboxes groan under an onslaught of recruiter spam. It's getting bad out there: Recently, a professional with no technical background -- he happened to be a recruiter himself -- got a LinkedIn InMail pitching him a job in DevOps!

Remember: Hiring doesn't have to hurt. If we make the right connections, we can do it without the inbox abuse.

[Are you looking at the right data? Read Deep Data Trumps Big Data.]

You're not selling a used car. You're bringing in respected colleagues who'll be spending nine hours a day with you. The soft touch approach is soft touch for both parties involved. Not only the interviewees, but also your engineers who talk with them, will breathe a sigh of relief.

Out: screeners. In: ambassadors
Since the engineering department ultimately must choose the right candidates, let's let them do their job in the most pleasant and productive way possible. In today's market, VCs and VPs of engineering are cold-calling engineers. If their time is worth it, so is your engineers' time. Don't be afraid to let candidates talk with members of your software development team. With proper performance benchmarks -- how many calls result in an on-site meeting, how many on-sites result in an offer, how many offers are accepted -- this more efficient hiring process can save time and money.

If a prospective candidate's LinkedIn, GitHub, and other online profiles look compelling, the engineer who talks to her shouldn't be "screening" her. That engineer should be leading the welcome wagon. The two should talk on the phone, go for coffee, whatever it takes to get the dialog going. Even the more introverted software engineer will jump on the opportunity to talk shop with a professional peer. For more on this concept, see our article Informational Interviews for People Who Don't Need Them.

Out: My boss is hiring. In: Come work with me
Opening a dialog through normal channels with an experienced and comfortably employed software engineer is almost impossible. How many great engineers read ads, pay attention to sourcing spam, and talk with recruiters

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Jack Perkins, principal of Oryx Search, has been bringing software engineers together for well over two decades. He has worked with hundreds of Silicon Valley startups as well as recognized technology icons. Always an independent and never an inside recruiter, he has a unique ... View Full Bio
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tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 4:15:21 AM
Re: Hidden gems
"No matter how advanced our technology is becoming the mounting entropy of "hiring processes" is mind numbing."

@Jack: I think one of the reasons behind this might be the fact that there's not a lot of people out there who understand both HR and technology. There are HR experts and then there are technology experts. The combination of both of these is a great area but you don't seem to find a lot of professionals who qualify for this. This may be the reason why technology companies don't have a very sound hiring process.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 4:04:24 AM
Re: Hidden gems
"I think IT loses too many "imperfect" candidates during a recruitment screen by non IT-people.  Who better than your peers to gauge your passion for learning?"

@Laurianne: I totally agree with you on this. However, the last time I talked about this with the HR head in my company, he argued that IT people have a very myopic view about assessing people. They'd only focus on the technical part and not on the overall personality. Plus, he argued, that the IT people might not be aware of the strategy of the company and won't be able to find a sync between the people and the company strategy.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 3:57:26 AM
Candid conversations
In my experience, the best way to hire someone (and be hired for that matter) has been through candid conversations with the people working there. Talking about stuff the company does and the projects the candidate has done along with finding common links between the two has always been very effective for me. It usually gets the candidate to speak up more openly and not just speak to impress. On the recruiter's side, it helps the candidate know more clearly about the culture and the working environment rather than a rosy picture painted by the HR.
Jack Perkins
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Jack Perkins,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2014 | 4:43:35 PM
Re: Hidden gems
Thank you Laurianne - allowing smart people to matriculate a bit should be a primary strategy for companies falling behind in their software engineer hiring.  Even the mighty Google falls short in this department. For example: Recently a particle physicist I know (Ph.D. High Energy Physics) who just finished his post doc at Stanford. In the course of his research he had to code C++ and do Machine Learning. He was referred by Google employees who know him(other physicists) to interview at Google.  First step: one hour with a Google recruiter who read from a list of questions. Second step: Phone "screen" from a software engineer on the team.  Conclusion: not enough computer science fundamentals.

If they looked at his resume they could have plainly seen this.

He was looking for an entry level job and he was an employee referral to boot!

But the "process" trumps all logic.

No matter how advanced our technology is becoming the mounting entropy of "hiring processes" is mind numbing.

Jack

 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
7/29/2014 | 3:58:43 PM
Hidden gems
Jack, thought-provoking piece, thanks for sharing it. I think IT loses too many "imperfect" candidates during a recruitment screen by non IT-people.  Who better than your peers to gauge your passion for learning? Smart companies are training data analysis pros on the spot right now, for example. They are learning by doing.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/29/2014 | 1:26:28 PM
Let peers talk
"Employers that keep trying to fill reqs like they're 20th century assembly line jobs will fall behind companies adept at peer-to-peer communication."

Well said. Recruiters and HR reps are still necessary of course but the hiring process at most companies has become so rigid and formal. Couldn't agree more with this article's call for more informal dialogue between peers as part of that process.
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