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Finding IT & Engineering Talent: Titans of Recruiting

At the session entitled “Finding IT & Engineering Talent: Titans of Recruiting,” three veteran recruiting executives provided sage advice on recruiting tech talent in today’s challenging market. Early in the session, they discussed the issue of verifying candidate skills when having them take skills tests is not practical.

Irini Shamaeva, Chief Sourcer for Brain Gain Recruiting, recommended screening candidates by asking open-ended questions. For instance, instead of asking "do you know Python?" say "describe your most successful project with Python."

Barb Bruno, President of Good as Gold Training, suggested asking a candidate to quantify their skill set. Rather than just asking if they know Python or not, ask: "on a level of 1 to 10, where would you rate your skill with Python?"

With regard to separating yourself from the competition, Allison Daley, CEO of Recruiting Innovation, stated: “The biggest differentiator is to not only show that you know what you’re doing but that you are knowledgeable about the industry as well.”

The panelists discussed the best way to find talent today with unemployment in general low and unemployment in technology even lower.

Barb stated: “The best way to find talent is to ramp up your recruiting referral programs. Your contractors are either your army of recruiters or they are being recruited by your competition.”

She warned against letting the people you place feel like you place them and forget them and then earn money for every hour they make, making them feel like a cash cow. When contractors feel like they’re just a source of revenue and you don’t care about them they will often leave an assignment before it’s over or go on interviews, she said.

“At least 40% of your candidates should be referrals,” Barb added, “and you should have a redeployment of a minimum of 40%. In my mind you have a gold mine right now and that’s your army of contractors. How do you align them and how do they become recruiters for you because they love you?”

How do you accomplish this? “There are a lot of things you can do,” Barb said. “Ask them what is their birthday, anniversary date. Celebrate everything.”

She suggested helping recruiters realize that nurturing impacts their income. “More and more people aren’t fulfilling their contract because they’re being recruited away by someone else,” she said. Barb suggested telling recruiters to position themselves not as someone getting candidates one contract but to instead position themselves as a “lifetime career agent.” 

Irini seconded what Barb said about referrals, adding: “My angle is that there are many IT professionals that are very active on LinkedIn. If you email them, they will respond, because they don’t hear from recruiters.”

With regard to difficulties faced in redeploying people because they don’t have the exact skills needed for a job, Allison recommend getting clear on requirements vs nice to haves in conversations with hiring managers. That way, you can see if a contractor can get a two week ramp up period for a job to transfer their skill set. She advised asking the hiring manager, “Would you rather fill the job now with someone with two weeks onboarding or wait two months to find the person with that specific skill set?”

Barb recommended getting performance objectives from your clients and asking them how they will be evaluating your contractors. She stated: “This can help avoid a situation where a client gives you a contract and asks for nine different skill sets, then when they tell you six months later they are not happy, they start talking about things they did not mention when they gave you the contract.”

“If you are start asking your clients what does my contractor have to do be deemed successful after 6 months or a year,” Barb said, “you now know what skill sets are mandatory.” This can help you be more effective in the screening process. In terms of redeploying candidates, she advised knowing who you are as a recruiter and where your focus is: “If you only do job to job it makes it easier because that is what you are known for. The more niche you get the easier it is to redeploy.”

Barb recommended using an autoresponder series to keep in touch with candidates who approach you. “The candidate experience is everything right now,” she said.

With regard to low tech unemployment, Allision recommended expanding the candidates you consider for a big job. She stated: “We have to push back on our clients to find out what type of skill sets they are actually looking for. Do candidates really need a CES degree? Can they come from a boot camp? Can they be returning from work after starting a family?”

Barb stressed that recruiters shouldn’t make assumptions about what people want to next. She stated: “One of the biggest complaints I hear is that we never ask candidates what they want to do next. We assume that what they are doing now is what they want to do next. Ask them what they see as their next career move. And then if you get that for them, they will be happy and send you referrals.”

Irini emphasized that engineers are typically introverts, so phone calls are often not the best way to reach them. She mentioned texting and videos as two alternate ways of reaching out to potential candidates.

Barb said that people will return your call if they see the benefit to them. She suggested leaving messages saying something like, “I’ve helped 17 developers in the past 2 months advance their career. Would love to talk to you about what you see as your next move.”

“Your recruiters have to know their brand, Barb said. “The only thing that separates your recruiters from any other recruiters is their track record of success or your company’s track record of success.” She also mentioned that candidates may not be able to talk during the day as they are around their boss or coworkers, so recruiters have to be ready to call them at night.

Barb suggested that recruiters have their title reflect what they do and not that they are a recruiter. On this topic, Allision said: “Your profile should show things related to tech to show that you are knowledgeable about the industry.” She added: “Learn the stuff they care about. Listen and pick up the pulse of the space and validate your expertise.”

Barb recommended belonging to a minimum of 20 groups on LinkedIn. She suggested finding and joining the groups your candidates belong to. “I go to all my groups at least once a month and post something or retweet something,” she said.

Irini mentioned that Facebook groups have been redesigned, saying “Facebook is the new LinkedIn.” She also suggested looking at other channels and communities where developers go such as Reddit, Slack and Telegram.

Allison suggested that when you find an awesome candidate, there’s nothing wrong with changing things up and trying to market them to your clients. In such a competitive market, she said, “we need to think about trying to flip our mode and think about not just pulling but pushing.”

To improve contractor retention, Barb said: “Always date your contractors but never marry them. Are they hearing from you? Say you just want to talk to them to see how things are going. Let them know you care.” Because a year from now you might have a job for the candidates you don’t place, she recommended keeping them in mind. She stated: “Keep in touch with which candidates you place and those you don’t.”

Barb recommended asking these three questions to every candidate:
  • What are the five things you’d change about your last contract if you had been your boss?
  • What has to be there for you to accept a job today?
  • What offers have you received and turned down?”

Those three questions, she said, really reveal the reason why a candidate is talking to a recruiter.