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The key to better tech hires in less time? Hire off process.

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio)

Hiring in the technology industry isn’t like hiring for, say, a sales, marketing, or finance role. When all is said and done, tech employees face challenges unlike those of any other workers.

If tech executives want to uncover the best talent and improve retention rates, they have to break free from traditional hiring workflows and start using tactics with proven success rates.

Tech executives hold the hiring keys

Because tech executives typically have the most hands-on experience in acquiring and training tech talent, they have a much stronger understanding of the combined traits and skills present in a successful hire. Unlike human resources professionals, tech executives truly know the specific demands of their industries and the trends that determine the skills employees need to stay afloat.

Unfortunately, that knowledge goes to waste most of the time. Tech leaders are rarely as immersed in hiring processes as they should be, and that means many leaders don’t see the flaws there — just the disappointing results that follow.

In standard hiring processes, CIOs and CTOs only engage with candidates after HR teams pass them along. Most problems occur during this gap. HR leaders frequently don’t understand the key traits tech employees need to succeed, which leads them to screen out great candidates who might not match boilerplate credentials.

This problem worsens as HR departments start to lean on artificial intelligence during their recruiting and hiring process, as it tends to overlook talented candidates from non-traditional backgrounds. In fact, a staggering 72 per cent of résumés are picked out by applicant tracking systems and never seen by human eyes.

Even companies outside the technical sphere experience these issues. After all, businesses in every industry struggle to fill technical roles. The less technical the business, the more impactful a single bad tech hire can be. And as much as tech executives might like to leave hiring to others, no one knows more about tech than they do. Leaders in this field can’t rubber-stamp HR-approved candidates and expect to recruit, train, and retain the best tech-savvy employees.

Where existing tactics fall short

Besides this, so-called “innovative” tech hiring strategies don’t work as well as proponents claim. Seemingly innovative interview strategies — think take-home tests or other tactics — look at candidates and their abilities only in controlled environments. Tech hiring works best when leaders can base their decisions on multiple factors and see candidates as they truly are.

Modern programmers, for example, learn from a variety of sources. Many of them never attend traditional schools; some are self-taught, while others attend boot camps and coding programs to earn their technical chops. These candidates surely have valuable skills. But with the way the screening process works today, they don’t always get the chance to flaunt their talent.

Even when non-traditional candidates make it past the initial round, screeners such as take-home tests and whiteboard sessions do them no favours. Neither test paints a complete picture. Take-home tests only show evaluators a finished product, giving no indication of how the potential employee would work on a real, dynamic team. And entry-level candidates shouldn’t have to spend unpaid hours on tests of questionable usefulness.

In-person whiteboard testing provides a look into candidates’ logical reasoning abilities, but these also fail to illuminate actual on-the-job skills. Whiteboards don’t present the same challenges as real coding situations — even senior-level employees rely on resources outside their own brains (such as search engines) to solve problems. Candidates who excel at whiteboard problems could be inept in the face of meaningful challenges, while those who struggle in closed environments might be superstars behind a keyboard.

Does this mean hiring managers should quit testing candidates entirely? Not necessarily. However, they should definitely rethink their perceptions of what separates a stellar tech candidate from a subpar one if they want to improve their hit rate.

How tech leaders can cure their hiring woes

As the digital talent gap widens, tech leaders will need to adapt their hiring strategies to evaluate candidates from a wider variety of backgrounds. These tips could help companies see tech hiring in a new light.

1. Stop seeking the perfect candidate. Companies should shift more toward finding candidates who are willing to learn, rather than just candidates who already know everything. The perfect coder doesn’t exist — but over time, managers can mould employees into their roles.

Just because one programmer knows the right languages doesn’t mean she or he is the right choice for an open position. One person might come with a pedigree, but another could be more inquisitive, cooperative, or adaptable. The first person will outperform the second for a month or two. But as time passes, the worker with the better attitude will easily take the lead.

Open the top of the hiring funnel a bit wider to include more people from non-traditional backgrounds. Then, use the following tips to evaluate their potential.

2. Develop unique non-résumé criteria. Just as whiteboard sessions and take-home tests don’t reveal true talent, résumés only provide a partial look at what candidates can offer. To find candidates who will make exceptional employees, expand the evaluation process beyond résumés and interviews.

Give prospects the opportunity to show off. Ask potential employees to showcase personal projects and explain why they built them. Talk to interviewees about how they translate the requests of colleagues into technical deliverables. Even the best coder in the world will make a terrible employee if she or he can’t comprehend what a company needs.

Granted, more in-depth interview processes take longer to complete. Tech leaders can compensate for the lost time by following one final tactic.

3. Familiarise hiring managers with tech needs. CIOs and CTOs can’t spend their days weeding through entry-level résumés. Hiring managers and HR departments need to know what their tech leaders seek in new employees and how to identify those traits — and they need to do it faster.

According to research from DHI Group, Inc., the IT hiring cycle takes about 33 days (and that’s one of the longest across industries). Companies can’t afford to let their most important roles sit empty for weeks at a time, which means leaders need to help their hiring gatekeepers speed up the process.

Keep hiring managers in the loop about important projects and objectives. Help them connect the dots between the company’s initiatives and the kind of hires who can help the business realise its vision. Teach the people who look at résumés to focus less on what kind of degree a person has and more on whether that person could learn to contribute to a specific objective. 

Combine these tips to create a faster interview process that results in a stronger workforce. Ignore the old advice about hiring slowly and firing quickly because today’s tech sphere demands the opposite. Widen the hiring funnel to consider non-traditional candidates, pick the people who demonstrate the most potential, and give them time to learn the ropes. This strategy will lead to faster hiring cycles and better long-term fits.

Jeff Mazur, executive director, LaunchCode (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio

Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a non-profit organisation aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals.