Wednesday, 18 September 2013

On Hiring Technical Women

I believe that even in my lifetime the advances that have been made in technology have been a great leveller.  Technology has enabled so much collaboration across so many different boundaries, across culture, geography, age, race and gender.  Even in my own career I have worked alongside teams from all over the world, on one particular project we had Brazilian, Chinese, and Dutch developers, working with an Australian project manager and a business analyst from Portugal working from a London office for a US based client.  They were a range of ages, races and genders.  I think the software they produced was better for the team's diversity.  Their range of viewpoints and backgrounds enabled them to better empathise with the eventual users of the software they were building.

I've been incredibly fortunate as the employers I've worked for not only recognised the importance of diverse teams but were also prepared to invest both the time and sometimes the money that was necessary to source candidates from non-traditional backgrounds.  The industry is already well aware that there is a shortage of technical women.  There are some brilliant initiatives in this area and most importantly some truly inspirational female role models for those entering employment.  I've been exceptionally lucky to work with just a few of them.  It seems as though the more forward thinking of employers have woken up to the realisation that a diverse workforce is a boon to productivity and the collective intelligence of teams.  These are leaps forward and while we should keep striving and not become complacent it is in the implementation of these initiatives that I have noticed some actions which are increasingly counter-productive.  Some recruiters, despite the best intentions, are doing more to alienate potential female candidates than encourage them.

I do not know how women feel about the hiring process, nor do I believe they think as a collective hive-mind, so whenever I get the chance I ask them for feedback.  How was the hiring process? What did they enjoy? What could I improve?  Questions I ask of all the candidates I shepherd through their recruitment process.  At a previous employer we had a kind of focus group of female developers and business analysts set to explore one questions "how can we hire more females?".  Whilst there were lot of ideas in the room there was one recurring theme that often stopped potential ideas in their tracks - no one wanted to feel or make others feel that the bar was being lowered for them.  They didn't want women only interview days, they didn't want woman-targeted advertising and they didn't want to be commoditised with the offer of increased referral bonuses for female candidates.

It is in trying to work against the stereotype of the "programmer" that recruiters often fall into the trap of pandering to an equally divisive stereotype.  Whilst stand-out cases of obvious crassness make news, like the ad posted to the Ruby User group offering female co-workers as a perk or at the other end of the spectrum LinkedIn's ban of a job ad showing a female web developer because it was "offensive", it's apparent that even when the industry thinks it's doing the right thing often it just gets weird.  Pink adverts, adverts featuring photos of lip stick and high heels (really) there have been some truly odd attempts to attract female candidates when filtered though the lens of a recruiting department.

Recently I met with a representative from a university women's group. She described a meeting with the Diversity Recruiters at a large investment bank.  They wanted to be involved with the women's society and wondered what would be the best thing they could do.  The women's group leader suggested that they might like to sponsor a scholarship for one of the female students.  A relatively modest award would ensure that a student would be "theirs", branded as such and available for publicity. This would also ensure that the lucky recipient would be relieved of some financial burden, maybe give up a part-time job, devote more time to study, even fair better because of it.  The Diversity Recruiters didn't agree that this would be the best use of the money, they wanted in their words a greater "return on investment".  So what was their suggestion?

Afternoon tea in a posh hotel.  The budget? The same as the scholarship.  This is a perfect example of not knowing your audience, of not understanding or at least not empathising.  The twee sensibilities of an HR department woefully out of touch with the audience they were trying to engage.    A true opportunity to help was squandered in favour of cream teas.  It's exactly the brand of corporatism that sees a company say they do work for the environment because they have a photo of the CEO planting a tree on their website.  It may well be benign but it's also pointless.  Gender like any diversity characteristic is too often treated as a checkbox item. It's as though some recruiters are more looking for Pokemon than people.

So how do I hire female developers?

I aim to hire highly-skilled, passionate people.  The adverts I place aren't for "Ninjas" or "Rockstars" or other "brogrammer" terms,  they are for software engineers, for people who like solving problems and who like having their work make an impact.  So how do I ensure I'm reaching out to technical women too?  I source, a lot.  As women area smaller minority of the greater technical population you have to look through more of that population to find them.  It's labour intensive but they are there you just have to look.  I have still run women only hackathons, and relied on the advice of organisations like Women in Technology and advertised in media aimed at a female audience, even increased the bounty for the successful referral of a female developer.  However, as a recruiter, first and foremost the thing I try to do is appeal to a passion for technology and find the best people I can.  If I'm looking for highly skilled people who are passionate about technology I know that I'm going to find some females in that group and I'm going to do my best to make sure that when I do talk to them it's with a relevant and interesting opportunity...but then that's what I want for every candidate.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Hacking the application process - A cheat mode for Developers

In a previous post I talked about resumes from candidates that applied direct being seen as secondary to those candidates who were sourced by internal recruiters.  In some organisations recruiters will go out of their way to extol the virtues of a candidate to a hiring manager simply because they were hard to find or it took a long time to tease a CV out of the candidate.  All this is at the cost of a potentially more suitable, talented CV that is sat in an applicant tracking system, dusty and unloved.

How can you get that in-house recruiter who seems to be ignoring you to advocate for you in the same way?  How can you be sure that your resume is presented in the same way, in that flurry of excitement?

You can't.  Sorry.  There are hundreds of reasons that the recruiter hasn't go back to you, none of them good enough to warrant ignoring you.

This is of course understandably bad news, but there is a way around this and perhaps it will give you a better insight into the company culture and the role you are applying for.  First step research the company you want to apply for on LinkedIn.  In the same way a  recruiter would find your profile on LinkedIn, look for someone who would be a peer or a manager of a team you'd like to join.  Contact them and ask them about their role, ask them all the questions that you didn't get the answers to by reading the job description.  Mention that you'd like to apply, ask the person you're in contact with to look over your CV.
Ideally the short cut you are taking is to game the internal referral process of your chosen target company and have an existing employee advocate for you.  The pressure you are really exploiting here is the perceived imbalance of power between the HR department and "the business".  The cachet that is attached to a CV that is referred is often enough to force the attention of recruiters as there is a pressure to be answerable to the employee who handed the CV to them, in short the process will be expedited.  Doing this won't increase your skills or suitability for the job but it will mean you are at least seen and considered, not left to languish in an inbox.

For recruiters who feel I may be doing them a disservice in encouraging this sort of behaviour I'd offer a little by way of explanation.  Build relationships with your hiring managers, communicate with them effectively and you'll find they are by far the best arbiters of prospective candidates - and ultimately they are on your side.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Perils of "Social Recruitment" or Putting the "Anti" in Social Recruitment

Many years ago, too many to remember clearly, I worked as a third party recruiter.  All the clich├ęs were present and correct.  We'd "hammer" the phones, stand up to "pitch" and the paper resume was a valuable commodity.  Job seekers were putting resumes on-line and those passive candidates were found by guessing at telephone numbers and taking circuitous routes to get around secretaries and P.A's.

I'd love to say that the entire industry has undergone a sea change and we've gone through a Moneyball style transformation and that "Big Data" has made everyone's life better, and in some ways it has. However, for some the old ways of doing things don't seem to have gone away.  Social media and the growth of social networks have given us a tremendous opportunity to engage in a way unlike we as recruiters have never done before.  Unfortunately, there are some that seem to be going out of their way to ensure that's it's the noise not the signal that fills this new space.

It's my contention that the growth of social networks has led to a new openness in the sharing of information and the access to that information has meant that employers are effectively forced to partake in the conversation.  Before the growth of this new communications forum companies controlled the flow of information and with it the entry and exit points to information relating to their staffing, now they are up for discussion and comment.

It is in being, or attempting to be "social" that I see some recruiters struggling, or at the very least being ineffective.  Sourcing using social networks should be a pervasive part of how we reach out to an audience of potential candidates.  Their unique properties that allow us to  enter into conversations with applicants is exactly the reason they are superior to the job boards of old, and exactly the property that is being ignored. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my current pet hates of behavioural anti-patterns I see when recruiters are using Social Networks.

1.  It's a natural human trait to find the easiest path, to not have to repeat the same actions over and over again.  If you're looking for a role you feel is generic there is a tendency to make your messages generic too.  Specifically with LinkedIn there is a tendency to cut and paste messages.  While this will get your message to more people you won't get the response rate because people don't like to feel like they are generic - especially if that message calls out the candidate's "unique" skills then treats them like one of the herd, credit the recipient with some intelligence - they will know the message is a duplicate.

2. Social Media lets us learn a tremendous amount about a person before we make that important call.  Why then do some just rush to the first contact?  Using information that is out of date, or ignoring key parts will just be a waste of time.  If you call a a candidate and ask about the extensive work in C++ he did at university 12 years ago and not refer to the 5 most recent years he's been coding in Ruby, you shouldn't be allowed near a telephone.

3. At first glance automating the tweeting and status updates of job requisitions sounds like a great idea.  Jobvite is one a handful of applicant tracking systems that allow for the broadcasting of links and adverts of your live jobs through your own social accounts.  However, social media is an engagement platform not a bulletin board.  If you have a managed to get a number of followers or have a large network they will soon tire if your only update it to tweet links to an list of your vacancies. Effectively you are adding to the noise, you will be unfollowed, you will be ignored.  For a similar degree of success you might like to try shouting out job titles into a well - it's largely the same thing and at least there you'll have an echo.

4. When using a new network or forum for the first time it's important to gain an understanding of the norms and conventions of that network.  Lurk a little.  Learn how and where it is appropriate to make an approach.  A good example of this is joining a private group on LinkedIn centred around a largely technical discussion ignoring completely a tab marked "Jobs" and pasting your job ad slap bang in the middle of a technical debate.  You instantly alienate the audience and risk being removed from the group in short order.

5. Being present on a particular network is not a guarantee of success.  Being first to place a job advert on a particular network does not make you more innovative or creative than other recruiters.  If a network exists for a specific type of content don't try and circumvent this. If you do, you're just adding noise.  Text based job adverts on Instagram are a good example of this.  Instagram at it's best exists as a celebration of the visual form - or in more mundane terms as a platform for adding filters to a photo of a latte - why waste your efforts trying to circumvent the form?  Save Instagram for arty shots of your work environment, or find a happy employee and post their photo as proof they exist.

6. In adopting a more social approach there can be a tendency to ignore the socially established barriers that would exist in other forms of contact.  Some social networks are best used for discovery rather than contact.  For example, I might find a candidate using Facebook search or Twitter but for the candidate these could personal outlets rather than professional.  They may not welcome a contact here, knowing that a recruiter has found you on Facebook and has probably perused your photos and status updates doesn't make for a relaxed and comfortable candidate experienced.  Look at how a candidate utilises a network, if it's largely personal they might not want to be approached in a professional capacity on these networks, why not use a second network to make the approach?  Find them on Facebook and contact via LinkedIn.  Talk to them, don't stalk them, talk don't stalk!

Social networks allow for individual, tailored and above all, authentic approaches.  Social networks may well be the future of recruitment, but some old adages remain true - you only get one chance to make a first impression.  Make that first impression count, research, approach creatively, source intelligently and you'll get the responses and referrals you're looking for.  Smart sourcers make the candidate feel special and unique, their approach is measured and relevant, the lazy seek to broadcast, screaming into the void, looking busy and generating nothing.

Finally a post on social recruiting wouldn't be complete without an Infographic, so here's my snarky attempt.



Monday, 9 September 2013

On Becoming Discoverable - advice for job applicants

Eventually there comes a time in every period of employment that an employee starts to imagine the greener pastures that exist in other offices.  It's not that they've been courted by an unscrupulous recruiter, it's not that they are moving town or countries, it's not even that they've been fired for stealing stationery supplies and selling them on eBay. They've decided it's time to leave and it's on their own terms.

They lovingly craft themselves a new CV. They toy with the idea of of a video resume, or an infographic to show their creativity...then fire up Word and smoosh their details into a template.  They search the internet for a new role. They trawl LinkedIn and then they  find something; a glimmer of what might be.  They measure themselves against the requirements, ask friends about the company, research using Glassdoor and finally they click "Apply".

Then... nothing.

They were right for the role.  All the requisite skills, even a few extra ones that the hiring managers would love. So why are not being courted, loved, made to feel like the beautiful and unique snowflake they are by a whole gaggle of in-house recruiters?  Why are they lost, trapped in a black hole, ignored?

The answer...because they applied.

In many of the recruitment teams I have managed to date there is a odd behavioural pattern that I have noticed more than once.  Those CV's that have arrived through direct application are not as valued or deemed inferior to those that have been head hunted or sourced through some circuitous route.  This leads to a selection bias on the part of the recruiter to over state the suitability of a candidate that has been sourced through toil and denigrate the suitability of those candidates who apply directly because of their availability.  Because we have been told many times that the "good" candidates "aren't looking" or are "passive", those that are active must be inferior. This despite metrics that directly show that 10 to 15% of hires had come through direct applications!

There are many reasons why this could have happened.  The "groupthink" or herd behaviour of the team seeking to emulate a strong performer, a little cultural inheritance from a previous job or even an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect - the recruiter valuing their own perceived skills over that which lacked their "superior" touch.

It may not be the fault of the recruiter.  Some of the organisations I have seen use an applicant tracking system that deposits CV's of applicants to be viewed into "bins" or "buckets".  There has to be some linguistic reinforcement of perceived value here.  When I think of the contents of these inanimate objects I don't really see it positively.  In British English a "bin" is where we put rubbish or trash and a "bucket" is used for cleaning, it's association is with dirt or grime.  How many bins and buckets are filled with gold, or diamonds, or unicorns!  Institutionally we can do something to aid the shaping of behaviour here, why not refer to an internal talent "pool" and try to excise the negativity that could aid prejudgement?

So what can a candidate do?  My advice to a candidate looking for work is to make themselves discoverable.  Prior to applying, try to ensure that you have a footprint that means you can be found on the internet.  Google yourself.  Know where it is that recruiters will look for people with your skills.  For the developers and software engineers that I recruit there are a wealth of venues to utilise.  I am assuming you're OK with surrendering a little privacy to be discovered...

Firstly, LinkedIn.  Have a profile, make that profile detailed, feel cheap and dirty with all the spam you'll get you can always shutter it or delete it all together when you've found that dream job.  For a growing majority of recruiters LinkedIn is the first port of call, for some it's their only port of call.

Secondly, as a developer or an software engineer if you don't have an account on Stack Overflow you should. Any forum which is monetised for recruiters is a sure sign that recruiters are there and searching for candidates.

Thirdly, broaden your other social media footprint.  Have a G+ account, have a Twitter account, take down the drunken photos on Facebook because the more savvy recruiters out there will be looking here for you too.  If you list a job title or a company this will make you more likely to be found - check that "other" message inbox from time to time too!

Even if you only did these few things, pretty low effort, you'd be on the radar of more recruiters more of the time.  Now add to this your own blog, open source software contributions, your own website to further aggregate this stuff and you'll be surrounded in no time, of course when you've found that dream job you can take back some privacy and close or hide these accounts - you've only had to deal with those rascally recruiters on your terms and when you wanted to, that has to be better than sending that CV into the void, only for it to land in a "bucket", right?




Sunday, 8 September 2013

On the origins of job interviews



Brilliant.

On the Cultural Normalization of the Recruitment Process


The recruitment process of old is long dead. The didactic hierarchy of employer as king and the cowering potential employee grateful for the opportunity "just to be here" is over.  In the tired metaphor of the "War for Talent", talent has won. Employers must now be more venturesome than ever before in their sourcing and courting of talent to add to their organisations.  We have seen the growth of internal sourcing functions, the lessening of reliance of third party agencies and entire internal recruiting departments swell in numbers.

No where has the pressure to uncover this talent been more pronounced than in the expansion of the global technical giants.  In the race to become dominant there is no country left un-visited, no university left un-plundered and no diversity group left un-infiltrated.  However, in the growth of these organisations where talent can be a direct corporate advantage there is a strange byproduct of the economic choices they have made.

Dublin is a city with just under two million people in the Greater Dublin area and due to it's lucrative tax incentives for companies to set up European headquarters there has more than it's share of large internet brands. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and eBay all have offices in the city to name just a few - a large number of the employees to staff these organisations are imported from the continent or further a field but the staff to support these are usually local hires, this is a rapidly decreasing pool of people who have the relevant experience and the availability.  Due to another cost reduction incentive - the use of the 11 month contract - many of these staff, particularly those in the HR organisations have worked at one, if not more of the other organisations.  This is where I feel the problem lies.  It's not that these individuals aren't great recruiters, all I've met in interviews and at events are, but in crossing the cultural boundaries, in joining new organisations they bring something of that culture with them.  This cultural inheritance is not only evident in physical objects but also customs, ideas and values.  When a recruiter from another organisation joins yours they have a preformed conception of what "works" proven by their previous experiences.  It is wholly natural for them to wish to replicate these experiences.  This can lead to practices that "borrow" heavily from the previous employer, from the selection of a software tool because "it worked for X company", the treatment of candidates in a process "we never gave feedback at X company" or even the style and number of interviews a candidate faces all can be held up to be judged as good and replicated accordingly.  There are always more insidious aspects of cultural inheritance here too, over engineered administrative processes, biases in sourcing and overly lengthy approval chains to name a few.
So why is this a bad thing?  If it works it's good right?  Right?

Maybe.  However, there is a casualty here.  Entire recruitment processes at these large organisations are becoming homogenized.  The recruiters, heavily targeted and fighting for a position at the end of their 11 month contract revert to "what works" rather than a recruitment process that will do more than simply test the suitability of a potential employee; it will communicate a true reflection of that company's culture.  As the number of organisations looking for great technical talent increases still further they seek to replicate processes that they assume are effective - how many organisations are still asking candidates "How many piano tuners are there in Brazil?" even when Google themselves have moved away from these questions, calling them "a complete waste of time".  The homogenization of hiring cultures across organisations will only lead to a lack of innovation, a cultural blandness that will leave the candidates unimpressed and the recruiters unfulfilled, cogs in a process.  Whether or not you aspire to a hire talent of the same calibre as Google or Facebook perhaps the answer lies not in the "Googlification", "Facebookification" or Nextbigthing-ification" of your hiring process but in the effective communication of your own corporate culture.  If we accept that the recruitment process is also a time for candidates to learn about your organisation an awareness of what you actually want them to learn might be a good thing.  Rather than be the beige old porridge, the pale imitation of a recruiter's previous employer why not look upon the recruitment process as a great chance to iterate, looking for ways to continuously improve,  to provide true value to the organisation.  You could even borrow from software development practices and look at A/B testing to see which practices work better for your candidates (yes you should always ask them for feedback), just don't get them to dance, that might be differentiation you don't want!

In conclusion, when building a recruitment team, adding to an existing team or even changing policies and processes - caveat emptor.  Ensure that you're not adopting practices have worked for you previously without holding them up to the scrutiny of your new situation.