Podcast – Innovation and The Future of Recruitment

Another podcast, and a return to talking with the brilliant Matt Alder.  Matt continues to compile a series of excellent perspectives on recruiting and HR called Recruiting Future, you can listen to the whole series here.

To listen to me try my hand at some futurism and badmouth clumsy attempts to use Snapchat for Recruitment hit play below!

“You’ve got to have an Algorithm!” A Recruiter’s Guide to the A-word

Even if you only have a casual interest in the world of hiring it’s not long before you’ll encounter someone touting a magic bullet, a panacea for the “broken” world of recruitment globally.  Currently riding high on the buzzword bingo cards of these self-styled saviours is the humble “algorithm”.  This isn’t the algorithm you might know from maths or computer science however, the “algorithms” of recruitment are like a sorcerer’s incantations able to transform the world and imbue those that utter the word with sage like prowess and a cloak woven from the finest of Thought Leader hair…

In other disciplines the word algorithm is well defined (a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer), yet despite this there is a shift in understanding when we talk about algorithms for recruitment.  Because the discourse of recruitment is largely owned by those who wish to sell to practitioners the humble algorithm has become the magic in the box that’s too difficult to explain.  Algorithms are the elves who make the shoes whilst the shoemaker sleeps.  It’s because of this lack of understanding that each new tool that’s presented to HR, from personality quizzes based on dubious pseudoscience to true recommendation engines and all touted as having an algorithm with little or no distinction.

For the ease of understanding an algorithm is a set of well-defined instructions for carrying out a particular task. It must be sound and complete. That means it must give you the correct answer and it must work for all cases.  Usually, an algorithm is predictable, deterministic, and not subject to chance. An algorithm tells you how to go from point A to point B with no detours, it doesn’t stop to look at the flowers or to consider other factors outside of it’s available data along the way.

Does that sound like a recruitment process to you?  I’d struggle to find a recruitment process that supplies a “correct” outcome, and the notions of sound and complete aren’t interchangeable between organisations – what makes a developer a great fit for one company might be less relevant for yours. Recruitment processes are subject to chance and to that perfect serendipity of the right person available at the right time.  When a recruitment process is good for both the company and the candidate it bears the unique fingerprint of the culture of the company that created it.

All this must be very disappointing for those fans of buzzwords but fear not! Here’s a new one for you! Whilst I don’t believe in an algorithmic approach outside of tools that aid human efficiency there is a way to describe the recruitment process and still get the reflected glory of using a lovely big word.

H-Bomb

heuristic is a technique that helps you look for an answer. Its results are subject to chance because a heuristic tells you only how to look, not what to find. It doesn’t tell you how to get directly from point A to point B; it might not even know where point A and point B are. Heuristics are a practical methodology not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient to accomplish the goals required.  Examples of the use of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, stereotyping, profiling, or common sense.  In effect, a heuristic is an algorithm in a clown suit. It’s less predictable and it’s more fun.

There are many reasons that the application of technology can make recruitment so much better for all involved but the miscalling of the effects of these improvements won’t help the industry or recruitment as a discipline.  The exaggeration of the effects, range and successes of the “algorithms” is hyperbole at best and at worst a thin veneer, attempting to add shine to the same old business practices shunted online.  The majority of recruitment success stories that herald algorithms as earth-shattering go on to describe a single section of the overall recruitment process being automated not the utopian future in which we are awarded jobs by are robot overlords as they seem to suggest.

Remember that a first round online screen or adding an automated stage into an existing process is less advanced and has less effect than the introduction of the water frames and power looms of the Industrial Revolution, despite what the hyperbolic headlines will tell you.

In the blind solutionism of the HR Tech vendors and those who seek to build personal profile for their technical leaps-that-aren’t, there are real dangers.  Not least of all at risk is the candidate experience, the diversity of our organisations and the objectivity to think critically to improve these tools further.  That’s a high price to pay for the acclaim of an attention grabbing headline.

There are a great number of fantastic HR Tech tools and new ones are arriving all the time.  It is the skill of a modern recruiter to know when to utilise which tool, at what time, to have the maximum beneficial effect.  In seeking to replicate the processes of others or glorify ourselves for our own successes we aren’t embracing a bold new technological stance we’re contributing to the “broken” world we look down on.

Distopia

7 Myths About Great Résumés

When friends find out I work in recruitment they often have a lot of questions.  They might ask for funny stories, the strangest applications I’ve seen, but it’s never that long until I’m asked if I’ll look at their own resume.  Sad though it may seem, I don’t mind doing this, actually I quite enjoy it.  Almost every time I’ve done this I hear the same justifications for formatting, length, and content come up again and again.

I’m sure that this advice is always given with the best of intentions to those seeking jobs.  It’s folksy, friendly and given in the same tones as the motherly maxims we were fed as children. However, times have changed.  We know that if we pull “that face” we won’t stay that way, we know that eating those crusts didn’t put hair on our chests, we even know that if you swallow chewing gum it wouldn’t “wrap around your heart and kill you” (my elder sister used to tell me this with absolute conviction).  So much of this weird advice is now dismissed and yet when it come to job seeking we hold certain things to be absolute truths.  Here are seven thing people blindly accept as the “right way” and the reasons I think we can now give up on them.

Myth Number 1 – “Your resume should only be 1 page.”

Truth – This is one of the most pervasive pieces of advice I hear.  Often I find people struggling to fit their experience on a page, resorting to 10pt font size or self-censoring and leaving some great things out, desperately attempting to make everything fit into no more than two sides of A4.  The problem with that?  I will probably never print your resume.  “Sides of paper” is a physical restriction that modern ATS’s (Applicant Tracking Systems) and candidate tracking systems have made redundant.  The truth is that I will scroll through a CV on a screen, normally in a frame within another application, I’ll be reading your resume not counting pages.  Some recruitment software even removes page breaks so the length is purely a measure of holding a recruiter’s interest. Write interesting, relevant content and a recruiter won’t mind if you add a page.

Myth Number 2 – “Avoid all complicated fonts or design elements.”

Truth – This is another of those things that was potentially true in the past.  When looking at a paper resume it may have been the case that in printing a complex design would be corrupted in some way.  Similarly, early ATS’s couldn’t cope with any design elements as they tried to parse documents and strip out information.  Any modern system will now happily display submitted resumes in a variety of formats, even as beautifully crafted .pdfs the better systems are now advanced to the point where they can do this and still strip out information and enable searching.  Never has this advice been so misplaced when I was recently looking for designers.  The number of standard template resumes I received was scary – if you’re a designer show it! If the design you send to a recruiter is overly complex and doesn’t convey information clearly it will tell them a lot more about your abilities than the content.


Myth Number 3 – “Recruiters only spend 5 seconds looking at a resume.”

Truth – Recruiters only spend five seconds looking at a bad resume.  With clarity of format and inclusion of relevant information you encourage a reader to read on.  Irrelevant, clichéd or boring copy means anyone, not just a recruiter won’t linger for long.  You should write in a consistent format that is easy to take in – I have suggested the following format for wring about each job –

Company – Role Title – Dates of Employment
Who the company are, what they do – just a couple of sentences. 
The role you were tasked to perform – the duties you had
Achievements in the role – Call attention to specific things that match the role you’re applying for or experiences you want to call out. 
This makes for easy reading, it tells me what you did, and how you did it. I don’t have to second guess obscure job titles and still offers you the chance to blow your own trumpet a little.
 
Myth Number 4 – “Use Bullet Points.”
 
I like bullet points, when listed the duties you undertook or telling me about specific individual elements of a whole they’re great.  However, not everything should be bulleted.  I’ve seen resumes that are so clipped and hammered into bullet lists that they are no longer comprehensible.  As a rule any stylistic choice should enhance legibility.  If a resume is comprised totally of bullet points, each with their own clipped structure it can be like reading a newspaper using only the headlines.  I’ll thank you for the brevity but I’ll also doubt your ability to write a complete sentence.


Myth Number 5 – “Identify the problems of the employer.”

Truth – Don’t do this. I’ve never seen an example of this that doesn’t sound arrogant.  I can’t imagine a case where it wouldn’t.  Cite relevant experiences, give examples that you think may resonate with the problems that your target employer would also face, but the assumption of a candidate leaping in and saving the company they are applying to work for is a turn off for most recruiters I know.


Myth Number 6 – “Don’t use jargon.”

Truth – Don’t dumb down your resume to the point that it looks as though you don’t know what you’re talking about.  This is particularly true for technical professions.  A candidate is correct to assume some level of knowledge from the recruiter who is reviewing the resumes before they reach a hiring manager.  If a developer or sys admin is giving more details about a project they worked on I want to to know what technologies they used.  There’s another reason to keep in the technical terms too – they are often how resumes are searched and candidates are discovered in the first place. In any database of resumes, LinkedIn included, search is initially about filtering millions of people through key words – they have to be there.
   Technical terms are not meaningless, include them.  Don’t include the truly meaningless, clichéd company specific terms or management speak but if the term is relevant and needed don’t be afraid to use it.  A good recruiter can either be relied upon to google the term or if the rest of the resume is good they’ll ask you.

Myth Number 7 – “Don’t add your hobbies or interests.”

Truth – As a recruiter I tend to see all candidates as meaty flesh bags containing a skill set, their only possible use being to serve the organisation for which I currently ply my trade, said no one ever.  An organisation that would discriminate against you for your hobbies or interests probably isn’t one you would want to work for.  However, there are some people who may have legal yet contentious pastimes.  Things that might not be a good idea to add are religion or political activity or hunting as an example.  It’s important not to give the recruiter a reason to reject your application out of hand but at the same time as a recruiter I’d still like to know you were a well rounded human being.  
In a related area, don’t make up hobbies or interests, recruiters will ask you about them.  There’s nothing more awkward for us both like a sudden improvisation about your made up live action role-playing experiences.

Remember as Mary Schmich said “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth“. The next time that someone offers you some advice on your resume make sure that it really applies to the application you’re making, but this is just my advice.


The Talent Hacker’s Manifesto

Nick Marsh of Lostmy.name recently introduced the term Talent Hacking.  His contention was that hiring was broken and there existed a movement towards a new way of thinking.  How did it come to this?  Why is it that the world of recruitment can be called out as broken with no argument to the contrary?Long ago in the mists of time and still the case at some less progressive organisations, recruitment was owned by HR.  From behind the dull-warmth of privacy screens and bloated software that referred to people as resources, recruiters began to stir.Often regarded as the “noisy ones” on the HR floor, recruiters slowly began to emerge and be recognised as having a legitimate skill set.  A skill set that was distinct from their agency counterparts and yet not in keeping with the silo’ed silence of HR departments.   Moreover it was a skill set that was distinct from those of the HR generalists.  Over time the recruiters in more progressive organisations moved further away, diversified further and were allocated distinct budgets.  The dual pressures of speed from the business and for frugality from the finance department meant that in-house recruiters had to adapt the way they worked and began to become introspective – there wasn’t just one skill of recruitment but many.

The role of a recruiter has been split in many organisations and so to reflect this and also to highlight there particular skills there are now many different job titles in use – from Sourcer, Headhunter, through Talent Acquisition Specialist, the Orwellian sounding Staffing Officer to Talent Scout there seems to be a new way to describe yourself each day.  So is “Talent Hacker” doomed to become the next in a long list of buzzword-like titles?

I hope not.

Hopefully we can avoid the pitfalls of buzzwordism if we make a clear distinction as to what a “Talent Hacker” actually is.  Firstly, I don’t believe it’s a job title at all.  Talent Hacking is a methodology.  At best it’s a philosophical stance taken by a recruiter to adapt and experiment and at worst it’s the sharing and usage of a number of disparate tools to expedite hiring.

In Nick’s original article I was quoted as saying that “Hiring is still waterfall in an agile world”.  What I meant by that is that a “traditional” hiring process is slavish in adherence to accepted dogma. A job description is produced, it’s disseminated through advertising channels, resultant applications are pushed through a pre-defined process and those lucky enough to have impressed will be hired.  In this process, there is no feedback, no learning and no space for creativity…worst of all there is no scope to delight the candidates.

With the Agile/Waterfall divide in mind, I propose that the Talent Hacking outlook can be formalised by borrowing (stealing) from the Agile Manifesto.  The Agile Manifesto is a statement of values for software developers, reinforcing those elements that are of greater value when developing software.  Similarly we can list those things that we feel are important when hiring, like this…

 

 
While there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Hires over Processes
 
Too often in large recruiting organisations the pressure to maintain robust process and measure the performance of recruiters in the organisation means that we lose sight of the reason we’re all there in the first place.  Measuring and rewarding things like number of candidates contacted or the number of contacts who made it to second stage is good practice but if the team isn’t hiring it’s all just “busy work“.  A robust and fair (free of bias) process is important. Processes are ways of doing things that are more efficient – they must make a workload easier to complete or faster, you can think of them as collections of efficiencies.  If they do not add benefit they are no longer of value.  A lot of larger organisations hang on to process as though it was a life raft in a rising ocean of change, once the process is no longer effective (which you should periodically test for) abandon it and find a new more effective process.  A point here on “Best practices”, to paraphrase Mary Poppendieck, author of “Lean Software Development” – Best practices are solutions to other people’s problems that you may not have.  So much of the processes of recruitment are done simply because “it’s how we did it at x company” or worse still “it’s how I’ve read x company do it”.  Process is great to ensure a level playing field and to expedite the flow of a candidate towards being hired – if it isn’t doing either of these things it should be questioned and if found to be lacking changed.
 
Data over Anecdotal Evidence
 
The Talent Hacking approach loves data.   Sourcing, screening and shepherding a candidate towards being hired calls for a lot of decision making.  Decisions are better when supported by data.  Even if you cringe or break out in hives whenever someone says “Big Data” there is little doubt that the digital exhaust trails that people now leave behind them have made them easier to find.  Ask a tame recruiter you know if they can find your email address, I’ll bet they can and it won’t be from anywhere you remember writing it… Data supports a hiring plan, salary benchmarking, advertising response rates, recruiter performance, process improvement – it’s all around us as recruiters.  Building a living breathing data set from which you can answer the future unknown questions will be one of the best investments for success as a recruiter.  Even better, a recruiter’s standing in the business can be improved from the simple provision of the raw data.  The Talent Hacker will go further and provide insight to hiring managers – affecting change and having a direct effect on the success of the business.  It is the data that will enable the wider business, as consumers of the recruitment service, to answer the all important “Why?”.  Why do we value this more than our own anecdotal evidence?  Anecdotal evidence is only ever the outcome of a single case, often it informs a bias or shapes action in a way that may have been right in a prior instance but not for the current one.  A Talent Hacker loves to hear the anecdotes of others because in unpacking them you can ask those questions that reveal what is “true” to an individual. They do have value, but I’ll take the data.
 
Candidate experience over Corporate Responsibility
 
Beyond external marketing and websites, a recruiter is often the first human interaction anyone has with a company.  When they are doing their job well they are exemplars for the brand – impassioned spokespeople it’s their enthusiasm that will bleed through in both their communication and deeds. So many recruiters at large organisations are a product of their environment they hide behind turrets built from template emails, missed phone calls and a fear of feedback.  An in-house recruiter walks a tightrope between advocating for the candidate and for the company at the same time, straying too far in one of these directions will not be beneficial.  A Talent Hacker takes a third position.  We must be aware that the talent war is over and that talent won.  Too many recruiters want to take an aloof position leaning towards the institutional arrogance that permeates some companies – “we don’t have to provide feedback”, “you’re only worth a bland template email”, “we have hundreds of candidates”.  I’m sure this was a perfectly reasonable stance to take…until it wasn’t.  You only have to look at Glassdoor.com to see reviews of interview processes that call out companies for their broken internal communication, ignorant recruiters and interminable, arduous processes.  For the Talent Hacker reading Glassdoor reviews is like a family owned restaurant being reviewed on TripAdvisor, scary as hell and a potential powder keg.  A recruitment process should feel like a personal service, the realisation that organisations are no longer all powerful and that bad reviews will stop people from applying hasn’t fully permeated a lot of companies.  As humans we love to share, and embellish, a juicy story of bad service and this penchant for negativity can be mitigated by a recruiter doing their job well.  Recruiters should protect their employers they do have a duty to them, but if it comes at the neglect of hundreds of individuals whose only crime is to have applied for a job then it might be wiser to limit the damage and stop recruiting altogether.
Responding to change over Following a plan
 
In life there are always events that are outside of our control.  As a recruiter we are often either privy to insider information or at the mercy circumstances outside of our control.  From hiring freezes, through acqui-hires to redundancies there are many business events that impact a recruiter.  The Talent Hacker must be aware of this and work hard to ensure that all parties, hiring managers, team, wider business and candidates are given the information where appropriate.  Working at the coal-face of recruitment often turns up interesting information that could be of great use to other areas of the business, if you don’t forge these feedback loops you are effectively losing out.  It can be simple things like competitor hiring strategy or market rates rising in demand for a particular skill, however it can also be large and impactful learnings that should be used to adapt and change strategy – mass redundancies at a competitor, a new product launch or even rumours of mergers and acquisitions, candidates reveal a lot of information that could be useful – not listening to this let alone not reacting to it is missing out.  Change can be a valuable tool and resistance stemming from traditional models of yearly planning can only leave an organisation exposed to risk.  A company I once worked for lost 32 senior developers within three months – did they stick to a static hiring plan?  Of course not! …but the changes shouldn’t have to be that drastic to trigger a period of re-evaluation.  The Talent Hacker doesn’t seek to control but instead knows that change will happen, they are not wedded to alternate contingencies but rely on experiences to suggest different paths to follow if the need occurs.
 
I like the appreciation of a new wave of recruitment thinking.  There have been pockets of genius in the underbelly of the people hunting game that have been hidden for too long.  From the boolean greats who sift through data to find that one unknown diamond of a candidate to the recruiters who do so much more than their remit, trusted advisors to candidates, hiring, housing and relocating their candidate’s families and pets as they go.  Perhaps the Talent Hacker flag is one we can all unite under,   recruiters and candidates might be all the better off for it.This manifesto is by no means an exhaustive list of what is to be a Talent Hacker and I welcome input to clarify the definition further.  By offering a definition we can at least trigger the debate and hopefully give the label more meaning.

What Developers Want – A Data-Driven Approach to Writing Engaging Adverts

When writing job adverts recruiters are often left to rely on a brief chat with the hiring manager.  They sometimes get input from one of the friendlier engineers and pair this with an old job description that has been slowly rotting on their  careers site for the past year.  The output of these less than ideal circumstances is a rehashing of the old job spec.  Some added promises of an exciting “culture” and an oblique reference to some new technology you may or may not get to use.  The advert is posted in the normal places and with little fanfare proceeds to garner a lacklustre response from candidates. A talent pool that is already bombarded with competing offers.
There must be a better way.  What if we could write a job description using the same words and phrases that our target audience are looking for?  If we could ask a large enough group of people what they are looking for then we could pull themes and even individual words from this dataset to create and advert that was engaging. Better yet, we wouldn’t have to resort to the cliches and stock phrases from all the other job descriptions.
Coming by this dataset isn’t easy, few people have the time to go out and interview the hundreds of prospective candidates needed to make it representative.  Even if an employer did this the data would likely be skewed by experimenter bias.  If only there was a way of reliably collecting this data from developers who felt free to say whatever they wanted.  Recently I discovered a way to do exactly this. Better yet the data was already captured for me.
Hire my Friend is a new sourcing tool aiming to address the need for talent in the world of startups. Aiming to not expose that talent to unscrupulous recruiters or the volumes of spam they would receive on other sites.  Additionally it has some cool recommendation features, which made “endorsement” meaningful again.  I care more if a developer rates another developer highly than if the same assurance of expertise came from a colleague in sales, a school friend or their mum.
On looking at the tool I noticed that candidate profiles, though anonymous and containing all the usual information, also asked one important question.  “What are you looking for?”.  Suddenly I had impartial answers to that question from 13,000 (and growing) Engineers, Marketers and UX Designers.  After running a search for Ruby developers in London I had the data I needed, I pasted the answers into one long document and made that into a word cloud.  The larger the word the more frequently it occurs in the responses.
What Developers are actually looking for…

So what does this tell us?  Firstly that Hire my Friend’s users are very much on target.  The majority of users are looking for work in small, startup teams.  It’s the the details here that are more interesting for me.  I have always said that offering a job that is both rewarding and challenging is attractive, i.e. referring to actual problems to solve.  This is borne out by the answers given, the words problem, challenging, learning, solving and knowledge feature heavily.  The second biggest takeaway for me is the importance in stressing the “why” of the role you’re hiring for.  Why is the work important? How will it impact the larger team and the rest of the company?  In describing the work we should ensure that we stress those elements that are “creative”, “fascinating”, “exciting” and “cool”.

So given these answers how can we measure a job description against the data?  The same process can be used to evaluate our own job descriptions – here’s mine

From the advert

For me the obvious difference here is between the active and the passive.  The job description has some of the same elements but still has some scope to be a better match. In a passive sentence, the subject of the sentence is acted upon rather than performing the action.  For a potential candidate this could mean that they are left with a sense of being used like a resource or that their individual importance in being downplayed.  What job seeker wants to be part of a massive swathe of hiring to become a cog in a machine? None I’d want to hire.  As William Zinsser says in his book On Writing Well, “active verbs push hard and passive verbs tug fitfully” a job advert should be a compelling call to action.

I’m going to use the Hire my Friend data to write different adverts and do my own A/B test.  It will be interesting to see if matching the word choice and elevation of individual over the companies own needs makes the difference I think it will.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

Innovation in Job Hunting – Engaging the Recruiter

I always seem to harping on about what employers can do to encourage engagement from talented candidates.  Today I came across  reddit user Leah, who goes by Pastlightspeed, who posted photos of her recent application to two advertising agencies for an intern position.  It’s hard to know how to standout in this increasingly competitive market and whilst Leah skirts the line between impressive and gimmicky I think the end result is both pleasing and communicates her potential well.

hIsUPxq MTmxS0g xrQxELh

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this type of thing and whilst it lends itself well to creative professions I think there’s scope to produce this kind of thing for other disciplines too.  In the past I’ve seen resumes submitted in LaTeX for researcher roles, as an API for an engineering role and a candidate at Facebook sent a single shoe – the accompanying message stating “…if the shoe fits”.  All three stood out and all three got interviewed.  Of course you still have to interview well but thinking about the application process in a creative way could give you an advantage over other applicants and may help to pique the interest of even the most jaded in-house recruiters.

Advertising a Vacancy in the Key of C#

There is a problem with advertising a vacancy on a job board.  Not just the general problem of the decline in qualified candidates having to use job boards to find a new role but also the problem of standing out in a sea of other text all advertising the same type of vacancies.  How can you make plain text stand out when it’s just the same as everything else?  Better yet how can you make it truly relevant to your target audience?  
 
If you take the time to look at what your competitors are putting on job boards you might notice some strange behaviours.  How many of the “adverts” are actually just job descriptions?  A job description and an job advertisement perform two very different functions and should look very different.  If you produce a job description and post that instead of telling a reader how amazing it would be for them to work for your company you’re posting a list of demands in HR Speak.
 
This is the equivalent of a car manufacturer televising the turning pages of the technical manual, it’s just so boring!  Stretching the analogy further an advert for a new job should be just as aspirational as for a new car – we want all the cornfields on fire, explosions and leather clad luxury of a car ad.  We want excitement, something that will appeal to the target audience and something that demonstrates that we, as an employer, understand them. 
 
Today I worked with one of our developers to write a job advertisement in C#.  What would have taken me an age obviously only took him a few seconds to write but the feedback was the best I’ve ever heard for any advertisement, after we finished he said – “I would apply”.We’re currently trialing a number of different styles of advertising for our jobs over on our StackOverflow company page.  It’s particularly useful because we can see both page views and applications so we’re better able to judge the effectiveness of an ad.  I’m hoping this ad in code as well as other versions we’re working on might encourage those that see them to explore a little further.
  1. using System;
  2. using System.Linq;
  3. namespace CriteoQuestions
  4. {
  5.     class Program
  6.     {
  7.         static readonly uint THRESHOLD = 5;
  8.         static uint Question(string text)
  9.         {
  10.             Console.WriteLine(text + ” [y/N]”);
  11.             string answer = Console.ReadLine();
  12.             return answer != null && answer.Equals(“y”) ? 1U : 0U;
  13.         }
  14.         static void Main()
  15.         {
  16.             string[] questionTexts =
  17.                 {
  18.                     “Looking for a new challenge?”,
  19.                     “Want to work in the heart of Paris?”,
  20.                     “Do you enjoy solving hard problems efficiently and creatively?”,
  21.                     “Would you like to work where Big Data is more than a buzz word?”,
  22.                     “Want to work on a product at true web scale with 30B HTTP requests and 2.5B unique banners displayed per day?”,
  23.                     “Would you like to know more?”
  24.                 };
  25.             uint score = questionTexts.Aggregate<stringuint>(0(current, text) => current + Question(text));
  26.             Console.WriteLine(score > THRESHOLD
  27.                                   ? @”Contact m.buckland@criteo.com today”
  28.                                   : @”That’s a shame, you can learn more at http://labs.criteo.com/ maybe we can change your mind?”);
  29.             Console.ReadLine();
  30.         }
  31.     }
  32. }
What other ways are there to stand out when advertising jobs online?  How can you make the limitations of plain text on a job board into advantages that will make your adverts stand out from the crowd?

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.

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.

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?