Often, finding and hiring engineering talent is an ordeal. There are more open programming positions than qualified candidates, putting companies in a tough spot when it comes to negotiating.
These aren’t normal times, however.
Many technical recruiters and engineering managers are seeing a spike in inbound inquiries and applications, signaling an opportunity to scoop up top talent. But be careful, Indigo senior director of engineering Michal Klos said. Now may not be the time for growing companies to overhaul their approaches to hiring.
“I’m not really making a lot of changes in my hiring processes or rationale,” he said. “If I find someone who fits all the criteria I’m looking for, I’m just going to hire them. I’m not going to hold out for a perfect candidate or the next wave of layoffs.”
A peek inside the brains of recruiters and managers at top tech companies:
- Scan resumes for accomplishments, not responsibilities. A candidate’s impact is a lot more compelling than their to-do list.
- Consider the different ways to measure career trajectory. “Growth” doesn’t always mean a new job title.
- Keep empathy and communication skills at the forefront.
- Don’t get hung up on buy-in and culture fit. Yes, there are lots of people vying for their next position. But interviewers shouldn’t introduce intangible hoops to jump through.
- Stick to tried-and-true hiring strategies. The hunt for top talent shouldn’t distract from the great candidates that present themselves.
Scan resumes for accomplishments, not responsibilities
A resume should not be a list of job descriptions. If a candidate dedicates precious bullet points to outlining a current or former role, rather than highlighting their wins in those roles, hiring managers must do extra digging to assess that candidate’s actual accomplishments.
Excellent resumes focus on the results of a candidate’s work, rather than the content of their days, said Talia Fusaro, a senior technical recruiter at Snap.
“It’s not just about stating something that got done and leaving it at that,” she said. “What has been the broader impact? That’s more eye-catching than saying you worked on such-and-such application.”
The difference between output and impact goes beyond catching recruiters’ eyes on a first scan, though. A resume that simply lists responsibilities — no matter how important — could indicate an engineer fails to grasp (or care about) the business goals behind their work.
“If they don’t know the business impact, they should know what the intended business impact was.”
Klos, for instance, has reviewed many resumes that list activities like “attended daily scrum.” For him, that’s a red flag. Engineers who focus on impact, on the other hand, show they understand the real world and how businesses work, he said. A big part of that is recognizing how a developer’s work affects users, stakeholders and the bottom line.
“If they don’t know the business impact, they should know what the intended business impact was,” he said. “So if they don’t know the retention numbers from having built a product, they should know that the goal of the product was to increase retention. And if they don’t know that, then they probably were not asking the right questions when they started building it, or they’re just not interested. They just want to code, but that’s not good enough.”
If a developer isn’t sure where to begin analyzing business impact — or doesn’t have access to the necessary feedback — that’s OK, Klos said. There are multiple ways to tease out impact during phone screens or interviews. One option is to talk about operational metrics. If a candidate built a rest API in Ruby, for example, they could share the API’s purpose and the number of calls it received each day.
Consider different ways to measure career trajectory
Recruiters and hiring managers scan resumes for career trajectory. But career growth is not one size fits all.
Sometimes, job titles matter. Klos said he’ll raise an eyebrow if an engineer has remained in a junior position for a long time, for instance. But many senior engineers choose to stay in their positions and build technical expertise, rather than moving into managerial roles.
That means it’s important for hiring managers to evaluate career trajectory from multiple angles. Orit Shamir, a senior manager in technical program management at Instacart, named a few different approaches. Professional growth, she wrote in an email, could look like taking on larger and more complex projects, seeking out responsibilities with a broader scope and impact, or leading larger teams.
“We want to see that the candidate consistently looked for and identified opportunities to challenge themselves, learn new skills and grow,” she wrote.
Along the same lines, take care not to write off candidates with non-traditional career paths. In fact, some career twists and turns can be a positive signal for hiring managers, said Saad Rehmani, VP of engineering at Reddit.
“A candidate who volunteered full time for a year or built a startup will likely have more growth than their peers who took the straight and narrow path,” he wrote in an email.
Keep empathy and communication skills at the forefront
While the term “top talent” is often equated with technical savvy, our experts said people skills are often the deciding factor in hiring decisions. “Strong communication skills” and “ability to influence others” were the first qualities in Shamir’s definition of top talent.
Klos said he would take empathy over technical skills “any day of the week.”
It’s tough to find candidates who excel in both arenas, he said, but he’s learned from experience never to undersell the value of communication skills.
“Telling someone what they want to hear is not really what’s best, as much as it might be difficult to deliver real feedback or advice.”
“I’ve been at many different companies and we’ve had many different interview processes. And one of the things I’ve learned through many years of hiring is that it’s never worth trying to compromise on people’s ability to get along with each other,” he said. “Technical skills are never going to be the thing that makes or breaks someone.”
Fusaro included empathy in her definition of top talent as well. But there’s a critical difference between candidates who are nice and candidates who are kind, she added. Kindness, or a commitment to communicating the truth with tact and sensitivity, makes teams better. Niceness, or a fear of giving constructive feedback, can do the opposite.
“Telling someone what they want to hear is not really what’s best, as much as it might be difficult to deliver real feedback or advice,” she said. “It’s better to think in terms of what’s best for the long-term success of not only the team, but the products.”
Don’t get hung up on buy-in and culture fit
If candidates unexpectedly found themselves out of a job, it’s tempting for them to wallpaper the internet with resumes. Hiring managers could wonder: Do these people really want to work at my company?
That question, Klos said, is a dead end. Yes, some engineers are scrambling. But it’s wrong for hiring managers to try to become mind-readers. There are a few reasons it’s not worth losing sleep over intangibles like culture fit and candidate buy-in in the midst of an upended job market.
First, evaluating for culture while rifling through stacks of resumes is a fast way to propagate bias in the hiring process. At Reddit, hiring managers actively work to shrink the importance of resumes in their candidate review processes, Rehmani said.
“We tend to avoid relying too heavily on resumes to tell us about a candidate, as it has been proven to show bias against diversity and inclusion, which is something that’s extremely important to us,” he wrote.
Second, buy-in is vague and tough to qualify — if not a distraction from what actually makes an engineer a good team member. Instead of demanding passion, hiring managers should share their own passion during the hiring process and hope it sticks.
“If someone is qualified for the role and would be a positive addition to our team from both a technical and behavioral standpoint, then it’s up to them,” Fusaro said. “I don’t think everyone here is a Snapchat power user or super familiar with the company and the mission and the values and the impact. It’s part of our job throughout the interview process to share that.”
If a candidate says they want the job, hiring managers should take them at their word, Kloss said. Passion, just like skills and competency, can grow with time.
“If someone takes a role but they’re not 100 percent excited about it, there’s an opportunity as they work with the team and see what we’re doing, they could turn on that,” he said.
Stick to tried-and-true hiring strategies
So, how are these managers and recruiters processing a large volume of applications while staying focused on the candidate qualities that really matter? Largely, they’re sticking to what works.
Resumes, as Rehmani indicated, are only helpful to point. A deluge of them should not diminish the importance of phone screens and real conversations — the best ways to get a sense of who someone really is.
“I personally think a resume review can only get you so far, and the cost of a false positive merits spending the time on the phone understanding the candidate’s potential,” Shamir wrote. “Put in place a productive process for evaluation — for inspiration, I highly recommend getting acquainted with Daniel Kahneman’s work — and, as hard as it is, make the time for recruiter and hiring manager screens.”
“When skill sets and experiences are equal across multiple applications, a candidate who represents diversity is a clear winner.”
Next, companies shouldn’t lose sight of big-picture hiring goals like diversity. Whether rushing to fill a role or overwhelmed with inquiries, hiring managers must stay diligent about their organizations’ existing commitments to bring on employees of different backgrounds.
“Finding candidates who are qualified for a role isn’t always enough,” Rehmani said. “When skill sets and experiences are equal across multiple applications, a candidate who represents diversity is a clear winner.”
Lastly, hiring managers must keep in mind the many variables that make up a great candidate. There’s no substitute for time spent talking to a candidate, Rehmani said, but he still checks LinkedIn for things like shared connections and diversity of experience. If he receives a personal message from busy candidates, all the better.
The job market may look different, but now isn’t the time for companies to reinvent the wheel when it comes to hiring, our interviewees agreed. After all, the switch to remote interviewing and onboarding for engineers presents enough challenges as it is.
“I don’t think the conditions warrant any change in how you evaluate and hire people,” Klos said. “What I’ve learned over the last 10 years is applicable in any scenario.”
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Our interviewees also shared some advice for job-seeking engineers
Fusaro: “While many companies have reduced in size, there’s still a lot of companies that are hiring that play a critical role and keeping people connected and supported when they really need it. So I would encourage engineers to utilize this time to think about what they truly care about working on in their next role and what type of environment they’ll be most motivated and excited by.”
Shamir: “Always over-communicate in your job search. Even if you are applying directly for a position, I suggest reaching out via your network for referrals, switch your LinkedIn profile to signal that you are open to new opportunities, and connect with recruiters or hiring managers. As you go through the job search, continue learning and growing your skill set. It will help you stand out as a driven individual, keep you agile and give you perspective and motivation outside of the interview process.”
Rehmani: “Our industry is well situated to continue moving forward. Software is still thriving across the world and that will probably not change any time soon. And there are many employers, including Reddit, that are still looking for engineers.
The 2001 recession hit the technology sector hardest and lasted around eight months. While it was consequential and definitely challenging, it was also not insurmountable. It’s important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself while you seek employment. Try to incorporate self-care into your daily schedule and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”