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How to Hire Well, Even When Limited by Company Policies

Published 4/7/2017

In today's episode, we talk about hiring in a constrained scenario.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How do you hire somebody and how you hire the right person when you feel like you're hands are tied? When you can't describe the job position or use the normal recruiting channels, that's what we're going to be talking about in today's episode. We had an anonymous user send in a question because of the sensitivity of his position, but I feel like the question is absolutely fantastic. I'm excited to share it with you all today. It's a little bit more of an involved question, but the reason I like this question is because it shows the perspective of a person who is hiring and it outlines the demand in this industry. It's a very interesting question that I'm really excited to read to you all. I'm going to read this email and of course, anonymize any personally identifying information. My team works for a department at a university that is not directly associated with the main IT infrastructure. We build highly specialized community-driven software. We will be looking for a front-end developer soon and we'd like to find an eager person that understands user experience trends and how to implement accessibility standards. We recently went through the hiring process for a slightly more technical position and it took six months before we had enough qualified applicants to start the phone interviews. Aside from not being a major city, we are a university with a lot of restrictions like limits on how we can describe a position and we're not allowed to use outside recruiters. I went out to a few meetups and asked around as well on Slack and IRC channels and although we hired a great person, I would like to have a better pool to find the best match. We have a great diverse team here and we want to find someone that is a good fit but I fear that with our limited reach, we might not find the right person. With all that said, what advice do you have to reach out to those people? I'd love to reach out to organizations like Operation Code or BGC to encourage someone to apply. I'm just not completely sure how I should focus our efforts discreetly. For the sake of today's episode, I'm going to call this person Peter. Thank you so much for sending in this question and really outlining the situation that you're in. I think there's so many interesting things about your situation that I want to talk about on today's episode of Developer Tea because right now I bet you there are perhaps thousands of people who are listening to this episode wondering how in the world they can find you. There is kind of a weird situation that is emerging here where there's a job that a lot of people would like to put their name in the hat for this UX research position or a front end developer position rather that you've mentioned in your question. There's a lot of people who would like to put their name into the hat so to speak and would like to be considered for this job and on the flip side, you feel like you have limited reach. There is certainly an emerging conflict here, right? I want to take a step back and focus on the framing of the issue and the larger philosophical makeup of this question and the situation. The first thing that I want to focus on is the phrase, which is really kind of your Peter, your target, your hopeful outcome, which is finding the, quote, right person for the job. We have to as hiring managers understand that the right person is going to be difficult to determine even after we've hired them, right? So it's our instinct to want the largest possible sampling to pick from. This is intuitively not a bad idea. The larger the sample size, the more likely we are to have someone good in that sample. This concept is derived from a logical underpinning that the more people we can choose from, then the more likely we can have an outstanding candidate for a given job. But Peter, my first piece of advice for you is to reframe the way you're looking at this problem. And instead of looking at it from the perspective of the breadth of your search, right? Instead of looking at the perspective of I want to have more possibilities, a larger number of candidates, I want you to also consider the depth of your search. So your limited pool, the limited pool of people that you can reach, how deeply are you reaching those who are already outstanding in that limited sample size. So for example, for you at the university where you are, it's very possible that there are people at that university who are both adequate and perhaps outstanding candidates for this position. You also mentioned something really important to take advantage of. And that is that you have an existing great team. The reason you want to take advantage of this or rather the way that you want to take advantage of this is to use that team for uncovering more people like themselves. And it totally, a lot of the people that I know who are in this industry, the way they got into the industry is through some kind of relationship, somebody passed their name along to the right people and they were given a shot. And once they were given the shot, that's when they proved that they were the right person for the job. So the relationship is what got them in the door. So if you already have a great team, then lean on that team for their relationships, lean on that team to do in-person searches, to do some kind of networking searches. This is why on the flip side, for those of you who are listening who are not in Peter's scenario, if you are actually looking for a job, why networking is so important. Matching up candidates to a good position for that candidate is a lot harder than it seems. It's not as simple as walking out your front door and going and knocking on the door of the company that you want to work at. It is important for you as a developer to be networking, always networking. And really what that means is sharing your information with people, letting people know who you are and what you do, the things you are interested in. Peter, I would encourage you to do things like hold events on campus, hold events where people can come and practice those skills. For example, a hackathon of some sort. And so now we can get into talking about different tactics for hiring and for advertising these job positions without going through the normal channels of recruitment. And we've already mentioned that first one, hold events where you can observe the talent. You said that you specialize in highly specialized community driven software. You can hold an event that utilizes the software you create, assuming that there's some kind of publicly accessible API to the student base or to the surrounding community. You can hold an event that provides some kind of incentive for people to come and build hack together projects over the course of a weekend and observe those outcomes. Another potential inroad to make relationships with developers directly rather than through recruitment is to get involved in open source. The developers, the team that is already on hand have them become involved with open source to some extent. This is going to create bridges between you and other developers, especially if you create something that is open source for other people to use. Then you can start looking at people who become involved in those open source projects. Those people are kind of providing value to your company already. They're providing value to your institution already. So if you see people who are interested in the kinds of stuff that you are already building, then you can make that connection right there. You can make that connection through the open source community rather than through a normal recruiting channel. Peter, I also want to challenge you to look at your job requirements rather than looking at them as a snapshot in time. Instead of looking at them as these are the minimum requirements that we need on day one, I want you to look at them more like goals. These are goals that you have for this person in this position. Ask yourself this question, how much are you willing to pay for those goals to be accomplished? In a potential recruitment scenario, you may be paying the recruiter thousands of dollars if they actually find a good candidate. Are you willing to pay those thousands of dollars to train an underqualified candidate? What this does is it creates, rather than making your job requirements a snapshot in time. In other words, whoever applies must have all of these things already lined up. You can create a larger pool of people by shifting that timeline. So if you start looking for interns, for example, people who are interested in front-end development, but they don't yet understand accessibility. Or people who are interested in user experience, but they haven't really had a chance to practice enough to build an impressive portfolio. If you look at those candidates as possible options, if you look at them and see their potential to grow, you see their potential for investment and future growth, then what was previously a limited pool of people, a limited pool of candidates, you're widening that pool massively. You're widening that pool by multiple factors because you're creating more vertical time slots. You're creating a larger continuum of possible candidacy. This is one reason why I highly recommend intern programs to begin with. An internship is a lower risk investment for you as the company or for you as the institution. It's a lower risk investment because typically it's going to be structured with a firm commitment and a predetermined termination point. It's going to end at the end of the summer, for example. This allows you to hire interns and they understand that because their value is relatively diminished because they don't have a lot of experience, they aren't going to be providing a lot of value to the company or to the institution yet. Their compensation package is reflective of that lack of experience. What it provides for you as the institution is the potential for growing those people into those positions. This is where real, deep culture starts to become more and more valuable. When you create a culture of learning, when you create a culture of mentorship in your company, you say you already have a great team. A great team can bring up the right candidates. A good culture quite literally cultivates people into positions. I want you to think about this problem rather than thinking about people who are already qualified, rather than thinking about candidates who are connected to recruiters as if they are kind of the golden standard. I can tell you from the outside of the institutional world that recruiters are not necessarily going to solve your problems. The things that you don't have access to are not necessarily going to be the answer to your problems. I think this is kind of a modified version of the grass is always greener on the other side because you have limited access to recruitment or you are limited in some way by institutional policies in the way that you describe the job position, for example. It's easy to think that removing those barriers or removing those boundaries is going to somehow inherently solve some of these problems. There are multiple solutions to the same problems. I'm very glad to hear that you've kind of reached out in person to these communities in Slack and IRC channels because that is one of many steps that you can take to get closer to these candidates and find the right one because the perspective really does have to shift away from finding the candidate who checks all the boxes to finding the candidate who is going to work the hardest to check all those boxes. The right candidate may be the person who is around the corner from being the right candidate. And your job is to walk around that corner, find them and meet them where they are and help them discover, help them discover their talents, help them discover their opportunities. Sometimes there are developers out there who are not even sure that they want to pursue this as their career. There's tons of developers who aren't even putting out their resumes because they're uncertain. They're afraid. They don't know that they want to be a part of this. They don't think that they're good enough to be a part of this career. And I think you have an amazing opportunity to create, especially at an institution like where you're at, Peter, I think you have a huge opportunity to create a culture of learning and create a culture of constant investment and cultivation. So my answer kind of summed up to you, Peter, is to start thinking about the hiring process not as a process of finding the right product. If you think about people as products that are unchanging, then your options are incredibly limited and it's going to be pretty expensive to find that particular candidate, especially in your scenario. Instead, I want you to think about people as processes. I want you to think about people as constantly growing and evolving. Think about especially younger candidates. I want you to think about them in the perspective that they have of their future being kind of wide open and uncertain. If you become the guide, if you start solving the problems of the candidates, if you create alternative ways of finding these candidates, if you do things like these hackathons, if you provide a community atmosphere around the software that you're developing, whether that's through open source, or maybe you create an on-campus meetup, discovering talent is a process of creating relationships. That's really what this comes down to. Discovering talent is the time-shifted version of discovering potential. That's kind of the walkaway point here, is I want you to look for potential in people and then make it your mission to help people realize that potential. For almost any given position that I've ever encountered in this job, regardless of how intense that position is, regardless of the expectations, there are many, many options for the right person. Very few positions in this industry, including most front-end positions, they are not reserved for some elite group of people. Even though we like to think that that's the case, most of the time, someone who is driven, someone who is excited, someone who is committed, who aligns with your vision, those are the things that are kind of the bedrock for cultivation. And Peter, even though that's not your real name, I hope that this kind of gives you a direction and inspires you to continue making these connections with the people that you are closest to, continue leaning on your team to make these connections, these personal connections with developers. Thank you so much for your question. I hope that some of this information is new and that it's empowering and inspiring more than it is, just more of the same for you. And I would love to have you follow back up with me. Thank you again for reaching out. If anyone else is listening to today's episode of Developertee and you're facing something like this or you're facing another problem that you'd like for me to talk through with you, then please reach out to me at Developertee at gmail.com. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developertee. One piece of homework for everyone who's listening and it has two parts. Part one, if you have already subscribed in whatever podcasting app you are using, then go and share this episode with someone else who is in this hiring dilemma, this kind of hiring dilemma, or with a person who is looking to be hired, this should be an encouraging thing for anyone who's listening to this episode. And then part two is if you're not subscribed, go and subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.