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The war for talent: what to ask in the final battle before making an offer

March 17, 2013 1 comment

The commonly described Dot Com Bubble finally burst in late 1990’s.

One of the unintended consequences of this inevitable milestone was the beginning of a talent shortage.    I was fairly certain that in 10 years the talent shortage would be apparent.   I was wrong.   The talent shortage is now more severe than ever.

How did the talent shortage become so severe?

– The recession which followed caused many great software engineers to leave the industry or become underemployed long enough to be considered no longer top talent

– Many companies aggressively shifted software engineering activities to lower cost countries, leading to (and this is the real reason why we find ourselves in this position …)

– Amazing problems solvers with a passion to build something new and exciting decided to bypass software engineering and elected to pursue other professions.   Why become a software engineer if my favorite company where I’d like to work is in the news shifting great jobs (out of sheer necessity to survive, however …) to another country?

Those who remained in software engineering and continued to advance their craft became the smaller community of talent that is subject to many discussions at the present time, or “the war for talent”.

Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin could not have described the war for talent in his recent blog entry, titled “Searching for Beasts in Silicon Valley’s War for Talent”.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, once said (and it became one of my favorite quotes), “You earn your reputation by trying to do hard things well”.

Returning to Glenn Kelman, when evaluating a new hire the question Glenn wants answered is, “When did he / she do something hard?”.

Before making an offer to a great candidate, learning how he / she succeeded while attempting to do something very difficult will be perhaps the best indicator if the offer should be extended.

Some of my best hires emerged from a conversation during an interview where I described a problem impossible to solve in 2 hours and nevertheless asked the candidate to begin thinking about the solution together with me.    These hires all exhibited the basic traits of a great hire:  tough, resourceful, and relentless problem solvers.

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