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Is your talent acquisition process working?

While waiting to board a delayed flight from Dallas, TX to Washington, DC, I had an opportunity to speak with a fellow software executive about what works and doesn’t work in his organization.

“I cannot hire great people fast enough”, he said.

“How do you know if you talent acquisition process is working?”, I asked.

“Well – we have internal recruiters who are working very hard to find the right people”, he countered.

“What is your rejection rate after in person interviews?”, I asked.

“Hmmm … it’s quite high but I don’t know the details”, he answered with a touch of disappointment.

The number one problem – by far without an exception – why talent acquisition process is not working is inability to build a funnel of candidates that show potential.

This is especially true in companies that rely on internal recruiters who haven’ spent enough time with hiring managers or – when hiring managers are too busy to provide meaningful feedback to internal recruiters.

Talent acquisition problem – by the numbers:

– 1 principal level engineer role open
– 4 weeks later:  100 candidates in the pipeline;  20 candidates in the “funnel”
– 6 weeks later:  10 phone screens and 5 candidates reaching in-person interview phase
– 10 weeks later:  all 5 candidates fail in-person interviews

Almost 3 months later, the process continues and a critical  position remains open.

What  anyone can do in the same situation to begin solving the talent acquisition problem:

– Develop a practical interview guide for internal recruiters who can ask specific questions and capture answers.  The questions have to be 100% relevant to what a new hire would experience on Day:  problems he / she solved, using the same or applicable technology and tools, and how he / she worked with everyone in the organization.

For example:  if the new hire will be working on critical production support problems, ask about similar efforts in the past.   Don’t just ask about common Java questions.  Ask how the candidate used specific Java relevant technology to solve problems of interest.   Did he / she used a profiler?   What was the problem?  What did the profiler identify?  What was the root cause?  How did you verify that the problem was solved?   Was 6 hour soak test sufficient?  Why?

This will help identify candidates who will advance to in-person interview phase with a much better chance of success.

– Develop a broader interview guide for in-person interviews.  This guide should simulate how someone could engage with the team without being hired.   Make these interviews as long as needed to spend enough time with the candidate while working on a specific problem.  Get a conference room with a whiteboard.  Ask multiple team members to attend and simulate a team meeting where a candidate is expected to contribute to the problem solving process.  Continue to ask probing questions to determine what the candidate knows and doesn’t know.  Determine learning style:  self motivated or something else?  Can he / she learn?
Can he / she advance in the organization and become an asset in the succession plan for key roles?

The success of your talent acquisition process will directly influence your own success as an engineering leader.  Do not “outsource” it to someone else.

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