There is a pervasive thought among technical candidates these days that the recruiters who are contacting them for opportunities haven't got a clue as to what they are doing. And, by and large, they are absolutely correct. After all, we're recruiters, and we're in a profession that has little to no barrier to entry.
While it's been proven that with the right amount of (correct) training, strong recruiters can be built in the model of nurture over nature, it doesn't happen by osmosis. So what can we do in order to help prepare ourselves better to speak with technical candidates? Because doing so will not only help us recruit better and build a stronger rapport with candidates, but will indirectly have a positive impact on your company's recruiting brand.
Fake 'IT' Till You Make It
For those who aren't technical by nature (and let's be real, very few technical recruiters are former engineers), it's helpful to sit back and let the candidate do the talking. There's a bit of a simple formula to help you get a sense of how strong the candidate's skill set is without having to go overly-technical. When you ask them about the work they performed, look for the following to help you assess their depth:
- Can they explain what the project was that they were working on and what the application or system does?
- What work did they perform as a member of the team? How did they contribute?
- What technologies did they use - and why? For example, when a candidate says they used AngularJS in a project, I like to ask why they chose that library, versus Knockout or jQuery. The answer can be very telling of their understanding of the benefits.
- Do they know how it helped the business? What was the added benefit of the work they did? What did their work improve or enhance?
Taking these answers back to the hiring manager can help with selling the candidate, and getting a feel for how in depth their knowledge is, as well as their passion. You’ll begin to become more familiar with the technology over time, but not overnight.
Do Your Homework
Research the technology that you are working with to be able to speak more intelligently about it. Again, I'm not saying that you need to hit General Assembly and become a dev in 3 months, but knowing what version of .NET or Hadoop is in the market right now gives you a distinct advantage over your competition. Truth is, candidates actually like working with competent recruiters.
Researching technical interview question sites can also help you do a better job of screening candidates. There are a number of sites out there that can help with this, including GeekInterview and others. A simple Google search for "(Technical Skill) Interview Questions and Answers" should yield good options.
There are some perils here though, so do this carefully in and in a calculated way. Don't just read off of the sites and spew out droning questions. Get comfortable with the questions and practice asking the question so you don't sound robotic. Also tailor your questions based on the experience level of your candidate. You shouldn't be asking candidates with 20 years of experience about simplistic things like "Tell me what Polymorphism is". You'll turn them off immediately.
When in doubt, ASK them what something is. "Hey, you know you mentioned XYZ before. I'm not terribly familiar with that. Can you break that down for me a little?" As I mentioned above, you'll be able to tell a good deal about them by hearing how they answer you.
Talk to Your Developers
Identify who the best developers at your organization. Schedule some time with them to pick their brain a little bit. Heck, even bribe them with their favorite post-work imbibement to coax them into 30 minutes with you. And during this time, get to know the information you need:
- How do they spend their day?
- What languages or technology are they using? Why and what advantage does it provide to the organization?
- How would they identify if someone has the skill set needed for this role? What kind of technical questions would they ask? Just be sure to get the answers.
You don't need to be an architect to hire one. It's just that simple. But, you can be better prepared to have the confidence in selling your candidates internally, or two your clients, because you have hard data and facts to support you. You'll gain the respect of your hiring managers, and maybe even your dev team. Who knows, maybe you'll even see an uptick in referrals from them. At the very least, you'll make technical recruiting a little less intimidating each day.
Pete Radloff (@PJRadloff) is a Lead Consultant with exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps organizations build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research, and recruiting strategy offerings.