Tech Recruiting, You Have a Problem

By now, many of you have seen this encapsulation of a lot of what’s wrong with tech recruiting. Some are quick to point out that that it is not really the buzzwords that got the calls, but the pedigree. But to be entirely frank, does that matter? You still missed. What’s worse is that resources (time) were spent after not catching this obvious troll because recruiters and hiring managers insist on only interviewing people who work at companies just like their own. Now, many of you have likely seen all the reports about how not having a diverse workplace is losing you money. That’s also wrapped up in this. By only hiring freshers from Stanford and experience from within FAANG, you are intentionally not hiring in a diverse ecosystem. And then when your diversity numbers look like absolute crap, you wonder why. So in come recruiters from all corners of the internet who’s only job seems to be reaching out to all those candidates you refuse to look it. Problem solved, right? Right??

Of course not, and that’s what I want to talk about. A lot of us — hell, maybe all of us — searching for jobs in the tech industry have stories about how recruiters engage job seekers they’ve never met. A personal favorite of mine is the guy who messaged me on LinkedIn, I responded within 5 minutes and he still has yet to respond. Ghosting is very commonplace, and it largely has to do with the way recruiters are evaluated. They’re given absurd quotas that can only be filled by automated mass messaging, will not have the time to follow up on all these people should they respond, and often have no intention of doing so anyway because their evaluation doesn’t include “meaningful client interaction” as standard to be judged by. Yes, I am saying that recruiters are being given a stacked deck. The result is that it’s harming us all.

When recruiters do this, they don’t get anything done. When staffing companies force them to operate this way, they get a bad reputation among candidates. When client companies give recruiters heuristics that they can automate, they miss out on potential that only needs a little investment to be successful (far less investment than what you’re wasting on this asinine process). And of course, the majority of tech workers get completely overlooked because the system recruiting and hiring created optimized itself to ignore as many people as possible. When all is said and done, nobody’s really happy except the white men who created this gauntlet. But even they shouldn’t be because — again — they’re losing money doing it.

At this point you’re probably wondering what should be done about it. Well, dear reader, you may not like this answer. It’s actually one you’ve heard echos of before: quit looking for unicorns from your preferred schools and companies and just hire. You will actually spend less time and money teaching your hires your stack and process than you will waiting for the fabled 4-year full-stack dev with 2 years of Kubernetes experience. “But I want somebody who can do three jobs!” you say. Honestly, that’s too bad. It’s a myth that that this leads to more productivity. You just get one person doing three jobs poorly, and you will pay a price for that when it comes time to fix the mistakes they made. But if we’re just hiring and cutting out the middle-man recruiters, where does that leave them?

Honestly, recruiters should rethink their entire profession. They should actually learn what the org does, what it uses and what they’re looking for. They should then spend all their phone time actually getting to know candidates. This will mean recruiters reach out to fewer people, but that’s just fine because most of us are ignoring you right now. And hiring managers need to get real about what they need. I intentionally didn’t say “want”, because you honestly don’t deserve everything you want. When hiring managers go to recruiters, they should be asking for no more than programming competence (look at the damn github) and general knowledge or exposure to specific technologies. This would likely bring a shock to the staffing industry if done widely enough, because they would likely downsize and many of those former employees could end up working directly for former clients. Overall, I think that’s a good thing. Recruiters need to understand the jobs they’re recruiting for better as well as the candidates themselves.

When I got testy with one recruiter taking their sweet time responding, they expressed “we’re human”. Yes, you are, but so are we, and that frustrated response was a direct result of recruiters not treating me with that same courtesy. Here, “you get what you give” was the truth. This industry still has yet to force itself into a cold shower and admit it has a problem. Hopefully we can do that right now. But right afterward, you will zero excuses for not hiring Black, LatinX and South/Southeast Asian people. It’s this fact that I think scares people the most. Nothing left to hide behind means change actually has to come, and there are many at FAANG who want this system to stay broken.

Grad student researching the intersection of AI and IoT at University of Michigan Flint. Heavy listener of public radio and not a fan of javascript.