Tech Talent Hiring: Test or Trust? (Part I)

When it comes to hiring tech people I think you should neither just Test nor Trust. And by trust, I mean trust your gut that the candidate seems to know what he is talking about, just because he’s confident.

Why? Precisely because it’s people we’re talking about. A MUCH more complex system than anything you know. And if you’re already thinking about some kind of AI that will easily find-out when people are hiding something or lying, I say we’re at least a dozen years away from that, but let’s leave it to another post. So what should we do when hiring tech talent, so we don’t end-up hiring the wrong guy? Well… keep reading and maybe you’ll find something to think about here, especially if you are someone who hires tech talent.

I mean… Of course trusting a candidate’s statement or resume just for the sake of it might be a bad strategy if you’re looking into hiring “A Players”. But, if your way of hiring “A Players” is applying a battery of technical skill tests, you might end-up with an “A Player” at passing tests, instead of an “A Player” at software engineering, for example. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing… If you are in the “tech-test passing” industry at least!

Kind reminders to reflect upon

Take a look at this:

  • Every company is a tech company, which accounts for a higher demand for tech professionals. It’s not only the obvious: Telecom, Media, Tech companies. Imagine a logistics company that is developing a software to make their processes more agile. It’s a competitor for tech talent. Substitute logistics for whatever you can imagine and BAM. Every company is, indeed, a tech company;
  • World Population is ageing, according to the United Nations, which represents a problem as more people are retiring, comparing to those who enter the labour market;
  • Preference for tech careers is dropping. In a 2018 study, EY showed a drop of 12% in the preference of teenagers for science, technology, engineering and maths careers.
  • With these in mind, it’s no surprise that by 2020 there will be more 1.4 million tech jobs than applicants who can fill them, in the US alone.

So… if it’s so damn obvious that there’s a huge shortage of tech talent out there (which by the way keeps getting worse), why on earth would anyone make it even harder to hire tech talent? Put this way it seems counter-intuitive right? Well, that’s because maybe it really is!

Am I then stating that I should not test the candidates and go along with anyone that applies? Well, NO! Don’t do that. But if you’re scaring the fish away in an already scarce pond, you will spend a whole lot of time and money ending-up with no fish biting the hook, while sending out trainable applicants to your competition! If this is something you consider smart, stop reading and go home!

Sure, testing can be useful

Of course technical testing is useful to get a fuller appreciation of the skills that an applicant has. During a traditional interview it’s really hard to properly evaluate the extent of knowledge of a specific set of skills of the modern software developer, let alone looking at a resume. Also, a university degree might not represent the set of tools a developer might have learned during his/her career or on his/her own, as found in a survey by Stackoverflow, and a test can possibly measure that.

Yet, I believe that test scores are of little value. Besides what’s stated above, about how the test itself can deter an already scarce asset (tech talent) from continuing your hiring process, the score doesn’t provide a totally accurate image of the applicant’s capacities, meaning that a good candidate can be turned down just because he was anxious on an evaluation situation (for instance), which is not the natural setting where the person would be working if he/she were to be hired.

I also need to state that tech interviews based on theoretical questions from the Data Structures & Algorithms course or heavy inquiring about the shady corners of a specific language will also not find you who you really need. Instead, this strategy will leave you with experts in answering what you asked for and it hardly correlates with performance. Or even worse, the best answers will probably come from guys who prepared specifically for that interview, but don’t perform well in the real world. But hey… don’t take my word for granted.

An overstated view on testing

Let’s look at this from a different angle! Imagine for a moment you’re hiring a cleaning lady (it could be a man, but for the sake of market representativeness, let’s say it’s a lady) and you’re interviewing one applicant today:

Cleaning Lady (CL): Hi! I’m X, thanks for having me today and thank you also for the opportunity!

You: Oh… Nice to meet you X, thank you so much for coming. We’re kind of in a rush today so let’s get started.

You: What’s your experience in house cleaning?

CL: So… I have 15 years experience in house cleaning. I worked for a cleaning company for the first 10 years, as you can see in my resume, where I used to clean 8 to 10 apartments per week, and for the last 5 years I’ve been working freelance for 2 families. One is a 3 floor villa, a family of 6 people, the couple, 3 year old twin boys, a 6 year old girl and a 10 year old little man. It’s 5 bedrooms, 2 gardens, a pool, a gym, a dining room, a living room, 3 dogs, an attic and a basement. I go from monday to thursday and I take care of everything. Cleaning, dog walking, babysitting, laundry and ironing. I also clean the pool and prepare breakfasts, lunch and dinner.
The other is an old lady living in a 2 bedroom apartment with her cat. It’s mostly cleaning and going for a walk on saturday mornings.
I’m becoming available now, cause the big family is moving to another region, so I’m free from monday to thursday starting next month. Also, I can provide you the contact of anyone I’ve worked for for reference check.

You: Wow! That’s impressive! Ok… I really like what you said. Let’s test your knowledge in the cleaning department now: How do you operate the laundry machine model HZ34 from Brand123?

CL: Err… No one has ever asked me that… But ok… I think the old lady’s machine is a Brand123, so I believe it must be more or less the same. And if it isn’t I can always take look at the user’s guide. Or if you haven’t got one, I’ll search online, no worries.

You: You search on-Iine… I see…! By the way, how do you plan to get here? Do you have a driver’s license?

CL: No! I use public transportation. Is there a problem with that?

You: Of course not. What are the specific transports and route you need to take to reach our place?

CL: I have no idea. I came with my husband today and he is driving. What does that have to do with the results you are expecting for the job? You need a job well done right? I mean, cleaning, laundry, and all that stuff… What does that have to do with the transportation or route I take to get here? I’ll search on Google anyway… It’s not that big of a deal…!

You: Ooooohhhhh… The internet again…I see you’re one of those “Ask Google” Cleaning Ladies right? Nothing against… (Ironic look). Next question. What’s the ideal water temperature for a proper mop floor cleaning?

CL: (Head scratching) Errr… I have no idea of the ideal temperature… Is there an IDEAL temperature? I guess that must depend on the type of floor right…? but if I had to give an answer I’d say anywhere between 30ºC and 50ºC (86ºF-122ºF). I mean everybody knows that hot water removes dirt better…

You: Don’t worry there are still many questions for you to shine! What is the specific angle for a proper mop torsion and consequent rinse?

CL: (Looking at you with the most startling face ever). Is this for a comedy show or something? I mean… What does that have to do with the job itself? Shouldn’t you be showing me the place and what you need done each of the days, and maybe I’ll give you my opinion….

You: So you don’t know…! Let’s move on. While using a mop, you’ll need to rinse it. You’ll need to know the amount of force you must apply to rinse it properly. What is the specific amount of torque you need to apply to the mop cable in order to result in the correct rinse?

CL: Listen, I’ve used a mop for probably more than 1000 times last year. I’ve never had a problem with that. I twist it till it’s rinsed, and back on the floor. It’s not rocket science for the sake of God.

You: How do I specifically know that you’ll do it the proper way?

CL: Just pass me a mop and a bucket and I’ll show you!

You: You’ll have that opportunity if you reach the live demo phase, where you’ll clean one of our rooms.

CL: For free?

You: Of course… this is a hiring process not the job itself.

CL: I’ve had enough of this. I’m out of this process. This makes no sense for me and it was an absolute waste of time. Goodbye!

(Door bangs!)

You: What an arrogant person! Thankfully she gave-up. She clearly didn’t know what she was talking about! How come someone with these many years of experience has no notion of such trivial things as how to use a mop. This is proof that one can have 15 years of bad experience!

Did this story sound familiar? Of course this is a bit of an exaggeration for the purpose of the example, but think about it. Couldn’t this be a little representative of the hiring process you have into place?

If you’re asking yourself “How much of a little specifically is this guy asking about?”, than I suspect you’d like to read what I’m about to share on my next post, where I’ll unwrap the specific, proven successful methodologies to get to Tech Talent Done Right!

While I finish writing the second part of this post, how about sharing your ideas about the do’s and don’ts of tech talent hiring, and what has worked for you in the past?