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Hiring good tech people: Where to start?

Bob Brown | Oct. 26, 2015
Innovation Unconference attendees share ideas on solving the tech hiring puzzle.

Though one attendee noted a company that has no job descriptions, something that he said he liked, although others in the crowd were shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. “I do like that because I can’t focus on anything for too long…that’s why I like going to this Unconference,” he said, drawing a laugh.


This all led to a discussion of the best techniques for interviewing job candidates. Some were sour on coding tests, emphasizing that job interviewees need to be treated like humans. Interviewers need to have real conversations with candidates, getting a feel for their “learning velocity,” their ability to pick up new things quickly.

One popular suggestion, by an attendee named Bill, was that if you are going to put recruits through a coding test, having them write code on a whiteboard, that you might want to do the test with them. That would simulate more realistically how a company actually works, and perhaps uncover whether the candidate is good at communicating (not that programmers typically use whiteboards at all for coding).

To further that point, Bill recommended the “beer test” – in conversing with the candidate, can you imagine having to talk to the person for more than 5 minutes over a beer? If not, the fit probably isn’t right for your business. “You’re going to be around this person for 8 to 10 hours a day….It kills any benefit the employee brings from a technology skills standpoint if you can’t stand to work with the person.”

One attendee named Scott, a director of database architecture, admin and business intelligence, said his company has used an American Idol type of audition, where candidates found via LinkedIn and word of mouth are sent problems to solve, and are then invited to present their solutions to a panel of company employees with a say in the hiring. It’s a good way to see if candidates have street smarts, not just book smarts, as the panel grills them.

This attendee also warned against trying to compare prospects to your top employees: “It’s so hard to find the clone of your best people, your rock stars.”

How to find good young rock stars is a challenge for managers who are on the older side. One young woman in the crowd mentioned Twitter being used, with grabby hashtags, to sniff out fresh talent. Another participant mentioned his company’s website's use of a term along the lines of “opportunities maybe” attracted one ambitious 22-year-old who was hired after it became obvious her ambitions were in sync with those of the company.

Other suggestions for drawing talent that were tossed out by attendees:


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