Recruitment Challenges in the IT Industry
Grzegorz Papaj, 9 December 2019
In the previous articles, we wrote about how the process of recruiting developers’ works and what are the most common problems faced by companies in this process. It’s time to look at the sources of such difficulties.
Let’s start with a reminder of what problems companies employing developers most often experience:
- Expected CVs don’t flow
- Only inexperienced candidates are applying.
- Candidates with documented experience don’t have skills at appropriate level
- Candidates easily go through the recruitment process and later represent low level.
In the next part of the article, we will discuss at least some of the reasons that lead to such situations.
The recruiter is not a programmer
The main problem described in the article “How do the recruitment process work?” is the division of duties between the IT and HR departments. The IT department shifts the problem of sourcing the right people onto recruiters who of course have experience in recruitment but often the cannot accurately verify a candidate, especially when it comes to hiring a specialist with technical competencies.
Of course, no one expects HR to conduct the final interview alone. Usually, the IT department enters at this stage. The thing is that already during the initial CV selection, the technical shortcomings have consequences. An HR employee cannot always correctly assess which skills from the candidate requirements list are the most important. Such a person may also not understand the specialist terminology. For example, there have been situations when a candidate’s CV was rejected at an early stage because the recruiter had in the requirements “knowledge of Linux” and the candidate was a Unix expert. Although Linux is not Unix, every specialist knows that in the vast majority of situations these terms are synonymous. This kind of unawareness can result in rejecting valuable candidates.
Experience doesn’t mean skills
A major problem of any recruitment process, especially at the early stages of selection, is focusing on the candidate’s skills which can be easily verified and not those which are the most important. A great example mentioned in the previous article is treating of years of experience as an equivalent to skills.
Perhaps this comes from thinking “We have members in dev team with three years of experience who cannot handle the problem. We should look for a senior with five years of experience”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Is a candidate with ten years of experience in Java better than with one year of experience? Yes, that is often the case. Maybe even in the vast majority of cases. But is it always true? No. Treating job seniority as an estimator of skills is convenient and leads to rejecting less experienced candidates at an early stage.
Of course, as long as we have an excess of candidates, the job seniority parameter is fine. But when the number of entries isn’t impressive, perhaps it is worth checking if there are any gems among candidates who don’t fulfill the formal requirements.
Job titles are misleading
Since we are talking about job seniority, it is worth looking at the terminology for just a second (junior, mid-level, and senior developer when it comes to developers). It is quite a substantial matter that each employee’s official job title is one of the negotiating elements. There are often such situations when an employee agrees to a lower raise in return for a title promotion. And although it does not change anything in the current workplace, the employee knows that a "higher" title may be important for the next employer. Therefore, the job titles occupied by candidates from previous employers should be looked at with some caution.
How does education matter?
Since we are already on the topic of industry myths, it is worth saying something about education. There are plenty of legends about IT employees. It is often heard that studies are not necessary. Usually, such claims are supported by a list of names of millionaires from Silicon Valley who did not graduate. Similar arguments are also mentioned by the organizers of various programming courses, who claim that with them you can become a developer in 3 months. And this happens because the course focuses on practical skills, without any theory.
On the other hand, there are few departments or IT universities which are known as prestigious and their graduates are prized employees on the labor market. So what’s the deal with education? Is it a requirement or something unnecessary?
Well, there is no simple answer. The IT industry has a long tradition of all kinds of self-taught people who have achieved a lot in this field. However, bear in mind that many of them also had a good education in another field (such as mathematics, physics, engineering majors). In the past, programming used to have a slightly different dimension because it was mainly a subject for scientists. And it was much harder than it is now.
Graduating from a prestigious university doesn’t guarantee high skills, and many talented developers never finish their studies (or even begin them). However, we do not believe that a three-month course will make someone an expert. Statistically speaking, an average coder from a prestigious university will be much better than the average coder with only an online course education. But there are exceptions in both cases.
What does this mean for recruitment? Well, it means that the final verification should be preceded by a competence test.
Testing skills is difficult
Admittedly, many companies are aware of at least some part of the problems described above. That’s why they conduct many practice tests in all recruitment procedures. They usually work on a principle similar to Codility. The developer logs into the system and solves several practical tasks online which are then verified by a testing program. Usually, a company using this kind of tool can choose between several programming languages and also provide its own tasks. The candidate has a limited amount of time to solve them, which is supposed to reduce the risk that they will rely on the help of others or that they will look for the solution on the Internet.
Unfortunately, the practice shows that when it comes to popular testing platforms (and also to popular tasks), solutions can be quickly found on the Internet. What is more, some companies use ready-made sets of tasks, so there is an increased chance that the candidates will be faced with a test they already know from another recruitment process.
Another argument of the opponents of this type of solution is the fact that they test fairly basic and simple programming or algorithmic skills, not to mention the skills to navigate in complex code, use libraries, or knowledge of more complex concepts. Nevertheless, they are quite good initial filters. At the same time, keep in mind that the practical tasks are just some approximation of real skills because a candidate who constantly is looking for a job can soon become a test expert.
Finally, we want to address a somewhat mythologized issue.
It is worth noting that IT is an industry that is different from others. It often includes people with diminished social skills. Sometimes they also have autism spectrum disorders. Of course, we must emphasize that this issue is surrounded by many myths and, contrary to popular opinion, people with Asperger's syndrome are a definite minority also among developers. The fact is, however, that not without a reason many developers describe themselves as geeks or nerds. Some of them are not entirely able (or even consciously do not want) to live and behave like the rest of society.
This kind of candidate may have considerable difficulties in passing the recruitment procedure. The first problem may already be the CV, which may have a non-standard structure, be graphically unattractive, or give information hardly understandable for laymen. But even if they pass the initial selection, they often perform poorly at job interviews. They do not present themselves well in terms of soft skills, and even during the technical part of the interview, they can make an unfavorable impression by directly commenting on the incompetence of the interviewer.
It is worth remembering about such “gems” because if despite all obstacles they pass the recruitment process and the company will create a friendly environment for them, they have a chance to prove themselves not only as great developers but also as devoted employees.
So, what is the key to recruit well?
Of course, this question has no simple answer. Nevertheless, we will soon publish another article explaining how we deal with the recruitment of valuable developers.