Recruiters at Expedia, Microsoft, and elsewhere say LinkedIn reigns supreme for employee searches and new technology makes finding the right person easier than ever
Jonathan Kehoe, Expedia’s senior recruiting manager, remembers when recruiters would cold-call potential job candidates.
“Some of us older, crustier recruiters remember a time when picking up the phone was really the only way to connect with potential candidates,” he said. “Recruiters entering the field nowadays have many more options for engaging talent, thanks to the internet.”
Recruiting tech employees has, in theory, gotten a lot easier. Now, companies can get a feel for a person’s entire work history, and review portfolios and skills in one click. And more and more products are popping up to help recruiters and managers synthesize data to assess the hundreds of applicants many of them receive for each posted position. While the digital age of candidate searches seems like a double-edged sword — easily accessible candidate pools means hundreds of applicants to wade through — companies say they prefer it over the days described by Kehoe.
Putting the Word Out
By and large, social media — namely, LinkedIn — are the main avenues for seeking job candidates for many companies, said both Kehoe and Justin Thenutai, Microsoft’s senior director of global talent and acquisition. Each year, both mega-companies screen thousands of candidates globally to support growth demands in the insatiable tech market, and their job postings on LinkedIn get lots of traction, too.
Coding Dojo, a software-developer school with campuses nationwide, including one in Bellevue, is among the schools pumping out graduates to fill those jobs.
Stephany Faires, Coding Dojo’s director of career services, said 77 percent of graduates that go through the career-services program get a tech-related job within 90 days, 89 percent are hired in 120 days, and 94 percent are employed after six months.
Faires teaches students how to create LinkedIn profiles that are enticing, and that reveal a lot more than a paper résumé.
“I think (the digital age) gives more people an opportunity,” she said. “A résumé doesn’t tell you a whole lot, and when you apply for a job with just your résumé, we call it the résumé black hole. You don’t know if it’s going to be seen, and it can’t tell you much about a person. In the digital age, you can go onto LinkedIn and get more of a sense of a person. You can link to their portfolio. You have a lot more information right there at your fingertips.”
And though digital recruiting reigns supreme, that doesn’t mean in-person networking is dead. At Coding Dojo, Expedia, and Microsoft, it’s still a valued part of connecting with potential employees, and a unique way to show off company values.
On International Women’s Day in March, for example, Expedia hosted an event at its Seattle office geared toward female leaders in tech.
“Like many similar events we have hosted, this was an opportunity for us to showcase a lot of the exciting challenges found at Expedia, as well as a chance for folks from the tech community to get to know our employees and each other,” Kehoe said. “Recruiting isn’t all about trying to funnel people into an interview process. A large part of our job is to evangelize elements of Expedia’s culture, like our commitment to diversity, or to exhibit and discuss the cutting-edge technical challenges we are solving every day.”
Faires said in-person networking isn’t just in the interest of the employer. Recruiters and company representatives regularly visit Coding Dojo campuses, and they’re swarmed by students who want to engage with representatives and learn more about the employer.
The Hiring Conundrum
No matter the size of the company, most follow a similar path for finding candidates. Whittling down the candidate pool, or trying to find a place to start, is where most companies diverge.
Kehoe said Expedia uses behavioral-style interview techniques to assess how well candidates fit with the company.
“Often the best predictor of future performance is past performance,” he said. “To that end, we probe for specific examples of prior problem solving, working with team members, working through conflict, et cetera.”
Expedia also partners with Hirevue, which uses visual interviewing, assessment, and coaching to help “augment human decision-making” in the hiring process. Microsoft uses a similar approach, Thenutai said. The companies go beyond looking at technical skills, and instead try to find “common ground” with candidates, instead of ways they can rule them out. Microsoft wants to ensure the new employees are a good cultural fit, too.
But it’s difficult to do that in the first round of eliminations, or even the second. Kehoe said Expedia is looking for candidates who are “agile, self-sufficient, unflappable, and humble.” How do recruiters spot those qualities between the lines of a résumé or LinkedIn page?
Cue Vettd, a Bellevue startup created to solve that exact problem, which is among the many startups nationwide trying to ease the pain of hiring employees from a pool of hundreds of applicants.
Vettd founder Andrew Buhrmann said he wanted to eliminate opinion and get down to objective analysis when screening applicants in the early stages. The program his company developed searches application materials for language that supports what an employer is looking for. It’s nozt searching for key words, but rather that candidates are effectively describing their work experience and whether it relates to what a company is searching for.
For example, if a company is looking for someone who’s a strategic thinker, and a candidate explains that she consults with clients and recommends solutions, that’s a strategic thinker, Buhrmann said. The program then grades applicants on a curve and provides a short list of the best candidates, giving recruiters a place to start.
Buhrmann said he put the system to the test when hiring for his company. After putting an advertisement out for an engineer, he received 85 applications. The applicant they hired was the 50th person to apply.
“It’s really hard to go through all those résumés individually and figure out if they’re saying the right things,” Buhrmann said. “We never would have come across (her), and the way her résumé was structured, she had a lot of her core competencies at the bottom of her résumé. Our system was able to rank her at the top. (She) had articulated projects that she’d done and her direct work experience that was describing a job she had at school. The job wasn’t related to the work she is doing now, but the system discovered something about her.”
The system takes care of a lot of the grunt work, Buhrmann said, and clients have reported back that this has solved some of their hiring headaches.
Meet the Experts
Structuring a Stronger Résumé
Andrew Buhrmann created Vettd to help cut out human biases when reviewing résumés, and replaced it with a program that analyzes the compatibility of a résumé with priorities of the hiring company. Buhrmann laid out some tips that make it easier for a machine or a recruiter to favor your résumé.
- It sounds basic, but articulate your background in the context of the job description. If you can thoroughly explain how your experience relates to the job you’re applying for then it’ll be easier for a machine or recruiter to pick up on the connection.
- Skip fancy designs, Buhrmann said. A computer is going to read a résumé starting at the top. Graphics or photos could throw a computer off.
- Write direct statements that describe actions or accomplishments. If you just list your skills, a human or machine may have trouble bridging the gaps.
Creating a workplace people want to be in is vital to success, according to The Yes Works’ Aaron Schmookler
One thing that has long stood out to Aaron Schmookler is how much people seem to hate their jobs.
“I Hate Mondays” mugs; the I Hate My Boss podcast; and the many experiences he had asking store clerks and baristas how they were doing and hearing, “I’m great, but I’ll be better in an hour and a half when my shift is over,” stood out to him like flashing neon signs.
Schmookler then thought of his young daughter one day entering the workforce and being surrounded by people who hate their jobs.
“That work-hating culture almost became intolerable to me,” Schmookler said, so he co-founded The Yes Works, a Tacoma-based company that offers coaching on workplace culture and works with Eastside clients, including Microsoft and MOD Pizza.
The Yes Works coaches are using what they call “adeptability training,” which are techniques grounded in improvised theater to build communication and collaborative skills among co-workers. Schmookler said clients come to him to improve the way their team works together, enhance customer service and boost sales performance. Positive workplace culture is the foundation that attracts new employees and retains the current ones, he said. Many companies have their values publicly available, but Schmookler helps the people working at those companies live those values on a daily basis.
He explained to 425 Business what it means to have a positive company culture and how companies can take steps toward improving their workplace environment.
Positive workplace culture: It starts and ends with feedback. Schmookler likens it to riding a bike. People learn to ride a bike quickly because the bike is constantly giving them feedback — a wobble here, a fall there, a sense of joy and balance when things are going as they should. “A lot of companies probably see a lot of talk about values, but it should be more than something that’s written on the wall or page on a website,” he said. “The only way for that to happen is to have a culture of feedback. Constant, consistent, supportive feedback — both corrective and congratulatory.” Managers who ask employees how they’re doing, and how they can be supported are helping create positive culture and better-performing employees.
Creating and maintaining culture: A company is reflective of what’s happening at the top, Schmookler said. It’s like a hall of mirrors. So, while company culture has to start with owners and executives, it has to be implemented and visible at every level of the workplace. Decide what the workplace culture should look like, and then define it. Schmookler said lots of companies value integrity, but never define what integrity means to them. He defines it as consistency. “Everything is cut from the same cloth,” he said. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Executives should have the same expectations as individual contributors, and so should the people on the front lines. Companies with great customer service are companies with employee-first culture. Look at companies like United (Airlines), which claim to have good customer service, but really they don’t. Customer service is about caring for people.”
It doesn’t mean you have to be “a family”: Schmookler argues that one of the most commonly thrown-around phrases — “We’re like a family” — isn’t necessary for supportive workplace culture. Employees don’t even have to like each other. He referenced his experiences working in theater, and said he’s never worked in a show where he liked everyone involved, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t bond with them. “There’s something that happens in a human’s brain — and this isn’t scientific; this is just my personal experience — when two humans or more get together with a common goal,” he said. “Tremendous things happen inside that relationship.” There’s a rush of satisfaction when employees work together to accomplish a project. As long as everyone can appreciate each other and focus on the task at hand, it isn’t necessary to go out for beers, or play golf, or hang out on the weekends, he said. When he asks people what they like about their work, the most common answer is “the people.” When digging a little deeper, people talk about working together, not about going out for drinks after work.