Tech jobs: Recruitment is broken and it's adding to developer burnout

The hiring process is broken. It's time to fix it.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
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Image: courtneyk/Getty Images

In today's candidate-driven jobs market, recruiters are under more pressure than ever to identify talent that can help companies overcome shortfalls in digital skills and remain competitive.

And with software developers increasingly fielding multiple job offers at once, employers are starting to realize that they no longer hold all the power – and are having to work much harder to woo the tech staff they desperately need.

Many employers are focusing on reviewing perks, benefits and salaries in their efforts to gain an edge. But comparatively few are examining whether the reason they are struggling to get the talent they need is due to shortcomings in their own hiring processes.

"Interviewing is this thing that is an absolutely critical piece of the hiring process, but it tends to get overlooked and it's treated as a side job," says Jeff Spector, co-founder and president of interviewing platform Karat.

"It's kind of an ad hoc responsibility, which means that it's hugely time consuming, it's not candidate friendly, it's biased against certain populations, and it doesn't really get better."

Making good hiring decisions in tech not only needs a well-understood set of job requirements, but an interview process that involves people from within the company who understand the role and can, therefore, help identify the best candidates.

According to a 2021 report by developer hiring marketplace Terminal, 56% of software engineers feel less enthusiastic about a job role after going through a poorly managed interview. Likewise, 49% of developers say they are more likely to pass on a job after being interviewed by someone who doesn't seem to understand the job, or the underlying technology requirements.

SEE: 41 impressive questions to ask in a job interview

This is potentially devastating for smaller companies that lack the resources to involve technical staff in the hiring process, or those that attempt to use a one-size-fits-all approach to their hiring process that fails to account for the unique set of skills and requirements needed for technical roles.

"HR has a hard time assessing for technical skills," Spector tells ZDNet. "If you have an HR person or a recruiter who really deeply understands technology, they're probably in the wrong job – they should be in engineering."

In organizations with no formal HR/recruitment team assisting in hiring, CIOs may consider staffing a recruiter in IT or enlisting help from an IT staffing firm to fulfil some of the responsibilities, says research from tech analyst Gartner.

Hiring managers often call on other members of staff – usually those who perform a similar function or are housed within the same department – to assist in the interview process.

This approach allows hiring managers to conduct a more in-depth assessment of a candidates' technical competence and ensure the prospective candidate is a strong cultural fit for the team, and for the wider company.

But interviewers need to have the right interpersonal skills, too. "You don't want to just throw someone in an interview that is going to have a bad impression [and] doesn't care about candidate experience," says Spector.

"Soft skills really matter – empathy, time management, all that stuff has a huge impact on the candidate experience and, actually, your ability to close the candidate."

Karat's solution to this problem is its team of "interview engineers" – experienced developers who are also trained to conduct technical interviews on behalf of other companies.

This means that hiring companies don't have to pull their own developers into the recruitment process, which both risks stretching their tech staff too far and overlooking qualified candidates.

SEE: Your ultimate guide to preparing for a tech job interview

Spector notes that software teams are already under immense pressure to deliver more in less time as businesses put digital innovation at the top of their strategies. Repeatedly pulling your best tech minds into the interview process will only serve to stretch them thinner – which is dangerous at a time when burnout amongst tech staff is running high.

"You end up in this situation where your best engineers are overwhelmed with demand," Spector adds.

"Then what ends up happening is they're either pulled away from their day job and they can't produce products, or they're spending all their time interviewing and they're miserable about it."

Poorly structured interview processes can also lead to bad hires. According to research by Gartner, the average replacement cost for a candidate amounts to one to three times the annual salary of a job, including the extra time and resources spent on recruitment and onboarding.

One way employers can avoid this is by focussing on assessing candidates on their competencies – particularly ones that "are hard to train, yet important for job and organizational fit".

Spector agrees: "You really want to start with, what are the competencies that matter, and then create the interview formats and questions that speak to that. We don't usually advise testing for specific pieces of knowledge, because we want to test for more fundamental knowledge. Those tend to be things you can learn, like specific new technologies and languages."

He adds: "You want to make it as closely related to the job as possible. That comes back down to the questions you're asking and what formats you're interviewing people on."

Likewise, competency-based training – and questions that allow for flexibility in their responses – can also serve to help companies hire more diversely than those that rely on 'gotcha'-type questions.

This is where the contentious issue of resume-based hiring comes into the equation, which can insert bias into the hiring process by making recruiters focus too much on a candidate's background, rather than the skills they can bring to the table.

SEE: When it comes to tackling diversity in tech, employers have set themselves up to fail

"The reason why people use [resumes] is because, in a world where there's not enough time, there are not enough recruiters, you are looking for shortcuts," says Spector.

This makes it very difficult to source and really process people through the system that might come from a non-traditional background, Spector adds. Not only is this not as effective, it's also not as fair. 

"If you're overly myopic in what you're testing for, you're going to miss out on a huge number of different candidates."

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