- There’s been a shift in who is hiring tech talent and Big Tech no longer has a stronghold on tech talent pipeline.
- Learn how embracing early talent programs, diversity, brand transparency, and skills-based hiring can build your tech talent pool.
- Get tips on how to avoid the purple unicorn problem and build job descriptions that actually reflect your needs.
It seems like everyone from the grocery store to the local paper boy is a "tech company" now. So how do you find, engage, and hire tech talent with the essential skills your company needs to get the job done?
During our recent Handshake Access 2023 event, Paul Fain, Journalist for The Job led Teisha Anthony, NSA’s Chief of Human Resources, Alexander DiLeonardo, Activision Blizzard’s Chief Talent Officer, and Priya Ramanathan, General Assembly’s Vice President, Government & Workforce Partnerships through an eye-opening deep dive into what it takes to hire tech talent.
Below we’ve pulled out 10 actionable ways you can embrace tools, methods, and mindsets to cut through the noise and find candidates who truly are the right fit for the roles that need to be filled.
1. Embrace diversity in all of its forms
Great employees can come from all different types of backgrounds—including people who never had the traditional university experience.
“At General Assembly, we’re tapping into pools of talent who may not have a four-year degree,” Pryia says. “It ultimately gets down to a combination of 1) educating folks on what the tech careers they’re interested in are about and 2) identifying what transferable skills might help them transition into a 12-week bootcamp. That includes professional skills—we’re not only hard coding the technical skills needed for a software engineer role, but we're also applying professional development skills that allow folks to speak to real-life projects they're learning in the classroom.”
The NSA also looks at diversity in every work role and at all levels. “We've had a really big focus on women in STEM over the last year, because we saw lagging numbers of applicants during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Teisha says. “We're really excited about the fact that we’ve had one of our biggest hiring years ever this year. We are over 40% minority and 40% female in our hiring, and roughly 40% of our hiring is STEM.” She also adds that it’s important to remember that there are many different personality types, and not everyone thrives in the same type of workspace. “Soft skills are important, but they’re not always critical—we have brilliant folks who prefer not to interact with people all the time, and they contribute greatly to our different missions.”
Targeting diverse candidates is easy when using a platform like Handshake, and it can help diverse candidates see people like themselves represented across a potential employer’s workforce.
2. Be clear about what “tech” really means for your company
General Assembly is seeing no abatement in the requirements for these types of roles. In fact, 91% of HR professionals interviewed by General Assembly don’t feel secure in being able to find the talent they need for tech roles moving forward. In a world where almost every prominent company needs to invest in tech to keep up, what does it actually mean to hire for tech roles?
For example, at Activision Blizzard, technology, engineering, and development talent continue to be critical to the company’s growth plans. “We've grown this category of talent by about 25% over the last few years, and we have plans to continue doing so,” Alexander DiLeonardo says. “I think given that we play at the intersection of technology and media in the creative space, there are so many nuances within our tech job families that each function can look different depending on what franchise they're embedded within.”
3. Build—and take advantage of—training programs for new tech talent
Entry talent is integral to building a solid tech workforce. As such, early training and development programs are key.
General Assembly specializes in training new tech talent—particularly non-traditional candidates looking to break into these types of roles—and the answer is fairly cut and dry. “We really play in the space of software engineering, data analytics, data science, and UX design,” Priya Ramanathan says. “In taking a look at labor market data, including CompTIA’s most recent tech talent jobs reports, we’ve found that demand is still increasing for these functions despite recent layoffs, and it’s ubiquitous across industries. So, we’re really centering our immersive bootcamp training around that.”
“At the NSA, we have both a foreign intelligence mission and a cybersecurity mission, both of which rely heavily on top talent,” Teisha Anthony adds. “Because some of our unique missions have required us to further develop new talent once we bring them aboard, we actually have 20 entry-level development programs where we hire directly out of college. These include data science, cybersecurity, computer science, math, crypto analysis, and regular business operations. As proof that these programs work, I actually started in one of these development programs 33 years ago.”
4. Consider taking advantage of “recruit, train, and deploy” models
“We're finding that a lot of employers are unable to meet their tech demand and are often unsure about taking on the risk of hiring someone full time, especially while considering retention and long-term hiring needs,” Priya continues. “So, General Assembly is partnering with our sister company LHH to create a ‘recruit, train, and deploy’ functionality.”
This strategy allows employers to articulate what particular skills candidates need in their junior-level roles. General Assembly and LHH then tap into their consumer graduate pool to place graduates in those companies for 12- to 18-month deployments. Companies then get the talent they need, and graduates get the experience they need to land full-time roles.
5. Increase organic awareness of your brand with transparency
“We've always been very interested in early talent, developing folks, and hopefully keeping them through a career,” Teisha says about the NSA. “But for the intelligence community over the past ten years, there's been more public awareness about what we do and the important role we play in national security, particularly when it comes to cyber security.”
This has helped the NSA recruit candidates who have an enhanced sense of purpose, particularly when it comes to protecting their country from bad actors. They’re excited not just about the fact that people are seeking out and resonating with them but also that they can find these people by using platforms like Handshake.
6. Use early training programs to fill university education gaps
Like it or not, a four-year university degree doesn’t always guarantee that new talent will have all the skills necessary to hit the ground running from day one. As such, the early training programs mentioned above can fill in the gaps.
“The one thing that I regularly reflect on is that educational institutions are doing a good job of building skills, but some of the more nascent skills aren’t really there immediately after graduation, particularly in advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. We see fellowship programs stepping in to fill that void. ” Alexander says of Activision Blizzard. “We also think employers now have an obligation to be learning and development institutions to an extent as well. For example, in our early careers program, we take tech talent and expose them to rotations throughout the organization so they have the opportunity to work with different managers and pick up different teaming styles.”
Take this a step further by developing in-house apprenticeships or longer-term onboarding programs. It all depends on how specialized you want to get in employee training, but the consensus is: the more targeted the training, the better.
7. Consider skills-based hiring vs. degree-based hiring
In a world where technology is often moving faster than education, skills-based hiring is on the rise. In fact, the average age of General Assembly’s learners is 30.
“What we’re screening for is persistence, grit, interest, and aptitude to move into our roles, especially when it comes to software engineering and data analytics,” Priya explains. “That means we’re not looking for prerequisites in the tech space—just a desire to learn… It’s all about understanding what skills companies really need. Often, we’re having deeper conversations with hiring managers to see if their roles truly do require a four-year degree or if they only require technical skills.”
Activision Blizzard is also very public about the types of skills people need to land a job in a development or engineering role. They’ve gone as far as to publish detailed information on how these skills can be learned without a 4-year degree, whether it’s via YouTube tutorials, books, bootcamps, or other means.
“And it's not just about skill-based hiring,” Alexander explains. “You actually need to work internally to reinvent the entire talent lifecycle through a skill-based lens. When you're meeting with business and finance partners to do your strategic workforce plan or your annual operating plan, you're actually having conversations about skills, not just roles. It’s no longer about headcount and budget allocation because you’re examining what the future of a software developer at your organization looks like.”
Skills-based hiring can be complemented with assessments per skill level that are objectively tested during the interview process. If companies use skills to define a career path, people won’t be as reliant on their boss leaving or some other adjacent role opening up to be advanced. This can lead to more organic, personalized growth.
8. Look for candidates who have conceptual, contextual, and project-based learning experience
“When we think about learning and development programs—particularly for engineering talent—we think about three different types of learning: conceptual learning, contextual learning, and project-based learning,” Alex says. “The conceptual learning is: ‘I’m learning these skills.’ Contextual learning is: ‘Here’s how I put these skills to use in the business when navigating problems.’ The project-based learning is: “I’m working with people to do the work, solve the problems, present my work, and get feedback on it.’”
According to Alexander, project-based learning offers the most advancement for students and job candidates. If a university program isn’t offering the necessary project-based learning opportunities, students can go out and find them through extracurricular activities, including (but not limited to) internships.
“We see a lot of folks who have pursued self-learning,” Priya adds. “What's great is that they're showing aptitude for self-guided training. They're following videos; they're practicing code using no-cost or low cost-cost resources. This can make for a great transition into a bootcamp or some other type of low-cost training, which in turn provides key project-based training.”
9. List only relevant skills on job descriptions
Activision Blizzard recently ran analytics on its own engineering talent and built a model that asked: “What are the features of engineering hires over the last few years that predict success for the company?” Perhaps not surprisingly, they busted some of their own myths.
“We found requirements on our job descriptions that actually weren't relevant to the performance of engineers in our organization,” Alexander says. “We took them out, because they were constraining the pool both from a quantity perspective and a diversity perspective.”
One skill they used to list was gaming experience, which is indeed helpful when entering their organization. Yet because the gaming industry is small, that single requirement cut their candidate pool by 100-fold. By opening up the aperture at the top of the funnel, the company gained a competitive advantage by accessing engineers that its peers weren’t necessarily able to tap into.
“By offering ‘Level Up U,’ we were able to do skill-based hiring for engineers who know how to build software and had a computer science background but lacked the gaming experience,” Alexander says. “We then provided the gaming experience through a 12-week bootcamp. When we did it this way, we did not intentionally target women, but we ended up hiring 45% women. Given that only 22% of the US engineering labor market talent is female, it became a huge differential just by rethinking the way we were solving the problem.”
And it’s important to remember: the #1 value proposition for tech talent is not compensation; it's opportunities for career advancement and development. When companies invest in development, they also have a built-in retention mechanism.
10. Embrace a scaffolding learning approach to avoid the purple unicorn problem
“I think many of us are combating the purple unicorn problem, trying to find unrealistically perfect candidates,” Priya says. “Given this, I think a scaffolding learning approach is more likely to attract diverse talent, including those who are unsure about making the commitment to a junior tech role. With a scaffolding approach, people can come into jobs with skills they're learning from training and then apply them to the workplace, and employers can then help shape them further and build their own custom talent in-house.”
Companies may also benefit from being forthcoming about how they develop and support their employees—particularly in a time when development is a top value proposition for candidates.
How Handshake can help you target and attract tech talent
Handshake is here to help companies broaden their reach and adjust to the changing landscape of talent acquisition. And in tech, it’s all about recruiting for skills, offering development opportunities, and finding candidates who can get the job done.
To watch the full recording of our conversation with David and Chris—or to explore more content from Access 2023—check out the event page.
Visit more Access recaps:
How to navigate the changing talent landscape with Hilton CHRO, Laura Fuentes, President of Paul Quinn College, Dr. Michael Sorrell, and Handshake CEO, Garret Lord
‘Think again’ about early talent with Adam Grant with New York Times bestselling author, organizational psychologist, and speaker, Adam Grant, and Handshake Chief Education Strategy Officer, Christine Y. Cruzvergara
Expanding opportunity by reimagining the labels that limit us with Procter & Gamble Chief Equality & Inclusion Officer, Shelley McNamara, and UNCF President & CEO, Dr. Michael Lomax
Creating a future where we can Thrive with Thrive CEO, Arianna Huffington, and Handshake Chief Legal Officer, Valerie Capers Workman
7 tips to maximize ROI on your early talent strategy with TD SYNNEX CFO of Americas, David Jordan and TD SYNNEX VP Global Talent Acquisition, Chris DeLisa
Closing skills and opportunity gaps for underrepresented talent groups with Macy CDO, Shawn Outler, Google Head of Economic Opportunity Americas, Hector Mujica, Chancellor of SUNY, Dr. John King, and New York Times CHRO, Jacqueline Welch