People ask me quite often how I evaluate talent. And yes, I do evaluate talent. Gone are the days of recruiters that double as HR generalists and conduct “phone screens” that consist solely of questions like “are you able to commute to our office location?” and “what is your salary expectation?” My job (in the early stages of the interview process) is to assess the candidate I’m speaking with to ensure that interviews equate to time well spent for a hiring manager.
In the past, I’ve worked as a Recruiter at a technology staffing firm and I’ve also held a role as a Technical Recruiter for a large, public traded technology company. I’m currently a Technical Recruiter at Turbonomic, a mid-size pre-IPO software company that is still experiencing hyper-growth more than 7 years into its existence! We’re in the middle of completely re-designing and rebuilding our entire platform from scratch using a micro service architecture. I work closely with our engineering teams to help attract and evaluate the best talent to our engineering org.
Below you’ll find what I look for and how I do it. Most of the information applies to the broader market, so I hope you find it valuable regardless of which companies you’re talking to!'
Let’s start with the requirements. Now I want to make it clear that these aren’t necessarily hard-and-fast, inflexible requirements. But of course, there must be SOME requirements from a skill set/experience perspective and we tend to find that people who are successful in our environment have these things.
Our platform is built for hybrid cloud environments, so domain experience is also a huge bonus for any candidate interested in Turbonomic. People who have built products related to public cloud platforms, serverless computing, software-defined networking, or virtualization typically have a leg-up on the competition.
In a Turbonomic interview, you will get questioned on computer science fundamentals (OOD, data structures, algorithms, etc.) so the appropriate academic background (though not required) helps a great deal. In my experience, the people that do well in difficult engineering interviews typically have a background in Computer Science/Engineering, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Music or a similar field.
While technical skills are extremely important, so are what I refer to as the intangibles – the soft skills that can add tremendous value to an engineering team, particularly in a smaller company like Turbonomic. The first of these intangibles that I probe for is communication style. Is the candidate able to explain, in a clear and meaningful way, what they’re working on? Can they take a technical concept and describe it in a way that both technical and non-technical people can understand? Turbonomic is a highly collaborative environment. You won’t operate in a silo here. You’ll work closely with other engineering teams and the business. So, this is something I place a lot of value on.
The other intangible that I put a huge amount of stock in is a candidate’s level of interest in Turbonomic. I don’t gauge this by asking them. This is measurable by how a candidate acts throughout the interview. Are they engaged? Are they asking good questions? Did they come to our first call with an understanding of Turbonomic and what we’re doing? The single most common mistake I see people make is taking a phone call with a company without having done any research on that company or having questions prepared. At the end of the day, a candidate’s interests are just as important as their skills…. and my experience has been that if people don’t have the proper motivation to join a company, it really doesn’t matter how well the job fits.
As a Tech Recruiter, the number one expectation my stakeholders have of me is that I’m giving them an accurate depiction of each candidate’s experience and technical skill set. But I don’t have a CS background (and I’ve only ever come across one or two Recruiters who do) so I rely on other indicators to lead me towards whether someone is a potential fit.
I don’t care if someone’s been coding in Java for ten months or ten years. I don’t care if a resume has all the hot buzzwords that seem to be so highly coveted. My experience has been that the best Developers are solving an interesting engineering challenge and they fully understand the problem they’re solving, their role and how they’re adding value.
To that end, I want candidates to tell me a story about what they’ve been building. Is it large-scale, complex, or greenfield? Are they able to describe in detail their role in the project? Do they demonstrate a clear understanding of the technologies they were using? Do they also understand the value that this software delivered to their company? Were they building something from scratch or maintaining a pre-existing application?
The bar for talent on our engineering team is very high – and years of experience is not an effective measure of someone’s skill level. Give me the candidate who has only been working with Angular for 2 months but has clearly demonstrated that he can pick it up quickly over the guy who’s been using Angular since the day it came out but can’t explain how it’s different from React or any other framework.
My recommendation to candidates is this: come prepared! Come prepared to talk about your work in detail. Any tech recruiter worth his/her salt wants to hear about what you’ve been doing. The tech stack you’ve worked with doesn’t tell us the whole story. If it’s on your resume, be prepared to speak to it! Come to the conversation educated on your prospective employer, your recent work and how it might be relevant to theirs. And keep in mind that the Recruiter you’re speaking to is making an evaluation based on everything you’re offering up to them, not just your answers to their questions.
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