Recruitment can be a major hurdle for companies - and they’re often their own worst enemy. As an organisational health consultant with years of hiring experience, I’ve seen the impact that a new mindset around hiring can have. In this article, I will debunk some myths around hiring, and provide a practical checklist to not only improve your hiring process, but also enable you to shift gear from just “recruiting” to building a high-performing team that creates awesome software.
Where we are, and where to from here?
Hiring tech talent in South Africa is challenging because there are more vacancies than there are job seekers. Most developers are considered passive candidates, meaning they aren’t actively looking for jobs. This requires more effort from companies when approaching talent. The risk of that, however, is a lengthy and uninspiring hiring process that often leads to talented developers being snatched up by rivals.
But many companies insist on doing recruitment the way it has always been done: They either feel they are too busy to do otherwise, or they think hiring is “just something one has to do.”
When I became a hiring manager, I thought that there had to be a better way. I found companies’ approach to hiring impersonal and uninspiring, and remembered all the bland, exhausting experiences from when I was a candidate going through the hiring experience.
I made it my mission to challenge the way it had always been done by putting the humanity back into hiring.
I’ve matured my hiring philosophy through trial-and-error, a regular feedback cycle, and copious amounts of reading on the topic over the years. I used what I learned at my last permanent job, and the results speak for themselves: We doubled our team from 20 to 40 high-calibre developers, in only 12 months, in a town outside of a metro, while competing with some of the biggest tech companies in South Africa.
But, in order for companies to attract and retain the best talent, a fundamental mind shift is required. Let’s start by debunking a few myths about hiring in the South African context.
MYTH #1: “DEVELOPERS ARE DESPERATE FOR WORK.”
Besides the fact that the demand for developers greatly outstrips the supply, today’s generation doesn’t just want a job; they want to make an impact. Their work must have meaning, and the type of people they work with should empower them to achieve the company’s mission. Companies need to explain not just what they do, but why they do it. An organisation is much more than just their consumer brand.
When a company understands their “why,” and communicates this clearly at every opportunity during the hiring process, it will build a highly engaged pipeline. If candidates believe your reason for being, they will make it a priority to do your technical assessment and answer your emails or calls. When I meet a candidate for the first time, I introduce myself and the company in the way that describes the thinking behind our purpose and mission, not just what our business and tech stack are.
Key takeaway - The core theme around all communications with a candidate should be “This is why we do what we do, and if you believe the same then you should join us.”
Here are some things to add your recruitment process checklist:
- Do I, and everyone involved in hiring, understand my company’s “why”/purpose/mission?
- Do I, and everyone involved in hiring, communicate my company’s “why”/purpose/mission to the candidate whenever the opportunity arises?
MYTH #2: “IF I WOO MY CANDIDATE DURING THE IN-PERSON INTERVIEW, I’VE HOOKED THEM.”
The recruitment process is the first interaction that potential new hires will have with your company; how you treat them gives an impression of how your company views its employees. The opportunity to showcase your company culture plays into every communication you have with the candidate, be it emails, phone calls, or in-person engagements - and not just the interview.
The wooing starts right at the beginning, with the job specification: Explain your “why”, say something authentic about what it is like to work for you, then describe the necessary skills and what they will do with most of their time. Also ask yourself how you go about scheduling the interview: How formal are your emails? Are your calls relaxed and personalised? Keep the candidate engaged throughout the interview process, especially in-between interviews: A quick check-in on how the job hunting is going, and whether they need anything, will help build trust.
Most important is how you close the loop: Regardless of whether or not you extend an offer, the candidate deserves more than just being told over email that their application was unsuccessful This will likely leave the candidate regretting the time they invested. In such an advanced stage of the process, the candidate deserves a phone call from the hiring manager. Even if the rejection comes earlier in the process, a very personalised and sincere email for every application received should be sent (and yes, this can be automated in a humane way).
Also, be aware of impromptu opportunities to give the candidate a glimpse into your company culture. A developer I hired a few years back often mentions that his interactions with us outside of the interview is what made him accept the offer in the end. He had some extra time after the interview, so I took it upon myself to chat to him, and invited him for drinks with some of the team. I even suggested some wine farms he could try while in the area. At that stage, he was living alone, so it was important for him to know that he would get along and make new friends.
Key takeaway - Each and every touch point should be relaxed, warm and personal. If you can show them that you respect their time, and that they have your full attention, they will walk away feeling more positive about the interaction as a whole.
- Am I wooing candidates in every phase of the hiring process by showcasing our company culture?
- Are all my communications to the candidate before, during and after the interview timely, clear, and personalised?
MYTH #3: “I WON’T MAKE A HIRING MISTAKE IF THE PERSON CAN DO THE JOB.”
It’s easy to hire someone who can do the job, but hiring someone who you will love working with you is a different story. An interview process should answer three primary questions to know if that person is a good fit:
- Can they do the job?
- Will they love the job?
- Will we love working with them?
Not hiring for a complete fit can be costly. If you’re interested, you can calculate the cost of staff turnover for yourself.
Answering the first question is relatively straightforward, if your process is setup logically: CV review and “fit chat”, followed by a technical assessment. The second and third questions are a bit harder, and is why you really need to get to know the person. You should start with this in the “fit chat”: Ask them what got them into software development, and why they are considering leaving their current employer. Also, don’t accept the “I am looking for a growth opportunity” answer; dig deeper, because each person has a different understanding of job fulfillment.
I once had a “fit chat” with someone who had other interviews lined-up. During the chat, I got the impression he was “just going through the motions.” I responded by asking how he envisioned his “dream job.” His responses initially seemed predictable, like nothing anyone else wouldn’t want from a job (to be challenged, to make a difference, etc.), but I kept asking what he wanted to get out of his job.
I eventually realised that his previous job left him feeling like he wasn’t an integral part of a team. Having understood that, I mentioned how much our company values inclusivity and teamwork, and encouraged him to explore those things in future interviews. In that instant, his demeanour changed: Suddenly, he became far more interested in our company, and eventually asked for a technical assessment that he could do that evening. Not long after, he accepted our job offer.
Key takeaway - You may have to reject candidates that are technically strong, but could create friction in the team. When you prioritise team harmony and fit above individual brilliance, you will harness and multiply your team’s productivity.
- Do I know what drives the candidate’s career ambition before I decide to pursue them?
- Am I clearly communicating our beliefs and values during interviews and making sure they align with the candidate’s?
MYTH #4: “THE CANDIDATE SHOULDN’T TALK TO THE HIRING MANAGER AND TEAM OUTSIDE OF INTERVIEWS.”
Adding someone to a team affects productivity, software quality, retention, revenue and culture. Thus, the process should enable the candidate to meet the entire team, and not only HR and the hiring manager. The more touch points and communication candidates have with the hiring manager and the teams, the quicker they will get to know each other, and the more confident you will be about extending an offer.
Where possible, talk to a candidate directly rather than playing “telephone” via one or even two people. When dealing with a candidate that comes through a recruitment agency, the agency should have the opportunity to talk to the hiring manager, understand their needs, and meet the candidate if the manager agrees. HR and recruiters can facilitate a process and help with logistics, but ideally the hiring manager should be involved as early as possible.
Intermittent communication with the candidate during the hiring process - especially during the technical assessments, and before the face-to-face interview - is incredibly valuable. It can be as simple and informal as answering questions on the assessment via WhatsApp. This became apparent to me once I really got to know how an individual approached problems, and what their likes and dislikes were, because I could build rapport with them. The familiarity and connection enabled a more genuine relationship with that individual.
Key takeaway - You want people to want to work for you, even if they don’t receive an offer - and how you let them down makes all the difference. Regular communications with the entire team is a terrific opportunity to build relationships with potential candidates, and they increase the chances of candidates accepting an offer.
- Have I coached my hiring manager and team to communicate with candidates outside of interviews, without creating an expectation of being hired?
- Is communication with candidates delayed because information has to go through other people, rather than the hiring manager talking directly with the candidate?
MYTH #5: “IF I DON’T MAKE THE FIRST OFFER, THE CANDIDATE WON’T CONSIDER US.”
Candidates would rather stay at their current job and wait for the right opportunity, than make a move and still be unhappy. Rushing through a hiring process won’t make an employer look more attractive; it’ll only make them look desperate. You can avoid falling into this trap by revisiting your hiring process and streamlining certain parts.
But knowing which part of the recruitment process to streamline, automate, outsource or do yourself will depend on what type of information you are trying to get. For example, filtering candidates by technical ability is easier to do by giving them an online tech assessment.
However, when it comes to interviewing, it’s important not to rush from one interview to the next: The purpose is not for people to see if they can be best friends immediately, but to get a sense of working in the company. Spend time showing candidates around, give them time to meet their potential new team mates - and other people in the company too - and make sure you take the time to collate everyone’s input!
I remember when I was looking for a lead iOS developer and we were really struggling to find someone with the skill-level and passions that we needed. When I finally connected with a candidate who was a terrific fit, I learned that he already received an offer and were pressing for an answer. We decided to have a “fit chat” anyway, and hit it off so well that he prioritised us, and rocked his technical assessment. He came in to meet the team and they gelled instantly. We made an offer a few days later, which he accepted.
Key takeaway - Competition is fierce, and it’s tempting to make an offer to a candidate quickly while taking shortcuts in the vetting process. This could lead to hiring someone who can do the job, but is not a good team fit, or even someone who just isn’t a good fit at all. Streamline sensibly, and spend quality time where it matters.
- Am I making time in the recruitment process to spend quality time with the candidate, by streamlining where it makes sense to?
- Did I gather feedback from all the relevant parties before making a final decision?
You’re recruiting even when you aren’t recruiting
South Africa has a relatively small tech community, and word travels fast! When a company treats their staff and candidates well, talent will naturally follow. If you spend the time to tailor it to authentically reflect your company’s employee experience, then even the candidates who you don’t make an offer to will become champions of your employer brand. You want them to walk away thinking: “Wow, this would be an awesome company to work for, I hope to get another opportunity one day!”
Culture is to recruiting, as product is to marketing.
If you have questions on company culture, or are rethinking your hiring strategy and don’t know where to start, feel free to connect with me by following the links in my bio below.
For now, here’s a checklist you can use to make sure that every time you recruit, you’re doing so with “the bigger picture” in mind. Click the image below to see it, and then print it, share it, and keep it at your desk!
Philip Botha founded Culture Advantage to help companies be so desirable that they not only attract, but also retain the best talent. He has 12 years of experience in the software development industry, both locally and abroad, and most recently helped a successful startup to compete internationally by doubling their engineering team in a year.