Amy Miller, Senior Tech Recruiter at Google, says that recruiting for big tech companies isn’t as easy as everyone thinks it is. Amy has decades of experience in tech recruitment and says that even the biggest tech companies have to bring military-grade hiring approaches to the war for tech talent. It’s not just admin work: In her experience, a successful hire comes down to being hyper-intentional about your hiring process, not hiring by yourself, and pushing back against conventional hiring wisdom.
Amy has recruited for Microsoft and Google, and says few people realise that hiring is just as challenging for big tech companies. Over the years – and after a number of milestone hires and hard lessons – Amy has learned how to give each and every candidate the same quality of experience. ‘Unicorn’ hires are just as rare for big tech companies as they are for most other people:
“One of the biggest myths that I’m constantly facing – and this has been for the last several years with both very large companies I’ve worked for – is: “Oh, you work for so and so. Everybody wants to work there, your job must be so easy.” I think this is just adorable because my job is really hard in the sense that everyone thinks they know what it’s like to be here.”
Google, for example, gets thousands of in-bound job applications all the time, but this doesn’t make hiring any easier. Amy says big tech companies face the same kinds of hiring challenges that other companies do as well, regardless of brand or size. These include things like:
- Having a clear hiring strategy in place
- Ensuring that your hiring is a partnership, and not a solo mission
- Understanding that your candidate pool is also your customer pool
- Not always following conventional hiring wisdom, so that you don’t risk losing a rare ‘unicorn’ due to an inflexible, outdated process
- Taking off your ‘hiring hat’ and engaging with candidates as human beings
Amy shares what these challenges look like in real life, and unpacks how she’s handled them.
Having a clear hiring strategy in place
In Amy’s experience, having a robust hiring strategy that has been informed by the roles you’re hiring for, and what the business is trying to achieve, helps make a good hire that lasts. Without this, hiring managers can easily end up losing direction, feeling overwhelmed and making ‘desperation hires’.
That’s why Amy became really good at understanding her company’s hiring strategies: She has organisational development meetings, and actually sits down with her managers, HR departments, VPs, and tech leads to make sure she understands what their plans and goals are for the next six months.
“It starts way before the rec is opened. It starts with really understanding the business objectives, its priorities, and the talent it’s going to take to meet those objectives.”
To do this well, she says: “I ask things like: What’s coming up? What’s the rough plan for the next quarter? I want to have an idea that, cool, this is what we think it’s going to look like. You can then develop your hiring strategy around that.”
Ensuring that your hiring is a partnership
In Amy’s experience, hiring takes a village – it isn’t something that you can do alone. In fact, she believes that taking it on all by yourself, especially in big tech companies, is a bad idea.
Two pivotal moments shaped how Amy thinks about hiring:
- The first was while she was hiring delivery drivers, when a young woman came in and fit the criteria perfectly on paper. Despite Amy’s optimism with her first hire, it went sour when the person she hired was let go for inappropriate behaviour with customers.
- The second moment was once she had been promoted, and had to hire her replacement. Amy thought it’d be easier because it was in-house, but – despite another perfect-on-paper hire – her replacement got fired for their involvement in illicit drug activity.
“I learned that there’s a lot of unspoken stuff going on. I had to start really paying attention to that, and learning.”
Even now, as an experienced recruiter, Amy relies on her partners ‘on the ground’ – the managers and the team leads – to check her on the tech details she doesn’t know, and to check that unintended bias isn’t preventing her from considering non-traditional candidates and non-traditional backgrounds.
Hiring, therefore, isn’t something she thinks someone should own by themselves. Otherwise, you risk falling into a situation similar to Amy’s above.
“We can’t do it alone,” she explains. “I need my hiring managers to be involved, to review resumés with me, and for all of us to really check each other. It’s not me checking them, it’s not them checking me. It’s us having a discussion, figuring out the questions that we should be asking, who we should be bringing in for an interview, and why.”
You can start doing this by looking at how you interview someone:
While a one-on-one interview is the most comfortable for a candidate, what Amy is used to is getting four or five different people involved in the process to get a number of opinions. Multiple perspectives help inform where there might be bias, and where someone maybe still needs to probe a little deeper, or is maybe probing too deep.
Running five full individual interviews would take up too much time. Instead, Amy says it might be useful to get different people to weigh-in on the expertise they know best. That way, interviews are shorter, and she still gets different voices before making a hire.
Understanding that your candidate pool is also your customer pool
One of the most challenging perspectives Amy has seen every big tech company face, is recognising that the people they’re hiring are the same people using their product.
“They’re using your hardware, they’re using your software, they’re developing on your platform – it’s kind of scary. How do you make people feel good about their interest in your company, especially if they’re not moving forward through the recruiting process?” This is important to know, because the people you don’t hire are the people you still want to retain as loyal, engaged customers.
For Amy, it’s as simple as changing how you think about approaching the situation: If you understand the importance of treating candidates like you would treat a customer, then you are already making your hiring process more personal, and thereby more successful.”
“If I have come looking for you, and I have entered your world with my recruiting nonsense, I owe it to you to give you a really good experience, because I’m the one that interrupted your life. It just comes down to really making it as personal as possible.”
One of the ways that Amy does this is to be completely transparent with candidates about their hiring process. At every stage, she’s clear on what the next steps are going to be, what the process looks like, and, to the best of her abilities, she tries to give candidates an idea of realistic timelines. Even if that means saying it’ll take a month before they’ll hear anything from you, she’s found that candidates are likely to appreciate the honesty and openness, and not leave the process feeling cold towards your organisation.
Not always following conventional hiring wisdom
Amy acknowledges that certain things in hiring go without saying: If you’re hiring for a development position, for example, you need to be able to write code. Other things, however – like the languages someone has experience in – shouldn’t be taken at face-value.
Just because conventional scorecards say someone must be able to do X, Amy always looks further than what it says on paper, and asks what that might actually mean in the bigger picture:
“If I need a C# developer, should I be taking a second look at that Java developer? Yes, I should. If you can learn one, you can learn the other, and I think recruiters have a responsibility as the front line to push back on that, and ask those questions.”
Rather than overturning her entire ‘conventional’ hiring process, she simply makes sure that she’s always asking questions: “It’s about being really inquisitive, and being willing to test some of the conventional wisdom.”
Practically, her advice starts with how you read a CV:
Amy makes sure that she always looks deeper than what’s written, and gets to know a candidate above and beyond what it says on their resumé. This means asking things like: “What could their experience doing X have exposed them to?” or “What languages could they learn because they are fluent in Y?”
In her experience, someone’s abilities on paper are seldom an accurate reflection of their potential to be a so-called ‘unicorn hire’:
“Wouldn’t you rather have someone who’s been doing something for five years, but also has 17 side projects and six apps on the app store? Doesn’t that tell us more about adaptability and ability to learn, than what schools they went to?”
If you don’t ask these questions, and make exceptions to the rule, you risk eliminating people who might actually be the right fit.
Taking off your ‘hiring hat’
At the end of the day, Amy treats her candidates like she would like to be treated. As simple as it sounds, she holds their success at finding a job over-and-above her being able to make a hire.
“I care more about them doing what’s right for them, and less about me getting a tick mark on the chalkboard.”
“I take my ‘Google’ hat off,” she explains, “and talk to you as a friend, not a recruiter. Let’s talk about your competing offers, let’s talk about the career opportunities in front of you. I have the expertise, and I want to share that with my candidates so that I can set them up to win every time.”
This is as simple as understanding what motivates each person she talks to, and what they really want in their career – and (spoiler alert) it’s probably not pool tables and free lunches! This means asking them things like:
- Tell me about your career to date. What have you done so far (in the last few years, if a VERY senior person) and what you want to do next?
- What are your top two or three priorities when considering a new role? Maybe you’re most interested in compensation, work/life balance, the type of work/projects you’d be doing, having a title, learning opportunities?
- If I could hand you a magic wand and you could create your DREAM job, what would that look like?
- When you’re thinking about a job change, what factors will influence your decision? Are you knee-deep in a project you have to finish, or up against any other deadlines/competing offers e.t.c. that might impact the timing of your decision?
- What is ONE THING that is missing in your current role? How important is that in your next position?
- Now that you know a little more about the company or this role, what is it that really grabs your attention? What gets you excited about taking the next step?
- The interview process is a two way street – you’re interviewing us as much as we’re interviewing you! What will you need to learn in order to know this is the right role/career move for you?
Amy says that it’s important to understand your candidate’s hiring experience – what it looks like for someone to get from point A to point B in your hiring process – and talk to them as a human being, not as a recruiter. That’s how you’ll understand who they are, and better know whether the position you have is the right one not only for you, but also for them.