Great Technical Candidates Are Out There

by John W. Stout

Remember the line "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men? I'll put it as a question: "Can you handle the truth?" and then explain.

Over and over, we hear about the shortage of technical employees and candidates for new jobs, be they software developers, IT people, or engineers of all kinds.

At Stout, we do lots of surveys. We like to find out what technical folks think. We asked them about "the shortage" and what to do about it. Many of the responses we got back were eye-opening and worth sharing with you. Worth sharing, I say, as long as you can "handle the truth."

While no doubt we need to see more people going into the various information technology and engineering professions, there is also a perception issue about "the shortage" that speaks more to how these talented people are sought out and treated. Namely, the problem isn't that there aren't enough IT people. Instead, it's really that an alarming number of companies are blowing them off or even driving them away. This is not a topic I really expected to write about, but since this is what we're hearing from candidates, you should know about it.

The top five reasons why companies drive away prospective technical employees:

  1. Delaying the process. If your company isn't getting to a decision point with a potentially great candidate within a few days of first receiving a resume, then you are opening the door to losing a valuable person who might otherwise join your team. The biggest reason our candidates hear: "I'm too crushed with my project to interview now." And we understand how that can be. The solution: allocate a fixed part of your schedule each week for resume reviews and interviews and hold to it. Remember every day you delay is another day the candidate has to get another offer.
  2. Failure to return or acknowledge communication with candidates. "Going dark" is never a good solution and leaves the candidate wondering if you are even really hiring. It is the fastest way to losing great talent. If you have to delay, a response similar to the following sends the right message: "Thanks for the resume. This is a busy week for me, so please allow me a little more time to give your resume the attention it deserves. I'll be happy to respond before end of the week."
  3. Advertising a job that doesn't really exist or is quite different than advertised. Candidates seem to be able to sniff out a bogus job that was posted just to "test the waters." Worse, they turn off quickly when presented with different requirements after being brought in for an interview. Moral: if you have a job opening to post be sure it's what you really want.
  4. Looking for an "ultimate" candidate who probably doesn't exist. Wishful thinking job descriptions are not so much an aggravation as a source of amusement among candidates. One engineering job description we were shown could probably only have been filled by Scotty from Star Trek, i.e., a fictional character. A better approach: if you do feel you need a wizard, then it's best to leave some flexibility in your requirements. After all, most technical people are among the brightest people around and can often quickly spin up on technologies that they haven't worked with.
  5. Lowballing an offer. These are bright people in a highly competitive hiring market. Most of them know what they're worth.

Remember that the content of this article comes from the candidates themselves, many of whom are among the best in their professions. They're sending a message to all of us: don't make an apparent shortage of talent by sending it elsewhere.
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