HR recruitment is a $200 billion industry. But if you think that’s a lot of money, you should see what bad hires cost. Nashville-area research provider Work Institute says 34 percent of employees quit within their first year, costing US businesses $536 billion a year. In tech, turnover is even higher. Coders may consistently tell recruiters they’re not looking for another job, but the statistics say they’re prone to jump ship. According to job search company Paysa, the average employee at Microsoft, Amazon, or Apple makes it less than two years.
If the goal of recruitment is to find talented employees who’ll stay, something is obviously broken. But what? For the answer, we asked software engineers for the top five ways employers are failing at recruiting — and how they can improve their process.
1. You don’t know what you’re looking for
Software engineer Jessica Mauerhan says, “My resume is filled with PHP, MySQL, etc. [But] I routinely get jobs sent to me for .NET or C++.” Mauerhan has 15 years of experience, but not in those languages. Just as you’d never ask a Spanish translator to apply for a job that requires Chinese, recruiters shouldn’t approach candidates with jobs for coding languages that they don’t know either. When headhunters do, Mauerhan says it’s a “sign they didn't even look at my resume — or they know nothing about the tech they're recruiting for.” And if you don’t know what you’re doing, engineers like her won’t want to work for you.
Fortunately, this break has an easy fix: Tell recruiters which language a job requires, then make sure they only seek engineers who actually know it.
2. You’re searching for the wrong keywords
Speaking of language, your automated candidate sourcing tool may be keeping you from connecting with great candidates. Used by recruiters to sort through resumes, these tools look for exact keyword matches. If you want someone who “routinely meets goals,” for example, the software pulls out applicants who use this exact phrase, rejecting those who don’t.
The tech is a time saver, but negatively impacts results. Legacy platforms don’t process synonyms — which people do, after all, use. Consider upgrading to newer natural language processing systems that can search multiple key phrases and that self-train as language usage evolves.
3. You’re blind to diverse candidates
Tech is slightly male and overwhelming white: That’s what the statistics say. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports 63.5 to 68.5 percent of the industry’s employees are white while 52 to 64 percent are male. While many HR departments blame the pipeline, claiming diverse applicants simply aren’t there to hire, people of color (POC) and female coders say companies simply don’t look.
PHP developer Luis Ferro has been on the recruiting side himself, helping his employer, DataTherapy, with recent hires. He says there should be at least one female candidate for every 10 men. But quotas aren’t what others are looking for. Andre Blackman, founder and CEO of Onboard Health, says he just wants “representation as a whole.” That’s why his business is “building [a] platform to connect diverse talent (women, POC) into roles at companies” in the health tech sector.
Related video: CIO Career Coach: 6 tips for working with recruiters
For women-only, there’s also InHerSight, a Glassdoor-like website where female employees rate their work environment and enter their resume details. Founder and CEO Ursula Mead says companies like Ericsson and HubSpot use the platform to search profiles of the hundreds of participants who’ve left over 55,000 reviews on the site.
4. Your job descriptions drive away candidates before they apply
Diverse recruitment doesn’t stop with where you search for candidates. Your actual job description may need to change.
Stereotypically, women won’t apply unless they have every required skill listed for a position; men tend to apply if they only have a few. Changing the title of this list from “skills required” to “recommended skills include” may be a good start. But Kieran Snyder, CEO and cofounder of Textio, says truly gender-neutral listings go much further, examining syntax, formatting, and semantic categorization — which she describes as “chunks of content together, like do you have an equal opportunity statement or not.”
Even the number of bullet points in a job description makes a big difference. If more than half of a posting is bulleted, Snyder says, “women stop applying for the job. ... But if you go below a quarter, men stop applying.” One-third bulleted content, she continues, is the “sweet spot in the middle that works for everybody.”
5. You’re too dependent on outside recruiting — and aren’t doing any of your own
From searching for applicants to interviewing candidates to checking references, recruiting the right employees can be arduous. It’s tempting to outsource the whole process. But be careful. The wrong third-party headhunter could burn your reputation with the coders you’re paying them to find.
Programmer Tyrone Mitchell says, “[Recruiters] don't worry about your happiness, just churning.” In other words, outside firms are focused on filling positions quickly so they can move on to the next client. They don’t work for your company, so they’re not able to accurately represent whether you care about employees or not.
To overcompensate, applied mathematician Cynthia B. says many recruiters become overly-friendly (Cynthia asked her last name be withheld as she’s currently job seeking). Front-end developer Adrian Payne agrees, calling this communication style “hilariously hollow.”
“I just find the ‘I’m your buddy’ dynamic patronizing,” Cynthia explains, saying engineers know outside recruiters are “the person I am required to talk to who is only nice to me while I am being considered.” And when you’re no longer considered, these outside recruiters stop being nice. “The ghosting that happens is unacceptable,” she continues, “Recruiters are great if you get the job, but in that case they have to be. Be good to the people you reject.”
Those you don’t hire today may be the candidates you desperately need tomorrow. If you work with outside recruiters, make sure they consider how their actions affect your candidate pool long-term. Consider bringing recruitment in-house so the recruiter’s tone and communication style will more accurately reflect your company culture. This should improve retention too, as new hires will have better aligned work environment expectations before they take the job.