The New Normal

I recently pimped this gem out on my social media outlets and it struck a nerve, so I decided it was a good start point for a much-overdue blog post.

“Irony at its best. Approximately 99.9% of my clients ask me to “…only find me “A” players. Like someone out of Google”. 3 of said clients passed on a shot at a recent candidate of mine. And guess who just hired him?”

I really wish I had fabricated that post. But no such luck. It’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the incredibly irritating truth.

People – we are in a very high demand, very low supply market, especially for tech, especially in LA. It’s been this way going on 5 years now. This is the new normal. It’s time to accept it and adapt to it, assuming your objective is to actually hire people and grow your company. Part of that means rejiggering the way you approach hiring. You need to pull your head out of the sand, and stop thinking you have something so special that candidates will be lucky you give them the time of day. You have to start coming from “Why Not?” instead of “Why?” I’m not suggesting that you abolish your standards, but rather that you re-align your expectations with reality. Here are some ways to do it:

  • You need to date a person before you can break up with them: Many of my clients are so focused on risk-mitigation that they invariably rule out some killer candidates. It’s totally fine and expected that technical/coding tests will be part of the interview drill. But it’s counter-productive to have candidates do this as a first step. 50% of our candidates won’t do it. It’s not that they don’t love tech, or that they are fearful that they won’t create the most beautiful code on earth. They are simply too busy to invest that kind of time in your company before you have even invested 10 minutes on the phone getting them excited about what you are up to.
  • Candidates are like snowflakes: Each is unique, with different motivations, explanations and characteristics. It’s easy to create rules to disqualify potential candidates, but remember – market is high demand, low supply – you need to think of reasons to include them, not exclude them. For example, I have (many) clients that will flatly refuse to speak to people who got a degree at an online university (yes, accredited ones). But I have spoken to candidates who are smarter than their private-school brethren (IMHO), who had no choice but to attend online university while concurrently working FULL TIME because that is the only way they could afford it. That demonstrates two adjectives that bode well for a great hire – motivated and extremely hard working. Educational snobbery is, well, just that.  And it’s counter-productive. So stop it.
  • Grow your own: Create an internship program and keep some of the amazing CS talent in LA – Harvey Mudd, UCLA, USC, CalTech – get them and train them and keep them.
  • Lazypants: Yes, if a person graduated from MIT, chances are they are good. Yes, if Google hired a person, chances are they are good. But that does not mean the jillions of other people that did not go to MIT or work at Google are not equally good. If you are a hiring manager, part of your job is to know how to hire. Not to rely on universities and other companies to vet for you.
  • You’re not that great: Expecting a person to forgo other job offers, compensation or any semblance of a life is unrealistic these days. That whole “we want people who are SO passionate about us, they will tattoo our logo on their butts” thing is SO last century. You may be great, but you are not that great. Everyone has a foosball table and free snacks. You still need to assume that candidates will want to a) be paid; b) get benefits; c) see the light of day sometimes.
  • A necessary evil?: If you are opt to use an outside agency, please spare us unless you are serious.  If you think we are bloodsucking, money grubbing sloths, you are doing us no favor by asking us to help you with one of the most critical challenges of our time – hiring. We will work our tuchuses off for you, and remember, we do this on a contingency basis – we don’t even get paid for majority of the hours we put in.  So, in return, give us what we need to do our jobs in this insane market. Earlier this year, I had a potential client reach out to me, and during negotiations was asked to reduce our contingency fee because all other agencies they were working with were at that reduced fee. And I would want to take this client on why? Yay, another client looking for a needle in a haystack skill set who wants to pay us less, while allowing us the opportunity to compete against countless other agencies searching for the same needle. Try these ideas instead:
    • Information:
      • Let us talk to the hiring manager. It works better. Trust me. If they are not willing to speak to us, it’s not worth our time. 5 minutes on the phone with a hiring manager will save said hiring manager hours of wasted time speaking to people that are off target.
      • Tell us how you sell the company, what’s coming down the pike for growth, what the product details are. Address any red flags or bad press with us, so we know how to circumvent concerns. Tell us a realistic process, so we can set expectations and promote your brand accurately.
      • Provide feedback on resumes and interviews so we can course-correct. “Pass” does not work.
    • Trust: work with agencies that you trust, and then listen to them. If they tell you that your salary target is under market, it’s under market. I recently had a client get irked with me when the third Big Data Engineer they made an offer to declined. Do you have any idea what a miracle it is that we could find THREE of these people (impossible skill set) good enough for them to want to hire? One got offered 70k more than my client offered. Do you think maybe that was the problem and not the agency?
    • Speedy Gonzalez style: move quickly. Period.
    • Don’t BS us: Ya know how you want agencies to not BS you? Well, back at ya.  If a position is not approved yet, tell us so we can act accordingly. If you are only able to offer 120k for a role, don’t tell us you are open to market, and then have us waste time finding people there is not a chance you can afford, etc.
    • Exclusivity: The more we have, the harder we will work on your positions. Anyone who tells you otherwise is fibbing.

Here is to happy and more productive hiring. GO LA!

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