Wednesday, May 10, 2017


There once was a man who had a small garden.  One day a new neighbor moved in.  This neighbor also had a garden, but enjoyed it so much that he produced far more than any one house could consume.  The man tired of the effort simply bought produce from his neighbor for a third what the grocer charged and saved himself labor.  The neighbor didn't initially grow what the man did, but over time he started to plant it.  The relationship wasn't perfect as quite frequently he would mix in some reject produce with what he sold the man, but the price was so good the man just ignored this.

One day years later the neighbor moved away.  The man's source for cheap produce was now gone.  Basic common sense would instruct the man to plant his garden new and while waiting he could buy what he needed from the store at a higher rate, and deal with substitutes when the grocer runs out of his preferred produce.  Instead he sits looking at his empty garden and complains about the lack of white sweet potatoes.  He then hires people in the neighborhood to bring him what he wants.  Some of these people find exactly what he wants while others are so toxic that the local grocers refuse to do business with both them and by extension the man as well.

Why is this on a tech blog?

This is the best analog I have when I read about the tech shortage in the US.  For the better part of two decades local talent was largely ignored or replaced.  American workers have had little reason to develop these skills as the learning curve is quite steep and companies would rather hire a foreign worker and train them anyway.  Now that foreign talent is being threatened these jobs are being offered to locals again, but the bar is being set so high that few have the ability to meet the artificial barrier.  In some cases those of us who kept learning technologies and practicing them are being ignored because we didn't use them for work.  Many of the job offers that float through my mailbox require a decade or more of experience in specific frameworks, and what's infuriating is that talent with similar skills are being turned down because they don't have the exact skill.  A highly skilled jQuery developer being turned down for a position despite the technologies being somewhat similar.  We have people who are capable in this country, but thanks to the job drought that the H-1B visa brought they don't have the resume to prove it.  Those of us with the resume to back up our skills won't touch these jobs because employers are paying wages that are suitable for either entry level workers or for H-1B visa workers.

The other issue is that recruiters are adopting new tactics that are poisoning the well of talent.  The old method would be to email job listings to candidates that meet a basic keyword match with the job.  The recruiter wouldn't need to know much about the required skills, but really should at least spend 10 minutes googling them before taking up a listing.  Finally qualified candidates would reply or not.  Usually due to not meeting the qualifications, not willing to relocate, the position not offering enough compensation, or simply being happy where they are.  The current method eliminates sending out the job listing and instead sends out a very questionable email asking a candidate to call the recruiter at their first convenience.  There are a few problems with this tactic.

  • The candidates who are qualified for the position are usually quite busy.  We can read a job listing from a recruiter in a minute and make a snap judgement.  Playing phone tag with a recruiter can take a few phone calls, and when we finally get you it's a 30 minute or greater conversation.
  • The emails that are sent out asking you to call read the same as spam email.  I have multiple LinkedIn messages I was pulling at in my free time for this article.  One was for a job at GM.  One was for Ford.  The others were selling Amway style MLM memberships.  YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WHEN CANDIDATES CAN'T QUICKLY IDENTIFY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A RECRUITER AND AN AMWAY SALESPERSON.
  • The recruiters who try to gather if a candidate is qualified for a position are not qualified for the job.  This is something that is more easily explained with specific examples.
    • One boisterous recruiter sent me a Linkedin message boasting he could get me hired tomorrow if I would only correct my profile and spell "PLC" correctly.  I'm a PLM Product Architect.
    • A recruiter approached me for a Senior Front End design position that had a list of requirements that clearly meant this position was for a full stack developer.  I asked him what in my profile made him think I was qualified.  Turns out my "server administration" skill was all he had read on my profile and nothing else.  He then started to ask me a series of questions that were a veiled attempt to get me to read him my resume.
    • You've probably heard the joke about the recruiter who turned down a candidate because the job required "Microsoft Office" as a skill and the candidate had "Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access" on his resume.  It's not a joke.  I've personally experienced this.
    • Insist on a decade or more experience for products that have only been on the market for 5 years or less.  This one is always always fun for me as a very quick google of the technology would tell you if your clients requirements are even possible to meet.
    • One recruiter hiring for an automotive position would not provide me with a job sheet or requirements instead insisted on interviewing me for the position.  He asked me if I've ever worked with "the softwares RS-232, CAN, and ethernet".  My response was to hang up.
  • Recruiters stubbornly refuse to give candidates any information that might help us determine if we've been submitted to a particular position before.  
Unfortunately tech recruiting is a mess, and has become more so in the last few months.  Too many quickly blame the lack of response on a lack of talent.  The sad fact is that particular skill sets may be rare, but the underlying technology is common.  You might not be able to find a full stack MEAN developer with 5 years experience, but you can easily find a developer with 5 years of JavaScript.  If not you can find someone who is entry level and has basic JavaScript certification.  You just need to know the basics of the technology to understand what you need, and you and your clients need to be flexible enough to know you will need to start training and growing your local talent again.  Stop looking at specific degrees, and in fact stop insisting on degrees.  You don't need a degree in Computer Science to write C.  One of the best microcontroller developers I've ever known has a degree in journalism.

Oh, and stop asking us to call you before sending out a job sheet.  Send out a job sheet with your phone number and what the range of pay is.  If we're interested we'll call.  The only reason to hide the pay is because you know it's too low.  Stop asking us for what we make now.  That is neither your business or the business of your client.

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