Automating the interview process: does it help or hurt?

It’s almost 2019 and technology is everywhere. Whether you want to get a taxi to go to an appointment, feeling hungry and want food delivered, or share your thoughts with others, chances are, there is an app in your phone for that. Even your dry cleaner pulls up your profile on his computer, once you walk in to drop off some shirts. So, it makes perfect sense that when hiring technical people, automating that process is the way to go. Or so it seems.

Some larger entities, like Dell, Citi, and many other similar firms, outsource technical work to other companies, oftentimes located well outside of the US. When you call one of those companies, putting trust in their American branding of their US-invented goods or services, even if they are manufactured elsewhere, you generally end up speaking to a representative from India, Philippines or even Canada. The amount of money saved by those companies on outsourcing their customer service or technical support is well worth it for them to have an even frequently dissatisfied customer. Even some of their core products are made elsewhere, be it the manufacturing factories of China or development shops of India. From cars to Roku players, as well as a multitude of other goods, are made by people who don’t speak a lick of English or understand the American ways. Does the quality of those products suffer? The odds are, nobody would even know, as most American-marketed goods have been made abroad from their inception, or for so long, that it no longer matters.

How about the actual make up of the US companies? Lower skilled employees are generally based abroad, as paying a true living wage in the US is becoming more and more difficult. Higher skilled staff will always be located locally, nonetheless. Whether we’re talking about US laws, and the necessity to have US attorneys litigate US cases; or certain standards, and doctors are required to be located in our country, even if offering advise via a virtual method; some jobs will likely never be outsourced. Same goes for many other professions, where people need to be located on premises of a US firm.

With current unemployment rate of 3.7%, or even the last recession’s worst rate of 9.7%, the higher-skilled technical resources, like software developers, always experience an even lower unemployment rate. Finding an expert ‘diamond in the rough’ or even a fairly junior, but talented programmer, is not a simple task. Here are some of the most common obstacles.

Technology people don’t think the same as many others.

In the world of technology things just make sense. While development no longer relies exclusively on ‘0’s and ‘1’s, there are still rules, which govern the field of computer science. Technology is based in math and science, and far less, if at all, in personal nuances. Being a computer programmer might mean a guaranteed job, more than some other professions. That certainly attracted many people, who lack the true technology passion, to the field. Over time those people tend to move away into less technical and more functional fields, be it a business analyst, a project manager, or some sort of a people management role. Nonetheless, true ‘techies’ always stay close to the code, where things make sense, and a great deal of pride is associated with completed products.

Technology people feel isolated from others.

Do you remember the separate table in your high school cafeteria, where all the math and science kids hung out? The sports teams and cheerleader types avoided them at all costs, as often did the student newspaper staff, as social skills mattered more back then. Well, without developing the social skills, many of those math and science kids went on to become programmers in their adult lives, often occupying a high-level position and earning quite a bit, yet still ‘sitting at a separate table’, figuratively-speaking.

Technology people determine our lives nowadays, more than most professions.

Programmers often still don’t watch FOX Sports, but instead determine how today’s high school kids watch games – on their tablets, phones and computers, making companies like Google, Amazon and Apple open new doors for all. Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon have become such a huge part of our lives, that the ‘too big to fail’ concept from the last recession almost doesn’t apply to them, unlike the government rescued firms, like AIG or General Motors. They no longer handle an aspect of our lives, be it reinsurance or a particular brand of cars. They own our lives in its entirety, as we trust them with our information and decisions, even as we get upset that they mishandle some of it. Even a most liberal individual, deeply upset at social media misinformation, which influence today’s politics, still has at least some social media presence, and still gets most of the news online. That power we’ve placed in the hands of technologists not only empowers them, but often creates a sense of grandeur.

Attracting technology people is tricky.

Despite the importance of their roles, developers make between $80,000 and perhaps $200K, unlike many other higher earners, like doctors, attorneys or venture capitalists. While some of the developers go on to become subject matter experts in their line of business or managers, increasing their income, they do it through essentially changing their specialty, not by learning a new technical skill. Money is a factor for all people, but unlike stock brokers and hedge fund executives, tech folks require more, than just income. Technology advances empowered them, but most programmers are your average employees. As all humans they have their own comfort zones, personal preferences, likes and dislikes, and unlike technology itself, crave the personal connection with peers. At times they’ll share a workstation for best results, called pair programming; and at times they’ll sit in own cubicles with computer screens blocking the view of what’s outside of it, but at all times they interact with others, to one extent or another. Comfort zones, often as simple as their workstations, are often even more important to programmers, as they tend to spend more time glued to a computer.

Considering the difference in approach, as well as the significance of the roles, potential technical employees should be hired through the use of highly specialized resources, like therapists, who understand their way of thinking, or at least by other developers, who can truly associate with technology-related challenges and accomplishments. Or so it seems. The truth is about as far from those scenarios as can be imagined. Here are the methods utilized by firms for hiring: human resources professionals, recruiters, online forms and tests. First contact is established by email, not even a call; first screening is done through a test, like HackerRank, or a phone call from anon-technical person, not a meeting with a like-minded individual.

The imperfections are clear. A Human Resources professional is responsible for company policy, promotions trends, benefits, as well as hiring, as well as many other tasks, making it difficult to be truly dedicated to an efficient hiring process. A dedicated recruiter will work on a project management, an administrative or a technical role just the same, resulting in lack of technology understanding and often applying irrelevant criteria to tech hiring. A specific technical recruiter generally can’t even tell the difference between common technologies, although accustomed to the common buzzwords. An online test is an impersonal and time-consuming task, often testing irrelevant skills, with most companies trying to impress potential hires as Google and Amazon, while offering far less interesting challenges day-to-day.

When was the last time a Java developer applied for a job and a recruiter called them to discuss the garbage collection function of the JVM or the outer join syntax? How about the last time a recruiter truly asked why a developer chose to be a developer and understood the answer? Having a GitHub account doesn’t make one a passionate technologist. Lacking an online portfolio doesn’t make one a lousy UX designer either.

Being flagged for plagiarism on HackerRank because the test was long and hard, and oftentimes unnecessary, is no reflection of one’s ability to code either. Most programmers Google solutions nowadays anyway, be it an appropriate algorithm or a simple open source task.

When code won’t compile in a technical exercise, because the person taking the test used a different IDE, than the one checking it, it makes up for another way to get the wrong impression.

When a recruiter blocks a potential hire due to lacking communication skills, that recruiter likely never visited the team they are hiring for, as most present staff members may barely speak English, but exhibit high technical proficiency.

Job hopping is frowned upon, but making wrong hires is very commonplace due to hiring trends inefficiencies, resulting in many people leaving jobs rather soon due to work misrepresentation or similar.

Resumes and LinkedIn profiles often don’t reflect skills accurately either, as there is no common consensus on the way to present experience. While some hiring managers complain when a resume is longer than 2-3 pages, others can’t get a good sense of information portrayed, unless broken down into individual segments.

There are many other challenges with automating the recruiting process as well. Technology got more complicated with time, but the hiring process simplified. Technical staff is treated as tools during the interview process, which results in getting lower productivity from employees, who in return view their employers as tools. It’s a vicious cycle, which is occasionally broken by an experienced staffing specialist, but only temporarily, and often without proper recognition.

In 2017 there was a Women’s March. For one day many firms were missing their female employees. Same year there was a Day without Immigrants. Many businesses were short-staffed without the immigrant employees. Perhaps there may be a day without technologists too, only it’s just as unlikely to make a greater impact than front page news. Perhaps some firms will change their ways for the sake of efficiency, but it will be a steep hill to climb. For now there seems to be more obstacles, than solutions, and even with the dwindling down foreign workers visas nowadays, companies opt for easy solutions, as opposed to changing hiring methodologies.