For every job opening, there are up to 250 applications with only around five invited to interview. Yet, employers are experiencing a shortage of talent, with 72% saying they struggle to find skilled candidates for their open positions. With the average cost per hire of £3,000, employers should be getting suitably skilled applicants.
What is going wrong? Is there simply a lack of skilled applicants or is something wrong with the recruitment process itself?
Currently, recruitment agencies are more incentivised by speed than quality. If they can fill a position quickly, they can collect their fee and move on. However, this often leads to agencies putting short lead times on job adverts and only forwarding on relevant applications within the first batch, potentially missing out on far better candidates.
Using job boards to recruit talent comes with its own problems, with 23% of employers saying they get too many unqualified junk applications through job boards. Perhaps all these junk applications are the reason recruiters only spend an average of six seconds to scan a CV ‒ hardly enough time to properly assess the candidate’s skills and suitability.
To help improve the process, many job boards and recruitment agencies use automated keyword filtering to quickly narrow down relevant CVs. Those who use a lot of industry keywords have around a 30% better chance of being hired. Yet, this process is almost definitely filtering out some highly-suitable, yet keyword sparse, CVs.
Challenges in tech recruitment
In the world of tech recruitment, things get even more difficult. Projects often require a particular blend of skills and experience that is hard to assess via a CV. Qualified programmers also tend to be much better at writing code than writing a CV ‒ they often struggle to really sell themselves.
As a result, those who can write a good CV using all the right keywords tend to get invited to interview while everyone else is consigned to the bin. But, are CVs really a good measure of technical skills? In my experience…no.
People can essentially write whatever they want on their CV knowing that recruiters are unlikely to complete thorough checks. Many organisations only check references once they are ready to offer the position and any other checks are usually very high level.
As such, experience or achievements may not be entirely accurate and CVs become sales tools favouring applicants competent at selling themselves, rather than those producing accurate and comparable summaries of skills.
Additionally, CVs are often judged based on interpretation and multiple biases, such as the quality of their written English. If you are hiring a copywriter, written English is important. If you are hiring for a technical role, it’s far less important.
Many great programmers come from abroad or, for remote working organisations, perhaps even still reside there. As such, their written English can be poor, shutting them out of roles for which they are highly-suited.
Even when the CV is written well and lists suitable skills and experience, it’s still very hard to assess the actual skill level of applicants. CVs show where the candidate worked, for how long, and on what projects, but not whether the applicant had a lot of support or whether they’ve since allowed their technical skills to go rusty. It’s all drawn out by inference rather than verifiable data.
Current solutions to tech recruitment challenges
Aware of some of these issues, tech recruiters sometimes add technical interviews or even technical challenges for applicants to complete. These technical assessments help to pin down applicants’ actual skill levels in the specific tech stack they will be working with, giving a much more accurate picture of the applicants’ suitability.
Technical interviews are relatively resource-light to conduct, yet they still require a technologist to design and deliver the interview, taking time away from the project delivery.
Technical challenges are a more accurate test of skills but are also more expensive and time-consuming. It’s often down to the tech lead to design and develop the challenge, sometimes requiring expensive specialist tools or technology, and takes resources away from the project delivery team.
And while these technical additions to the recruitment process help accurately assess applicants’ skills, they still rely on the CVs sent on by recruitment agencies and therefore still suffer from automated filtering and agency bias.
How to improve tech recruitment by ditching CVs
The tech recruitment process would be greatly improved if we could just ditch the CV altogether and focused on accurately assessing technical skills. After all, it’s the technical skills that are important, not the candidate’s ability to write a keyword-stuffed, sales-y CV in good English.
The ideal skills test would be conducted by a third-party, reducing the expense and resource drain of running in-house while taking the pressure off your Tech Lead. It would also be customised to the employer’s tech stack and project requirements.
If you need someone well-versed in the MEAN stack, you should test them on a combination of MongoDB, Express.js, AngularJS, and Node.js challenges. Yet, another web application may require someone experienced using the LAMP stack. Simply inviting someone for interview based on their “web application development experience” won’t distinguish between these two very different skill sets and may lead to hiring the wrong person for the role.
Besides assessing based on skills rather than CVs, these tech challenges can also be run at the very top of the recruitment funnel, quickly and accurately filtering applicants down based on their skills. For employers who allow remote working, this can also help attract top talent from around the world, rather than the best of whoever lives locally, giving a much richer pool of talent to choose from!
Improving the process for applicants
Having a clear expectation of the requirements is also useful for candidates. No one wants to spend time applying for a job, chasing recruiters, and going for an interview only to find out that the job didn’t match their expectations. And no one wants to feel out of their depth in a technical role.
Unfortunately, 61% of employees feel that the realities of their new job are different from their expectations which were set during the application and interview process. For technical roles, this can lead to unhappy team members who are constantly anxious about making mistakes and need a lot of hand-holding, slowing down project delivery.
Technical challenges right at the start of the application process make obvious what the job will entail and what skills are required, leading applicants to self-filter based on their skills. If they pass the challenge then they will feel more confident in their suitability for the role and their chances of getting the job, leading to more confident candidates at interview.
Additionally, the interview itself can be used much more productively if both the employer and candidate know what technologies the project will involve. Rather than asking questions to assess skills, the interview can focus on assessing the candidate’s ‘fit’ into the company culture and their ‘soft skills’, safe in the knowledge that all interviewees have the required blend of skills.
Despite all the current problems with recruitment, I believe technology will lead us to a brighter future. With new technical assessments, the application process will be fairer for candidates and easier for employers to choose the best person for the job, rather than the person best at writing CVs.