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You Can Do Better. 5 Changes to Make Now to Improve the Candidate Experience.


Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed a curious theme in my conversations with current and potential customers. It’s this: regret. These companies regret making such deep cuts to their respective workforces just a couple of months ago because now they’re in the market once again for talent.

Let’s be clear, it’s generally rough out there. Overall, tech as a sector is still grappling with the gut punch that is coronavirus. Tech job postings have declined 36 percent compared to the same time last year in tech hub cities, with a 37 percent drop in jobs for data scientists and a 32 percent drop for software developers. It’s even worse if you look outside metros like San Francisco and Seattle.

That said, in some sectors – like ecommerce, food delivery, and streaming entertainment – the war for talent is thankfully surging. And we know the future still looks pretty damn positive. A Computing Technology Industry Association report released in April predicted that over the next eight years, nearly 9M tech jobs would be added to the economy, with 37 percent projected growth for software developers and 31 percent for data scientists. Sounds like now’s the time to prepare for a future that’s on its way – and less likely to be entirely onsite, all the time.

Why not take the time now to really hone an interview process that’s less about distressed-wood coffee lounges and cupcake bars and more about something real? Like the work. Like the people. Like your culture. Like your company. Like finding a way to genuinely find the best talent for your company.

This is what you owe your candidates now so you set yourself up for the talent war that’s coming – and for some industries, the fight that’s already here.

Stop putting candidates on display

Recent research (from our friends Chris Parnin and Mahnaz Behroozi at NC State) shows that in technical interviews, watching technical candidates solve problems on a whiteboard doesn’t measure their ability – just their ability to perform under stress. And the whiteboard process excels at precisely the wrong thing: getting rid of women (the research showed that the women in the public individual interviews uniformly failed while the women in the private interviews all passed).

Not sure about you, but I’d much rather see all candidates succeed. In this context, success doesn’t mean they’ll get the job or even move on to the next round – but rather that they were comfortable enough to show their skills in a real and authentic way, to the very best of their abilities. It means you get to make evaluations based on those abilities, plain and simple.

So give candidates, especially technical candidates, a setup where they can truly focus…without an interviewer breathing down their necks.

Check your tech privilege

You already do this, don’t you? Come on, you don’t think you do but I know you do. It means when you schedule a Zoom instead of a simple phone call, you’re making assumptions that someone is financially well off enough to have a stable connection, a personal laptop, a space they feel comfortable showing to an interviewer. Consider this:

  • Black and Hispanic students were 145 percent more concerned about being able to work remotely than white candidates, according to a WayUp survey
  • Black households have 20 percent more people than the average white home, making the opportunity to interview privately or without distractions more difficult
  • 57 percent of Black survey respondents and 58% percent of Hispanic respondents don’t have a laptop or desktop computer;79 percent of white people do. (Pew, 2019)

Assuming every candidate has the same technology set up is setting you up to stress out candidates unnecessarily – and potentially limit your candidate pool to just a subset of the great talent that’s out there.

Instead, start with a simple phone call, which reduces any unintended bias toward people who have good technology setups, home spaces they’re comfortable sharing in the background, etc. When you make space for thoughtful touches, candidates notice and respond.

Lengthy take-home projects are stupid, time-consuming and to be avoided

Take-home projects have a lot of advantages. They reduce interviewer fatigue, give candidates time to show their skills on their own schedules, more accurately reflect how someone actually does work, etc. But they need to be used smartly. Don’t give lengthy take-home projects; set a time limit (“this should take max no more than two hours”) and be sure it’s actually doable.

Why? Look at the time a single person has to devote to a take-home project versus, say, a professional with children or elder care commitments. The latter group is no less valuable – and would add a welcome diverse perspective to your team. But they’re disadvantaged against candidates who can sink hours upon hours of effort into the task. The same is true for students and recent grads – some students have “a lot” of free time while others are working their way through college. You should always strive for opportunities that deliver an apples-to-apples comparison.

Stop valuing words on a page above all else.

That’s what a resume is: words on a page. It’s what a candidate can DO that matters most. Give them opportunities to show you the skills that get things done and the capacity for learning and growth. In technical interviews, this is somewhat easier, right? You can develop a question that’s unique and relevant to your organization and the candidate can solve it. But it’s not impossible for non-technical folks. Hiring an HR specialist? Give them a case study to digest and work through. An open public relations job? Sketch out a realistic scenario where they have to build the bare bones of a communications plan or talk through tackling a crisis. Get creative. Test their skills – don’t obsess about logos and words on the paper.

Your interview process needs to be rethought for a virtual world

The pandemic should have made us re-evaluate almost everything we once took for granted or held as gospel. Let me say it louder for those in the back: this includes your hiring processes! I’ve heard a horror story or two about Zoom interviews that took literally all day. All. Day. This is when we know that the effort it takes to concentrate on a video call causes fatigue that starts around the 30-minute mark. Although these companies were clearly attempting to recreate the all-day onsite interview for a virtual world, they failed to notice that, hey, we’re not onsite in an office anymore. So why on earth would that be a good model to recreate?

Give yourself permission to reinvent the process a bit. Break it up into manageable chunks scheduled over a couple of days. Throw in a walking meeting. Build in breaks for snacks. Send lunch to a promising candidate’s home so you can eat “together” for a more informal get-to-know-you. Get the point? You don’t have to make the process the same as it was before – it just has to deliver a similar result.

In some ways, this is an exciting time to hire because it’s really becoming more about the work, less about the perks. Even in a never-ending pandemic era and a world where remote work may be common, high-quality candidates are increasingly able to write their own tickets – and they care more about the mission, the work, its relevance to the world, and their own ability to effect change within an organization.

That means if you’re doing something quality as an organization – and doing something that provides an awesome candidate experience, it’s your time to shine.