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Improve Your Interview With These Questions

I have told candidates for years that you are sometimes judged by the questions you ask and not the answers you give.  With the improved IT job market candidates that have been dormant for the last ten years have decided to look around and see what’s available.  What they often discover when a company calls to schedule an interview is that ten years is a long time not be on the hot seat.

Whether you are looking for your first job after graduation or a seasoned vet who hasn’t interviewed in a long time,  asking the right questions plays a big role in having a successful interview.   Here is a list of questions specifically designed to further the discussion in your favor!

What challenges will I encounter in this role?

Is the challenge doable? Is it consistent with other discussions you had within the company?  Give specific examples on how you handled these challenges in the past.

What are the technical and non technical criteria are you using to hire for the role?

The hiring manager is telling you what skills and experiences they need.  This is a great opportunity for you to address any points you missed or reinforce topics that align with their hiring criteria.  No sense in talking oranges when the interviewer wants to talk apples.

What will my first 60 days look like and how will you know if I am successful?

Know what they want and how you will graded – it does get any more basic than this.

What is the reason for the opening?

Have they turned over this role 3 times this year? Is it due to growth or internal promotion or acquisition?

What keeps you from getting sleep at night?

This is your chance to share in the dilemma of the Interviewer and provide an answer that goes directly to their pain point.

Do you think I am a viable candidate for the role?

The best question you can ask at the end of the interview. It’s the chance to see where you stand. It also gives you the opportunity to immediately address any perceived deficiencies the interviewer has in your candidacy.

Potential employers will appreciate that you have thoughtful questions to ask about their company and the role which is something many candidates forget.  I have heard from many clients over the years that they often lead a candidate by asking if they have any questions as a specific measure – not just because they heard it is a good thing to ask.  If you have been waiting to follow up on a few specifics based on the conversation – great.  If not then reviewing this list ahead of time will be to your advantage.

That said – in my experience not every member of a hiring team is an experienced interviewer which can result in poor results and feedback.  In those cases you can inject some energy into the discussion by having some open ended yet relevant questions like these in mind.

No matter who you are interviewing with it is always a good practice to review these questions as part of your pre-interview prep!

Keeping an Eye on Mean Time to Hire

One report we keep an eye on here in the office is the DHI report on Hiring Indicators – and their “Mean Vacancy to Fill” open roles.  This is a look at how long it takes to fill open jobs in various industries and overall in the US.  You may be surprised to hear that the number has been very high over the past several years with unemployment such an issue and the economy a top story.

While the overall report is interesting – we are an IT company so our focus is on time to hire IT professionals.  In the early 2000s when companies were hiring as quickly as many of us recall the various sign on bonuses, stock grants, burrito carts, you name it that were used to lure talent to many growing companies.  Typically it took 25 – 35 business days to fill an IT role during that time.

Things changed in 2008 as the bottom fell out of the job market.  Time to fill IT roles in 2008 averaged 34.4 working days.  Curiously in 2009 – when things were even worse – the mean time to fill IT roles DROPPED to 23.8 days.  There were fewer jobs out there.  There were more professionals available due to companies closing doors and going through layoffs.  That essentially ended up being the transitional year where supply outpaced demand.

But what we saw in 2010 and over the following few years – and what was so frustrating to job seekers – was that companies who were hiring felt they had to be very careful with their budget.  This carried over into hiring where teams were very worried about hiring the wrong person and in effect wasting that funding.  They were hyper focused on finding people who could walk in and be fully functional and effective on day one.  The mean time to hire in those years hovered at over 40 days.

2016-dhi-june

While that may have been “do-able” there was usually a wrinkle.  Somewhere in the mix companies came to the conclusion that with so many people out of work that the timing was right to reign in the “cost” of many roles.  These companies approved positions to be filled but what may have been a $100K IT job in 2006 was being posted as an $85K job in 2011.  Same skills and experience required.

Some unemployed folks were able to move on and find a job that kept them whole – same or similar salary and benefits.  Others took jobs similar to their last at reduced compensation.  All too many candidates were turned away at the door though when compensation was disclosed.  In the old world a $100K candidate would be passed over for an $85K job.  It was a simple qualifier that had been used for years.  Unfortunately the people reviewing the candidate were often unable to interview people with the right skills for that very reason.  Simultaneously they were not able to interview $85K candidates because they did not have the required amount of experience.  From our seat we observed a lot of spiraling as a result.

During this time our role really migrated toward consulting as we helped clients take a look at their open roles with a realistic eye toward the potential and available candidate pools.  It is no surprise that once the budget was cut we saw many IT Directors forced to look off-shore and to the large H1 shops to fill empty seats.  They were able to justify the missing skills and experience with the lower cost for someone who often was not an FTE.

The upside?  The past few years have been a learning experience for companies making IT hires.  While there is more funding available out there and the economy has improved we still see companies being cautious when it comes to pulling the trigger – they want to be sure they have the right person.  These companies, though, are coming into the process from a better position from a comp and benefits perspective.  We see fewer and fewer roles posted well under market compensation-wise.  We have not had a conversation with a hiring team about finding someone willing to take less because of the market in at least a year.

Here in 2016 we are seeing numbers I would call closer to normalized in the IT world.  From January through June the mean time to hire is 31 days.  When you look back to the .com era in the early 2000s where mean time to hire was around 25 days – and contrast it with the peak of 40 days during the downturn – a month seems about right on average.

Don’t forget – the average includes everything from an entry level analyst through your most senior and diverse technical architect.  We see junior level one support roles filled in 10 business days and we see specialized security roles take months to fill.  What we see that is much more encouraging – and what we hear from the people we work with – is that more often than not the hiring process is not bogging down in the manner we have seen in the recent past.

While finding the right IT person for an opening can still be challenging it really is great to be having conversations about how we can be flexible and partner with our clients along the way.  And it doesn’t hurt to have candidates interviewing for roles that give them the opportunity for career growth either!

Fishing for Talent

One of the things that drew me into recruiting from IT was something I noticed during my final job search.  While perusing the numerous job boards I would see an opening that sounded pretty good and make note of it.  Moments later I would find the same job description listed again.  I’d pull up the first listing to compare and discover they were virtually identical.

The next thing I typically noticed was that both postings were from large staffing agencies.  Not a huge surprise – companies I had worked for often used more than one recruiter to help fill a role.

As my search continued I would very often find another agency or two who had a cut and paste of the same job specification – or one that had been modified just enough to seem unique.  There seemed to be a standard – when a company used agencies there were often somewhere between three and five listing the same role on the job boards.

What really caught my eye though was for almost every full time opportunity (non-contract) I could do a little detective work and figure out who the company was.  I could do that because they too had the same job listing posted.  The same job listing that three to five agencies had posted to the same job boards.  Word for word.

I take that back.  Sometimes they were not word for word.  As I mentioned a few agencies did take the time to change thee wording ever so slightly so that it was not so easy to figure out who their client was.  Well done.

Other times, though, the agencies did such a good job cutting and pasting that they included information like compensation, bonus information, the client contact name and email, additional detail provided by the client about the role.

The more I observed this phenomenon the more it stuck with me.  Interesting job.  Five agencies.  Five “cut and pastes” of the client job spec.  All posted in the same places.  I tried to imagine what the value was to a company in this scenario.  Broader exposure?  More likely that someone sees the spec?  It was hard to find a great upside to the behavior.

A scenario began to appear in my mind – an analogy to this approach that when taken literally was quite lovely but figuratively applied to staffing not so much.  Imagine a group of six kids.  It is summer.  Maybe they are cousins all visiting a family camp on the lake.  They are sitting on the dock, fishing poles in hand.  Each one has a worm on a hook with a bobber in the water.  Lots of minnows come out and poke at everyone’s bait but they are all hoping for that one big sunfish to come out and pull their bobber under.

Before long it happens.  A bobber goes under – there are screams of excitement.  A sunfish is on the dock.  Success!  Except one child is reaching into their pocket to grab her wallet.  You see she is the one that actually wanted to catch a big fish – and she figured her odds were increased if she had her cousins all come down and fish with her.  And she offered one dollar to anyone who caught her that big fish under the dock.

But she could have had THAT fish for free with a little patience.

Sure, you could argue that perhaps there was something about the hook or the fatness of the worm or the way the other kid worked their line that gave them an advantage the “customer” would not have had.  To me it seemed like a scenario built for frustration.

I guess if you need someone quickly?  OK.  More hooks equals more opportunities.  But for full time IT opportunities very few companies would rush to a hire.  Jobs stay open while the company looks for “the right” hire.

But you want to catch a fish…

So who says that dock is the best place to catch one?  Maybe a cousin ran to the neighbor’s dock.  Maybe he came up empty – but maybe caught another keeper.  At the very least it is a fish they would not have seen from the crowded dock.

What about the older cousin who jumped on a kayak and cruised along the shoreline just up the lake.  The smallmouth bass they caught might be more desirable.  It is certainly another option that would not have been seen from the crowded dock.

The point is there are other ways to accomplish the goal.  And multiple successes via different methods provide options you might not see when everyone does the same thing.

Why THAT fish?

When I applied my fishing scenario I could not understand why a company would want to partner with a group of agencies that did little more than cast a worm and bobber into the same pool of candidates.  How frustrating to pay thousands of dollars to have an agency use the exact same equipment you were using to find a candidate.

Why are they doing this then I wondered.

Not a large enough team to cover the pool.  OK.

Not enough expertise in using the tools.  OK.

But there are other approaches to solving those problems with internal team that are often less expensive – but that is a topic for another post!  How does a company best leverage their staffing agency relationship to do it?

If you are partnered with an agency that is in the same pond with you, trolling the same candidates and using basically the same equipment you probably need to find a new partner.  When TSP was founded one of the core principles was to enhance and build upon what our clients are doing as part of their recruiting efforts.  We are recruiting great IT folks every day – and building upon and maintaining those relationships.  When a client calls us to help fill a position our first step is not to make sure we have the job posted on all of the job boards.  It is not to have a recruiter start a fresh search.  We start with our network.  Often we have a candidate in mind for the role before we hang up the phone – and while that person may or may not be ultimately right for the job we are off and running.  With people we KNOW.

Because we know them well we are able to tell them about the role and find out about new candidates via referral.  When someone in our network is not a fit but works in the same general IT world they often know someone who is well worth talking to.  This is how we add quality professionals to our network.  It takes more time but results in better connections, better relationships and allows us to provide value to both the candidate and the client by making a connection that would not have happened via job boards and cold recruiting.

If you are applying for jobs with agencies that are using these practices you too should take a look for a new partner.  The same principle applies.  If you have spoken with a recruiter who was focused on ensuring you had worked with a couple of very specific technologies and had held a very specific title – but was more focused on your compensation you likely already know what I am talking about.  If you don’t fit the spec for the role you probably did not hear from them again.  Our approach is to be very up front about the role and where you fit versus the hiring manager’s requirements (technical, cultural and financial).  If this is not the right role for you that is not the end of the conversation.  We still want to know more about your background.  More about what type of role would make you consider a move.  We keep in touch – and are there if you find yourself looking or interviewing for a job.  Much more of a career resource than just a recruiter.  Don’t get me wrong – we still want to make placements and buy groceries – but we find much more long term value in helping out our candidates (and clients) any way we can!

Do we use job boards?  On certain roles sure.  Our approach is driven by what our client is doing on their own and a number of other factors.  But at the end of the day we hope to offer a quality experience for clients and candidates by establishing a long term rather than transactional relationship.