When You Can’t Find Candidates

Last weekend, at GLSEC, there was a panel. At the panel, some managers bemoaned the fact they couldn’t find qualified candidates around a specific  technology. They happened to be talking about SharePoint this weekend.

That was this weekend. Another year, another location, it would have been a different technology. The problem is if you can’t find the candidates, it’s not the technology, it’s you. You have other options. You need to realize you have other options. (Sorry for my blaming way of writing.)

Here the options I can see, and I bet you can see more once I show you these:

  1. Train everyone in the group in this technology. Now you have a surfeit of people in this technology. Once everyone is trained, everyone knows how to administer this technology, and maybe it’s not hard to use it.
  2. Transition to a new technology. If you can’t find an administrator, maybe this technology’s days are over. Find a new technology, and transition everyone to a new technology. Are people using it because it’s a good technology or are people using it because it’s the path of least resistance?
  3. Take your most experienced person in the group and train that person in the technology. Now, ask this person if the technology is worth that person’s time. Do they know of alternatives?
  4. Hire a new person and train the person in the technology. Ask the person if the technology is worth that person’s time. Do they know of alternatives?

If you can’t find people, you have to change how you work. You need to consider other options. It’s that simple. (Yes, there’s a chapter in my Hiring book about this.) Easy to say, not always easy to do.

Look, this management stuff is not easy. That’s why you get paid the oh-so-big bucks. (Ok, get up off the floor once you are done laughing.) But these are the management problems you need to solve. You can probably see other potential solutions that I can’t see that are much better than the ones I suggested. But you can’t say, “Oh, let’s just hire a junior person and turn that person into a SharePoint developer.” You can say that, but that’s only one option, and you need more options before you really understand the problem.

That’s why it’s so important to understand your hiring strategy before you start with a job description. Spend five minutes on your hiring strategy and save yourself hours on review resumes. And, you’ll know how to find those candidates.

7 Replies to “When You Can’t Find Candidates”

  1. That’s a good post. Here in Brazil what I’ve seen is that testers with technical skills or even with fluent english are very difficult to find. Sometimes you find people that one or the other, but people that fits in both are rare, and I guess they know that.

  2. Great post 🙂

    Lisa-Marie – is the implication also that “I can’t be bothered to invest in someone on the existing team” either? After that, you then get the “If I train them in something new, they’ll leave” point of view.

    In terms of getting people with great attitude, I would go down the route suggested in Peopleware. Hold an open audition/competition (perhaps mentioning that Sharepoint experience is useful, but cross-training was available. That way you’ll hopefully attract more than just Sharepoint ‘experts’) for a couple of days, get prospective team members to work with your existing teams, get feedback from everyone concerned, and then make your decision.

  3. Johanna:

    What I heard during that panel, repeatedly, was “I can’t be bothered to invest in someone new. I’m only interested in reaping the benefits of someone else’s investment.”

    I was squirming in my seat (Do I say something? Do I not say something? What do I say?) when you erupted from the back of the room. I was so thankful that someone — even if it wasn’t me — was willing to call them on the carpet and to provide an alternate path for the people in the room. This blog post is just the icing on the cake, and I hope everyone reads it.

    Long story short, you’re my new hero. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet you at #GLSEC.

  4. Hi Johanna,

    first off – great blogs, thank you. I have been following wit great interest.

    More often than not our policy is to hire for the attitude and teach the technology. In my experience people who are passionate about new technologies, passionate about learning, playing, solving problems applying technology – they will learn specific technologies you need very quickly.

    We have a different sort of a problem. Finding the right attitude has been harder and harder. We look for people who love what they do, take responsibility for they do, are not afraid of challenging the status quo and challenging themselves and, ultimately, have a ‘just fix the damn thing’ attitude. Obviously passion for technology and some level of understanding of technology is needed of course.

    The question is how do you find such an attitude? How do you build a ‘pipeline’ of candidates, if you like, with a great attitude.

    The first impulse is to say: get’em early, look in the universities. In general this is great but has a problem that at that age people lack cetain level of maturity it takes to come to taking responsibility, focusing on fixing the problems, challenging themselves and their team-mates. There are always those that learn and grow very quickly though. Investing time and effort into them actually brings returns within a year if not sooner.

    What next? What are other approaches people have found to work in finding candidates with great attitudes?

    I would appreciate if you could share some thoughts…

    All the best,

  5. Hi JR – remember the mid-90s at our then-mutual employer, and the Dev managers who kept bemoaning their inability to find developers with SS7 experience? I kept telling them to look for X.25, because they came out of the same world, if you understand one, the other one is no trouble.

  6. @Phil — That is absolutely the implication. As for “if I train them, they’ll leave…”, there’s a scarier option. What if you don’t train them and they stay?

    That’s just a crappy outcome for everyone involved.

  7. Just thinking, isn’t it true, time to time, hiring managers in service industry get into a situation to hire someone skilled in a specific technology? Otherwise they may loose the customer looking for that particular technology skill.

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