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Recruit to Catch the Good Ones

by Ben Linders on Nov 25, 2014 |

How can you recruit good people and help them becoming successful without challenging your established workforce too much? According to Ralph van Roosmalen and Daan van Osch finding the right people will be one of the biggest problems in IT.

At the XP Days Benelux 2014 conference Ralph and Daan will give a presentation titled “catching the good ones” in which they share experiences from IT recruiting at RES Software. InfoQ is covering XP Days Benelux with news, Q&As and write-ups.

In technical recruiting at RES Software Ralph van Roosmalen describes their selection and job offering approach. InfoQ did an interview with Ralph and Daan about finding good IT professionals, relocating people, why professionals leave companies, onboarding new people and improving your recruitment process.

InfoQ: You mentioned that finding good IT professionals is becoming more difficult these days. Do you know what causes this?

Daan: I am no expert but in my opinion: software is running the world. There are almost no devices left that don’t have any software running on them. To make all this happen, we need many good professionals. There is also a much larger variety than ever before: security, embedded, appliances, apps, web you name it. Additionally, people have to specialize in areas because they have become so vast and therefore we also need more people.

I originally did not start out as a tech person, I got a master of arts in English literature, but guess what: close to all my friends in university are working in IT, like myself we just rolled into it because there were good jobs to be found there.

Another thing that springs to mind: when I think about the developers in my network, they are a very loyal bunch. If you treat them as professionals, appreciate their knowledge and skills and you make sure they have good working conditions and potential to grow, they will stay with you for a long time. In finding new people, recruiting trusted people from the network of your existing workforce is one of your best options.

InfoQ: Is finding good people a problem in some of the countries that you are operating, or is it a worldwide problem? Are there any differences between countries?

Ralph: We are experiencing the most difficulties in The Netherlands, it is really hard to find experienced developers in the wild looking for a job. There have been years that I have not had job interviews with more than a handful of highly skilled people in Holland.

Romania was and still is OK but it is getting more difficult there as well. Many companies have found their way there.

We are also present in the US and due to it being such a large country and many people are willing to relocate more easily we have not yet had difficulties there. However, we expect it will be difficult worldwide to find good professionals in a few years. At this moment, Information Technology workers are the number four hardest jobs to fill in America according to the eighth annual talent shortage survey from staffing firm Manpower Group.

InfoQ: Your company also relocates people to countries where you are operating, which can be challenging. What do you think makes relocating successful?

Daan: Help the families or individuals coming over become successful in The Netherlands, not only in their job. We have people from Spain, Italy, China and Romania. Some of them already lived in The Netherlands but the others relocated with our help. It does not end, however, with helping them find a house. When there are spouses and children involved, we feel that we also have to lend a hand in language training, helping them find a school for their children and helping them settle in.

It is easy for the person working in our office to build up a network and to have fun in their daytime job. For wives staying at home or for children settling in it is far more difficult. For example, truly explaining the school system of The Netherlands or telling them that people on a birthday party will congratulate all people present with someone else’s birthday as is custom in The Netherlands, is something highly appreciated by our people from abroad.

InfoQ: During the past years you have fine tuned your selection process for "shifting the good from the not-so-good". What did you learn during the years and how did you adapt your processes based on that?

Ralph: When you are looking for a juggler, make sure that you verify that he can juggle. Too many times have we talked to people possessing the power of speech, people with excellent resumes that can talk their way into your company. When, however, confronted with a simple testing task or an assignment to create an algorithm taken from a university’s entry level learning to program text book, we see that the power of speech stops and that you actually have to show you can get a job done. To our surprise, many fail there and are not able to produce a logical piece of code in their language of choice.

Daan has always been an avid reader of the Joel on software blog. Joel Spolsky there once stated his claim that IT people should be smart and get things done. We have taken this to heart and we want to experience it in our workshop. We test the skills of people in an onsite workshop. They get to know the vibe on our department floor and we get to see the fruit of their work. Our workshop allows people to demonstrate their aptitude for thinking of smart and creative solutions to problems. Even if they do not finish in the time set out, it allow us to get a dialogue going on what they are thinking, how they are approaching their work and what they were still planning to do.

Additionally, we fine tuned our personality interview and we now do a tech skills interview with actual future team members. We would, however, ditch all that for the half-day workshop. Please note that we by no means claim have not found the golden rule. We know a manager at a development shop in Eindhoven who keeps track of the work of many Dutch developers in the Southern parts of The Netherlands by regularly checking their projects and code on GitHub and by checking former colleagues of these people  on their skills before making them a job offer they can’t refuse. That system works well for that company, the workshops work for us.

InfoQ: Do you know why IT professionals are leaving companies? What do they look for when they want a new job?

Ralph: Well actually very few of the really good ones are leaving in our experience. Besides bankruptcies, takeovers and the tendency in some cultures to switch jobs for a couple of dollars more, we only see people switch jobs because they can no longer develop themselves. Now I am not talking about your average Joe employee, I am talking about the ones that really make a difference. Generalizing they are people that expect a certain kind of freedom to do what they do best but they also expect an environment where they can continuously develop themselves further and they want like-minded people to surround them.

When I talk about developing yourself I am talking about improving your technical skills and your organizational skills or just the time to keep exploring themselves. If a company regards the R&D organization as merely a cost center and they would have liked to outsource the development of products altogether, the IT staff will know that and the good ones will leave you because they take their work very seriously and so should their employer.

InfoQ: Can you elaborate how you typically on-board people into teams?

Daan: Drip people in. Team balance is a precarious thing so very, very slowly add people to any team. New people will join their scrum from day one. We have internal WIKI pages that describe what people should learn the first day, week, month, quarter. We assign a coach or buddy to a person that they can always go to and we expect people to take the lead in their own onboarding process. During the first week(s) they are doing tutorials, receive training and are getting familiar with RES Software. We always give people a small assignment in their first weeks, a research item or small development task. This will give them the opportunity to prove themselves to their new team members and to grow some credits with peers. Furthermore, we have regular talks with people to hear how they are doing.

InfoQ: What do you do to ensure that teams are able to on-board new people next to their daily work?

Daan: Professionals want to work with professionals. When team members realize their new colleagues are professionals and they will be making life easier for the team by doing good work, they don't mind spending time on their onboarding. They realize it is an investment in the team and it will make life easier in the future. We do assign a coach in the team who will get some more time to help the new person. We are also quite big fans of monkey see monkey do learning so it can mean that new team members get to spend quite some time pair testing or pair developing. When the new employee has potential, this usually ends up in the existing employee being an advocate for the new one.

InfoQ: If a company wants to improve their recruiting processes, which advice can you give them?

Ralph: Take it seriously and don’t think that recruiting a sales person is the same as recruiting a tech person. Make sure the people involved in recruitment are committed and are on the same page. It is not a side job that you do in the afternoon when all other work is done. Whatever happens, never settle for less, you will pay the price in the end. And never trust a juggler who tells you he can juggle really well.

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