<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=575614229608033&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
September 2, 2020

Learning Your Candidates’ Language

A staffing professional acts, in many ways, like a conduit. We connect the right person with the right role, the right company with the right candidate, the right skillset with the right opportunity. To do this successfully, we have to have a deep understanding of the needs and experiences of all parties involved. But developing that deep understanding is impossible if we don’t understand the language of the parties we are speaking too.

This is a difficulty many recruiters face, especially in more technical fields and when working with higher level candidates. Healthcare and IT in particular face a daunting challenge of highly technical workers in high demand and often operating on very tight schedules. Wasting someone’s time with a position that doesn’t align with their background can sour a relationship with a candidate. Similarly, lacking the confidence or ability to dive in and develop a full understanding of a candidate can decrease your value to the hiring manager.

Alison Daley recognized this problem and set about trying to solve it. She founded Recruiting Innovation, an IT training platform for recruiters, “on a mission to elevate the tech recruiting space from being seen as a necessary evil to being valued as a true talent partner.” 

The framework Daley developed on that mission has applicability to all staffing professionals working with a highly technical audience, and the lessons she learned bring home why, when recruiters do speak the same language as their candidates, it creates such powerful outcomes for not just the recruiters and candidates, but the staffing companies involved too.

Building a Journey Map

During her 15 years in recruiting, Daley saw first hand the challenges of working with technical candidates.

“It’s really hard to do what you’re best at, which is engage with the people in front of you, when you genuinely are speaking a different language,” said Daley. 

That difficulty can in turn lead to decreased recruiter confidence and higher attrition. As Daley noted, “Nothing causes burnout more than when you feel like you’re not in the right fit.”

Daley didn’t have any answers to those challenges at the time, though. It wasn’t until she entered the next field in her career, user experience (UX) research, that a tool there caught her eye: the journey map.

“In user experience, [the journey map shows] what is the process that a user uses when trying to solve a problem using your tool,” Daley explained. If you run a shoe shopping site, for example, the journey map shows where and how a user first searches for buying shoes, finds your app, and how he or she navigates through your site to ultimately make a purchase. 

Daley realized she could use a similar framework to map out a developer’s process. If she could map out a standard process that all developers go through when developing software, that would give her the framework necessary to have educated and insightful conversations with candidates and hiring managers for developer-related roles.

That framework Daley discovered ended up being a waterfall methodology. Broadly, the waterfall methodology identifies five stages between an initial idea and the end result of live code: research, design, build, test, and deploy. Understanding that framework, even at a high level, opened up the conversations Daley would be able to have with candidates.

“If I take this workflow approach to talking to the candidate, then when I say, you know, walk me through a project you’re most proud of,” said Daley, “and they only talk about build because they’re developers and they’re just going to nerd out on the build stage — well if I know research and design happen before build, I can say, ‘Walk me through your research phase. How did you know that java was the right code to use?’ Now we’re having a conversation. Now that candidate’s like, ‘Oh, she gets it. Oh ok, I can go a little bit deeper.’”

For Daley, the framework acts as a cheat sheet, helping guide her conversation with highly technical candidates. Because of its broad nature, the implications of this framework extend beyond the specific use case of IT and developers that Daley and Recruiting Innovation focus on. Analyzing a candidate’s processes according to some sort of similar structure can help recruiters in a variety of professions ask knowledgeable questions and drive more meaningful conversations, even if those recruiters aren’t also experts in their candidates’ fields.

Telling the Story

Another tip Daley shared for engaging with highly technical audiences was to focus on building a story. By leaning into the innate narrative aspects of her journey map framework, Daley is able to avoid getting tripped up on jargon and to build better relationships with both recruiters and hiring managers.

“[The journey map framework] frees me up from feeling like a deer in headlights when a keyword is thrown out or an acronym,” said Daley. Instead, “It’s like, oh ok, I’ll make a note of it, and then I can follow up with some more questions — ‘Walk me through design, who are you collaborating with?’ I’m going to get this rich story from this candidate where maybe I know 50-70% of what they said, but because I have this framework and I’m taking notes in story form, you better believe that my hiring manager will understand 100% of what that story is.” 

Additionally, just as using a framework and story form can help with identifying the right candidates and building a relationship with them, it can do the same with hiring managers. 

“If I know that there are five steps, and my hiring manager wants a front-end engineer, I can follow through,” said Daley. It helps her ask more insightful questions of the hiring manager as well: “How involved with research are they going to be? Who are they going to be interacting with when designing the solution? What is the build process like here?”

This provides a two-fold benefit. On the one hand, it helps make sure that the recruiter secures the right candidate for the position. Beyond that, though, this more thorough understanding also equips the recruiter with a story to sell the candidate into why they should be excited about the opportunity. 

As Daley described it: “Having this journey map workflow approach, it becomes this communication bridge.”

Avoiding Assumptions

“In tech recruiting, we need to recognize, present lock down excluded, there are more jobs in technology than people qualified,” said Daley. “There are literally not enough people for the open roles. So in tech, especially as a recruiter, I need to be able to figure out how I build a bigger tent, how I draw more types of candidates in, how I can push on my hiring team to really question some of their knee jerk requirements — do we really need a CS degree, do you really need a bachelor’s degree, why can’t boot camp grads work out?”

Pushing back on some of those common assumptions widens the tent, as Daley describes it, but it also breaks down the stereotype — prevalent even within the tech industry — that tech is just for 20-something males. 

Daley notes that the classical start-up workspace — with free beer and ping-pong tables — is designed to keep people at the office working for as long as possible. But for tech professionals with a family, they don’t want to stay at the office late into the evening. Rather than a “fun” work environment, they’re more interested in benefits like parental leave and a robust healthcare plan. 

Daley recommends being cognizant of the “larger ecosystem in which tech operates,” so that as a recruiter, you can be more successful in driving a broader approach to who you’re screening, how you’re screening, how you’re evaluating.

Even some of the most advanced technologies within staffing have dangerous unconscious biases built into them, like resume scanning technology. As recruiters, you have to recognize that unconscious bias is everywhere. As Daley sees it: “The more we can unpack that, the more successful you’ll be in tech recruiting.”

Check out episode 11 of the You Own the Experience Podcast to learn more.