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HR.main() Palo Alto: Perfecting University Recruiting

HR.main() Palo Alto

The HR.main() series is one of a kind. Unveiling actionable tactics from talent leaders across the world, HR.main() distills need-to-know strategies for today’s tech hiring teams in a jam-packed 3-hour  event.

At our Palo Alto event, over 350 talent leaders came together in person and via livestream to discuss recruiting the next generation of early talent. We gathered in the heart of Palo Alto to discuss best practices for attracting, assessing, and hiring new grads in the competitive space of university recruiting.

These were some of the top moments from the event:

How Gen Z is changing early talent

Gen Z is changing the early talent landscape. Until now, the conversation has revolved largely around Millennials—or, those born between 1981 and 1996. But this year, a new generation is entering the workforce: Gen Z.

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is entering the workforce for the first time en masse in 2019. Unlike Millennials, they’re digital natives, with an especially strong affinity for brand. As HackerRank SVP of Engineering Jawahar Malhorta outlined, though Millennials and Gen Z are adjacent generations, Gen Z’s unique outlook means they have different priorities in the workplace. Understanding them is a key step in adapting your university recruiting strategy to better attract and land these high demand candidates.

How Gen Z differs from Millennials

Their core differentiators boil down to 3 major distinguishing factors: they’re teaching themselves to code, they put a higher emphasis on growth & learning, and they value diversity more than any other previous generation. So to appeal to this generation, teams need to adjust accordingly. More specifically, there are 3 key changes teams need to make:

  • Broaden your university reach by focusing on skills: More than 1 in 4 student developers learn to code on their own, and 43% learn to code before age 16—so the schools they attend might not be the best indicator of their skills. By focusing on student skills (vs. the universities they attend), we can reach a broader network of qualified developers.
  • Foster diversity internally & highlight it externally: Gen Z cares about diversity more than any generation that preceded them. While 4.5% of Millennials consider diversity a top priority in their job search, 8.1% of Gen Z members consider it a top priority. This means that teams need to focus on fostering diversity internally and highlighting it externally to attract this particular audience.
  • Update your messaging to focus on Gen Z’s priorities: Gen Z cares more about professional growth, flexibility, and having interesting problems to have than Millennials. And while it’s a subtle departure from the job priorities of Millennials, it’s worth noting: after all, Gen Z will dominate the early talent landscape until roughly 2034. So if you’re interested in tweaking your messaging to appeal to them, the time is now.

Shifting from “diversity and inclusion” to “balance and belonging”

To kick off our customer panels, HackerRank SVP of Customer Success Gaurav Verma sat down with Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian. In their discussion, they dove into how organizations can implement diversity and inclusion (D&I) in a meaningful way.

According to Aubrey, one of the first ways to prioritize diversity is to protect yourself against unconscious bias. “Resumes are useless—I genuinely think so,” Aubrey said. Her suggestion? Kill the resume, kill the concept of culture fit, kill the degree requirements. Focusing on skills, instead, is what evens the playing field, creating space for candidates from a diverse set of perspectives and backgrounds.

Aubrey Blanche and Gaurav Verma

And that’s a challenge: Atlassian’s State of Diversity Report showed that roughly 80% of organizations say D&I is important to their company. But between 2017 and 2018, we also saw a dip in the number of organizations that have a formal D&I program: from 55% in 2017 down to 45% in 2018. It’s just one symptom of diversity fatigue Atlassian identified in the study.

Starting small is best, according to Aubrey: “You don’t have to move the whole mountain. None of us can do that alone.” The goal, instead, is to focus on affecting change at a team level. Instead of focusing solely on promoting ambiguous values at a company level, Aubrey says that the best results come from empowering hiring managers to encourage balance on their own teams. Giving them tactical advice (e.g. instituting a “no interruptions” rule) can give them the tools they need to contribute to overarching diversity goals.

How Twilio tackles university recruiting in hypergrowth

As the VP of Talent Acquisition at Twilio, Bryan Powell oversees hiring at Twilio in a time of intense growth. Previously building talent at VMware, Microsoft, WordPress, Amazon, and more, he’s responsible for helping Twilio scale their team as their business needs grow. In the past year alone, they’re grown their headcount 100%—and that means high demands on the talent acquisition (TA) organization.

In that process, Twilio has taken a unique approach to university hiring. In fact, they don’t even have a traditional university program—instead, they focus on what they call early career hiring. For the engineering org, that includes anyone who’s early in their development career, whether they’re in school or not: veterans in their second act, career changers enrolled in coding bootcamps, and more. As a part of their program, they’ve increased early career hires overall—from 5% of new hires in 2019 to 25% of new hires in 2020.

Bryan Powell

They’ve taken that to the next level via the Twilio Hatch program, a 6 month software development apprenticeship for underrepresented groups. By matching members of each Hatch cohort to technical mentors, they help people with non traditional experience develop and grow their careers within the org. The ultimate goal? To place Hatch apprentices in full-time positions, and put them on a path to long-term career growth.

Creating a better candidate interview

We rounded out the day with a fireside chat between HackerRank CEO & CoFounder, Vivek Ravisankar and Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of bestselling book “Cracking the Coding Interview.” As one of the foremost experts on technical interviews, we got her take on what makes the perfect interview: what teams are doing right, and the opportunities they’re missing when evaluating technical candidates.

According to Gayle, the key elements that identify a strong employee (vs. a strong candidate) boil down to 3 things: their commitment to the job, their cognitive skills, and their desire to learn. And when it comes to answering those questions, Gayle sees one common mistake. “The most common mistake I see with companies is: too much focus on what somebody knows about technology.”

Vivek Ravisankar and Gayle Laakmann McDowell

When she hosts a training for interviewers, for example, one of the questions she poses is: “What kinds of questions would you ask [for this candidate profile]?” A team of engineers hiring new grads working in Java and some SQL said they’d probably ask them questions about basic SQL. As a follow up, she asks a deceptively simple question: “And how long would it take a developer to learn that?” The answer: a few days. So why make hiring decisions based on that knowledge?

“They focus a lot on how much somebody knows, and forget about the fact that a lot of this stuff is trainable.” To better understand their long term fit, Gayle says, the key is to focus on challenging problem solving questions that don’t require advanced CS knowledge. If you can, take the time to debrief with the candidate: asking them why they approached the interview questions in the way that they did gives invaluable insight into their thought process in a short period of time


Interested in exploring more university recruiting content? Check out our past blog posts:

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