As a talent leader, you’re often tasked with seemingly impossible assignments: finding talent that meets all hiring managers’ expectations, screening for technical skills, ensuring company culture fit – all while working within constrained timelines. It’s a fine art you’re always refining.
But, when you’re running up against the clock, how do you ensure the bar for quality doesn’t waver?
Tony Torelli, who’s on the talent acquisition team at VMware, has achieved impressive hiring heights…in a short amount of time.
In a recent ask-me-anything (AMA) with Tony, we learned how his team was able to optimize their initial screening process by an average of 75%, while boosting the quality of candidates. In one case, he was able to move from screening to offer accepted in as little as one week!
VMware breaks the mold of traditional resume-based recruiting models, focusing on high volume outreach with global recruiting campaigns.
Tony talks about the success his team found when moving from the traditional model to the skills-based hiring model, how he used data to drive adoption with hiring managers, and how he utilizes new technologies to give his recruiting process an edge.
Tony, I know that improving screening was a big focus for your team. How difficult was it to convince teams to integrate technical skill assessments into the traditional hiring process? E.g. not just look at resumes?
Tony: Logistically, it wasn’t difficult at all. The HackerRank platform is very intuitive and has lots of features that make it easy for us as recruiters. From an evaluation standpoint, there was some level of skepticism and push back from hiring managers, since they had never used HackerRank to assess skills before.
In order to overcome this, I would make compromises with hiring managers and rely on A/B testing. We closely tracked data on HackerRank’s performance vs. traditional phone interviews, and from the start HackerRank consistently outperformed. Having irrefutable data to share with our teams, especially engineers, made it easy to overcome the hurdles and get hiring managers to adopt the platform.
So, it seems like you and your team have built trust with hiring managers to be able to change the workflow. Do you have advice on improving this relationship between recruiter and hiring managers?
Tony: When I joined VMware, hiring managers were extremely focused on finding “perfect fits” for the specific technology that we were working on. This was difficult because often teams were working on projects where there was only one competitor or no competitors at all so finding those specific skill sets wasn’t easy. Part of our goal was to push them to look more at overall potential: how are their fundamentals and intellectual horsepower? If strong, they can pick up the skills to become the perfect fit pretty quickly.
I would work with hiring managers, while measuring the success of HackerRank against phone screens. Tracking data was very important. We would also set the stage with hiring managers that our goal was to bring 15-25% of the “perfect fit” candidates we screen in for an onsite interview, and the rest might only have certain pieces but have great overall potential with strong fundamental skills, intellectual horsepower, and problem-solving ability.
How has this change been received by candidates?
Tony: Over four years ago…when we started with HackerRank….it wasn’t very common in the industry. So, it was more difficult. Junior candidates were never really an issue, but we did get pushback from more senior candidates. But it was more about the delivery of what we were asking of them. Once we got on the phone and explained the reasoning behind it further, they usually came around (probably less than 3% of candidates have refused to take an online assessment). The alternative is whiteboard interviews or cumbersome phone screens, and this alternative is a more efficient way to create more opportunities for developers worldwide.
Senior candidates are often conducting phone interviews themselves so they would come to understand the benefit of the additional layer. Also, once they get into the platform, they see that it is a serious platform built by engineers with engineers in mind. I get a lot of good feedback about the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and other features. It was a bit of a learning curve at first, but I think we’re now at a point where we’re comfortable getting candidates in there and have reached a very high completion rate on assessments.
Speaking of creating opportunities for people, have you found that you were able to hire a great candidate who might have been overlooked by most companies because of their resume?
Tony: Recruiting for our Bulgaria office, I remember looking for folks across Europe to relocate to Bulgaria. We were struggling to find candidates interested in relocating. I did a search of Bulgarian ex-pats that were living across Europe and found someone that went to University of Sofia in Bulgaria. He had graduated 3 years prior and since graduation had been living in Spain because he wanted to experience the culture and learn the language. At the time, he was working as a dishwasher and didn’t have any tech industry experience. We had him take a HackerRank assessment and he aced it! We invited him to interview and extended an offer which he accepted. He was a strong Hire. Without HackerRank, the hiring manager would have never considered that candidate.
Overall, having HackerRank as that additional layer gives me confidence to go wider with my reach outs and take a gamble on folks that aren’t a “perfect fit” or don’t have a complete or updated resume.
Just for fun: What’s your fastest-time-to-hire?
Tony: So, at the beginning of December 2016, a hiring manager from one of the top 3 most difficult teams to recruit for, Virtual Machine Monitor, low-level kernel development, was told by his director that they had extra headcount but he had to fill it and have them start before end of the year. Many folks on the team were out for holidays already so they weren’t able to support phone screens. Luckily this hiring manager was comfortable with HackerRank by this point, he had made many hires with it, but he was someone that was vocally opposed to HackerRank and hiring on potential when we first started using it.
I did the intake on a Tuesday and sent a big batch of reach-outs on Wednesday. I had a candidate reply back that very same day. He completed the assessment that night and killed it so we brought him in to interview on Friday. We had a verbal acceptance on Monday and formal offer acceptance on Wednesday. We wouldn’t have found that candidate so quickly, had we relied on the phone screen folks.
He also had a “non-typical” background, he graduated from University of Washington 2 years before and had since been working as a mountain climbing guide while doing some side projects. No professional experience. The hiring manager was extremely happy and would have normally not considered this candidate.
So, when it comes to finding the right developers for your hiring managers, what are the top 3 most important qualifications you look for in an engineering candidate before the onsite? E.g. years of experience, degrees, skill certifications, etc.
Tony: Generally speaking for me at VMware, I’m want to see strong computer science fundamentals, strong data structures and algorithms, and problem solving ability. Those skills tell us if the candidate is someone that can pick up and learn the other technical skill sets they might not have exposure to. Problem solving is my favorite because it separates the candidates and highlights critical thinking. If they can problem solve on the go we know they can learn on the go, they have the fundamentals and we’re confident they’d be a fit here.
What’s next for you to keep refining your technical recruiting process?
Tony: I wouldn’t say there’s one specific area. Generally speaking, we are constantly trying out new tools and technologies to see how they can benefit us. Recently, we invested in a tool that will review job descriptions for unconscious bias, I think that’s a pretty neat technology. Things like that, which can give me an edge as a recruiter, that perform functions I wouldn’t be able to do myself at the top of my funnel are interesting to me.
Blane Shields is the Head of the Customer Success team for North America at HackerRank. His team focuses on making sure that our customers are happy, providing best practices to ensure they find efficiency in technical hiring.