HR & Recruitment in tech: A dark and Mysterious Art

Over my career I have been privileged to work with some phenomenal HR leaders; who were lynchpins of the business, through the rare combination of being strategic, emotionally intelligent, and kind.  Alas, more often, I have seen businesses fettered by some truly dreadful HR policies and managers.  I have suspected, for quite some time, that the function is doing the tech industry a disservice. 

They have a long ‘to do’ list of course, encompassing hiring, firing, keeping good people happy, onboarding and a whole host of administrative functions.  You only need to take a look at the various job titles dished out to those charged with running the human assets to see that HR is a broad church:  Director of HR, Head of Talent, Head of People, or, my personal favourite, Vaynerchuk’s Chief Heart Officer.  Interestingly, that last example comes from an early investor in facebook, twitter, uber and tumblr, with a net worth said to be somewhere in excess of $160m, I think we can assume he deems HR crucial, and he knows his stuff from a tech perspective!

Let us be clear: recruiting , and keeping, the best talent in tech is a competitive ‘dog eat dog’ world.    Robert Walters surveyed over 550 technology professionals and found that more than a quarter of hiring managers admit that the high-calibre candidates often receive multiple job offers.  

Demand for digital skills massively outstrips supply, a report by the Confederation of British Industry last year said that Just over two-thirds of UK employers have unfilled vacancies for digital jobs, and only just under a third are confident of being able to hire the skills they need over the next three to five years. I know of one of the UK’s most famous prop tech businesses, pre-COVID, that had 30 open seats for coders with an almost unlimited budget.  

There is a growing technology skills gap in the UK, particularly in the face of Brexit; this is a threat to our national economic health, even without a global pandemic!  A McKinsey backed report written in late 2019 charged with looking at the skills mismatch in our current labour force over the next 10 years said that ‘lack of access to the right skills was the number one threat to the competitiveness of the UK labour market’

So, what can HR do to attract the best talent?  Any business’ greatest asset is its people and, related, its culture.   Firstly, define your culture: this seems simple, but so few companies in hyper-growth do this, and it should guide all hiring decisions, in fact, ideally, make it part of your job postings.  I once interviewed for a senior role at a prop tech firm, where part of the interview was spent discussing their 10 point culture guide – it didn’t lead to a hire but I left with a clear and very positive view of their moral compass.   It doesn’t have to be a complex matrix of concepts – it can simple, like Huel’s entrance hall diktat, no pun intended, “Don’t be a d***”!

My own experience suggests there is a lot about the hiring process that is not fit for purpose.  I would highly recommend a forensic analysis of the applicant’s perspective of your procedures.  Interviewing, like dating, is a two-way street, and your potential teammate need to be sold that the company would be a good fit for their requirements and future aspirations.   There are a few bits of housekeeping that are simply good manners: personal bete-noir’s of mine include: advertising for positions that don’t actually exist, just to see the quality of applicants.  Taking forever to make a decision.  Not providing feedback.  Vomit-inducing job adverts – free tea and coffee is honestly not worth mentioning on a senior hire, even if you’ve just cut and paste it into the “perk list” of every posting on LinkedIn. 

Recruitment practises are one aspect of a business that faces the world.  Glassdoor, for example, is both a phenomenal resource and potentially dangerous tool: a website where current and former employees can anonymously review companies and their interviews/hiring practises, which currently holds information on over 1.3m companies.  There are a number of tech businesses that are not referred to in glowing terms!  

The stakes are high: a bad hire is seriously expensive for a business; a report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) found that although more than a third of companies believe hiring mistakes cost their business nothing, a poor hire at mid-manager level with a salary of £42,000 can cost a business more than £132,000 due to the accumulation of costs relating to training, lost productivity and more.  This doesn’t, of course, factor in the collateral damage to morale for the team left clearing up the mess.  With huge emotional costs at stake on both sides of the equation when things turn sour, ignore at your peril! 

Adventures of a unicorn is a business blog documenting the daily life of tech startup in hypergrowth.  Dacxi is a unique crypto business in the crowd lending space.  

All views expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now or will be affiliated.

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