An experiment on recruitment seriousness

I had the chance to witness an experiment about the seriousness of companies to attract new developers. The outcome was surprisingly accurate.

Most software development companies in our area are desperately searching for additional software developers to employ. The pressure rose until two remarkable recruiting tools were installed. At first, every tram car in town was plastered with advertisement shouting “we search developers” as the only message. These advertisement have a embarrassing low average appeal to the target audience, so the second tool was a considerable bonus for every developer that was recruited by recommendation. This was soon called the “headhunter’s reward” and laughed upon.

Testing the prospects

The sad thing isn’t the current desperation in the local recruitment efforts, it’s the actual implementation of the whole process. Let’s imagine for a moment that a capable software developer from another town arrives at our train station, enters a tram and takes the advertisement serious. He discovers that the company in question is nearby and decides to pay them a visit – right now, right here. What do you think will happen?

I had the fortune to talk to a developer who essentially played the scenario outlined above through with five local software development companies that are actively recruiting and advertising. His experiences differed greatly, but gave a strangely accurate hint of the potential future employer’s actual company culture. And because the companies’ reactions were utmost archetypical, its a great story to learn from.

Meeting the company

The setting for each company was the same: The developer chose an arbitrary date and appeared at the reception – without an appointment, without previous contact, without any documents. He expressed interest in the company and generally in any open developer position they had open. He also was open to spontaneous talks or even a formal job interview, though he didn’t bring along a resume. It was the perfect simulation of somebody who got instantaneously convinced by the tram advertisement and rushed to meet the company of his dreams.

The reactions

Before we take a look at the individual reactions, lets agree to some acceptable level of action from the company’s side. The recruitment process of a company isn’t a single-person task. The “headhunter’s reward” tries to communicate this fact through monetary means. Ideally, the whole company staff engages in many little actions that add up to a consistent whole, telling everybody who gets in contact with any part of the company how awesome it is to work there. While this would be recruitment in perfection, it’s really the little actions that count: Taking a potentially valuable new employee serious, expressing interest and care. It might begin with offering a cool beverage on a exceptionally hot day or giving out the company’s image brochure. If you can agree to the value of these little actions, you will understand my evaluation scheme of the actual reactions.

The accessible boss

One company won the “contest” with great distance to all other participants. After the developer arrived at the reception, he was relayed to the local boss who really had a tight schedule, but offered a coffee talk for ten minutes after some quick calls to shift appointments. Both the developer and the company’s boss exchanged basic informations and expectations in a casual manner. The developer was provided with a great variety of company print material, like the obligatory image brochure, the latest monthly company magazine and a printout of current open job offerings. The whole visit was over in half an hour, but gave a lasting impression of the company. The most notable message was: “we really value you – you are boss level important”. And just to put things into perspective: this wasn’t the biggest company on the list!

The accessible office

Another great reaction was the receptionist who couldn’t reach anybody in charge (it was generally not the most ideal timing) and decided to improvise. She “just” worked in the accounting department, but tried her best to present the software development department and explain basic cool facts about the company. The visit included a tour through the office space and ended with providing generic information material about the company. The most notable message was: “We like to work here – have a look”.

The helpless reception

Two companies basically reacted the same way: The receptionist couldn’t reach anybody in charge, decided to express helplessness and hope for sympathy. Compared to the reactions above, this is is a rather poor and generic approach to the recruitment effort. In one case, the receptionist even forgot basic etiquette and didn’t offer the obligatory coffee or image brochure. The most notable message was: “We only work here – and if you join, you will, too”. To put things into perspective: one of them was the biggest company on the list, probably with rigid processes, highly partitioned responsibilities and strict security rules.

The rude reception

The worst first impression made the company with the reception acting like a defense position. Upon entering, the developer was greeted coldly by the two receptionists. When he explained the motivation of his visit, the first receptionist immediately zoned out while the second one answered: “We have an e-mail address for applications, please use it” and lost all interest in the guest. The most notable message was: “Go away – why do you bother us?”.

What can be learnt?

The whole experiment can be seen from two sides. If you are a developer looking for a new position in a similar job market situation, you’ll gain valuable insights about your future employer by just dropping by and assessing the reactions. If you are a software development company desperately looking out for developers, you should regard your recruitment efforts as a whole-company project. Good recruitment is done by everybody in your company, one thing at a time. Recruitment is a boss task, but to be handled positively, it has to be accompanied by virtually everybody from the whole staff. And a company full of happy developers will attract more happy developers just by convincing recruitment work done by them in the spare time, most of the time without being explicitly aware of it.