We spoke with the founder of WorkShape.io and the curator of Recruiting Brainfood about the powershift from recruiters to candidates, hard conversations with hiring managers, and how the talent shortage makes tech recruiting a dependable career. Hung Lee is a tech industry professional with over 15 years of experience as an agency recruiter, recruitment manager, internal head of talent, recruitment trainer and strategic advisor for rapid growth businesses in the London tech startup scene.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into the tech recruiting world.
When I started out in the field, Web 1.0 had just started kicking off (ageing myself here), and I wanted to get involved. I tried to do some coding, but when it took me four days to write a single page of working HTML, I realised that I had neither the patience nor the passion for being involved in the Internet as a software developer. So I looked for other ways to contribute. Recruiting those developers was then—as is now—a massive problem, so being a tech recruiter resolved itself into a rock-solid plan B.
What is the best thing about the recruiter’s job?
The opportunity to learn from experts—for free. When interviewing a tech candidate, I always think about how much that time would cost me if I were a client and the person opposite was charging a consultancy fee. Being a tech recruiter is a privilege in many ways. It’s being able to have conversations with people who have deep and valuable expertise, freely sharing that expertise with me. When I was still doing the job, I treasured candidate interviews for this reason. I’m always astonished that more recruiters don’t grasp the opportunity that they have.
“I like to think of interviewing a candidate is like getting an hour with an expert consultant. For free!”
What is the worst part of the job?
To do the job effectively. Sometimes you have to be hard with hiring managers, with C-level executives, with team members, and with candidates. Communicating feedback is a key part of the challenge—it’s natural for people not to want to hear bad news—but it’s an essential role of the recruiter to deliver it, and do so in a manner that is not destructive to relationships.
You have been working in the tech recruiting scene for a long time, what were the most drastic changes you have seen?
In engagement, the shift from phone to email; in first assessments, the shift from CV / Resume to online profile. These may seem at first glance to be cosmetic, but they fundamentally change the nature of the communication and the power distribution between candidate and recruiter. For instance, a phone call demands synchronicity—and it’s a place where the person with the phone skills (the recruiter) has the most power. With email, it’s asynchronous, and the person who has received the contact (the developer) now has the most power. It means that employers have had to rethink recruiting as a mainly outbound activity and pivot to an inbound, attraction led strategy.
“We’re making false-positive decisions by hiring developers with name-brand employers on the CV, and we’re making false negative decisions by rejecting developers who don’t.”
What mistakes do you think companies are making when hiring tech talent?
Prestige hiring. Person A is great because she worked at [insert name brand company]. Again, it’s natural for name recognition to play a big part in how we make decisions, but for hiring it’s one of the biggest problems out there, as it does not take into account the social and business context in which this person performed. Prestige hiring, or credentialism, as it’s sometimes called, drastically reduces the total addressable market of candidates, and is likely one of the primary reasons for the ‘tech talent shortage’. We’re making false-positive decisions by hiring developers with name-brand employers on the CV, and we’re making false negative decisions by rejecting developers who don’t.
What habits of your fellow recruiters annoys you the most?
I need to caveat this by saying that ‘annoying to me’ is amongst the lowest priorities any recruiter should have. However, I do get frustrated when I see talented recruiters make errors which could be easily corrected. One of these is trying to do too much with the opening message—it seems that we default to pitch mode on first contact—sending overly long sales messages with requirements for immediate action. It’s a misjudgment of the market conditions and the psychology of the highly skilled, in-demand job candidate.
What kind of person should get into tech recruiting?
Anybody. I’ve seen all kinds of people enjoy and succeed in this job.
What skills do you need to develop to be a successful tech recruiter in 2020?
I’d hate to isolate a single skill or technique that would trump all the others. That said, I think we are at ‘peak sourcing’ and tech recruiters will need to invest time in improving engagement rates. The best ones will do it through building their network, their community, and their audience. It’s the strongest way to actually get through to candidates that you’ve sourced.