How To Hack Recruiting: Turning the Tables
Good afternoon, good evening! Thank you everyone for coming out for our last hour of content! This is going to be an exciting hour. We have had, some phenomenal recruiters who have given up their time, flown in from the east coast to give resume review and career mentoring. But, these are also friends of mine that I’ve worked with for ten to fifteen years. Other than the guy at the end – I’ve only known him for two years. But, these guys really wanna help you figure out what you need to know about hacking the hiring process. Really sort of breaking it down, saying “Screw it! I’m frustrated. What can I do next?” So I would like to introduce my dear friend, Pete Radloff! Take it away…
Thanks. How’s everybody doing?
That’s a very good, like, response for five-thirty at night, I appreciate that. Uhm, it’s probably way better than. like, the two-thirty slot where everybody’s comatosed from lunch. So we’re gonna walk through a lot of things, like Cathleen said today. And some of that’s gonna start with some pointed questions for, for you guys as well because we really wanna get a better sense of, you know, where the pain is from your end. And then really want to correlate that into some insight from, from our end. So, just to get some quick intros – I’m Pete Radloff, I’m the principal technical recruiter for comScore, we’re a consumer-related analytics firm, based out of Western Virginia. I’ve been there probably eight out of the last ten years or so. Steve…
I, I don’t work at comScore.
I’m Steve Levy, I’m an engineer that’s crossed over to the “dark side” – the dark side being HR and recruiting. You see, these are my HR tattoos, in case you were wondering what they are. I’ve been recruiting for them near 30 years now. And I’ve got my own consulting firm and one of my clients is actually Lockheed Martin. So, there’s a s**tload happening in the cyber hiring space there. And, by the way, this session is sponsored by RedBull because we’re all freaking tired right about now.
Hi, I’m Kirsten Renner, I am the director of recruiting at Novetta and they are a complex analytics firm in Northern Virginia. And gosh, I’ve been doing this recruiting thing for 20-something years, so…
And she’s only 29.
And, yea… I started when I was nine years old.
“Mommy, daddy, I wanna recruit people”.
Yea, and so my favorite part of summer camp is the car hacking village that will be happening at DefCon! If you’re going to DefCon stop by and see me – I’ll be the one selling badges. And, or I’ll be the one an hour into it saying “Sorry, we got sold out of badges already…”
And we’re giving away a truck…
Hey there, so, I’m Kris Rides, I’ve got a company called Tyro Security. Uh, we’re an information security staffing company and also a professional services company based out of Los Angeles. Started it five years ago and I’ve been in the business for 20 years and it’s the third year speaking here, so, looking forward to it. It’s always, always interesting, always getting some interesting questions.
So, one of the things we wanted to start off with initially is to really get your perspective on something. And, and, and so, free-form; show of hands; scream it out. What frustrates you with working with recruiters?
Don’t you lie to me! I know something does….
They don’t know how things work.
Okay, they don’t understand technology. Great. Yip.
A number of them seem to have a high “sleaze factor”.
That’s fair, that’s fair…
Snow to Eskimo and s**t to flies….
It’s better myself than what they do.
Okay, so you’re doing your own recruiting? Okay, and these are your in house recruiters?
Okay. Gotcha! I think we, we see a lot of that frustration from the candidate side of things, right? And I think we realize that there’s a lot more that happens behind the scenes than I think what you realize when somebody clicks “Apply”, right? And I’m in no way, means, or shape justifying the “resume black hole” that a lot of things seem to go into. You put it in there, you never hear back; you get an email that the position’s closed but you’ve never heard anything. You know, one way or the other, around the feedback of your interview, why you didn’t get the job; what you could have done better etc. And I think one of the things that we believe in – and please, anybody correct me if I’m wrong here, that feedback is, is important. It’s important for us to make sure that we’re giving that feedback. Now, because we live in an incredibly litigious society, that becomes a little bit hairy sometimes. But it is something that we feel has to really be part of the process in order to make it a hire, right? We wanna make a good hire; we wanna make a strong hire; we want you coming in the door feeling that you’ve been able to make the right decision for your career. When you guys think about this, and, and particularly looking at the infosec portion of things, what’s, what is important to you all as recruiters, people who are looking at these backgrounds? Is it certifications? Is it training? Is it a very nebulous type of passion that you can’t put to paper? What are you guys…? What’s important to all of you when you look at these backgrounds?
So, the, the talk that happened a little bit ago, two talks ago, one of the pieces of advice that’s very important was they were saying that the recruiter needs to make a connection and talk to the individual about themselves, right? So it goes, it goes both ways. So the standout, the connection should be, there should be one piece where you connect, where you relate. I’m gonna tell you, I haven’t, haven’t actually directly recruited in a while but one of the things I was horrible at was looking at the applications, isn’t that awful? Was the last place I would look. You would think that that would be the first place I would look but, truly, so many of the applicants that applied for the positions weren’t qualified. So often so that that would be the last place I would look. Isn’t that awful? So the same way the recruiters are reaching out to you and you’re a systems engineer and they’re asking you if you wanna be Java programmer? That’s frustrating as hell, right? It happened 10 times today…
The, the connection isn’t happening on both sides is part of the problem. So, I think that one of the best things that they said earlier was do the Kevin Bacon thing, right? There’s this really small community and everyone that you know is only a few connections away from somebody else that you know. Start with talk to someone in your community that had a good recruiting experience – that’s going to be rare. And when you reach out to that recruiter and say “I got your name, recruiter Jim, from my colleague”. They’re going to pay more attention to you, they’re gonna remember you because it started through a genuine relationship. Does that make sense? So you’re not just another applicant anymore and they’re not just another recruiter anymore; and you just started a valid relationship. And I think it’s gonna be a lot more fruitful for the both of you.
Yea, definitely, I think that would help. As this lady mentioned – recruiters not knowing what they’re talking about and there are plenty of those and the “sleaze factor” comes into that because they bullsh*t their way through what they’re doing, right? And very quickly you get to tell that. So, if you want to find a good recruiter, you need to go where you’d expect the real recruiters to be. So, you know, go to your ISSA meetings; go to your OWasp meetings; go to your cloud security alliance meetings. Because, first of, the majority of the ones going there are doing it out of their own time, right? They’re not getting paid to do it – so, they’re passionate about what they’re doing. They wouldn’t just spend their own time understanding and learning about what we do and it’s surprising how you can actually gain. That’s a great place to actually find the people that kind of know what they’re talking about. I will also say when I’m hiring for,and I’m, I run an external agency, so when I’m hiring for people… I don’t tend to look for people necessarily who have technical experience, in fact in my experience it has not been a great way to recruit people. That’s not to say that there aren’t amazing people, you know, including up here that have been, that have been excellent. But, sometimes when people have a technical background they feel like they can question the people that are coming in to the level of somebody that, you know, you could be talking to somebody that’s got eight years experience and, you know, you’ve studied cyber security and you think that you can have a level conversation. And you end up going too far down that road. So, I think having the knowledge about recruitment and gaining it from those sort of places will certainly help them have those conversations with you. But, you know, don’t expect them to know as much as you guys do – cause they won’t.
There’s some fundamental problems with recruiting. Now, everyone – recruiting, recruiting isn’t broken. You know, just like – the problem is we have this “barrier entry problem”. There’s very little barrier to entry to become a recruiter. You know, in fact, that’s why many folks have started out in the agency -side, you know, where, their first jobs were “Here’s a phonebook”, or “Here’s a list on the computer”. When I started there were phonebooks and three by five cards…
And, you know, 12, actually less than 12-hundred bot dialup – that’s another story. But the problem is that, and to your point, the fact that you’re better than your recruiters at recruiting people. Uhm, there is a point in my opinion where all this stuff could really get a heck of a lot better. And it would, you folks are part of the solution. We hire people to solve specific problems – in your case you might have specific , you know, cyber challenges; product related to customers. You know, you have some sort of architecture drawing and, you know, you have Xs, red Xs where you have issues there. We solve, we hire people to solve problems. We don’t hire people to simply be task-wranglers, you know? And most, every job description that you see, every job description by companies that are exhibiting here – they’re not recruiting documents. They’re not going to give you any insight into what specific problems keep the hiring manager awake at night. Now, you know, what’s your…? I don’t know your name back there, and I should clairvoyantly know that…
Several reasons. But, Jameson, you know, and I’m going to have a little conversation with him and it may help. When you have an open job, you know, you meet with the recruiter, your recruiters, and they say “Well, what’s really special?”, “What do they really need? What are the must-haves?”. Things of that nature. Do they ever ask you what specific problems are not getting done by the existing staff and what specific things? What specific problems if they were solved. by the new person would allow to sleep at night? What are…? They don’t go to that. Well, typically you may say “Well it’s in the job description” or “I’ll send you more resumes, I’ll know it when I see it”. It doesn’t work like that. I wanna know specifically – this is the current situation, the current state. This is the problem, this is the desired outcome and this is how I think we’re gonna get there. I think it behooves you as folks looking for jobs to press the recruiter – who ever reaches out to you know. You know, if you see something posted, don’t just blindly apply to it knowing that it’s a generic job description. And again, every company here, almost every company here, if I take their name out of the posted job description and I put in one of their competitors, that JD – job description – will be just as valid for those companies. You’re trying to read minds of companies instead of directly applying, maybe ping them right back. You know, Jameson’s email, you know, cause he’s a popular fella, you can find his email and if he has a job listed ask him, you know, in the first 90 to 180 days – what specific problems will I be specifically, will I be asked to solve? What are the deliverables? Be more active in that and don’t take from a crappy recruiter “Well, just send me your resume and we’ll talk about it”. Be, you know, an educated consumer and push back. Yea, I’m just really not making sense.
I think that’s a good…
Yea it is…
That’s actually a great point and actually managers – line managers and hiring managers are much more likely to do that when there’s a contract position. They’re much more likely to give you more information on the projects you’re doing and stuff. But then when they turn to permanent, that goes out the window, right? It’s there, it’s on your specs. Yea, you’re spot on.
I mean, again, it’s about you know where your expertise is, you know what specific problems you’re really good at. There’s nothing wrong when you see a posted job, instead of applying, you know, try, you know instead of applying – reply back with “These are the kind of problems I’ve solved. These are the kinds of things I’m doing right now. I can’t tell from your job description whether it’s there or not. Can you tell me if these are the kinds of things that you are working on?”.
It’s a good segway too because I think when you look at that I think the table turns as well, too, right? So a lot of times, and I focus primarily on infrastructure development and development – devops. So, a lot of times what I find in that interview process, and this is really with me, right? Now, I’m not an engineer; I’m not Levy who went to the dark side. I’ve spent almost 20 years with engineers and sat there watching them code and asking questions- “What does that mean? And what is this? Why do we do it this way?” And that helps me to do my job a bit better. When we get to the interview stage and I find this more often with technical people than non-technical people. And I say “Tell me about your role. Tell me about the stack and I want to know what you do.”. What I’m not looking for with that is to just regurgitate the bullet points. What I wanna know is, what did you work on that really changed the game where you are today. Why are you? What did you work on and have your fingerprints on there that if they lost you, they wouldn’t know what to do? And what makes you attractive to another company and understanding and quantifying, right? So I go ahead and do, so when I talk to a Java developer and he says, or she says: “Yea, I went ahead and I patched up some scripts and got everything running”. And I’m like: “Okay great, and what did that mean for you?”, “Well that meant we went from three hours of data processing time to 86 seconds.” And that’s what I wanna know! That’s what I wanna know, the tangible impact of where that is. And a lot of times I think that people get so worried that they need to spit out all their keywords and all their skill sets in this twenty minute conversation that they’re going to have with the recruiter and that will get flushed out the next call. I’m okay with that, that will get flushed out the next call. What I wanna know is, if you can talk about business problems and you can tell me how you solved it, what the impact is for your client why you’re doing that.
What are you…
So what Pete’s referring to is legacy. You know, what’s your legacy at your current, you know, if you were to leave your current job now or your past job. What do they remember you most from? What do you, what did you give to the, you know, to the group that they realize in hindsight was pretty damn good?
What, what about those interviews? Are there other faux pas or mistakes that you see people make in interviews that are pretty avoidable?
So, go ahead… So, by the way, I would like to see the conversation shift and be less about the position and more about the candidate and have it be more about their experience. The more you learn about the person, you may end up… and I’m guessing every company that one of you works for and that we all work for has more than one position available and more than one type of job that people are doing there. So just because you’re over here doing x, y widgets, doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of doing this whole other thing, right? And in addition to what did you do and did you take it down from three hours to 86 seconds; what did you do? Instead of just always mentioning to me the things that you did – these tangible measure of things that you did – what did you mess up at? What did you break? What did you fail at? And what did you learn from it? That conversation, and by the way, I steal that from an interview I did a million years ago at RIT, with some kid that was graduating and he was literally only 17 years old, genius person. He said that there was this robot and he built this robot and it’s a really long story and it’s amazing and it’s interesting and the robot blew up and he was trying to get it across the street. And then we talked about what did he learn from that? So, I’m guessing that A, he always had a fire extinguisher handy now, right?
And that none of his robots were blowing up anymore. So, he actually invited me into a whole different part of his problem solving skills and just a whole level of humility from this person that’s always had like a five-point-whatever, right? Because he failed, he blew the robot up so, so talk to the individuals about their experiences, their work experiences, about the things that they’ve learnt and how they’ve learnt them. Because you’re gonna end up finding out, you know what? That person would work perfectly at blah-blah-blah team. So, the recruiter shouldn’t make it about the job – never, ever. They should make it about the candidate. And some of the best recruiters and there’s people in the room who have done this, they’re gonna go: “You know what, candidate? I’m listening to you, I hear you, I want to hire you, I can hire you but I also know this guy named Peter who has environment that sounds like it’s going to be a lot better for you.” And then we just establish another important relationship, right? And candidates can remember that that happened and I didn’t fill my job today, I didn’t do my job today, I didn’t fill the position but I just did a good thing.” So, I want the conversation to be less about the job, so, you as the candidate – switch it around if the recruiter is not doing their job and making it about you. Somebody over here?
Yea, just switch around from it, even better. I got an upgrade, so, from the candidate point of view, just switch it around, how can, how can we filter out the good recruiters from the bad? And I actually, recently, had a very long, and significant amount of time wasted, by a recruiter and an actual end-company they were recruiting for. So, I think that’s kind of my questions, how can we get through some of those key points that are deal-breakers and not offend the relationship? And still hopefully keep it open for the next job they have and keep calling, you know, calling me back?
I think there’s a couple of things there, right? I never get off the phone with a candidate without asking them one question – What’s most important in your next role? What is it – is it growth? Is it money? Is it stability? So you’re not going from contract to contract? What is that thing that you need most that you can absolutely not take this job without? And I get a little peer into their psyche – I get to understand what family life looks like for them. I get to understand if they’re an early bird or one of those people that’s not going to be scheduling any meetings before 10 am. I get to understand a bunch of those things that I think are really important for that. The second thing is test them. If they say “I’ll give you an update on Tuesday”, and it’s Thursday and you haven’t heard anything? That’s your answer. “I have no update for you” is still an update. You now that you’re still top of my mind and you are still important to me and I’m working on it but I just need to tell you that I need a little bit more time. If you’re not getting that level of concentrated commitment then I think you can kick that recruiter to the curb.
So quick problem: do you suggest doing that early in the relationship? So, on that first contact would you actually ask for them to just see if they follow up? Like test the waters…
Sure, why not?
Yea, absolutely, and I tell them: “Look, sometimes I get slammed during the day and if you don’t hear from me by Tuesday, call me. I’ll get back to you”.
Yea, I’ll, I’ll double down on that one. It’s, I’ll give people my phone number and say “I’d hope to call you with an update by so and so”. But just like Pete, I am swamped every which way to Sunday and if you don’t hear from me by a certain time, call me or text me.
If you know what your deal-breakers are, there’s nothing wrong with presenting those right upfront to you recruiter and saying: “You know, this, this is what my situation is right now, it does not necessarily mean that all of these things will be the only things that will be deal-breakers for me in the future. But, right now, this is where we’re at.” And if that’s not going to fit their role you’re not wasting their time, they’re not wasting yours. You know, you said that you…
Yea I’ve done that and they didn’t call me back.
There’s your answer.
I mean, yea, if it doesn’t fit what you’re looking for right now. You know, the other thing you mentioned, you said the recruiter and the ultimate end-client, so, were you dealing with an agency?
Yea, in this case.
Yea, tell me if you guys agree with this. Leverage glass door to your advantage – if you’re having a really s*****y experience with the recruiter, let that company know. I respond personally to all of the glass
But hell, if I don’t have a dummy email that’s been set up for the company that if somebody, if I need to get more specific information from somebody about a crappy experience they had, here’s an email address you can reach me at directly.
You haven’t had a chance to talk, I’m going to say this really quickly. If you only remember one thing I ever said – remember that the recruiter that you’re talking to, they want it to work, right? They want this to be successful, right? So they’re already on your side. They are your advocate so make them your best advocate because you’re the champion of you. Nobody knows what you want better than you do. If you’re not telling the right story I’m not selling you the way you need to be sold. So, I said this to somebody earlier, so you’ve done this and you’ve done this and you’ve done this. so, if I take away the wrong story from either what you told me is what you think I wanted you to hear. You think that’s what I wanted to hear. Don’t do the, just be the true you because if you pretend to be whoever you think the recruiter wants you to be. And I’m sorry, I apologize to every recruiter that sucks that you have to get through to get to whoever else the next person is. But, if you sell the wrong thing then you are going to get fit into the wrong spot, right? So, you’re not doing, you’re doing yourself an injustice – be who you truly are. Say the types of environments that you like working in and recruit the recruiter a bit – interview them; ask them; ask them. Ask them to tell you actual stories. Recruiters like to talk, have you ever noticed? We like to talk, make them tell you a story about the environment; about the problems. Make them tell you about the good things and the bad things.
Let me go back, one more thing, cause we talked earlier. This is how you know the fakers; the pretenders from the real recruiters. The real recruiters know what the job truly entails; if the go back to the JD, the job description, saying this is the real job – they either don’t know that the real job is or they’re just making s**t up as they go along. Real good recruiters will know what the deliverables are for this position within a reasonable timeframe and if they don’t then they’re merely assessing you for the presence of buzz words.
Kris, how about you from the agency side? You see a whole different perspective of this and much to your point, it’s different working with an agency recruiter than it can be working with corporate sometimes.
Yea, definitely is because we’re looking at a broad range of clients; a broad range of job. But actually there’s, the similarities the same. If you’re never honest with them about what you’re looking for you’re gonna get matched up with things that you’re not interested in and there’s nothing more frustrating for you than getting phone calls about jobs that you’re not interested in, right? So, absolutely being completely honest and open and I know, you know, you read a lot of articles about not telling your recruiter about this or, you know, holding it back until the end. We’re there to try and get you the job, if you’re hold anything back to the end, they’re the surprises that don’t get solved, right? Then you get the job offer you’re not looking for or expecting. So, I would definitely say keeping open and honest and answering all of the questions honestly is going to get you much nearer to the job that you’re looking for. I think, from an agency, other than that, we’re looking at multiple clients. So, we’re trying to assess from the business side what they’re looking for and getting them to sell each of that company’s sort of big points. And actually one of the most frustrating things for us is not getting to speak to the person that put the job spec together. And getting to ask those questions which is really the questions that we need to know if we’re gonna fill that position. And I will say that often by the time we get the role we can get positions that have been open for six months – we filled one, we filled on three weeks ago that we open for almost nine months before the came to us. And we filled it in three weeks and we just spoke to the line manager and the line manager had a similar story to Jameson in that internally they haven’t had that conversation and the questions that I asked weren’t the same questions that their internally were asking. And we found candidates, a completely different pool of candidates when they haven’t seen any resumes in like two months.
By the way, don’t be afraid. People are scared of agency, right? I’m gonna say this really quick, so, there’s a difference between “Insert name of giant agency” that you’ve all heard of – and working with someone like this that is actually going to understand what the customer needs and care about you and they become your agent. Then I am happy to pay them…
Sports agent. You know, that’s a way to think about it.
Yea, no it is. Show me the money…
It’s the hardest sales job in the world, right?
Absolutely. There we go…
In the interest of keeping us on time for six o’clock. Questions for us? Things we can… Yea, go ahead.
Yea, so I was a hiring manager in a large corporate firm.
Yea, sure. So in my past life I was a hiring manager at a large corporate and I spent a lot of my time going around recruiting whatever I possibly could. And I’m just wondering, you know, how, I could never find a way to work effectively with recruiters because what I would do is, you know, they’d come to me with a job description and so, what you do is you throw a little bit of everything in IT in there. Because that’s essentially what the position entails and somehow, lost in translation, the ‘nice to haves’ get turned into hard requirements. And then you end up with a whole bunch of resumes from people who are lying about having every certificate under eht esu which I don’t even care about anyway. Or you end up with, you know, no resumes at al. So, I usually end up just working my network and, you know, the best way to get to me as a hiring manager was a direct referral by either another manager at the company or by somebody who, you know, is in my professional network. I feel like I was doing it wrong, you know, I think that probably I could have done better at this. If you’re a hiring manager, how do you not suck at working with recruiters?
Yea I know.
First and foremost, I just wanna ask it this way: anyone here, who here is married?
Okay, okay, so, you know, we’ll talk to the hiring manager there who’s married. Jameson…
When you were first dating, you sorta, you kinda felt… You got to know each other and you find better ways to know each other; get along with each other; then you get married and then it started all over again because the toilet seat problem and things like that.
You learn how to get along with recruiters by being collectively committed to the same goal. So, the part of the problem with the hiring managers, hiring managers don’t have these same conversations with the recruiters and recruiters don’t have these conversations with the hiring managers, generally speaking. Like, I would come up to you and say how do you, how would you like us to work with you? Simple conversation like that. Recruiters should say the same thing.
Nobody in 14 years, nobody in 14 years has asked me that.
Well, then I’m not going to apologize for the entire profession because…
Stop working with them! If you’re not asking that question then they’re not the ones to work with.
Point is if you’re not getting what you want, you know how you’d like, how you like people to work with you. That’s on you, it’s completely on you to say “How are you going to help me get there?”.
And it’s up to them to ask those questions, right? Whether, regardless of whether or not I filled one position with this manager or a hundred-and-one positions. I need 30 minutes of your time to talk about it because whatever you guys were doing in that group six months ago is sure as sh*t different now. So, let’s go back and if everything else is the same but the projects you’re working on and what’s coming up in the next six to 18 months is different, let’s talk about that. Because those are different things I can sell, those are different things I can pitch to someone: “Hey, we’re going to be moving to the cloud”, “Awesome, you wanna get involved with AWS? You can come into this project here”. I now know that that’s where we’re headed, we don’t need that skill set necessarily but boy, if we had it that would be great! And that’s not on a job description. And you need to spend 30 minutes with me – just give me the information that I need. And then we can switch things on the fly later on if we need to, we can pivot.
Yea, because inside, in that intake session. I even call that a strategy session because it implies an ongoing discussion with the hiring manager the stuff that happens behind the scenes. Like, I’ll share – if a hiring manager, you a hiring manager? If anyone here is a hiring manager now or was one, I’ll share with you my strategy session form so you can see the questions that I ask of the hiring manager. So, you can see how they’re very focussed on performance; on future strategies; on deliverables – not just tasks and presence or absence of skills. You know, being, you know, someone who’s detail oriented – that’s not a deliverable, that’s a subject assessment of somebody. So, it’s become, the system isn’t broken – ya’ll need marriage counseling.
So, I think we’re almost out of time but I think it goes both ways. And two things that are really helpful if you’ve let the recruiter sit in one of your technical interviews they’re going to listen to you ask questions; they’re going to listen to the answers and they’re gonna learn. And then if you will give them two or three knockout questions to include in their pre screen when the first talk to you, say they’ve never been, they don’t even know how to spell Have, right? That’s how technical your recruiter is but they’re gonna get on the phone call and they’re, they’re gonna say, they’re gonna ask 20 people today: “What’s encapsulation?” and “What is polymorphism?” and blah, blah, blah. And at the end of the day your recruiter’s gonna know how to pass a Java interview. Cause they’re gonna understand cause you’re gonna include them a little bit more in the technical and they’re gonna learn. SO…
You know what I like to see? What, and this is important, when you go on interviews, when you actually get an onsite, face-to-face – ask people for a, ask the managers, the recruiters for a whiteboard. And whiteboard your environment – whiteboard, you know, put x’s where you were and draw out “This was the problem”, “This was the solution”. Stand up, don’t just use your words; be an active participant in that. Right, Tim? Yea…
Just remember code is way more fun that sales quotas.
So, let’s thank my dear friends Steve, Pete, Kirsten and Kris for giving us their advice today!