Mandi Walls: Welcome to Page It to the Limit, a podcast where we explore what it takes to run software in production successfully. We cover leading practices used in the software industry to improve both system reliability and the lives of the people supporting those system. I’m your host, Mandi Walls, find me @lnxchk on Twitter. Welcome to the show. This week, we’re going to talk about hiring and recruiting. I’m joined today by my friend, Wendy Macintosh, who is managing director at Emerald Talent. Wendy, welcome to the show.
Wendy McIntosh: Thank you, Mandi. Nice to be here.
Mandi Walls: Excellent. Tell us a little bit about what you do and what you’re working on right now.
Wendy McIntosh: Sure. I’ve been in technical recruiting for about 20… Well, 20 plus years now. And have been pretty much based out of Seattle, but have supported companies both in the Bay Area, as well as here, and then globally. And gosh, about a year and a half ago when COVID hit, I opened my own firm, Emerald Talent. And it was mainly because all these other firms were closing down, and recruiters were getting laid off left and right, and tech firms were put in airing on pause. And I just said, “You know what? We’re going to go hard, really early on.” And so in August of last year, opened my own firm and started building it out. And now, I support both enterprise as well as startup companies day zero, all the way up to about series F with their technical recruiting. It’s been a crazy wild ride in the last 18 months or so.
Mandi Walls: Absolutely. There is a lot of volatility across our industry and there’s a lot of crazy things going on, things changing. Folks out there, if you’ve worked with anybody who has worked in Seattle, you probably know somebody who knows Wendy, or got hired by Wendy, or has talked to Wendy. Because, she is plugged into absolutely everybody there is to know in Seattle. So over the past couple of years, what kinds of things are you seeing? What kinds of changes have happened in the technical market? It seems like things are crazy.
Wendy McIntosh: It’s manic right now. In fact, it was funny. I was thinking about it a little bit earlier today and it was like… I was thinking, “You know, we have not seen this much demand for technical talent.” And we’ve said, “There’s a war on talent,” for the last few years. But I’ve got to be honest with you, it is heightened more than ever in the last few months, I would say. Just because, a lot of companies put their hiring on hold when COVID first hit and paused everything. And then came back alive early in 2021 and said, “Oh my gosh, we got to make up for lost time. And now, we can’t find anybody. And we can’t even find our old recruiters to bring them back.” And so it has been a huge rush on the market and they wanted everything to happen months ago at the beginning of the year to build up their teams and be hiring, and building out and deploying technology this year. And it’s taken a long time. And so we’ve been busy, we’ve been super busy just drilling in and finding talent. And it’s so funny, because a lot of people will say, “Well, there’s more positions posted now than ever before.” Yeah, there are. And we’re reaching out to probably 10x the amount of developers and technologists versus what we had to reach out to even a year and a half ago, two years ago. So the demand has just gone through the roof.
Mandi Walls: Yeah. As a technologist, we’re kind of blessed with… There’s a lot of jobs out there, it’s a lot of choice. And like you say, the volatility, the sort of frothiness in our industry right now, is it just pent-up demand? Like, it feels like a lot of places, a lot of people are changing jobs. And in the news, there’s been the talk of the great resignation, and all of this kind of stuff. But at the same time, people didn’t move around last year. Because they were afraid of the pandemic, and the impacts of that. And they were dealing with their kids being home, and all these other things. So is it extra or are we catching up?
Wendy McIntosh: I think we’re catching up. I do think that a lot of people buried their heads last year during COVID, and they were trying to be loyal to the companies that were being loyal to them. If they kept them on the payroll and they kept them working, then employees felt like, “You know what, I should be loyal in return.” And they did that and they’ve been doing that. And now come summer, a lot of employees have said, “Okay, life is coming back as we used to know it. We’re going back into the office, companies are growing again and hiring again.” And they’re coming up for air, looking around and going, “You know what? I will start to look for another job” and they are. It’s funny, because people are calling it the great resignation, but I actually, as a recruiter, am calling it the great opportunity. Finally, employees are starting to move around and consider other opportunities. And so as a hiring manager, take this as your opportunity to find great talent that has been passive for the last year and a half and really go after them, and sell them on a new opportunity. Because a lot of people have just been doing the same old, same old and now they’re ready for a change.
Mandi Walls: Yeah. It definitely feels that way. It feels like everybody sort of coming out of this cocoon and they’re going to put real shoes and real pants on, and actually rejoin life again. So what kind of strategies do you take when you’re working with folks? You have some outlines on your website about some of the approaches that you have, but like, what’s the secret there for finding the right technical people for tech jobs?
Wendy McIntosh: There’s a couple of things. And a lot of hiring managers and a lot of leaders in general, figure that they can post a job description and somebody’s going to apply. And sure, yeah. Somebody’s going to apply to something, but I’ll promise you 90% of who have been applying out there haven’t even come close to the job description. And so we know as recruiters that what you post out there, is likely not going to attract the talent you need. And so it’s really about… When you talk about strategy, it’s really about being deliberate. Like, who do you truly need to round out your team? And what does that look like, in terms of skillsets and putting a plan together that actually takes you from beginning to end? So that everybody on the interview team, everybody internally understands exactly what you need to have the best fit for the role you’re trying to fill.
It’s funny, we see a lot of hiring managers who go and cut and paste a job description. They post it really quickly on the corporate website, and then they wash their hands of the process. And you’re just like, “You know what, that’s going to get you a bunch of junk first off.” And you’re going to be recruiting for a really long time, because you’re just not being as I said earlier, deliberate. And so a lot of it is putting in and understanding that the more you invest on the front end, the more you’re going to have a direct correlation to the results on the back end and making a great hire. And sometimes, that is being really dedicated and putting in the time and the resources. And then iterating as you go. A lot of times, people like I said, wash their hands, walk away from the process, look back in the the applicant tracking system 10 days later and wonder why they don’t have anybody that applied that’s perfect for the job.
And it’s like, “You know what? You’re going to have to actually go out there and target that passive talent that’s been hiding or loyal. And maybe, you find three to 10 candidates that are passively not even looking, but you outreach to them directly and say, “Hey, I know you’re doing this at this company. I’d love to talk with you.”” And then start doing that high touch kind of relationship building with that candidate or that set of candidates, to really target quality. So as a recruiter and as a recruiting firm, that’s what we do. We’re all about, “Let’s find quality for you versus quantity.” It’s not about 20 resumes, it’s about one to two good ones that really fit. And then building those trusted relationships along the way.
Mandi Walls: As you’re working with hiring managers, do you give them guidance on to how to write a better job posting? Because I think we see fewer of these ones that are like, a laundry list of every technology that’s ever been invented in the last 15 years. And you want 12 years of experience with a thing that’s only five years old, some of that stuff is improving around the industry. But what do you tell hiring managers for writing a good, enticing job posting when everybody is hiring?
Wendy McIntosh: Sure. You’re right, everybody is hiring. And I think writing a job description that attracts the right kind of talent. So really putting into the job description, asking the questions of the talent, that is going to really help you understand what the job is all about. So I’m always like, “Do you love data? Do you love working and munching data, and creating a dashboard that everybody from multiple platforms can read and assess, and understand? Do you love this? Is this where you thrive? Do you love writing code that does this?” Being super specific, but also really talking about and thinking about what are they going to be doing day to day in that job? And then asking the question. And sometimes, a job description can be three or four questions right out of the gates in the very first paragraph that a candidate goes, “Oh my gosh, that’s me. Yes. This is speaking to me.”
And then being able to say, “Hey, this is what we’re trying to do here. And this is why we’re doing it.” I think the why is super important as well. A lot of times, like you said, there’s a laundry list. And people look at the laundry list and they go, “That’s boring.” And they may have 75% of theskillset. The reality is, you want a job description that’s going to ask the candidate, “Can they do the job?” That is the number one thing everybody wants to know. Because no one wants to waste time in an interview process.
Mandi Walls: Absolutely.
Wendy McIntosh: It’s stressful and it’s time consuming, and it’s just not easy or fun. So I look at it like, write a job description that asks the question that helps the hiring manager and the candidate quickly assess, “Can I do the job? Can they do the job?” And then go from there and put best practices into place, and put good process into play that helps you finally land on an ideal candidate.
Mandi Walls: Yeah. So for folks who are hiring for technical jobs, do you see them doing a lot of… There’s been a lot of, I’ll say, controversy over things like coding tests and take home work and all that kind of stuff. Like what kind of stuff do you see there that works well?
Wendy McIntosh: I think the coding tests where it’s in person work the best. So if you are a working hands-on hiring manager who also codes, it is best if you do that assessment. The ideal situation would be for the hiring manager to start building that relationship with that candidate. They do a quick three to five questions of technical assessment, allowing the candidate to kind of show and talk about what they know, and what they don’t know. It’s always good to know what they do know, but also what they don’t know, and where their limitations are. And then being able to say, “Okay, yeah. I think you meet the bar and I’d love to have you meet some more people.” We see hacker rank and credility and all the CARROT and all these different assessment tools being used out there in the market.
And they’re just one piece of data that allows a hiring manager to make a decision, and use that data to assess a candidate. I kind of think when a hiring manager rolls up their sleeves and says, “You know what? I want to assess you. And I want to do this quick and dirty, and get right down to the nuts and bolts of what we need you to do.” If they’re able to do that, that is ideal. Now, not every hiring manager can do that. It’s hard to assess talent and skillsets that maybe you’ve been 10 years removed from. I haven’t coded in a long time as a hiring manager. But the reality is, then maybe you’re doing it in a different kind of scenario. Maybe you have your right hand developer on the team do that technical assessment, but do it fast. Have the conversation, connect the developer, do it on a quick Zoom or whatever you might want to do it on, and make decisions, move on.
Mandi Walls: Yeah. Now, having so many folks in the pipeline… For hiring for a position, when you have a lot of folks that you’re trying to get through, you have a lot of response on it. Putting more of those things in your workflow seems like it can be completely overwhelming. And like you never… It’s more than your full-time job to try and assess all these other candidates when you have them doing all this other additional homework and all these things. And yeah, definitely curious as to how often those things work. So that’s some good advice there for people.
Wendy McIntosh: It’s funny, too. Because we say 80% of the candidates who go through those assessments, they don’t actually get through. Only 20% get through them. Then you find out, “Oh. Well, this person’s taken this same test four times in the past.” Or they’ve gotten better as they go or whatever. Whereas, the hiring manager or somebody on the team can pretty much make that assessment pretty darn quick.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, absolutely. So for folks who are looking for jobs, what kind of advice do you have for those folks out there? Because there is so much available, how do you determine what is a good fit when you are talking to the hiring manager, as a job hunter?
Wendy McIntosh: Having a format and a plan on your side as a candidate, know what the next ideal position is going to look like for you, know where you want to go with your career. If you are truly looking for a heads down coding type of role, then talk about that, say that in your resume, call that out as your objective, but also put it out there to your network. “I’m looking for X kind of a role.” Or if the next step for you is going into leadership of some kind, put it out there into the universe because you’d be shocked. If you don’t know exactly what you want to be doing in your next role and you’re kind of hunting and pecking, you will waste a lot of time. And you will spend a lot of cycles talking to people that you may never need or ever consider their job again.
And right now, during this manic time of assessment and hiring just out there in the ecosystem, I kind of laugh. Because I’m like, “You know what? Know what you want and be able to articulate it in a way that you can cut right to the chase.” Because that’s what hiring managers love. They love being able to go, “Okay, this is the idea deal candidate for me.” And the other thing is, I think candidates need to do some homework. Like, look at companies and talk to people working within those companies, to know that this is kind of the environment you want. We know that Gen Zs want to work for companies with really positive impacts on the world these days. Whereas, maybe some of the Gen Ys or earlier generations are looking for stability. And just want a company where they can dig in and be there a long time. Everybody’s in a different state of mind right now.
And I guess I look at it like, “So know what you want. Are you looking for a stepping stone or are you looking for a company that you’re going to stay at for a long time? Are you looking for a position that’s going to change and have a lot of variety? Or are you looking for a position where you can really dig in and go deep in the code and in the technology, and learn and be there, and really grow within? So look for companies that are big about development.” I always talk to of people about, “What are your three hot buttons when you’re looking for a new company.?” And a lot of times, candidates will bang out, “Leadership.” They’re looking for really strong leadership with a social mission or some kind of…
Very driven and they can tell that story about the culture and the team, and the journey. They’re looking for product, they’re looking for, is the product something that’s going to be quality that they can really hang their hat on and be proud of? And they feel good about, and they see that kind of trajectory from a product perspective? And then also, where does this job take them? Like, where does this job position them for their next job? Or does it position them for long term stability? So is it something that they can grow within the company or do they have to hop out of the company to go get their next promotion?
Mandi Walls: Those are all good things to keep in mind. And it is hard when you feel like, “I just want to get out of here.” Or you’re not in a good place to really reset your mind and think about not just an escape plan, but an actual deliberate next step. What is coming down the road? What am I actually looking for? And I’ve been working for software vendors now for about a decade and you meet people that are comfortable in different kinds of companies. And it’s okay to be comfortable at an enterprise company. There’s stability there, there’s usually lots of nicer benefits in a lot of places versus a startup, where things are really just getting going. And there there’s kombucha on tap, but not necessarily a 401(k) plan. So you have to figure out what works best for you in that time of your life. So being very deliberate about that, I think for a lot of people, it’s something that they don’t think about that often. They’re just not… It’s not part of our practice as employees.
Wendy McIntosh: Totally. And I kind of laugh, because I’m quizzing candidates all the time about, what’s their ideal situation? And a lot of them haven’t thought about the difference between a huge enterprise. You hear people going to an Amazon or a Facebook, and they stay for 15 years. And the reason why, is because it’s a lot of little startups within a big company. And so they can bounce around from team to team every three or four years, and they’re happy doing that. And they can stay under that big umbrella. And then there are the little startups where you go and you get your fingers in everything. And you love that kind of exposure and visibility, and ability to impact a small company in big ways. And so knowing that where you thrive, where you do your best work, and who you are as a person, is super important to identifying the best search for you and how you’re going to find your next job.
Mandi Walls: Yeah. It’s absolutely fascinating. So along with that, what are you seeing from both sides of the hiring table, about the cultural changes that you kind of mentioned? The things that Gen Z and younger folks are looking for. But also, you started a company during a pandemic and all kinds of other social upheaval last year. So obviously, there’s things going on out there in the world. What are you seeing from not just from candidates and what they’re expecting from companies, but also how companies are responding to being more socially aware or socially supportive? In previous episodes, we talked about things like psychological safety that are very important when you want to be successful. And how do you assess that as someone looking for a job? What kind of things should people be looking for culturally, when they’re looking for a good fit?
Wendy McIntosh: I think that’s a great question. It’s different for everybody, and it varies from person to person. But I do think that people are really moving towards wanting a couple of main things like, flexibility. I think that’s the number one thing right now. A lot of companies are toying with whether or not to go back in the office, candidates are struggling with, “Do I want to go back in the office? Do I want to live in a big metropolitan hub where I’m expected in the office two days a week, or three days a week, and I have this hybrid model?” Hybrid will work for some people, they like that, that variety. But I think number one, the company has to have flexibility. And I think a lot of companies are starting to realize that they just can’t be hard and fast on any one rule, mandating people to come back into the office.
There’s just too much uncertainty still and I think that’s going to continue for a while. So we hear a lot of candidates saying, “I want the flexibility,” and I get a lot of clients and companies who are saying “We’ve got the flexibility.” And it’s those companies that do that and make it pretty loud and clear, that are winning the talent. That’s a big one. I think the other thing is organizational values, a lot of companies and are putting it out there. Like, “We’re very open to diversity and inclusion, and all this stuff.” But are they really doing it, or are they saying it? And I think the way candidates can assess if it’s really being lived and happening on a day to day basis, is really asking. Like, “What is your percentage of diversity in the company? How do you measure it? Like, what are you doing in terms of growing your company to be a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment?” And a lot of times, you need to ask it more than once. You can’t just ask it to one person, because what one person says, may be a canned response.
You really need to be asking it throughout the interview process to make sure it’s a consistent answer. But those companies that are really doing kind of the building out their values and their mission, are also winning the talent. Because now, they’re trusted. Right? They become tried and true. They’re becoming those customers that you start to realize, “Oh, I could go to work there and be really comfortable being myself. And they’re thinking about me, they’re psychologically… They’ve kind of addressed all the issues and there’s plenty of them.”
Yeah. I think the last one is just really, are they open to compensation and rewarding employees fairly? A lot of companies have started to say, “Yeah, you can work remotely. 100% remote, but we may pay you 50% less if you live in Kansas.” And so that’s something that the candidate has… There’s a balance there. And the candidate has to assess whether or not that’s the right thing for them. But at the end of the day, that’s I think, the third big pillar is how are companies really kind of paying people fairly for doing honest, good work?
Mandi Walls: Yeah. Absolutely. Because it does feel… Logically, I understand there is a difference in the cost of living in different places. But does that mean that my work has different value to the company based on where I live? Like, that seems a little out of balance there sometimes to say, “Okay. I live in Union County, New Jersey versus Kansas City, Missouri.” And having that being significantly different, when I’m going to do the same work.
Wendy McIntosh: Right. Exactly. But it’s asking the questions, right?
Mandi Walls: Yeah.
Wendy McIntosh: It’s having that conversation and that dialogue, and being able to look somebody in the eye when you’re talking to them. Whether it’s video or whatever. And hearing the answers and knowing, “Okay. They actually have a plan. They actually can just describe this environment.”
Mandi Walls: Yeah, absolutely. And I feel like for a lot of places, like you say, ask multiple times during the interview process, asking different people. Because you will usually get a different answer from the manager versus the people who will be your peers and your teammates, and what they’re often willing to sort of tell you about what’s really going on.
Wendy McIntosh: Right. Right. And you want to hear what’s under the covers, right?
Mandi Walls: Yes.
Wendy McIntosh: Because I think the thing, is that candidates forget a lot of times. And especially right now, this is a candidate’s market. [inaudible 00:23:00] are going to have multiple offers. If they raise their hand and they stick their resume out there or anything, they’re going to be able to get a lot of offers. And so the reality is, how do you manage that and make sense of all the noise, and all of the stuff that’s being told to you? And I think that is really about again, as a candidate, interview the company as hard and as aggressively as they interview you. Because you want to go in with your eyes wide open as a candidate and know that they’ve shared with you, but they can also tell a story. Like, you want to hear those stories about how did they build out their diversity and inclusion? And what did it look like three years ago? And what does it look like today? And how did that evolve?
And so I guess I look at it like, it’s the candidates responsibility to ask a lot of good questions and really dig in, and learn. Because when you sign up for another company and you make that big step, a lot of the current companies, especially your current employer, is going to do a lot of work to keep you. When you go and resign or give your notice, they’re going to do everything in their power to keep you. Because they know how hard it was to find you in the first place, and to ramp you up. So I look at it like, you better be 100% certain you’re ready to go and locked and loaded, but you also have all the information that you need to make a really solid decision.
Mandi Walls: Yeah. There’s a lot of opportunities out there right now. So to finish this out, we asked folks to share a… Debunk a myth with us about the things that they’re skilled in. And I know there’s lots of myths about job hunting, and recruiting, and all the mess that is employees getting jobs. But help us out, what’s a good myth to debunk about this whole process?
Wendy McIntosh: I think one myth is that there’s this hidden job market out there, where people are getting jobs that they didn’t even have to apply to, or that they-
Mandi Walls: Oh, right. Yes.
Wendy McIntosh: You hear about these, “Oh, how did she end up with that role? I didn’t even see that posted. The company never even posted it.” There is no hidden job market out there. I’m just going to say it as a recruiter, companies by law have to post all of their jobs. You not have seen it, or it may have been at a startup where they did it quietly, or they didn’t have exposure to every single job. But at the end of the day, very few jobs are getting filled by people kind of hidden or mysteriously behind the scenes, behind the curtain. Most jobs, 90%, 95%. I will go out on a limb and say are posted, because they have to be posted for compliance reasons. But also, because there’s such a demand on talent right now that if they don’t post their jobs, they’re not getting much mileage or traction on candidates and interests anyway.
And so I look at it like, there is no hidden job market. You just have to be smart and deliberate of about which companies you go after, and then start networking and talking to the people you know who work in those companies. Because you’d be shocked how many times people will say, “I know of a position that’s going to come open.” And if you understand that, that is how you get ahead of it and you can start to apply or start to at least, understand who the hiring managers will be that you can reach out to on LinkedIn or whatever that might be. But yeah, I think the big myth is that there’s some mystery behind hiring, there isn’t. It’s just a lot of resumes and a lot of connecting the dots, and making sure people can do the job.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, definitely. It’s actual work. Oh my goodness. Excellent. Well, do you have a parting piece of advice or anything for folks out there who are… Let’s talk to hiring managers, what’s a good parting piece for those folks who are maybe just getting into hiring, or having some trouble getting going right now?
Wendy McIntosh: I think for hiring managers, my advice is time is the killer of all deals. We hear that in sales all the time. And I think hiring managers keep putting things off and being like, “Well, this person doesn’t look very good on paper. I may talk to them if I can’t find anybody else.” No, pick up the phone or have a conversation with that person right away. Time is the killer. If you let time… You’d be shocked how many times I realize engineers are terrible at writing resumes, leave a lot of data and information out. And then I get them on the phone and I’m like, “Wait a minute. Why isn’t this written on your resume?”
And so for a hiring manager, it’s actually engage and invest a little bit of time. Because sometimes, people aren’t great at writing their resumes and you’ll find some golden nuggets out there just by taking that energy and putting it into talking to people. And then moving the process along quickly, once you find the winner. For the candidate, I think the advice is leverage this time right now. Do your homework on companies, be smart about the questions you ask the companies and how you assess them. Make sure you understand who you are as a candidate, so that you know what you’re looking for. And then go to town. Like, start applying because there’s lots of opportunity.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, absolutely. It feels overwhelming. Folks who are looking for jobs now, you have my sympathy. Because, it’s like a mile long buffet, like good luck. Seems just absolutely crazy out there right now.
Wendy McIntosh: It is for tech and you want people to be happy. Yeah. And I think for the most part, they just want to land in a really good company where they’re going to be there for a long time. And they’re going to feel safe, and they’re going to be happy and do good work.
Mandi Walls: Do good work, build great stuff that people like to use, with great people and all those things. So yeah, I think that’s what we’re all after. Just finding that niche is the challenge for everybody.
Wendy McIntosh: Exactly.
Mandi Walls: Wendy, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been excellent. So I hope this helps folks out there who are thinking about hiring, gearing up, or maybe in the middle of the process. Or thinking about changing jobs right now, while the getting’s good, I guess. All that good stuff there, so thank you for joining us.
Wendy McIntosh: Thank you for having me.
Mandi Walls: All right. So that was our episode for this week. Thank you to everybody for joining us. This is Mandi Walls and I am wishing you an uneventful day. That does it for another installment of Page It to the Limit. We’d like to thank our sponsor PagerDuty for making this podcast possible. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, if you like what you’ve heard. You can find our show notes at pageittothelimit.com and you can reach us on Twitter @pageit2thelimit using the number two. Thank you so much for joining us. And remember uneventful days, are beautiful days.
Wendy is Managing Director and Co-Founder of Emerald Talent. Wendy has 15 years of recruiting experience spread across multiple arenas of HR, Talent Acquisition and Program/Process improvement. The ability to work closely with other areas of her organization has resulted in increased company efficiencies, as well as fulfilled business goals. Wendy’s extensive background in all aspects of HR and recruiting, as well as her experience managing customers and project implementations, provides her with a unique ability to appropriately represent her company, its people and its products to the end customer.
Mandi Walls is a DevOps Advocate at PagerDuty. For PagerDuty, she helps organizations along their IT Modernization journey. Prior to PagerDuty, she worked at Chef Software and AOL. She is an international speaker on DevOps topics and the author of the whitepaper “Building A DevOps Culture”, published by O’Reilly.