College Recruiting, Technical Recruiting

Hiring capable software developers is challenging.

As the demand for talented developers continues to outpace supply, organizations from start-ups to enterprises are adopting hiring strategies suited to identifying the best early professional talent as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, many software engineering students graduate flush with theory, but short on coding knowledge. As Sherri Blaszkiewicz, Early Professional Hiring Program Directory at IBM, put it in her Digital Disruption presentation: 

"Thousands and thousands of people graduate every year with a CS (Computer Science) degree or Software Engineering degree and they cannot code. So if you are not testing them, you have no guarantee. They may know lots and lots about technology, but it doesn’t mean they can code." - Sherri Blaszkiewicz, Early Professional Hiring Program Director, IBM

It is a tremendous disadvantage for organizations to screen software developers based on school and GPA, since the most promising engineers could be waiting right beyond your arbitrary cut-off point. 

This is precisely why IBM does not screen the resumes of its entry-level developer applicants. If your organization hires software developers, you should consider adopting a similary strategy.

A Look Into IBM’s Entry-Level Developer Hiring Strategy

IBM starts its entry-level developer hiring process with the most basic screen imaginable: whether the applicant is authorized to work in the country they’re applying. They do not even consider the resume at the point of the application. 

Consolidating Job Requisitions

As IBM looked to make its software developer opportunities more competitive, they noticed more than 150 job requisitions spread across numerous business divisions. 

This meant IBM would visit college campuses as its distinct business units, and candidates would be required to apply for multiple jobs across divisions if they wanted to be considered for multiple roles.

Now these 150+ job requisitions have been consolidated into five:

  1. Data Scientist
  2. Software Engineer
  3. Cognitive Software Engineer
  4. Front-End Developer
  5. DevOps Engineer

By compressing over 150 job requisitions into five, IBM made applying a breeze for budding young software developers. 

Then they go straight to the skills.

Assessing Coding Skills

All applicants (assuming they are legally eligible to work) are invited to take an on demand coding assessment and interview consisting of the following:

  1. Video response questions. Questions like: “What tools are you teaching yourself on your own?” are used to get candidates comfortable and talking - mentally preparing them for the coding questions.
  2. Three coding questions (easy, medium, and hard). Candidates complete three coding challenges through HireVue’s CodeVue platform. Every response is auto-scored: the top candidates are automatically put through to the next step, middle scorers’ responses are manually screened by technical experts, and the bottom scorers are moved out of the hiring funnel.
  3. One follow-up response question. This question asks candidates to describe the approach they used for the “hard” coding challenge.

Again, no resume is used for any screening decision: the screen is entirely skills-based. 

Interviewing and Placing

Candidates who make it to the next step of IBM’s hiring process are put through a series of interviews, starting with a live whiteboarding session with a technical expert:

  1. Live Whiteboarding Interview. During this interview, candidates validate their skills and share their experiences with a technical expert who asks them coding questions in a live environment.
  2. Live “Fit” Interview. This is the first step in the process a candidate’s resume is considered. But instead of using it to make sweeping decisions about applicants’ candidacy, IBM’s senior interviewers use it as a starting point for discussion. Candidates are asked about their past experiences, where they want to work, and what they want to work on.
  3. Two Day Onsite “Finish Line” Event. This gala event involves panels, speakers, and group work on hypothetical case studies. By the end of the event, offers are made within 24 hours.

All in all, each step of their new hiring process resulted in 30% higher candidate throughput - recruiters and hiring managers were given more quality candidates to work with. In their Cognitive Solutions arm, IBM identified the top 660 candidates in a pool of over 15,000 applicants. 

Ignoring resumes and relying on skill assessment also impacted the quality of IBM’s new hires. Candidates who completed a HireVue coding assessment were 20% more likely than their peers to receive the highest performance rating. 

Takeaways from IBM’s Hiring Strategy

IBM does several things right here, and there are three general takeaways any TA department hiring entry-level software developers should take to heart. 

1) Remove Barriers to Entry

First, they make it easy for the best developers to be considered for multiple roles across numerous divisions with a single application. Seeing page after page of job requisitions on a job board is disheartening, particularly to job seekers new to the job search. 

2) Screen Skills, Not Pedigree

The best software developers might not have been the best students, and the best computer science students might have no idea how to code. Increase the depth of your talent pool by allowing every applicant to show their skills. 

Don’t ignore GPA, but don’t screen with it either. Use it as point of discussion in a live interview.

3) Get Technical Experts Involved (Early)

Any software developer hiring process will eventually require the involvement of technical experts with development knowledge. Whether these experts begrudgingly agree to help or eagerly lend their talents is another issue entirely. 

IBM ensured their “expert” interviewers were fully on board by hand-picking its team of evaluators, with all business units represented. Early professionals evaluated HireVue OnDemand interviews, experienced professionals proctored the live whiteboarding interviews, and senior IBM leaders conducted the final “fit” interviews. All three groups attended the “Finish Line” event.

Skills over Pedigree: More Crucial than Ever for Hiring Developers

The rise of the coding “bootcamp” has flooded the market with aspiring software engineers. Some of these bootcamps have a reputation for developing top coders. Even more seem content to take students’ money and run. And others are so new, we don’t know if their curriculums are up to snuff. 

Traditional learning methods are being upended everywhere, but nowhere is this more evident than in software development. The hiring process needs to reflect this new “normal” - else the most qualified applicants are rejected due to a lack of qualifications.

Learn more about how IBM discovered the top 4% of their developer applicant pool.

See IBM's Strategy

Watch their presentation from Digital Disruption 2017. 

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