It’s not a talent shortage, it’s a hiring problem

I just started a new job at Microsoft and the hiring process has been on my mind a lot lately. I read articles on the Internet and hear people talking about how hard it is to find good development talent. They say there are plenty of people looking for jobs, but hardly any worth hiring. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

I just went through the interview process with a bunch of big software companies in the Seattle area and I only received one job offer. I’m generalizing here, but I think that if I’m qualified to work for Microsoft, I’m probably qualified to work just about anywhere. For all but 2 companies, I didn’t make it past the phone screens. (Edit: What I’m doing here is making an assumption that most big software companies have similar technical requirements of their employees. So if I’m smart enough that Microsoft wanted to hire me, I’m likely smart enough that Google or Amazon might want to hire me as well. I am not saying that any Microsoft employee can get a job wherever they want simply because they worked at Microsoft. Also, for those of you that brought up culture as a reason, I am talking about being rejected before a culture fit could be determined.)

To me, this says that something is wrong with the interview process. Companies shouldn’t be turning qualified candidates. I understand why they do, but to me it seems like a waste, and pretty unfair for lots of people trying to get a job. Getting turned down for a job you aren’t qualified for is one thing, but getting turned down because it was snowing the day of your interview is pretty crushing.

So what can be done about it? There are constantly great articles about different interviewing/hiring techniques. My personal favorite is contracting someone to do a small job for the company. That way they’re really invested in it (because you’re paying them) and you get to see how the person works first hand. A novel technique like that doesn’t necessarily scale too well though. How can a company like Microsoft that hires hundreds of people a week do better? (They hired me, so clearly they can’t</sarcasm>)

I think the number one thing companies can do is calm down a bit and let the interviewee impress you. So many of the interviews I had were strictly technical. There was a little room for questions at the end, but never a time where I felt I could really show off the things I’m good at. They seemed to care more about whether I could come up with complex algorithms on the spot instead of things that I’ve actually done.

I didn’t get to talk about the iPhone app I built for the national restaurant chain, or the website I helped build with over 30,000 signups, or the developer blog I helped start at my old company. Sure, they saw it on my resume, but they never got to hear the details that made each of those things great. I feel like there are so many reasons to hire me, and it was hard to bring many of them up in a lot of the interviews that I had. The job I got? That was the one where I talked about my experience the most with the interviewer.

Hopefully I’m not coming off as bitter about not getting more job offers. I’m really not. I understand that I made mistakes and they can’t hire everyone. I just want companies to stop thinking that the talent isn’t out there, because it is. They just need to work a little bit differently to find it.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to It’s not a talent shortage, it’s a hiring problem

  1. J Wynia says:

    Your last paragraph is why one of my most important interview questions is: “Tell me about an interesting project from your resume”. Those that have something they’re proud of or really enjoyed working on immediately reveal that, but you’d be surprised how many people just stare at me and, even with 10+ year careers, can’t come up with anything.

  2. Some Yankee says:

    Solid article. I’m a big fan of “fire everyone and start fresh”.

    Re-build from the ground up for maximum results – it works everytime. Look at the new M$ logo for example.

  3. Jeffrey Erickson says:

    We often find that there are plenty of technically qualified people out there, but what you can do isn’t the only factor in hiring. The most important thing about hiring talent is finding talent that works well with your existing talent. In other words: finding a good CULTURE fit. There are LOTS of smart people out there, but only a small percentage of those people are sociable enough to really do an exceptional job as a part of a TEAM, and teams, not talent, build products.

  4. Gem says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    One of my favourite questions to ask whilst interviewing prospective developers was (and still is) “What have you worked on that you had the most fun doing?” with the secondary, follow up of “And the one which you are most proud of?”

    Anyone can pass a technical test with the right training and a little bit of knowledge. I wanted people with passion for achieving relevant milestones in projects both inside and out of work hours. The best way to show passion is to let the interviewee talk openly, and really listen with intent.

  5. Stripe says:

    I very respectfully disagree. I’ve interviewed we’d engineers coming out of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and Facebook. Ex-Microsoft engineer are consistently a tad worse than the others. I don’t mean to offend, and the projects you’ve worked on would definitely impress us, but working at Microsoft does not automatically qualify you to work at any company. You’re also casting aside “culture fit” which can very a lot by company.

  6. Sam says:

    “I’m generalizing here, but I think that if I’m qualified to work for Microsoft, I’m probably qualified to work just about anywhere”

    Hahahaha…. Couldn’t be further from the truth!

  7. doug says:

    this is a very thoughtful essay. As a hiring manager, your post suggest specific types of failures that i am guilty of and need to correct asap. Likewise, i know many others are no better off because they follow the same guidance from their HR Departments as i do. I’ll give you a common example that supports the inferences in your essay: we used to use ‘jobvite’ , a service that that allows a company to outsource the administrative minutiae of recruiting. I thought this service would be a major step forward because it would improve applicant tracking (i.e., we don’t lose promising candidates just because someone forgot to give us their interview feedback form). Perhaps it did improve tracking, but i failed us in many other ways, in particular, perhaps no other profession has a larger “data trail” than programmers–StackOverflow and Public Repositories (e.g., github) in particular. Yet this data usually rarely survived the jobvite processing filters. Granted, we could access applicants by “keyword” and by application date, but the most useful data was nearly always missing because it did not fit in a pre-defined “applicant field.” We have to do better than this.

  8. James says:

    “I’m generalizing here, but I think that if I’m qualified to work for Microsoft, I’m probably qualified to work just about anywhere”

    This was your first error. And it invalidates the rest of your rant.

  9. Pingback: Epicene Cyborg

  10. bonb says:

    Your hinting at it but not hitting it….here it is.

    I have worked in the valley, and interviewing in the valley consists of quoting algorythm books, that in many cases the interviewer if they had to code it would need to read it from the book.

    In one major silicon valley company, my interview consisted of being asked stupid questions about the design of vi.

    As an interviewer myself, if an interviewee even claims to like vi, I boot them.

    The thing is, even though I got that job and get nearly every job I interview for, once on board I find that the very people that interviewed me are sloppy, half assed coders.

    So I find that the interview process is really just an ego trip for the people doing the interviewing in a lot of cases. A bullshit hazing ritual that has nothing to do with anything.

    Hardly anyone at a silicon valley company has a resume that can compare with mine, and I interview well, but when I am confronted with people who pull shit off the internet to do a test question type scenario, or ask about algorythms which in the end are more or less easy, but they are looking for a complete walkthrough with only one solution I check out.

    You people know who you are, you are dicks. I get the job anyway, and then run circles around you. I dont respect you, I wont name names, but companies that do this are not worth working for.

  11. ElColon says:

    bonb, you seem to have some personal dispute with an entire wave of programmers. I have bad news for you: the programmers you are describing are so many and so widely spread, and they get so more dickish and egotistical as the time goes by, that you are just a little fly on their windshield. Every profession has it’s bunch of dicks but the software engineering dicks are a special breed. They are high IQ dicks. Good luck in your quest of putting them to shame.

  12. anonymous says:

    @bonb: If your resumé is as badly spelt as your post, then it’s unlikely you’ll be taken seriously for anything.

    Software engineering is increasingly about communication rather than pure coding chops, so you’ll want to work on how to communicate using English to get further ahead than you are.

  13. Enlightenment says:

    After going on numerous job interviews, I firmly believe that some companies don’t know how bad their HR department sucks! Employment is a two-way street, just like dating, you judge us, but we also judge you. I would never work for some companies because their HR departments are horrific !!!

  14. --- says:

    @Jeffrey Erickson
    Your post reminds me of this:

    From my experience most people like to talk about themselfs. Since self refletion is a very important social skill, the company should give the applicant the chance to present himself. By letting the applicant talk about the thing he likes, the company can have very deep insights into the personality of the applicant.

  15. Jeffrey Erickson says:

    @— I agree! But I also see the value in working out these sort of problems as a team. We like to see how the applicant thinks, and more importantly, how they communicate and collaborate with others through a hard problem.

  16. distracted says:

    Companies want the cream of the crop without the responsibility of developing that talent. The problem with highly skilled industry like software development is that employees become proud of what they know – development is elitist central. Too many cooks in the kitchen leads to major apathy and you end up with no-one who can do the donkey work like clearing up code or writing documentation – everyone feels above this kind of detail. This eventually comes back on the product and future development.

    Forget about job interviews. Hold a party and see how your prospectives socialise. The most successful companies understand that they need to manage an ecosystem for their staff. Don’t hire individuals, hire a team.

  17. Yung Kwang Zi says:

    >Objective-C, JavaScript
    >If I’m qualified to work for Microsoft, I’m probably qualified to work just about anywhere.
    Well I should have stopped reading right here. Yet another chav’s opinion.

  18. petethewaddle says:

    There has been a SERIOUS change in the way people are hired. No offense, “but the young fast talking Human Resources manager” has no clue. They skip over resumes if the keywords don’t match. They also do not know how to return phone phone calls or handle themselves in a professional manner. This is a huge turn-off before you even get in the door.

    Even if you get the interview, companies do not even have the decency to acknowledge your thank you letter or e-mail. I interview a lot of people every year and I will hire someone who is totally “out of the box”, if they make a great impression on me. If they have heart, I have no problem investing and training that person. They have been my best hires.

  19. Mike says:

    If your thesis is correct that there is not a talent shortage, there would be lots of stellar engineers out there struggling to find a job.

    However, I’ve never met a single one. The unemployment rate for talented engineers is effectively zero.

    The talent shortage is very real – even the very best companies are struggling to get good people, and many of them have quite open-minded and innovative interview processes.

  20. @bonb: am sorry, but what is your problem with vi/vim??

  21. gregg dourgarian says:

    Deer Perpective Emplyer
    I’s hyred by Mycrosoft, why yu not hire me?


  22. gurTh4ng says:

    I’m trying to understand how people who can’t spell or construct a sentence are capable of writing clean code.

    Just saying…

  23. Criação says:

    I understand very well your point, Randall.

  24. Adriaan Bouman says:

    Finding a job sucks…having one even more!

  25. lifeguard says:

    I can clear up your confusion. Most of the jobs you interviewed for were merely designed to document the comopany could not find local tallent, and thus they need to recruit a H1B visa engineer for the job (at 75% of the market rate salary).

  26. Pingback: DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » It’s Not a Talent Shortage, It’s a Hiring Problem

  27. googoobaby says:

    I just went through a wave of interviewing in the Seattle area and found it interesting if mostly a repellent experience. Surprisingly, Microsoft was the most professional organization of any I talked to, and despite a strong fear of what @bonb talks about (and correctly so), did not feel in the least bit hazed. I ended up taking a job elsewhere but it left me with a positive feeling about the MS product group that I talked to.

  28. Rob says:

    I think that engineers are facing increasing competition from global talent (starting with 1 billion people in India), and even if they don’t feel the pressure right now, people with low to medium level of talent will find it increasingly difficult in future, but the most in demand engineers will never have a problem getting a job.

  29. Va says:

    I was having interview at Google, same issues as author described.

    more important testing process, they do not boother to ask about Hobby Projects,
    or previous successful projects.

    Global thoughts about interviews:

    I have idea that people who participate in Interviews not gifted , they envy sometimes other people talent . No matter how you are smart they just stop you to enter any company.

    Another big idea :
    Cheap labor power

  30. GV says:

    Generalizing: Orgs do not want fully integrated skilled person. They just want fitment for the position. There are very few companies who really do justice to interviewing process.
    Many times a person just stays with one company for so long that he forgets the difference between safe job with regular pay check and a thorough career. When times tests him, he fails or wonders how much the world outside has changed.
    Who has time?

  31. xing says:

    “culture fit” actually means whether or not a candidate feels comfortable surrounded by slow moving, narrow minded and incompetent co-workers.

  32. Alex says:

    “I’m generalizing here, but I think that if I’m qualified to work for Microsoft, I’m probably qualified to work just about anywhere.”

    I’m curious why you think that’s so. As an interviewer, my experience is that ex-Microsoft people tend to be at the low end. There’s two big causes that I see.

    First, a lot of people work at Microsoft *because* it’s big and successful. I’m looking to hire people who want to work somewhere to *make* it successful. Success attracts the kind of people who can hide at a big company, and that’s exactly who I don’t want.

    Second, Microsoft has the biggest monoculture anywhere. It’s the technological equivalent of “we have both kinds of music here: country AND western!”. Microsoft people are much more likely to have a resume with C, C++, C#, ASP, ASP.NET, and nothing else. You ask a question and you’ll get 50 lines of C# or C++, and when you ask them to explain in concepts rather than source code you find that they only know these concepts within the context of that language. You kindly suggest that a 3-line shell script could do the job, and they stare blankly at you like you’re speaking Greek.

    I’m not saying you are this person, but I’ve seen dozens of instances of this person come from Microsoft and try to get a job at my company. I have hired one ex-Microsoft person who is fantastic, but he is definitely the exception.

  33. Xavier says:

    Could you elaborate on why do you think ex-Microsofters are able to work anywhere?

  34. I’m generalizing here, but I think that if I’m qualified to work for Microsoft, I’m probably qualified to work just about anywhere.

    Wronger words have never been spoken. In fact any statement of the form “if I am qualified to work at $x, I can certainly work anywhere,” is wrong. I’ve spent the last year interviewing people for a team at a company that shall not be named. I’ve been through more than 20 people with “senior” titles from microsoft in embedded software roles who could not flip a single bit in a byte when asked to. No offence to Microsoft, there were plenty of people from other companies with equal problems. The main point I am making here: just because a person slips through an interview process somehow, does not mean they are qualified to work anywhere. Once again – I am not claiming that the original poster is one of such people, just pointing out that there *is* in fact a talent shortage when “senior” people from the field you want to hire in have no experience in said field, regardless of stellar resumes. Blaming HR is an excuse.

  35. Randall says:

    Alex, I’m trying to say that the large tech companies have similar technical requirements of their developers. If I’m smart enough to work at Microsoft, I’m likely smart enough to work at Amazon or Google. I’m not saying that’s definitely the case, and I’m not saying I deserve anything special. I’m just pointing out that if one company thinks I’m good enough to hire, other companies might be making a mistake by dismissing me after a simple phone screen or not interviewing at all.

    I understand that working at Microsoft can change you into a developer that you might not want to hire. I am not talking about current or former Microsoft employees.

  36. Oliver says:

    Hey Randall,

    I liked your article very much – it was kinda a philosophical essay.
    Some people got it wrong an started bitching around and showing their antipathy for certain companies. That’s a waste of time and space in this blog.
    As you say, it’s mostly hard to get a chance to show where you are good at. And this is a source of frustration for the applicant. But maybe the applicant should realize this and show, that he can also learn and adapt to a recruitment style he or she doesn’t like.
    But of course it would be nice to get the chance to show talent and ambition more easy – but it’s hard for companies to spend this effort.
    Cheers, Oli

  37. Pingback: Large companies make one big mistake when hiring | We Always Have The LOWEST Pharmacy Online-Offers » Zaditor Online Without Prescription

  38. Xavier says:

    Oh I get it so a potential Microsoft hiree shouldn’t be automatically discarded.

    Which is also completely false. Microsoft culture is greatly incompatible with Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook or Rackspace. Those companies are moved by fast-pace innovation and are they are dynamically similar to a start-up.

    Microsoft average profile is much similar Oracle’s and IBM.

  39. Abhishek says:

    If you can elaborate your experience on “the developer blog I helped start at my old company”. I have started a developer blog in my company but can’t convince developers to write on it enough.

    Your ideas may help many companies like us.

  40. Well said. A the owner of an executive search firm, I can’t tell you how well this resonates in my ears. It’s one thing for me (a third party recruiter) to try to explain to certain clients how many great candidates have been, ”passed on” during the interview process…but it’s another thing to hear a valuable, qualified (the proof IS on the pudding) candidate testify to his personal experience and ultimate triumph! Great work, and best of luck to you!

  41. I think that if I’m qualified to work at Microsoft, I’m qualified to work anywhere

    Surely you mean “within a certain subfield”. Do you think you’re qualified to captain a boat? Or work on an oil rig?

    hiring problem

    Two thoughts.

    One: if you read Hacker News, you saw Dominic Connor’s piece in the Telegraph, linked last week. I clicked thru to his other Telegraph pieces after that; he admits that HR people at large banks do not know about IT; they look up questions online and try to spot liars. They see their job as “protecting management” from those whose CV’s had the right keywords but were just lying. Obviously the system underlying all of that is not meant to deal with individual candidates with unique traits; it views candidates as a mass of keywords and valued norms (such as “continuous employment at increasing levels of seniority”) and then adds on a crude filter. Welcome to large organisations.

    The second is something I noticed in myself years ago and that I continue to notice in graduates. The messages one gets in school are largely incompatible with what employers want. Studying hard, identification with the subject matter one has struggled with (who in business has any idea what it means to hire someone from low-dimensional topology versus a harmonic analyst?), and information about “the real world” coming from journalistic publications (hype) rather than careerists in situ (good information) all had a deleterious effect on my early career.


    That’s not really the company’s problem, is it? Say you were running a business, are you going to hand out charity jobs because it’s the nice thing to do? Or are you trying to solve your own problems.


    I agree, this sounds like a great idea. But maybe there’s some reason HR doesn’t do it so often. I remember one firm that was iffy about me wanted to do a contract job to start, but neither I nor the hiring manager could figure out a short-term intersection between my skills and the company’s needs — I needed to invest a few months in the company before I would understand their business well enough to help with their problems; I didn’t want to do that for free, and they didn’t want to risk the cash on me.

    I want companies to stop thinking the talent isn’t out there

    I think this is just a form of whining, as much as “It’s not fair that I don’t have a job.” If companies spent more money on recruiting and on candidates they would find more; if they spent more on hiring, they would filter better; end of story.

  42. Jeffrey Erickson: That is a great argument for assigning problems for groups to figure out in “hard sciences” education. In my experience we were taught to suffer alone — asking for help in figuring out a maths problem is “cheating”.

  43. Pingback: 不是缺少人才,而是面试过程有问题 - 博客 - 伯乐在线

  44. Max Chiodo says:

    I think the point of this article is that the interview process is broken at most big tech companies. On this point I have to agree. The best predictor of future professional success is one’s history of professional achievements. I really do not believe you can decide whether a person is the right choice based on an an hour or so of white board coding which is NOT how the work is done in the real world anyway. For one thing, many people, myself included, suffer from major interview anxiety and can’t see or think straight in that kind of setting. Companies complain that talent is not there. In my experience, the reality is that the interview process funnel is simply leaving out a lot of very qualified people. Of course if they are as big as Google or Amazon, they can afford to play the odds, leave behind some good people, hire someone who interview well but will not perform well on the job, and still on average end up with a decent workforce. Fair enough. But stop whining about the talent shortage please.

  45. cengiz says:

    here in australia its not any better
    i have an IT degree from university but i’m not getting hired because i have no experience. Makes it feel like all that time studying was a waste of time and all i got out of it was a debt to the government. Over 20k

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>