As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the demand for skilled technical professionals has never been higher. This means that recruiters need to be on top of their game to find, attract, and retain the best candidates in this highly competitive market.
Our panellists come from diverse backgrounds and have worked with a variety of companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. They have all successfully navigated the challenges of recruiting in the tech industry and are here to share their expertise on what separates a good technical recruiter from a great one.
The TalentLab team dove into the world of technical recruiting during this panel and highlighted some key details around their roles, skills, challenges, and everything in between. Below you can learn from our panellists’ experiences and perspectives, including sourcing strategies, candidate engagement techniques, and the impact of emerging technologies on the technical recruitment process.
Meet Our Panelists
Sarah is an engineering recruitment expert with over 10 years of experience working with some of the biggest high-tech employers across North America.
Gord is a seasoned technical recruitment leader who specializes in web, software, and mobile talent pools.
Josh is a seasoned recruiter specializing in software, DevOps and project management related roles in the high-tech industry.
Aaron is a senior technical recruiter with a technical focus on embedded software, firmware, and hardware across the semiconductor and telecommunications industry.
Peter is a senior technical recruiter & account manager with over five years of experience specializing in infrastructure, data and operations roles in the high-tech industry.
Juliette is a technical recruiter specializing in software development, computer vision, and machine learning roles in the high-tech industry.
Nick is a technical recruiter with a focus on software development, web development, and developing client relationships in the high-tech industry.
What makes somebody a great tech recruiter?
- Natural curiosity
- Ability to learn
- Good communication
- Emotional intelligence
There are innate personality traits that take someone from good to great. And one of them is perseverance or tenacity; either one of those words applies. There are a lot of ups and downs in this field. There are big wins and big losses, and we’re dealing with people who can often disappoint. So, having the capacity to dust yourself off quickly, get back in, and have the drive to chase hard is a trait that helps someone succeed.
A good technical recruiter is naturally curious and willing to learn complex topics. Often, technical recruiters do not possess an engineering background. However, they will be required to interact with engineers daily. In order to get to the heart of a qualified candidate, and expedite the recruitment process – research, and taking the time to reverse engineer, where your ideal candidates exist within the market, is key.
The ability to be resourceful is key to making someone a great tech recruiter. Since tech recruiters are faced with so many unique searches and problems, it is extremely vital to understand that sticking to one strategy or process is usually not going to translate to long-term success. With an evolving market and intense competition, it’s important for tech recruiters to utilize different sourcing strategies, seek out new learning opportunities and continuously find ways to improve on the job. It’s not a one size fits all approach!
In terms of my experience, managing many recruiters throughout my career, communication skills are so important, especially articulation. That means being able to articulate complex job scopes and concepts that you, yourself, as the recruiter, may not have ever done or actually performed but that you’ve learned. I also think communication in the sense of building rapport with a wide variety of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as different education levels.
Another thing is emotional intelligence. Being a great recruiter is being able to read people, understanding the differences sometimes between what they want and need, and being able to decipher between what they’re saying versus their level of self-awareness. The difference between a good and a great technical recruiter isn’t just listening to what people want but really challenging them to find what they need in order to succeed and be the best version of themselves.
“Being a great recruiter is being able to read people, understanding the differences sometimes between what they want and need, and being able to decipher between what they’re saying versus their level of self-awareness”
– Sarah Doughty,
What are the roles and responsibilities of a tech recruiter?
- Ability to identify and engage with top talent
- Translate the hiring manager’s needs and get to the core of the skills and profile required
- Curate a fit. For example, creating a durable match between the candidate and the employer
- Negotiation. This starts at the very beginning of the process by accurately assessing the paint points of stakeholders.
The ability to find very good candidates. So, that kind of stems back to resourcefulness, making sure that you can kind of uncover a couple of layers of how people work, what they’re thinking, what their motivations are. And then making sure that that motivation that they have aligns with your client side and the motivations that they have when they bring in the candidate.
One of the main responsibilities of a technical recruiter is to provide a solution to a client or manager by being able to get to the core of the profile or skill that they require on their team. As a technical recruiter focused on hardware engineering, there are many nuances in the types of engineering skill sets that I support — and it is my responsibility to be able to understand the ideal profile required to minimize the time to fill an active position. For example, the difference between analog design compared to digital design, or what is the ideal verification environment for ASIC Design Verification?
Throughout my career, one of the things that I’ve learned is, in many cases, hiring managers who were able to articulate completely what they were looking for regarding recruitment, staffing and talent acquisition would be really straightforward and easy. Your role is to really translate it to try to get inside the hiring teams’ heads. Asking questions like, “What did they mean when they said they wanted great communication?” Or, “They wanted emotional intelligence. What does that look like to them?” Because to each of us, when we talk about these adjectives that we’re looking for in talent, we may actually have a different frame of reference for what we’re using that adjective to describe.
Building on that, it’s about curating a fit. Matchmaking is maybe the simplest way to say it because when we get a list in a job description of a specific set of core software development technologies, or core hardware technologies, we can do a quick search and find thousands of those people. So, what makes them the right fit for our client? It goes way beyond their technical skills to cultural fit, the way you communicate your approach to collaboration and teamwork.
Negotiation is essential, and it doesn’t start at the end of the process. From the first call you have, even sometimes from the first reach out you’re having with the candidates, you’re starting the negotiation process. Being able to do that in a way that is tactful, and you’re not pushing things in a certain direction, and you’re allowing it to sort of take its natural course. Influencing the discussion is another responsibility in itself. Providing market data, which is a unique experience or a unique sort of opportunity for us having worked in different industries, and understanding what the market looks like, we have that unique ability to be able to influence what candidates feel is an appropriate salary.
One of the key roles of a tech recruiter is interviewing a prospective candidate. By understanding the hiring manager’s needs, a tech recruiter can get a sense of the core skills and personality profile that is required for that position. They can get utilize different interviewing techniques to effectively evaluate whether the candidate fits the mould of what the hiring manager is looking for.
“One of the main responsibilities of a technical recruiter is to provide a solution to a client or manager by being able to get to the core of the profile or skill that they require on their team.”
– Aaron Ravensbergen,
How important is interviewing to what a technical recruiter does?
- Vetting is crucial to technical recruitment
- It helps drive an efficient process during the hiring stage
- Understanding the difference between a good answer and a great one
- Taking the time to prepare candidates for interviews
- Choosing the right methods when interviewing a candidate
Interviewing plays a massive role in what we do. We’re given either these hard or soft skill requirements from the client, and it’s our job to vet the candidate in terms of whether they fit those skills. So, whether it be understanding how they, on the soft skill side, fit into the leadership component of the role, or how they handle conflict, or taking that conceptual interviewing approach and understanding how they would fit into the more functional hard skills of the role.
With interviewing, I think there are a couple of things.
One: We need to be very good in terms of roles and responsibilities for a job and choosing the appropriate methods or approaches to really vet a candidate, depending on the role. A great recruiter is going to be aware that there’s a leadership component that should change the discussion that you’re having at the interview stage. So we should be asking different questions of leaders and focusing on leadership approaches and capabilities.
Two: Being able to comprehend what a correct answer looks like comes with some level of experience. We’ve all done enough interviews to know what a great answer to a question looks like versus an okay answer to a question. A trained ear is really another role and responsibility and focuses that we cover for our clients and for our candidates.
Three: Driving an efficient process. We should be avoiding an unnecessary amount of interviews, and we should be shortlisting a group of candidates that have a high chance of succeeding in a role and impressing the hiring manager in interviews. That creates an efficient process and creates a great experience for everybody involved.
To add to that, taking the time to be able to prepare candidates for interviews. It’s that step further in the interviewing process that you really get to make sure that a candidate is going in there and not wasting anyone’s time and being prepared for the types of interviews that they may be going in for as well.
“Interviewing plays a massive role in what we do. We’re given either these hard or soft skill requirements from the client, and it’s our job to vet the candidate in terms of whether they fit those skills.”
– Peter Mills,
What are the most essential skills a tech recruiter should have?
- Active listening
- Integrity, and knowing when to let a match go
- Build rapport and trust to earn credibility with stakeholders
- Research skills
We’ve touched a little bit on interviewing, but I think, Sarah, you keyed on something with active listening. Active listening is one of the most undervalued or underrated core skills that a technical recruiter needs to have. It’s asking the right kinds of questions to get past the initial layers that people are expected to say in a screening or in an interview to really the guts of their motivation. That’s really how we curate that cultural fit to use the phrase again. So asking you a lot of “why?” questions, questions that get to people’s motivations.
Research skills are also super important. I mean, we’re headhunters by nature. There’s a difference from using the hunting analogy: you can go out into the woods with a gun and just shoot in every direction and hope you hit something, or you can be smart and put yourself in the right place at the right time. So we have to get creative and develop research skills to make sure we know where to find the candidates that we’re looking for who have the niche skill set that we’re looking for and then screen them from there to determine whether there’s a cultural fit.
The ability to know when to let something go. And I think the longer that I have been involved in recruitment and talent acquisition, the more that I realize there can be a really, really talented person, and there can be a great employer. And it doesn’t mean that that should be a match between the two. And oftentimes, I think we’ve all seen that you can have a top performer join a new company and become a problematic employee because of that fit.
The hiring process for high-tech companies is often complex and multifaceted, especially with external market factors such as labour shortages, competing recruiters and companies, and rising compensation expectations. As a technical recruiter, I am responsible for engaging with a potential candidate beyond just treating them as “just a number or a metric” and making the process as smooth as possible. This is accomplished by acting with high integrity and actively providing options that are aligned with a candidate’s career goals, financial goals and personal goals; and by being honest if something does not line up. If you provide a positive experience, you will be able to further expand your network, receive referrals, and build credibility within the industry that you support.
Perseverance and intuition are essential skills for being a good tech recruiter. We’ve all, in our careers, had that temptation and know how easy it is to wishfully think for the candidate that it’s the right match, but being dedicated to making sure that they have all of the core skills and soft skills that the company you’re working with needs and that the candidate needs to make sure that no one’s time is wasted in the process.
Perseverance is an extremely important skill for a tech recruiter. More often than not, success doesn’t come from taking the easy way out. The most successful recruiters are the ones that can tackle a problem head-on and not shy away from the fact that they are brought into imperfect situations to solve a client’s needs or problem.
It’s almost like a matter of perspective as well. I’ve heard Sarah say somebody would kill to have your worst day at work. So it’s just like where maybe you have had three really rough days, but keeping that perspective, and again, remaining adaptable. Trying things a different way, maintaining that sort of adaptability to the things that you’re doing, and not being afraid to try different things.
“Perseverance and intuition are essential skills for being a good tech recruiter.”
– Juilette Woods,
What are the biggest challenges tech recruiters face in the next few years?
- Uncertainty since recruitment is more susceptible to market changes
- Continued hyper-competition for talent based on global high-tech talent constraints, such as a lack of qualified candidates compared to employer needs
- Senior business leadership’s perspective that recruiters are expendable, and willing to lay off recruiters as needed without a long-term view of recruitment value
One thing is definitely uncertainty. Recruitment, in general, is obviously just so tied to so many economic markets. For example, if you have a recession, the job market is obviously going to change, and we need to be able to be adaptable to those challenges that we face in the economic market.
It’s also just the massive competition for tech talent. Especially since the pandemic, companies are being forced to use technology to support their business, whether it be through going to the cloud, remote work, digital applications and products that are helping aid society. With that, it means there’s a massive demand for technical folks and skills.
There is still an immense amount of competition, and so it’s very difficult. It’s like we’re all fishing at the same pond. So to say there’s a limited number of fish, in many cases, since we’re using the same tools. Right now, we are in a bit of a famine situation, and when things get tight, it becomes harder, I think, to empathize or engage in a positive way with team members. If you’re all again, at the same point, using the same fishing rod.
I mean, I think the biggest challenge facing tech recruiters, let’s say, over the next five to 10 years, is really the attitude toward what we do. Nick mentioned uncertainty, and some of that uncertainty is because we know that, for the most part, recruiters are not viewed as a permanent need. How do we change that perspective amongst senior-level leaders and boards? If employers want to build healthy talent acquisition pipelines, it’s something that, even in the lower periods of need, still needs to be invested in.
As the high-tech labour shortage continues to evolve, things become hyper-competitive. A technical recruiter must adapt to the external market and develop creative ways to continue to build a network and maintain the same level of candidate flow to your respective clients.
“I think the biggest challenge facing tech recruiters, let’s say, over the next five to 10 years, is really the attitude toward what we do.”
– Sarah Doughty,
What are the main differences between tech recruiting and other industry recruiting?
- Different approaches to sourcing and screening
- Level of emotional intelligence required
- Varied threshold of transferrable skills
- Potential base hiring vs. experience base hiring
- Depth of knowledge required to engage with the talent pool
- High-tech is a rapidly changing environment
- Understanding motivations beyond job scope
I have dipped my toes into other forms of more, labour-type recruitment. It’s a completely different frame of reference that you’re using. It’s based on the personality 100%, like being able to develop that rapport, that trust. It gets to a higher level of emotional intelligence, being able to call things out early. From a technical recruiting perspective, that’s super important as well and very, very critical. But you can, to a certain degree, lean into some more like the technical aspects where you’re kind of matchmaking just the pure technical scope of the role.
It’s the difference between recruitment based on experience versus potential. In technical recruitment, we tend to be more experienced-based because we are talking about a very technical complex job. And so it is very difficult for somebody to actually learn a new programming language or to be able to all of a sudden write an AI algorithm. When you’re in high-tech, it is a little bit more blended between experience and potential. We need them to have the hard technical skills that are required for the job. In my experience in recruiting outside of high-tech is that it’s a lot more potential-based, so we don’t need somebody to have done exactly this job; we need someone who has the right approach, soft skills, and maturity level.
In sales, even in a broader scope like marketing sales, business-centric metrics are hugely important. Like, what have you accomplished this metric around? Did you exceed the target? Did you hit the target? If not, why not? Because those are transferable skills, which I think is what you were getting at Sarah. The core skill set is sales. The industry is less important. There still has to be an interesting, passionate enthusiasm and knowledge base to be able to grow into it, but it’s definitely that potential for transferable skills.
What TalentLab does as a recruiting agency or a headhunting agency is different from a status staffing company. We’re asked by a client to find a very specific skill set where some other staffing agencies might be consulted by the actual candidate in a sense.
I think what Peter’s getting at is, with us, we’re working with pre-existing clients or potential new clients, and we’re bringing them talent tailored to their requests and needs versus other methods of recruitment that tend to be more like pop-marketing which sees recruitment companies trying to fill gaps with pre-identified candidates.
The depth of self-accountability and commitment to learning is vastly different between a general recruiter vs. a tech recruiter. As a tech recruiter, it is a crucial part of what we do to consistently stay up to date with market trends and new technologies in order to not only understand what we are looking for but also to connect and make genuine connections with the talent pool of high-level engineers and developers we work with on a daily basis.
Motivators are vastly different. For example, if you have a sales representative, their largest motivator is likely going to be centred around money. However on the technical side of things, you might have somebody who asks, what is the textbook I’m working with? Is it going to be relevant for three years? What is the sort of work-life balance that might come with the company? Concerns or motivators you might not see as much on the sales side or other industries.
“We’re working with pre-existing clients or potential new clients, and we’re bringing them talent tailored to their requests and needs versus other methods of recruitment.”
– Josh Morantz,
What are some of the lessons you learned in your first year of recruitment?
Manage emotional responses and communications. Employers and candidates are naturally emotionally invested in the process, and hiring negotiations can get heated. Recruiters need to be the voice of reason and ensure cooler heads prevail.
Do not let fear of making mistakes stop you from diving into your role. You cannot master recruitment through theory, and it’s only truly learned through practical experience.
Communication and engagement with stakeholders are just as important as being able to find and engage with top talent.
Welcome and expect failure. Try to develop coping mechanisms to stay positive, like hope the best and planning for the worst, to help turn failures into lessons.
Don’t take everything at face value. Delving deeper into the details and using your own critical thinking skills are often where you find the best clarity.
Recruitment success is a moving target. You need to become comfortable shifting gears, approaches or priorities very quickly to be successful.
Do not ignore the red flags. Although it can be tough in the face of pressure to produce viable candidates, being courageous enough to call out when something isn’t working out is the right way to show respect for candidates’ and employers’ time and trust.
“Recruitment success is a moving target. You need to become comfortable shifting gears, approaches or priorities very quickly to be successful.”
– Gord Marriage,
Technical recruitment is integral in finding the right candidates in a highly competitive sector. There are a few ways to hone your approach, as our panellists outlined, but maintaining perseverance, integrity, and transparency throughout the process will always prevail. If you’ve come across an insight that has piqued your interest, we welcome you to connect with us. Our team can assist you with any questions you may have as it relates to the niche field of technical recruiting.