Monday, December 5, 2011

Team building: Recruiting life in the Big City

As part of my new responsibilities with the mobile division of Walmart Labs, I am working directly with our in-house recruiter on finding talented candidates to join our group. As recruitment for our group had started well in advance of my joining the team, my first task was to sort through a relatively hefty pile of resumes to find promising candidates for a number of different roles within our team.

It wasn't long before I had two piles in front of me (figuratively speaking, no actual tree-killing stacks were made). The first pile, containing the vast majority of the resumes I had reviewed, were the rejects. The second, a meager stack at best, were the candidates interesting enough to warrant an actual conversation.

In reflecting on the two stacks, I couldn't help but apply a mental label to each. The first pile (by now leaning precariously over the trash icon on my desktop) became the "Cogs". The second were the "Players".

Cogs (to my mind) are the people in the software business that are there to do a job, draw a paycheck, and that's about the extent of it. Their resumes were an exercise in HR pre-screening hurdle jumping, and very little else. Of course  it is entirely possible that there was much more to these candidates but if so it certainly didn't shine through.

In contrast to the Cogs, the Players (think sports, not some guy in a red velvet smoking jacket) deliver. They are craftspersons, always working to improve their skills. They were engaged with their professional community. And they made a difference where they had worked.

Frankly, I was rather surprised that I had a pile of Players in the first place. Silicon Valley is an extremely competitive market for talented individuals, and large companies that don't have a reputation for technical excellence tend to not attract these sort of candidates.

So I set off to find our team's recruiter to find out how these interesting resumes had snuck in. I had been looking forward to this conversation because the recruiter in question had handled my recruitment, and I was interested in hearing her opinion of what it was like to bring in someone like myself to the team. For the record, no, I wasn't that bad, but I definitely did not follow the game plan on my way in.

Talking with Kathleen as her "customer" was a very different experience than as her recruit. I learned very quickly that her path to the company was similar to mine - she too had been pursued by a colleague and wasn't exactly overwhelmed about the opportunity. In talking about the recruiting and onboarding process it was clear that her level of frustration in dealing with the hiring process was even greater than mine. I had only been through it once, whereas this was her day to day reality.

Our first task was to adjust the screening process so that the candidates coming in were better qualified for the team that we are building. More players, less cogs. At first I thought that this would be as simple as changing the job descriptions to better reflect what we were doing, so I stated it as I saw it:  "We are creating a true entrepreneurial space within a larger company that will be a showcase for how agile teams can deliver without becoming mired in process and red tape."

I could immediately tell by the amused/pitying look on Kathleen's face that I had said something wrong. With a shake of her head she said to me "You do know that every single large company that is competing for talent out here says that exact same thing?". As soon as she said it, I realized how naive I had been in my thinking. Of course companies competing for a limited pool of technical resources would craft the most appealing message to get the attention of the community, regardless of the reality of how the company really worked.

I had already known that recruiting for our team was going to be challenging. Much like the initial resistance felt by Kathleen and myself, the very first obstacle we would have to overcome with the type of players we were looking for was the fact that Walmart hasn't exactly been on the short list of bleeding edge mobile technology adopters. But this newest revelation made it clear that we were going to have to come up with something a bit better than a dazzlingly worded job description.

Fortunately, we do have something a bit better. Us.

More specifically, our connection to our respective communities and other players we have worked with in the past.

let's assume for a moment that I am a representative example of the type of player we're looking for. Yeah, I know - I'm as surprised as you that I can say that with a straight face, but just work with me for a minute, will ya?

Had I seen a posting for my current position somewhere on the intar-webs, I would have spotted the corporate logo out of the corner of my eye and moved right along. This isn't an indictment of my current employer - you can't argue with success, and Walmart is as successful as you can get. But there was nothing interesting in that space for me, namely because the place that I prefer to work is a place where my contribution to the success of the organization goes beyond a few percentage points on a graph somewhere. I (much like other players) want to have a visible and lasting impact on the organization we are working with.

I now know that the space for this sort of contribution does exist because I the people that reached out to me to join the company are from the same mold and have created a space that will allow players to do what they do best. It was this personal contact by people I knew and respected that shifted my perspective on the job from "part of the machinery" to "being part of changing the game".

Moving forward the key to success in our recruiting efforts will be this same sort of outreach to our respective communities. We will know right away when it is working by the number of times we hear in the interviewing process comments like "I applied for the position because I heard about what your team is doing and I want to be a part of it.".

Now that I think about it, we are already starting to hear that now.

1 comment:

  1. Work with a team member is good experience,its a good quality.