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In any industry, and particularly the government, and government contracting community, we are familiar with buzzword bingo. A term is developed, it catches on and before you know it there are conferences developed to discuss this one term. If the term is really prevalent, there may even be some budget put towards it. If these are big terms, you might see a lot of budget towards this and look out when two terms are combined.


We have seen this recently with two terms: Cloud and Cyber. I was recently in a recruiter’s office and saw this Meme. His frustration was evident with colleagues as to their confusion about the terms and their assertion that the positions needed to be filled quickly with little to no understanding of the basic difference between programming languages, applications, environments or skill sets.It was clear he wanted to channel his inner Inigo Montoya. In the government contracting space, Cybersecurity funding has been the largest stream in recent years and looks to be the one category that will grow as other budgets shrink. A recent straw man poll of companies shows that everyone is getting into “cyber”. The challenge with this is there are over 20,000 positions in Maryland alone that require some type of cyber experience and skills but a gap in the understanding of who these people are, and what skills they need. Worse is we have a community of recruiters, many generalists, who are being pushed to fill these positions without the training or understanding of the critical technical skill sets to fill these positions or how to cultivate this pipeline.


The tech talent knows there are the gaps. Even at last year’s RSA conference one Tripewire blogger quipped about the buzzword bingo prevalent at the conference revolving around the term “risk”. Fortunately the other buzzwords of 2013 have faded away. (Shutdown) The bottom line is to fill these positions we have to pull back the veneer and get to the heart of the skills set. A frequent question about cyber is, isn’t this Information Assurance from 10 years ago? Yes, but a little bit more. You talk to any group of hiring managers and ask them the particulars of the cyber objective of the positions they are trying to fill and it is very different. Some are frontline defense, others are architecture. Some need programmers, some need HUMINT. This goes back to the recruiters tool kit: learning key aspects of the job and having a good relationships with the front line talent, program managers and hiring managers to be able to build the case as to why key talent would want to join your team.


These positions need to be filled and there are talented professionals out there looking for the next killer project. The challenge is the recruiter trying to talk with them needs to understand the key components of the position. Tech recruiters – good tech recruiters- take the time to talk to their candidates and learn from them. What is the difference between Red Hat and Fedora? What is the difference between Java and Python? Who would want to learn Java versus Python? Not only understanding the difference between the programming languages but where their application fits best to solve the problem.


Recruiting is building relationship with talent communities. You don’t necessarily need to be a JavaScript programmer to be able to recruit one, but you should now the intricacies of the skill sets. It also helps to understand that the tech talent are people who have lives beyond coding and it is not just all Red Bull and D&D.


This is such a hot topic we are actually devoting a session to this at recruitDC. Talk Tech to Me will bring two recruiters – one cleared, one non-cleared and two tech candidates each- to have a very upfront, and uncomfortable discussion about tech recruiting.

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Comment by Keith Halperin on May 7, 2014 at 1:30pm

Thanks, Kathleen. I let my hiring managers know I'm a layperson. However, I can ask techie candidates specific technical questions that the hiring manager requests, and note the candidate's answers for the HM's review. Going deeper than that is what technical phone screens are for....

-kh

Comment by Kathleen Smith on May 7, 2014 at 1:37pm

Keith, thanks for chiming in. I am honored that you would do so. There seems to be so much consternation, frustration with the ever growing tech recruiting conundrum - there are more technologies that are being used to run our daily lives, thus more tech professionals needed to run things - that many recruiters only have time/energy/inclination to learn the buzzwords rather than the nuts and bolts to find the right talent. Just looking at this from a a community perspective.

Comment by Keith Halperin on May 7, 2014 at 3:20pm

YOu're too kind, Kathleen. I'm abig proponent of the "You don't haveto have done it to recruit for it" School.

I think much can be solved by asking things like:

1) How many years have you used/done X?

2) On a1-10 scale (with 10 being the best), how would you rank yourself on using/doing X?

3) Tell me about how you (and in what context/environment) you've used/done X. and

4) Please elaborate on each of the points in the job requirements and how your background corresponds to them. (The more you say, the better...):

If those aren't enough up-front ,then I'm the wrong guy for the job.....

:)

Comment by Derdiver on May 9, 2014 at 9:45am

Good TECH recruiters go to conferences, follow tech crunch and other tech related websites. Hang out with the techies in the lunch room. Live breathe and emulate tech.  That is how I learned. 

Comment by Jennifer Bowen on May 10, 2014 at 12:08pm

Nice post Kathleen. I've worked in tech and public sector and understand exactly what you're saying. The buzzwords and acronyms can drive you to drink. Big Data is the one that I would like to abolish from our vocabularies completely. But as a recruiter we've got to be able to see through the buzzwords and determine what a candidate actually knows and does.

Keith, I agree you don't have to have been in a role to recruit for it BUT you do have to understand it. If I'm a hiring manager and tell you I'm looking for someone that does kernel level development, you as the recruiter have to know what that means and what skills that person should have and how to determine it in a screen. A tech screen is for deeper, white board style coding questions but there are some code/tech questions a recruiter should feel comfortable asking. Otherwise the hiring manager and recruiter are both going to be chasing their tails.

The best way to do this is to establish technical screening questions with the hiring manager ahead of time and have them provide the correct answers. That way you have something to judge against. We have done that on my teams at both Microsoft and Amazon (and in my third-party roles) and it proves extremely successful. Asking open ended "how do you rank yourself" style questions isn't hard data on their skills and can be left open for interpretation and egos.

Derdiver - I couldn't agree more that a good tech recruiter is involved in the industry and has a passion for it.

Comment by Kathleen Smith on May 10, 2014 at 12:13pm

Thanks Jennifer. In a previous career I was involved in conservation nonprofit fundraising and the term du jour was "sustainability" Argh. I could scream as this was batted around. The one thing I know about buzz words is once they catch on they have a life of their own, infecting everyone around. I agree big data is in this arena as well.

The sad part is that most of these words are recycled terms because folks want something new to talk about rather than work with what we have. 

Thanks Derek! 

Comment by Keith Halperin on May 12, 2014 at 8:38pm

@ Jennifer: Over the past 200 years (I meant past 20 years), I've looked for/recruited for over 200 (this time I meant over 200) different types of positions. Quite frequently, I've been asked to look for things that I hadn't a clue what they were, but I knew enough to do homework and ask questions of somebody who knew when I didn't understand something. That approach seems to have worked for me so far...

-kh

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