Today, when tech talent is hard to find and the work keeps piling up, skepticism takes on added value. The sad truth, recruiters say, is some candidates will send you an outstanding résumé, post code samples on GitHub, and yet are still blowing a certain amount of smoke to obscure the fact they’re not really the fit you hope they are. They may know enough about technology and process to muddle through their interviews, but their lack of nuts-and-bolts knowledge or sense of teamwork are sure to spell trouble down the road.
The presence of such candidates is “a consistent issue but not an everyday one,” said Justin Laliberte, a managing partner for the Atlanta-based recruiting firm Lucas Group. Spotting them involves more than vetting résumés and studying work samples. Instead, in interviews and other communications, look for often-subtle signs that the candidate’s story doesn’t quite add up.
Yes, we know you’re scrambling to fill open roles right now, but take a bit of extra time to make sure your favored candidates actually fit with the job and team in question. Here’s some warning signs to look for.
Painting with a Broad Brush
On their résumés and in conversations, candidates should speak not only to the individual contributions they’ve made, but also about the work of their fellow team members, says Will Kelly, the Dallas managing director of Veredus, an IT search and staffing company.
Kelly wants to hear specifically about the candidate’s role in a project and how they fit in with their team’s dynamics. He also asks about the languages and frameworks they’ve used. “They should be able to rattle all that off and then talk about their experience in that particular development environment,” Kelly said. “If they can only speak generally, that’s a warning sign.”
Laliberte agrees. He’s wary of answers that are more about “storytelling” than precise explanations of how the candidate tackled a project. If you listen closely enough, a candidate’s stories may offer hints about what they don’t know.
Kelly is instantly leery of any candidate who even hints that writing code is a challenge. If an engineer doesn’t have code samples and a GitHub profile, and hasn’t attended appropriate technology conferences, Kelly’s guard goes up.
Beyond that, Kelly pays attention to how candidates react when he proposes technical interviews. “I’ll say, ‘The first interview is going to be a pair-programming session. How’s Tuesday?’”
When it comes to pair programming, whiteboard tests or a coding exercise with a 48-hour turnaround, “the real people get excited,” Kelly said. To him, pushback about any kind of developer testing is “a huge red flag.”
Also, Kelly noted, “People who are the real deal will have their references ready.” That’s another sign they’re confident and ready to go to work.
Been There, Done That, No Need to Learn It
While recruiters naturally expect confidence from a candidate, they also warn of those whose message is, basically, that they can do everything.
“Is there anything they say they can’t do?” Laliberte asks. “Do they believe they’re the best at everything?” Because tech pros like to learn, he sees another red flag when a candidate says they don’t have to (or want to) learn anything.
In fact, Laliberte thinks more highly of candidates who are honest about their knowledge gaps and how they’ll bridge them. “They’ll be more engaged by the learning and will probably stay longer,” he said. “I tell clients not to look for the perfect match but at candidates who may fit 70 percent of their requirements.” In developing a job posting and evaluating candidates, he believes hiring managers should determine “what can be learned independently and quickly” so that realistic new hires – the ones who aren’t perfect – can begin contributing quickly.
“A great hire is proactive and honest and willing to ask questions,” Laliberte said. Faking it isn’t just about dishonesty, but also speaks to cultural and team fit. Even great developers can be problematic if they can’t work well with their colleagues.