Why ‘Soft Skills’ & Culture Fit Are More Important To A Successful IT Recruitment Methodology Than Technical Competencies Assessment

Why ‘Soft Skills’ & Culture Fit Are More Important To A Successful  IT Recruitment Methodology Than Technical Competencies Assessment

With 20+ Years Of Experience In IT Recruitment We Know It’s Hard. But The Right Methodology Makes A Massive Difference To Success Rates. This Is Ours!

For any organisation that relies on software developers and other IT specialists, which in today’s world is almost every organisation, it is imperative to get IT recruitment right. It’s so difficult to find these key employees that when you do commit to one, you want them to stick around and to improve or at least maintain the team dynamic. One bad egg could easily lose you three good ones. We hire software developers, DevOps specialists and other IT specialists in short supply all the time. This is the methodology we use to minimise our IT recruitment misses.

A well-tuned interview methodology is key to effective IT recruitment. The often painfully short supply of experienced software developers means too many organisations compromise their usually strict recruitment methodologies and principals when recruiting coders.

The reality is the supply to demand imbalance means it is even more important to get your IT recruitment methodology right. And that, counter to the emphasis many IT recruiters place on technical competencies, means that soft skills assessment methodology is actually the side of the process that has most influence on successful outcomes.

Replacing poor hires is not only time consuming and expensive in direct relation to replacing one coder. Bringing bad eggs into your team can quickly have a negative impact on the job satisfaction of other members and increase staff turnover – a ratio any company that regularly recruits coders knows has to be fiercely fought down.

K&C has been recruiting software developers for over 20 years now. And over more than two decades, we’ve never encountered any period of meaningful duration when demand for coders has not outstripped supply. But pressure situations lead to the evolution of more efficient techniques and processes. 20+ years of IT recruitment pressure has refined and distilled our methodology. We assess technical competencies, language skills and soft skills. It’s the latter that is most challenging to get right and why our soft skills recruitment methodology is what we’ll focus most on here.

Technical Competencies

  • CV detailing level of knowledge and experience with languages, frameworks and technologies
  • Analysis of code examples (open repositories provided by candidates)
  • Test task (limited to 30 minutes)
  • Live coding assessment
  • Unified standard technical interview

Languages Proficiency

  • Assessment of level of English and/or German

Soft Skills And Personality

Importance of a unified standard for HR interview interviews of IT specialists focusing on non-technical qualities and soft skills.

Examples of interview questions, and how to analyse answers, when assessing qualities including:

  • communications skills
  • team work
  • leadership potential
  • compatibility with organisational culture & team fit
  • personal values
  • time keeping & reliability
  • problem solving
  • customer centricity

Few Things  Influence The Sustainable Success Of A Digitally Enabled Organisation More Than Getting Your IT Recruitment Methodology Right

IT recruitment is difficult. As a broad sector, IT might just be the hardest there is to recruit for. The reason is simple – demand significantly outstrips supply. 6 years ago, in 2014, Andrus Ansip, then the incoming EU commission for the digital single market, warned that by this year, 2020, Europe would be facing a deficit of 900,000 coders.

Fortunately, the extent of the challenge was proven to be overestimated. Unfortunately, the gap is still yawning chasm. Empirica, the German research and consultancy firm, estimates the current demand to supply gap for software developers in the EU at 500,000. Half a million more skilled coders are needed than exist on the market.

The issue is a global one. In the USA, there is an even bigger shortage. It is estimated that by next year, the largest economy in the world will be faced with a shortage of 1.4 million software developers and only 400,000 coding graduates entering the jobs market. The issue is also not going to improve. 21% growth in employment of software developers is expected by 2028 – well ahead of averages for other professions.

Most difficult roles to hire for in IT recruitment

Source: HackerRank’s Tech Recruiting Survey

That extreme in supply to demand imbalance is why IT recruitment is difficult. Software developers and other IT experts such as consultants and infrastructure engineers almost always have a choice between multiple job offers. But as already mentioned, it is imperative that IT recruiters balance the need for the organisation to sell itself to candidates and make hires with an iron-caste unwillingness to compromise on who is hired.

Giving in to that temptation is only storing up future problems. Rushing or making compromises during the recruitment process increases the risk of hiring coders that lack the skills or experience to perform effectively on the projects they are needed for. Or hiring ‘bad eggs’ in the context of soft skills or their personality fit with the organisation’s culture.

Too Much Emphasis On Technical Competency & Not Enough On Organisational Fit The Number One Mistake In IT Recruitment

As an IT outsourcer with nearshored talent hubs in Kiev, Krakow and Sofia, K&C is never not recruiting engineers and other specialists. In our experience, it is relatively easier to assess for technical competencies than it is for soft skills and cultural fit.

Let’s see how our methodology screens for both technical competencies and soft skills.

K&C’s Technical Competencies Assessment Methodology

It is still crucially important that we have a well-defined methodology for assessing technical knowledge and experience. There are few quicker ways to erode a client’s trust than to put a stream of candidates for their project in front of them that then fail the client-side technical interview.

Assessing how well a candidate codes in React or Angular, or if they can install and configure an Istio service mesh, is a process with a relatively objective outcome. There are great third-party assessment tools and platforms out there to help IT recruiters evaluate candidates for coding skills, framework knowledge, IDE, databases, version control tools, systems design and problem solving and communication skills. These are also increasingly built for remote technical competency assessments.

K&C’s technical competencies assessment methodology focuses on deconstructing a candidate’s real strengths and weaknesses beyond their CV and getting an accurate picture of their objective skills.

This involves:

  • Short technical coding test challenges sent for candidates to take at their own convenience.
  • Real time evaluation of candidates for problem solving, systems design and communication skills through pair programming.
  • Real-world role-based challenges like fetching API data, debugging a codebase or launching a Kubernetes cluster. Theses are designed to simulate day-to-day work the developer would encounter on the job they are being hired for, giving a more accurate sense of what they can do than abstract challenges with no context.

The Right Dev Won’t Break Your Codebase Or Your Hard Won Team Spirit & Organisational Culture

When hiring for technical roles, the technical competencies of candidates categorically must fall within the specified range required by the client. As an IT services outsourcer, we also have to consider the bigger picture demand for the technical competencies a candidate has.

Will they be easily transferable to a new project after the conclusion of the one they are being hired for? A permanent inhouse hire should also be thought of in the same way. If the candidate’s technical competencies will not have obvious application within the organisation beyond the conclusion of the project being hired for, maybe it’s strategically wiser to use a contractor or team extension provided by an outsourcer?

Once it has been established a candidate’s technical competencies are within the requirement defined for the hire, arguably the more important part of the recruitment process begins – assessing soft skills, fit with the organisational culture and potential for future development (technical & soft skills + leadership/management potential).

We’re strongly of the opinion a rigorous methodology (and its implementation) for assessing a candidate’s motivations and ambitions, personal qualities and soft skills and identifying risks is just as important as assessing technical competency.

Anyone with even the slightest experience in IT recruitment will be aware of the danger for high staff turnover. It’s an inherent issue within the context of the supply to demand imbalance for software developers and other skilled IT professionals. It tends to be relatively easy for developers to transition to a new position and, realistically, they will be regularly approached by other IT recruiters.

Assessment Goals Of HR Interview For Software Developers and technical IT specialists

While the market reality cannot be avoided entirely, good recruitment can and does go a long way to minimising staff turnover, improving team stability meaningfully. And on the assumption the relevant technical competencies are an entry level requirement that has been objectively and effectively verified, good IT recruitment means great screening for the three squares of the above quadrant outside of ‘Can’.

Those are the variables that will define the organisation’s:

  • Employee satisfaction levels
  • Success in developing employees professionally with the organisation
  • Success in fostering organisational identity & loyalty
  • Staff turnover
  • Hiring costs

Even if an organisation is using an IT outsourcer for team extensions or a dedicated project team, it is important to know the outsourcing partner’s methodology for assessing non-technical competency and suitability. It’s especially important if professionals will be working alongside, or in communication with, inhouse employees. Which is almost always the case to some extent.

And even if contact will be limited, how likely is it that a team of IT specialists put together with no consideration of soft skills and non-technical qualities will work effectively together and in communication with your organisation’s inhouse employees?

There’s a high risk it won’t work out well. Placing too much emphasis on technical skills and not enough on soft skills and non-technical qualities, almost always results in poor technical outcomes. The software development equivalent of a sports team of individual talents, too few of which are interested in making personal compromises in the interest of the outcome for the team as a whole.

An accurate assessment for non-technical candidate qualities comes down to the methodology, and its implementation, of the HR side to the recruitment process.

Types And Approach Of HR Interviews Assessing Coders & IT Specialists

There are a number of different types and approaches to HR interviews in IT recruitment. They are:

  1. Аutobiographical interview or classical interview – low validity, problems: socially desired answers
  2. Case interview – hypothetical working situation, allows to understand the type of thinking, if you…, there is no guarantee that the candidate will act in this way in real circumstances
  3. Projective interview – based on projective questions, why do people work well?
  4. Сompetency or behavioral interview – track from the past, one of the most valid way, behavior is easiest to track
  5. Value-based interview – to understand deep levels of a person,this level almost never changes

The methodology we have refined at K&C is a mix of the above and consists of:

While the market reality cannot be avoided entirely, good recruitment can and does go a long way to minimising staff turnover, improving team stability meaningfully. And on the assumption the relevant technical competencies are an entry level requirement that has been objectively and effectively verified, good IT recruitment means great screening for the three squares of the above quadrant outside of ‘Can’. Those are the variables that will define the organisation’s: - Employee satisfaction levels - Success in developing employees professionally with the organisation - Success in fostering organisational identity & loyalty - Staff turnover - Hiring costs Even if an organisation is using an IT outsourcer for team extensions or a dedicated project team, it is important to know the outsourcing partner’s methodology for assessing non-technical competency and suitability. It’s especially important if professionals will be working alongside, or in communication with, inhouse employees. Which is almost always the case to some extent. And even if contact will be limited, how likely is it that a team of IT specialists put together with no consideration of soft skills and non-technical qualities will work effectively together and in communication with your organisation’s inhouse employees? There’s a high risk it won’t work out well. Placing too much emphasis on technical skills and not enough on soft skills and non-technical qualities, almost always results in poor technical outcomes. The software development equivalent of a sports team of individual talents, too few of which are interested in making personal compromises in the interest of the outcome for the team as a whole. An accurate assessment for non-technical candidate qualities comes down to the methodology, and its implementation, of the HR side to the recruitment process. Types And Approach Of HR Interviews Assessing Coders & IT Specialists There are a number of different types and approaches to HR interviews in IT recruitment. They are: 1. Аutobiographical interview or classical interview - low validity, problems: socially desired answers 2. Case interview - hypothetical working situation, allows to understand the type of thinking, if you…, there is no guarantee that the candidate will act in this way in real circumstances 3. Projective interview - based on projective questions, why do people work well? 4. Сompetency or behavioral interview - track from the past, one of the most valid way, behavior is easiest to track 5. Value-based interview - to understand deep levels of a person,this level almost never changes The methodology we have refined at K&C is a mix of the above and consists of:

For consistency in outcome, it is vital that the following three conditions are met:

  • the same questions are posed to all candidates
  • answers are rated and assigned a points score
  • a comparative review of candidate answers is conducted

Risk Zones In The HR Interview Process

  1. Sometimes the best candidate for a job is not the best by knowledge, skills or personal qualities. Sometimes potential is more important than existing skills, but it is very difficult to evaluate potential objectively.
  2. A great interviewer does not ask the most questions, but is someone who picks up on and analyses details, behavior, and is aware of their own biases.
  3. An overly long and complicated recruitment process leads to the loss of candidates.

The HR interview is designed to assess:

  • What is important to the candidate (Wants)
  • Personal Qualities & Soft Skills
  • Risks

WANTSDoes The Candidate Have The Right Motivation And Is Genuinely Interested In The Project and Company?

Example Questions:

  1. What do you know about our company?
  2. What was the best /worst job you ever had? What were your responsibilities? Why do you consider it your best job? Is there anything you didn’t like about it?
  3. How do you plan to develop your career in the next few years?
  4. By what criteria will you choose your next employer? What kind of work would your ideal role involve?

Analysis:

There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ answers about motivation. Different people are motivation by different things. But within that context we need to understand if the company can offer the candidate something that is important to them or not.

Red flags:
  1. Candidate knows nothing about the company.
  2. Focus is on salary.
  3. Salary expectation not supported by ‘Can’ score & experience.
  4. Candidate looking for something that we can’t realistically provide.
  5. Candidate lacks a clear career plan and explanation of why this job is interesting to them in that context.

Personal Qualities and Soft Skills

Communication

Example Questions:

  1. Rate your communication skills on a scale of 1 to 10. Give examples of experiences that demonstrate that rating as accurate.
  2. How would you explain a complicated technical problem to a colleague or a client with less technical understanding? Provide an example of a problem related to the role being assessed for.
  3. Describe a time when you had to be careful talking about sensitive information. How did you do it?

Analysis

Green Flags:
  • Open communication
  • Easy conversation
  • Apparent comfort with level of extraversion/introversion
  • The candidate is able not just to talk but also listens
  • Can present themselves and work
  • It’s easy to make contact
  • Can explain complicated things simply
  • Good professional communication etiquette
Red Flags:
  • Monosyllabic answers
  • Candidate defensive
  • Difficulty establishing a dialog

Customer Centricity

Example Questions:

  1. Describe a case when a customer was unhappy. How did you feel about that? What did you do? PARLA Model – Problem – Action – Result – Learned – Applied.
  2. Describe a client that you considered as demanding/difficult to work with. How did you manage to work with this client?
  3. What would you do if a client came to you with an issue you didn’t know how to address?

Analysis

Green Flags:
  • Desire to help customer.
  • Readiness to go extra-mile if it is needed.
  • Understanding of the value of a customer value and how simple it is to lose a client’s trust.
Red Flags:
  • Weak examples offered.
  • Customer blaming.
  • Avoidance of personal responsibility.
  • Negative description of client weaknesses.

Problem Solving & Focus On Achievements 

Example Questions:

  1. Describe a situation where you had to solve a problem. What did you do? PARLA Model – Problem – Action – Result – Learned – Applied.
  2. What you consider were your main achievements in your previous job?
  3. Give an example of a situation in which you saw an opportunity in a potential problem. What did you do? What was the outcome? PARLA Model – Problem – Action – Result – Learned – Applied.

Analysis

Green Flags
  • Results and achievements described in detail.
  • Can predict future problems and potential bottlenecks.
  • Uses issues as an opportunity.
  • Arrives at custom solutions.
  • Considers a number of alternatives before taking a decision and acting.
Red Flags:
  • Weak examples.
  • Focus on the process, not on the solution.
  • Evasion of responsibility.
  • Lack of self-awareness/reflection.
  • Takes credit for successes and blames others for failures.

Time Managment

Example Questions:

  1. How do you prioritise tasks and manage deadlines?
  2. What app/technique do you use for time management?
  3. How do you handle procrastination?
  4. Can you describe a situation in which you were late to complete a task or you missed a deadline? Why it did happen? What did you do? PARLA Model – Problem – Action – Result – Learned – Applied.

Analysis

Green Flags:
  • Strong example & detailed answer
  • Has established personal ways of tracking what needs to be done and when.
  • Uses different apps for tracking time/prioritising tasks
  • Shares personal techniques to overcoming
Red Flags:
  • Weak examples.
  • Doesn’t use any tool or technique for time management.
  • Cannot clearly outline any methodology for how tasks should be prioritised.
  • Denial that procrastination is ever a personal challenge.

Team Work

Example Questions

  1. Provide an example of a time you showed strong teamwork skills?
  2. Share an example of a team project that failed/successful? What was your role in this? PARLA Model – Problem – Action – Result – Learned – Applied.
  3. Have you ever found it difficult to work with a manager or other team members?
Green Flags
  • Enjoys cooperating with others.
  • Shares responsibility for successes with the team.
  • Uses WE instead of only I.
  • Helps others without being asked.
Red Flags:
  • Prefers I to WE when the latter may be just as or more appropriate.
  • Avoids liability for failures
  • Negatively evaluates his previous managers, with an emphasis on emotion.
  • Has numerous complaints about past bosses or teams.

Leadership

Example Questions:

  1. Do you have any experience of managing other people? When? Where? How many people?
  1. What are your conclusions from this experience?
  2. Are you interested in the management work in the future? Why?
  1. Are you a risk taker?
  2. What’s the most difficult (unpopular) decision you’ve had to make recently and how did you come to that decision? PARLA Model – Problem – Action – Result – Learned – Applied.
Green Flags:
  • Signs of high emotional intelligence.
  • Understands people and their motives.
  • Can motivate and lead people.
  • Accepts responsibility.
  • Resolves conflict.
Red Flags:
  • Ambitious while lacking an understanding of personal responsibility.
  • Lack of awareness of the challenges of people management.
  • Cannot explain why a decision was difficult but justified.

Organisational Values, Personal Values, Team Fit

Example Questions:

  1. What is your favourite quote? Why?
  2. What gets you excited about coming to work?
  3. What three words would a current manager/colleague/subordinate/yourself use to describe you?
  4. Which of the organisation’s core values do you most/least identify with?
  5. Tell me about a time when someone questioned your ethics or integrity. What happened? What did you do?
Green Flags:
  • Demonstrates willingness to admit faults or being occasionally wrong.
  • Understands there are sometimes ethical grey areas but able to explain choices or decisions that were made.
  • Understands and accepts personal
Red Flags:
  • Seldom takes personal responsibility
  • Gives examples of excuses and workarounds rather than addressing the underlying

Risks – How Likely Is It The Candidate Will Spend A Reasonable Amount Of Time With The Organisation?

Example Questions:

  1. Why are you leaving your current job?
  2. Is this the first time you have considered a change? If not, what stopped you before?
  3. Why have you change jobs so regularly?
  4. What are your strengths? your weaknesses?
Red flags:
  • Disappears for intervals during the recruitment process
  • Avoids use of video during a Skype-interview
  • Forgets about time and date of an interview
  • Doesn’t ask questions about the company and the project
  • Increases salary expectations during the recruitment process

If any serious doubts about a candidate, references from previous employers a must.

The quality of the references is highly dependent on the specific questions asked and who the reference is being provided by.

  • find at least a few people who have worked with a candidate in a previous
  • describe the situation and ask very clear questions about your doubts.
  • analyse answers.

The Harder It Is To Recruit For A Role The Stricter Your Methodology & Criteria Should Be

If there is one lesson that will stand an IT recruiter in better stead than any other, it is that the harder it is to recruit for a particular role in an organisation, whether it is an IT specialist role or any other, the stricter assessment criteria should be. The natural reaction is to relax criteria when the supply of quality candidates is tight. But even if it can be hard to resist making compromises when the pressure is on to fill a position, doing so rarely works out well.

IT recruitment is difficult. We all know why. The supply to demand ratio for software development and other specialist technical competencies in the IT sector means it’s a seller’s labour market. That means taking extra care who you buy that labour from if you want relationships to be sustainable, healthy and a win-win for the employer, employee, their direct team mates and the wider organisation.

 

 

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