30 September 2021

How to Optimise Your Tech and Data Candidate Selection

In my last article, I looked at the value of a positive candidate experience during the marketing and advertising stage of the hiring process and the importance of ensuring a universally positive candidate experience to attract as wide, diverse and suitable mix of applicants as possible. 

In this piece, I’ll move on to look at one of the most important stages of hiring: the selection stage. 

The purpose of any selection process is to exchange information. The information exchanged should be adequate to determine whether the role that’s available is suitable for the applicant and whether the applicant is suitable for the role. 

From acandidate experience perspective, what’s important here is that regardless of the outcome for the candidate, they have the best experience possible. 

Think of it this way: the candidate may not be right for this role, but we want them to have a positive experience, so they’ll undertake another selection process for a different role, now or in the future. 

Preparation

“They clearly hadn’t even read my CV” is something that we've heard from many, many candidates in the past and, as you can imagine, this lack of research leaves a very poor impression. 

So, it’s crucial that you prepare for interviews to avoid that poor impression and ensure a positive candidate experience for people in the selection process. You can do this by having the right people involved in the process and having them appropriately briefed and trained to carry out their role. 

For efficiency, this process can be owned by a member of the interviewing team who can make sure people on the team have researched the candidate and engaged with their CV. 

The best mix of people includes operations, marketing, HR and leadership team elements (the same collaborative approach as when writing the job specification) with one individual in the team assuming overall responsibility for the candidate’s experience. 

It’s common for human resource and people teams to be involved in selection processes but I’ve seen it argued that sometimes the company’s “police force” are often not the best people to be the custodians of positive candidate experience (that said, used in combination with other teams, such as marketing, they can make a powerful partnership). 

Lastly, leave the egos at the door during any selection process and make sure no one on the selection team feels the need to indulge in any power plays or company politics, which can leave a bad taste in candidates’ mouths. 

Format 

The format of the interview should vary depending on the demands of the vacancy. In theory, the closer the selection tasks are to the day-to-day needs of the role, the better the evaluation and outcome. 

For example, if one of the “needs” of the role is an ability to code in a certain language, one of the tasks of the selection process should involve an examination of this coding ability. 

One major candidate experience issue that should be avoided as much as possible is over reliance on discussion (i.e., interviewing) as a medium for determining something other than ability to communicate. The interview has its place, of course, but only as a singular measure to determine one aspect of potential suitability (and is potentially redundant if the role doesn’t need advanced communication skills). 

This issue arises frequently as a reason why neurodiverse people are hugely under-represented in the data and technology communities. Often, selection processes for data and tech roles place an over reliance on interviewing as the measure of evaluation. Accordingly, anyone uncomfortable with advanced level communication won’t do well at interviews. 

Luckily, there are a variety of selection exercises we can use to evaluate and determine individuals’ suitability. 

These include: 

  • Technical testing 
  • Psychometric testing 
  • Intelligence testing 
  • Group tasks 
  • Presentation skills 
  • Pair programming exercises. 
 

From a candidate experience perspective, the mixture of tasks chosen should be reflective of the needs of the role and their purpose should be clearly articulated at each stage of the process. 

Timing 

“Time Kills Deals” is the ultimate recruiter maxim. The faster the process, the more likely the positivity of the outcome. However, from a candidate experience perspective, time is a far more complicated proposition and must be viewed through several lenses, simultaneously. 

Important questions to ask yourself: 

  1. Does the timing and scheduling of selection exercises suit all parties involved and is there enough time being devoted to each stage? When in the day are they planned? 
     
  1. Is there in-built flexibility to allow a session to be stopped, or extended, should the need arise or is the requirement, organizationally, to work to “hard stops”? 
     
  1. How much time is taken between stages? Do the stages have to run to a specific timeline to dovetail into existing BAU tasks, other commitments, and potential annual leave clashes? 
     
  1. Is there adequate time allowed for consideration and for both parties to feel each other out after each stage without protracting the process? 
     

In a world with perfect candidate experience, tasks would be scheduled to times that suited applicants (acknowledging that the best candidates have busy days doing busy jobs), would be flexible in nature to allow a continuation of good debates, allow appropriate breathing space between each task for mutual alignment and would be concluded in short order (without being rushed). 

Organisations must reflect on the fact that the better the experience for candidates, the higher likelihood of assessing suitability. 

Mindset and Communication 

The mentality that we, collectively and individually, take into a selection process can define the candidate’s experience. 

First class candidate experience relies on a mentality of treating everyone equally and as an individual. 

Before you begin the selection process, reach out to your candidates to understand how they prefer to be communicated with (timing, feedback etc) and listen to their responses. 

Be flexible and prepared to tailor your existing processes slightly to accommodate the needs of individuals because nothing says excellent candidate experience (and place to work) more than a process that looks like it’s been adopted to suit a contingency. 

Communication should be tailored to each stage of the process and tone, content and delivery channels should be adjusted accordingly to suit the message. Make it easy for applicants to communicate back with the organisation and remember that selection should always be a two-way street. 

Of course, people will be disappointed throughout the selection process, whether they’re your own team members who didn’t get the candidate they wanted or applicants who felt they were the best choice for the job but have missed out. 
 
How you manage that disappoint through your communications is important and timing, tone and content are the three pillars of great communication throughout this process. 

Bad news should always be delivered quickly, politely, and with emotional intelligence. Selection processes can be an emotional rollercoaster for all involved and attention and care should be taken to other people’s feelings throughout the process. 

The over-riding philosophy for candidate experience during the selection process should always be the golden rule: treat others like you’d like to be treated. 

Many of us have had very poor experiences as candidates (I remember an interviewer repeatedly answering their mobile phone during an interview in one of my very first interviews after graduation!) so we all have a very clear idea of what good looks like. Focus on the idea of “equal and individual” and try to ensure that anyone passing through a selection process at your organisation would always want to do so again in future. 

Author Bio

author

Rob’s our Client Services Director. It’s been almost 15 years and he’s still the smiling face that our clients know and love. Whether it’s ensuring excellence in our engagement model or presenting at one of our events, Rob is often the first MBN face that people see. He’s pretty good, too. So good that he’s been recognised as one of the hundred most influential people in the UK Data Industry...twice.