Cody Voellinger

SE Radio 258: Cody Voellinger on Recruiting Software Engineers

Venue: RockIT Recruiting’s office
Robert Blumen
talks with Cody Voellinger, the founder of a recruiting firm that specializes in filling software engineer roles for San Francisco-area startups, about how jobs are created and how companies and engineers get matched up. Their discussion covers the entire job search process, from job descriptions to salary negotiations. They look at the job market from both sides: how companies define what they want, find the right people, and evaluate candidates, and how job seekers can position themselves for the role they want. Other topics include culture fit versus skill and resumes in an age of social networking. They conclude with a look at the mistakes that job seekers, recruiters, and companies should avoid.

Show Notes

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Robert Blumen:                [00:01:11.23] For Software Engineering Radio, this is Robert Blumen. Today I’m here with Cody Voellinger. Cody has been in the recruiting field for over ten years, and is the founder of RockIT Recruiting. Cody, welcome to Software Engineering Radio!

Cody Voellinger:              [00:01:28.03]  Thanks, Robert. I’m very excited to be here.

Robert Blumen:                [00:01:30.20] We are located here, in the beautiful San Francisco offices of RockIT recruiting, and I will be talking with Cody about recruiting and the labor market. I do have a disclosure for our listeners – I did submit a resume to someone at this firm several years ago, and I was not placed at a job. Cody, would you like to tell the listeners anything else about your background?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:01:52.17] Sure, I’ll just expand slightly. As you said, I’ve been recruiting for ten years. I cut my teeth recruiting in Tokyo, for engineers for international companies there. After that, I worked for a firm here in San Francisco, recruiting enterprise software consultants all across the U.S. The last four and a half years at RockIT have been specifically focused on recruiting engineers for startups in the Silicon Valley market.

Robert Blumen:                [00:02:25.09] I’d like to start out with the question of why do recruiters exist? In many types of transactions, a buyer and a seller meet directly. You can think of other examples – often when selling a home there is a broker. Why has the market created a niche for an intermediary in filling jobs?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:02:46.13] Just to quickly expand on the profile that I gave. As I’ve mentioned, for the last four and a half years I’ve been specifically focused on recruiting for startups in the Bay Area, so my answers are going to tend to focus biased towards that market. If you’d like me to expand and speak more generally, feel free to let me know.

Robert Blumen:                [00:03:10.09] About 60% of our listeners are not in the United States, and when we did another show on interviews a while back, there was discussion that our labor markets are quite different in different countries, so this is really about what it’s about. Hopefully, most listeners in other regions find it interesting.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:03:27.27] To answer your question, first I should probably clarify that RockIT is a recruiting agency. In general, there are two types of recruiters – there are internal recruiters, who work directly for company X. Uber, for example, has recently built up an internal recruiting team of over 70 recruiters. Uber has also been a client of ours for over a year, so they have an internal recruiting team and they also work with us as a recruiting agency.

[00:03:59.04] Most of the companies that we support either have a very small or non-existent internal recruiting team. They lack that function as a company, and that’s why they turn to us to support their recruiting efforts. Often times the hiring managers for specific functions within a company will be tasked with recruiting, but at the end of the day, if you’re a VP of engineering, you have three or four other priorities that are going to come higher than actually scheduling interviews, vetting candidates, running through the recruiting process. The need for recruiters has derived out of someone having to make the whole interviewing, hiring and recruiting process their number one priority, in order to do it effectively.

Robert Blumen:                [00:04:57.19] So it’s someone who’s job is to oversee the process of people getting hired into jobs.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:05:04.00] It’s very much a shepherding job, definitely. If you followed this space at all, you may be aware of the company Hired, originally started as Developer Auction. When they first launched three or four years ago, we watched them very carefully and a little bit cautiously, wondering, “Are they going to replace recruiters?” because they wanted to take recruiters out of the process entirely, and build a marketplace that would connect engineers directly with hiring managers.

[00:05:36.26] What they quickly realized less than a year or two into their efforts is that it’s not enough to just put those two interested parties together. Someone has to be the captain driving the ship towards a singular goal. As an agency recruiter, if your commission, your livelihood depends on making these matches, then you are the captain of that ship.

With internal recruiters, their metrics, their goals to be successful within a company are based upon how many hires they make, and they very quickly come to realize that it’s not enough just to put two people in the same room who are interested in the same thing if that’s not their profession and that’s not their number one priority.

Robert Blumen:                [00:06:32.20] You’ve mentioned platforms like Hired, and I know there’s a number of similar platforms. My experience with recruiters in the job search process is generally it’s a very artisanal-crafted, high-touch handholding process, like you go to the farmers market and there’s this guy who’s some cheese that he made at his farm with the goats that he fed a certain brand of clover. If I wanted mass-produced cheese, I would go to the highly automated, mechanized supply chain large store. Is there something inherently about the job search that makes it more like the farmers market more than the supermarket?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:07:16.24] I think it’s that we’re dealing with people on every side of the equation, so it’s very difficult to apply science to that. Usually, if you’re selling something, you are selling a software or a product that may have various options, but it’s not constantly morphing and changing its mind. For us, what we have on both sides of the equation that we’re dealing with is a hiring manager who has a company that’s rapidly shifting, and the needs of that company are changing. Then we have a job seeker whose requirements on what they’re looking for are changing as they go through the job search process.

[00:08:09.09] At the beginning, the client says, “I need five years of experience with Ruby on Rails”, and the job seeker says, “I have five years experience with Ruby on Rails, and I want this salary or this of work environment, or this type of position”, whatever is important to them. Putting the two together is not as easy as saying, “You both want the same thing, let’s sign on the dotted line”, because as those discussions happen over the course of weeks, each side learns a little bit more not just about each other, but also about other factors that are affecting the decisions. For an internal company, they have other candidates and they have to weigh this candidate versus the other candidate; perhaps they’ve just hired someone who has more or less experience, and that changes what future openings they have.

[00:09:01.11] For the job seeker, when they started the process they thought they wanted one thing, but as they started to realize what opportunities are actually available to them or how many opportunities there are, you can become pickier and choosier, or maybe less picky with what you’re original requirements are. That’s constantly shifting, and so that’s a challenge, to keep track of both of those and make sure both interests are still aligned at the end of the process, as they were at the beginning of the process.

Robert Blumen:                [00:09:33.10] You were talking about the company looking for five years of Ruby on Rails experience – could you tell me how do these job descriptions get developed, and is there a lot of back and forth between you and the hiring manager about what the job description looks like?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:09:53.02] I know this is really frustrating for job seekers, but job descriptions, we don’t put a lot of weight in when we’re conducting searches. I’ll tell you about our experience here at RockIT. When we start working with a new company and they tell us they’re looking to hire, the first thing that we do is we set up a meeting at their office, to meet with either the founders or the head of engineering. We ask a lot of questions, and we essentially build a job description for ourselves. If they have one posted online, we’ll use that as a starting place, but for whatever reason, job descriptions haven’t evolved in about twenty or so years.

[00:10:35.25] Twenty years ago, job descriptions were built to keep people away, to keep people from applying, unless you meet above this certain bar of expectations, because it wasn’t the candidate-short market that it is today. Now that the tables have turned, job descriptions haven’t adapted. What we find is that a job description will say 5+ years of Ruby on Rails, but when we go and talk to the hiring manager, they say “Our ideal person is X. 5+ years of Ruby on Rails, plus all of this other experience. But if you find someone who shows a lot of ambition and a lot of drive, and that has worked on a lot of side projects, it’s okay if they’ve worked with Python and not Ruby on Rails. We’ll hire that person as well, tomorrow.”

[00:11:27.18] That’s our job when we go to that meeting, to flush out what are the actual requirements. We build our own mental map of a job description in that meeting, and as I mentioned, that mental map continues to shift over the course of the months or years that we work with those companies, as to what’s an ideal or acceptable hire look like for that company. Because of that reason, we actually try to refrain from sending job descriptions when we’re talking about an opportunity with a candidate. Candidates will often see that and rule themselves out, because they don’t meet this ridiculous bar that was put on the job description, that’s meant to keep people away.

Robert Blumen:                [00:12:16.17] I’ve had this experience where I see a job description with ten bullet points. I’ll look at it and say, honestly, there’s five of those I have a skill in, so probably I’m not qualified, because they’re going to hire somebody with nine or ten. The five you have are the more important ones, and the five you don’t have are the more flexible ones, so the recruiters actually convinced me to apply to a job that I would have just skipped, thinking I’m not qualified for it.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:12:46.06] I’m guessing you were able to turn that into an interview in most of those cases.

Robert Blumen:                [00:12:50.21] I’m talking about a bunch of times, and certainly sometimes it does work out, yes.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:12:55.11] Yes, that’s a great example. It’s very rare that we see a job description that gets us excited enough to want to use that as additional material to the information we’re already providing to people to get them engaged with talking to that company.

To go back to the point of what is the role of a recruiter and why do they exist – it’s our job to get people engaged who might otherwise not be engaged for that company, because they see a job description and they self-select out, or they don’t see that it’s a dog-friendly office, because that’s not posted online, but we’ve been there and we saw dogs running all around; now, when I’m talking to you and you’re telling me the most important criteria for me is that I can bring my dog to work every day, I can give you that piece of information and I can try to make this match happen, where otherwise it might have not occurred.

Robert Blumen:                [unintelligible 00:13:51.20] you need to understand what the company’s looking for. They may be looking for a programmer with five years of Ruby on Rails… There are people in the recruiting field who have an engineering background; many people do not. How do you understand these very nuanced, technical job descriptions? I don’t know what your background is, but if you are a recruiter coming from a psychology background, do you know that Solaris, FreeBSD and Linux are actually really similar, and for some jobs any of those would be adequate, but maybe there are some other jobs where it has to be FreeBSD? How do you really grasp these technical job descriptions and match them up with technical candidates?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:14:43.19] That’s a great question, and it’s certainly a challenge. I’m a sociology major, and fell into recruiting in Japan. I spent countless hours on Wikipedia during my first couple years, looking up every acronym that was on the resume that I hadn’t heard before. Then I transitioned that to having conversations with all the people I’m speaking to, and relying on their expertise and their knowledge to educate me. A good recruiter will be exceptional at asking questions that surface the type of information that you mentioned.

[00:15:32.19] You’re looking for Ruby on Rails, but there’s a lot of companies looking for Ruby on Rails, it’s extremely competitive. Are there some similar technologies that if we find someone without experience, do you have the team in place to mentor, or the time to allow them to ramp up? Some recruiters don’t ask those questions, so they miss out on a lot of opportunity, but you have to just continue asking those questions.

[00:16:00.13] Another thing we do here at RockIT is we invite in engineers that we’re working with on a regular basis to ask them these sorts of questions, as well. We invite a big data engineer in and say, “We’re seeing a lot of demand for Hadoop. What are some other technologies someone could have worked with that would indicate that they would also know Hadoop, or be able to pick it up very quickly?”

It’s a great question, and the final point I’ll say on that is that finding recruiters who specialize in a relatively niche market will mean that they’re going to know this type of information and these questions to ask at a much deeper level. Generally, you won’t find a generalist recruiter who’s able to make those implicit connections.

Robert Blumen:                [00:16:59.11] If we’re on the other side of this – I’m in the company that’s trying to hire, working with a recruiter, and they’ll send us a series of candidates who are maybe people doing very well [unintelligible 00:17:08.28] but they’re just not the right fit, why does that happen? What’s going on there?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:17:16.27] My guess – without knowing much about the situation – would be that the recruiters are probably relying on a job description, and the job description has a list of a lot of terminology as to what you want from this role, and the recruiter doesn’t necessarily know which of those skill sets is a priority. As you mentioned in your last example, the recruiter told you “Hey, the five that you have are actually the most important.” If you don’t know that as a recruiter and you just go search all of those terms indiscriminately, you’re unlikely to come up with a person who’s actually going to match what the role is, even though they might match a lot of the keywords.

[00:17:59.17] A lot of the negative associations with recruiters is because they search based on keywords, rather than understanding what the role is actually going to require someone to do for the company, or for the candidate, what that person has actually accomplished in their career if they don’t necessarily have these really obvious keywords on their profile.

Robert Blumen:                [00:18:26.19] You might have answered this question already… I get contacted by recruiters [unintelligible 00:18:33.20] and it’s not unusual I’ll get an e-mail from a recruiter saying, “Hey, I have this great job as Oracle DBA. Send me your resume and your salary requirements.” I’m not sure what they know about me, but nowhere on my LinkedIn profile does it say “Oracle DBA” or “PHP Programmer”, or whatever. Why do they even think that I was a good person to approach for this? What’s going on when that happens?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:19:05.18] My guess is that there was some random other term on the job description for an Oracle DBA that did match your profile as well, so it pulled you into their search. As embarrassing as it is, I get e-mails trying to recruit me to be a big data engineer. It makes me cringe every time I see it, because this is what gives recruiting the reputation that it has. Recruiting was a very different profession ten years ago, before LinkedIn and the internet really turned it into this opportunity to, “Hey, if I send out a million messages and 0.1% percent responds, I can make a decent living.” That’s the track that it’s taken over the last ten years, but that’s starting to shift a little bit.

[00:20:06.11] Before that, recruiters had files, drawers and pieces of paper in their office, and they were filled with notes on people’s experience, their interests, phone numbers, and these were only got through referrals and personal networks. When all of a sudden all of this information was available, it completely changed the industry. People realized, “Hey, what took a long time and a lot of hard work, and so it was rewarded appropriately previously, now I can do one one-hundredth of that amount of work and still get the same rewards, and I don’t see any repercussions to sending out these million e-mails.”

[00:20:53.10] It happened very quickly that the recruiting industry went through this mass spamming phase, which was obviously in large part due to LinkedIn and making everyone’s professional information available to all.

Robert Blumen:                [00:21:06.09] Cody, we’ve been talking about job description, requirements, job fit – we got all that down. How do you go about locating candidates who might be qualified?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:21:16.22] The first thing that we do as a recruiting agency – after meeting with the client and assessing what they’re looking for – is to go to our internal network. Everyone here will reach out to people that they’ve been in touch with previously and already had these conversations around what they’re looking for, and we’ve identified a match with this new opportunity.

Robert Blumen:                [00:21:45.05] You have a staff of people — I’m looking through the notes here… Are all these people recruiters?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:21:51.15] Everyone you see is a recruiter. We run a lean operations team, so we have about 25 recruiters and one office manager. That’s a lot of internal networks to start with. The second thing we’ll do from there is we will take to both our database which we’ve built over the course of five years and so, and taking notes about the types of people that we think will be a good match for these new opportunities. Then we’ll take to the worldwide web.

[00:22:24.06] Of course, LinkedIn is a tool that we use for software engineering. There are a lot of other great tools that are out there. We can do both Boolean X-ray searches, or searches directly on sites like GitHub, Stack Overflow. If we’re looking for designers, there’s Behance and Dribbble etc.

There are a lot of recruiting tools that have come out in the last year or so as well, that make it easier to find people’s direct contact information. Engineers may have noticed that they’re getting more e-mails to their personal e-mails, or even phone calls. There’s a company called Connectifier that was just acquired by LinkedIn about a week or two ago, and they were great for identifying people’s personal contact information that may be displayed somewhere on the web, even if it’s not associated to one of those profiles. Then we’ll go about trying to get in touch and set up either a call or a coffee conversation.

[00:23:27.00] The other thing that we’re fortunate to be able to do here at RockIT because we have located our office in SoMa is to get out in the real world, as well. We have hosted meetups of MeetUp groups like the SF BayPIGgies Python group, for various test and automation groups, we’ve sponsored happy hours for the SF Ruby group… We’re taking advantage of the fact that we’re here in this great location and we’re able to meet people in person, as well.

Robert Blumen:                [00:23:59.25] So a variety of channels. From a job seeker perspective, somebody who’s looking for a job or is open to opportunities, what do job seekers do to either stand out and make themselves an attractive candidate, or to maybe disqualify themselves or raise some warning flags? You can take those one at a time, if you like.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:24:25.05] Let’s start with some warning signs. If you’re resume lists every technology you’ve ever heard of, that’s a warning sign. Some people are in the habit of making this huge skills list at the top of their resume. The feedback we get from clients and what would be helpful for your listeners is that any technology terminology that’s on your resume is fair game to be probed into during an interview. If you’re unable to answer questions about that technology, then it leaves the interviewer to the assumption that you’re as unknowledgeable about all of the other terms on your resume.

[00:25:16.13] My advice would be to only put skill sets on your resume that you feel comfortable answering questions in depth, or very clearly state, “These are the technologies that I’m an expert with, and these are the technologies that I’m a beginner with.” That would be one. [00:25:39.12] This one kind of bothers… I don’t like that it is a prejudice, but it is. If you put on your resume or on your LinkedIn profile that you are actively looking for a job, it’s kind of a yellow flag to companies, because it’s such a candidate-short market, and most candidates have a lot of opportunities. They wonder why is this person so actively looking for a job. I personally don’t believe in that thought process, but I’ve certainly heard that from clients.

[00:26:18.28] In order to stand out, I don’t think my advice is amazing… If you have side projects, list your side projects; if you’ve won awards at work, show your awards; if you’ve been promoted, show on your profile that you’ve been promoted and you’ve risen through the ranks, that you’ve taken on more responsibility.

As a recruiter, one of the things that is helpful and we respect is someone who is conscientious about their job search and they know which companies they have already spoken to and which companies they haven’t. If someone is very relaxed about, “Sure, just send my resume wherever you want”, that’s a warning sign to me because it makes me think that you’re not taking the process very seriously right at the beginning stage, so are you going to take it seriously when it comes times to interview? You have to. Even though companies are desperate to hire people, they’re not desperate to hire just anybody.

[00:27:30.03] That’s what can be frustrating for job seekers in this market – you read articles and you hear about the talent shortage that exists, but it is difficult to find a job. That’s because companies are still very particular about the type of people that they want to hire, and that’s part of the reason that this ‘candidate shortage’ exists.

Robert Blumen:                [00:27:55.06] You’ve mentioned resume… I did a job search about a year ago and I made it through and I have a job now without ever having a resume. I told people my LinkedIn profile is pretty much up to date (I kept it up to date), and asked if that’s sufficient. Most people said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” You said that job descriptions haven’t changed in ten years – what’s the status of the resume? Is that equally as important now as it’s ever been?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:28:29.03] That’s a great question. When I say resume, at this point, I almost use that pretty interchangeably with the LinkedIn profile. I would say more than a half of the engineers that we represent don’t have a formal resume; they use their LinkedIn profile as a resume, which is fine. The one comment I would make to that is that when you make a resume, it’s inherently fairly detailed and descriptive about your career history and the projects that you’ve worked in. Some people mimic that in their LinkedIn profiles, some people don’t. It’s very easy to make a bare-boned LinkedIn profile that just lists your company and your position. If you’re serious about your job search, that’s not the best approach.

[00:29:23.06] What it means is that during the interview process you’re going to have to discuss a lot of very basic information to get to the meaty, interesting stuff that you’ve actually worked on. The first questions are going to be, “Okay, so you’re a software engineer at company X. Tell me about what did you do?” and you’re going to have to go through and do what you would have done on a resume. Whereas if you’ve already got that bullet-pointed out, you allow the conversation to immediately jump into, “Wow, I see you’ve built out a logging and monitoring system that handled 50 billion requests each week. That sounds really great! Can you tell me what tools you used to design that and what did you learn from that project?”

[00:30:10.06] In my opinion, that’s a much more fruitful discussion, so I think that creating a detailed profile – whether it’s a resume or on LinkedIn – still does add value and benefit you through the interview process.

Robert Blumen:                [00:30:24.11] So you’ve got a bunch of candidates and a job description… We’ve talked about who stands out, who gets the interview. People come in for the interview — what are some things that help people advance to the next round, and what are some things that will cause them not to advance in the process?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:30:43.21] Going into an interview, it’s extremely important to be prepared. The mistake that a lot of people make is assuming, “My skill set is very much in demand, and it was very easy for me to get this interview set up. I didn’t even have to create a resume or update my LinkedIn profile, so I’m just going to go in there and tell them about what I’ve been doing.”

As I’ve mentioned previously, interviews a difficult, rigorous process. Part of the difficulty is, if you’re an experienced engineer, let’s say you’ve got 5-10 years of experience, you’re being asked to talk about that – essentially all of it – in 30 minutes to an hour. Obviously, you have to edit-edit-edit drastically what information you’re actually speaking about. If you haven’t prepared by looking at what the company does in detail, looking at their careers page to see at least what technology stack they use, looking at the LinkedIn profiles of the people who are currently there to see what patterns you can recognize in the people that they’ve hired, or get more clues about some of the specific projects that they’re working on, then you’re not going to know how to best position yourself as a good fit for the team. You’re going to be wildly guessing which of your thousands of projects that you’ve worked on during those ten years you should talk to this interviewer about.

[00:32:25.17] It’s really common – and unfortunately frustrating – that we get feedback from a client saying, “Hey, we really liked this engineer, but we didn’t see their depth of expertise with building scalable systems.” We talk to that engineer and say, “Sorry, this was the feedback.” The engineer says, “Oh, I’m doing that right now. They just didn’t ask me about that.” So because of this time crunch, the more that you can really be prepared and focused, and have reviewed five to ten key projects that you think are going to be interesting and relevant for what the company needs, then there’s a small chance that you’re going to end up talking about those specific projects during the interview, and you may end up getting rejected just because there wasn’t a discussion much.

Robert Blumen:                [00:33:18.01] It is a two-sided market, and the company needs to do a good job on the interview in order to close on the candidates they want. What are some things you see in the more successful companies that are able to close, that makes their interview process work?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:33:39.15] Good question. Here, with Silicon Valley startups, there’s been a big focus from the CEO and founder on down making recruiting a priority, and the companies that are most effective at hiring really take that to heart. As the engineers are interviewing, they get to talk to the founders, to the heads of engineering, they come in and they meet with the team, maybe they go for a lunch of a dinner… They get to really feel like they’re part of the team and the environment before they make the decision whether to work there or not, so it’s a very hands-on and flexible process.

[00:34:25.19] The other thing that startups in particular are doing is they’re trying to make that a very efficient process. Google is notoriously long and drawn-out for their interview process. If a startup is also going to have a hiring committee and three, four rounds of on-sites, that’s going to give the candidate the impression that this is how they make all of their decisions as a company, and that’s not going to lead a startup to be successful. Being fast and efficient with making decisions, being flexible and creative with your interview process and the perks or benefits that you can offer to an individual, and making people feel that personal and really part of the team – those are some of the core ethos of what a startup is about. If you can implement those through your process as well, you’re going have the highest success rate in hiring.

Robert Blumen:                [00:35:29.19] You partially answered this. If you want to expand, what are things that hiring companies do wrong that cause them to lose out on people through the interview process, or through any phase of the hiring process?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:35:43.06] Slow response times, definitely. We actually did a survey about two years ago; we sent this survey out and got responses from over a hundred bay area software engineers, and we asked them what are their expectations for hearing back from a company. 83% said that they expected to hear back after every step within 48 hours. That makes sense, because if you start thinking back about – anyone who’s been through a job search; I’ve been through a couple – when you came out of an interview and you were really excited, you thought it was great, and then 48 hours later you haven’t heard back, you start to mentally let yourself down, and come up with reasons why that might not have been the best opportunity anyways.

[00:36:38.14] Because you don’t want to be broken-hearted, you’re assuming at that point that the answer is going to be no, so you start to talk yourself out of the opportunity. If a company does get back after a week, at that point a lot of engineers may have already mentally moved on and started to put all of that energy and excitement into a new company, and if that’s reciprocated, then they’re going to go and join that company because of the energy and the momentum that they created with the process. Being slow is really one of the biggest mistakes that startups can make.

[00:37:16.07] The other thing – being inflexible with your process. If you require a 30-minute Fizz-Buzz coding challenge for every single person before they even get to have a conversation with someone at your company, and you’re requiring experienced software engineers who at another company are getting wined and dined by a VP of engineering for coffee and lunch as a first step, it’s going to be hard to compete.

Robert Blumen:                [00:37:43.10] In my job search there were companies that wanted me to do sometimes a 3, 4 of 6-hour coding challenge where I had to go do these calculations. This may be a great company and a great job, or they may just not like my code. I’ve submitted coding challenges and people said, “We don’t like it.” So is it worth investing 5 hours of my time to get possible zero return on it? Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not, but it is a cost that you need to take into account.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:38:16.25] Yes. We asked that question on the survey, as well. That was interesting, because the results were somewhat polarizing. About 30% of the engineers said they think that an online or take-home challenge is the best way to demonstrate their skills and ability, but then there was close to 50% that said they would not follow through with the process if they had to do that as part of the process. People sit very much on both sides of the fence.

You’re right, we never encourage a company to do that extensive of a 4, 5, 6-hour challenge. If they have something like that, we try to recommend that maybe they make the first 1-2 hours of it something of a take-home assignment, and then integrate the rest into an on-site interview where they say, “We’re going to ask you to start this, and then come on-site and work with some of our engineers and talk about how you’ve gotten to where you are now and finish that project out as a team project interview, rather than being asked to do it all on your own.”

[00:39:31.09] We try to counsel companies to be more creative with that, because it is very frustrating as a job seeker to be asked to do those types of projects maybe five, six different times from these different companies, and then just be told “No, thanks.”

Robert Blumen:                [00:39:50.13] We’ve all been through this process where you’re going through job interviewing and the company chooses not to call you back, and especially if you really liked the job, it’s quite disappointing, but it’s also part of the job search, and I always hope that I could learn from whatever experience I have and learn from failure. It can be somewhere between difficult or impossible to get any feedback from companies about, “Okay, we didn’t like you because this and this”, or to get information that’s really honest. Is my experience unusual in the difficulty of getting feedback about the reason for failure?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:40:34.25] Unfortunately, your experience is pretty common. The best chance you have of getting feedback is if you’ve worked with a recruiting agency. Often times, we are able to give more concrete feedback from the company as to why they didn’t move forward. Generally, they don’t want to send it via e-mail, but we’re able to get on the phone with them and say, “Hey, you need to tell us why this didn’t work out.” They have a motivation to do that, because if they can give us more specific information about what type of people are not a fit, then we’re going to do a better job of filtering and introducing the best people. When we position it that way, we’re often times able to get more detailed feedback than the company would share directly with a job applicant.

[00:41:31.14] Companies, as part of their policies, for better or worse, they don’t want to do two things. One, they don’t want to open themselves up to having the engineer get combative back and forth, and saying, “I actually am good at that” and create a long dialogue, because they can’t afford to do that with every single job applicant. Two, some sort of HR/legal issue, the less that they share, the less they put themselves at risk. That’s why most of our feedback is gotten by phone.

Robert Blumen:                [00:42:05.09] It was interesting to me that you say that, because I certainly have recruiters tell me stuff that the company wouldn’t tell me; I assume it goes both ways, because they’ll ask me “What did you think?”, and if I didn’t like the company or the job and I’ll tell the recruiter why I don’t have any expectation that the company will not receive that information. It looked to me like one of the things recruiters do is they act as this backchannel with plausible deniability in both directions, so no one has to speak face to face to anyone.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:42:38.00] Right, especially when it comes to such a stressful action as changing jobs. That’s true.

Robert Blumen:                [00:42:45.27] One thing I wanted to cover here is the issue of compensation. How are recruiters compensated? Who’s paying for the recruiter?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:42:56.08] Internal recruiters, I think that’s clear. The company pays internal employers…

Robert Blumen:                [00:43:01.28] They’re employees, they have a salary…

Cody Voellinger:              [00:43:04.10] They’re employees, they have a salary. Generally, they have bonus that’s performance-based, but that’s not tied to a specific number of hires, because companies don’t want to incentivize their internal recruiters to make matches that maybe aren’t the right match.

Agency recruiters work primarily on commission, and those fees are paid by that company. I mentioned Uber earlier. We’re recruiting for Uber; Uber hires a software engineer that we’ve introduced. We have a contract with them that they pay us a certain percentage of that person’s first-year annual salary.

Robert Blumen:                [00:43:49.15] Candidates then look at the recruiter as they would any employee or representative of the company that they’re dealing with… I would say maybe I don’t look at recruiters that way, but…

Cody Voellinger:              [00:44:03.03] We’re not employees of the company. As I mentioned, our number one goal is to make sure that you as a job seeker find the opportunity that you’re most excited about, and that you take that opportunity. If you, Robert, were looking for a job next week and you were working with RockIT Recruiting, I’d talk to you about what you’re looking for, and if we have three, four or five different companies that all seem to match that, I’d suggest, “Why don’t we go through the process with this handful of companies?” and I would do my best to make sure that we keep all of these interviews happening on par, so that you’re not forced into making a decision before you’ve gotten to finish up your other processes.

[00:45:00.27] That ideal scenario is we get to the end and you’ve got two, maybe three offers that you can compare and you can make the best choice for you. In this market, agency recruiters – if they’re smart – are focusing more on delivering a great experience to the engineers who are looking for jobs, and more as your agent than they would be a part of the company itself.

Robert Blumen:                [00:45:31.25] I’ve heard it said – this may be not so true in a market like this – that companies are better at negotiating a salary because they’re constantly hiring people, whereas a job seeker only does it every two or five years. Do you think job seekers do a good job negotiating salary, or do you think they leave a lot of money on the table?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:45:57.11] I think the majority of job seekers, software engineers in Silicon Valley right now are getting very fair offers. A part of that is because if you are going through a few processes and you get a couple offers, then you’re going to be able to assess what has the market determined that I’m worth right now. Companies are not in a position to try to undercut you. They’re spending and investing so much time to get someone through the process that when they decide they want someone, they’re willing to pay that person (for the most part) what they think is fair, and also going to make that person happy.

[00:46:41.06] They know that if they try to short-change you by $20,000, you’re going to get an e-mail next week from someone saying, “Hey, we’ll pay you X to come and work here”, so it’s not going to be a long-lasting relationship. I don’t think that many job seekers in Silicon Valley – and engineers, in particular – are leaving a lot of money on the table right now.

Robert Blumen:                [00:47:06.27] Doing what you do – and you’ve been in the field for a number of years – you must have seen people take a job, and then a few years down the road you have a relationship with that person and now they’re looking for another job. Do you think people make pretty good decisions and end up being happy with their jobs? Or do you see a lot of people getting into a job and then they realize, “Hm, this isn’t at all what I thought I was hired for. The company culture is quite different…”, and they’re just unhappy.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:47:40.29] I’ll give you one stat that will be somewhat helpful on that. When someone starts a job that we’ve introduced them to, in our contract we have a 90-day guarantee period with the company that if the person doesn’t stay at least 90 days, we’ll have to give some sort of refund, or a full refund. We have less than 5% of people leave or get fired within that 90-day period. That’s a pretty small percentage, especially in a volatile market like the startup market here in Silicon Valley.

[00:48:23.13] Startups are very volatile, so people change their jobs often here, but from what I can tell, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re disgruntled or feel like they made a bad decision. But so many things about the company that they joined will change over the course of a year or two, that where it is a year or two later just might not be the place that it was when they first joined. There are plenty of opportunities for you to go ahead and move on, so if you’re not happy with something and you have a number of opportunities available to you, then it’s reasonable to take a new position.

Robert Blumen:                [00:49:08.23] Looking at that same question from the other side – and maybe you partially answered that with the point about 5% – are companies pretty happy with the people they hire, or do you see a lot of companies that realize they made a mistake and they’re not so happy with the hire?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:49:29.15] The current mentality of the companies that are hiring is that they’re more scared of hiring someone who is going to be the wrong fit than they are about missing out on someone who could’ve been the right fit. So most companies, if they have some hint of doubt or they’re not quite sure that this is going to be a great match, they’ll tend to pass and keep looking for someone who they feel very confident about.

Going back to the less than 5%, companies are trying to be as sure as they can when they make the decision to hire, and so it’s not often where they just throw up their hands and say, “Oh man, we really screwed up on that one!”

Robert Blumen:                [00:50:19.26] Is there anything else you’d like to share with the listeners on any of these themes we’ve been discussing?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:50:27.02] There’s one topic that’s fresh in mind for me, because both my brother and my cousin were just recently changing jobs, and I talked them through job search strategy a little bit. Both of them are in sales, so I thought they may be a little bit more intuitive about how should I go about finding this next job opportunity for me, and realize there’s some common misconceptions that I’m very aware of, but maybe not everybody is.

[00:51:02.02] The first thing that is important for everybody here is that if I’m going to apply for a job and I know exactly what company I want to apply to, the last thing I’m going to do is apply through their company website online. That is my absolute lowest priority. To explain my rationale a little bit there, internal recruiters at these companies are the ones generally reviewing these resumes. They’re spending their days in meetings with hiring managers, they are arranging interviews, they’re receiving resumes from recruiters, they’re getting referrals from internal employees… At the end of the day, they come and they see an inbox with a hundred applicants from online, and one of those resumes is yours.

[00:52:04.05] Because the ratio of great applicants is so low from that source, they tend to either never look at that daunting and ever-growing list, or to looks so quickly that your resume would have to say Stanford CS Degree, Google etc. in order to actually stand out. There’s a lot of quotes online about the average recruiter reads a resume in 6-7 seconds.

Robert Blumen:                [00:52:36.06] I would have said 10 or 20…

Cody Voellinger:              [00:52:38.20] Yes, it’s getting shorter and shorter, these attention spans. Those resumes get maybe a third of that time and attention, because 90% of them are totally off the mark. If you know exactly what company you want to work for – and this is what I just counseled my  brother and cousin through – the first thing I would do is do a search through their employees on LinkedIn and look for people who are likely going to be in the department you want to work for, or even better, hiring managers. Then look for those people that you have some sort of connection with. Maybe it’s an alumni from the school that you went to, maybe you worked at a past company together; maybe it’s as simple as a shared interest. Send that person an e-mail or a LinkedIn message and tell them that you’re really interested in what their company is doing and you’d love to have a quick conversation to learn more about it.

[00:53:50.27] The benefit of that is that most companies these days are paying their employees referral bonuses for referring companies. If you go through that method, they’d be happy to refer you internally to their company, which means that the internal recruiter is going to treat you with priority status, because you’ve been referred by one of their leaders, hiring managers or internal employees. Plus, you’re going to have that instant connection with the hiring manager already. That’s if you know what company you want to work for.

[00:54:25.25] A lot of people don’t know specifically what company they want to work for, but they know they want X; they’re going to optimize for X in their next opportunity, whether it’s a dog-friendly office, the type of position, technology or compensation. If that’s the case, then I would suggest two things. The first is writing a very clear and succinct message about what you are looking for and sending that to your network and asking, “Does anybody know an opportunity like this that they could introduce me to?” Same deal – you want to be referred in by a high priority status channel.

[00:55:15.24] The second would be talking to a recruiter that’s specialized in that market. If I’m a job seeker, I’d talk to an agency recruiter over an internal recruiter because you want to make the most efficient use of your time. Robert, if you talk to me and tell me this is what you’d like to optimize for in your job search, I have the benefit of saying that my team has visited over a hundred different startups here in the bay area, and I can whittle down that list to five that are going to be a targeted match for you. That conversation takes half an hour, and we start the interview process with these five companies.

[00:56:02.06] If you talk to an internal recruiter, you still have to have that 30-minute conversation, but you have no idea of knowing until you’ve already engaged in that conversation whether or not they’re going to be able to offer you what you’re optimizing for. If the answer is no, then you’re starting over from square one and you have to do the whole arranging a call and setting up an interview process again. I hope that’s helpful.

Robert Blumen:                [00:56:28.05] Yes, very helpful. If our listeners would like to learn more about RockIT Recruiting, how can they find out…?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:56:35.10] Our website is You can e-mail myself personally, [email protected].

Robert Blumen:                [00:56:51.21] We’ll put that on the show notes.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:56:53.24] Great. Or our general website is missioncontrol@

Robert Blumen:                [00:56:58.15] Okay. Do you personally blog, or tweet, or any conference talks, or any other things people could follow you?

Cody Voellinger:              [00:57:05.22] Yes. I have published a few blogs both on Medium and LinkedIn. I recently spoke at F50 Founder World conference. Nothing upcoming at the moment. I have a Twitter profile as well, @codiak.

Robert Blumen:                [00:57:25.06] We’ll put that in the show notes, too. Cody Voellinger, thank you very much for speaking to Software Engineering Radio.

Cody Voellinger:              [00:57:32.20] Thanks, Robert. It was great being here!

Robert Blumen:                [00:57:35.17] We love to hear from the listeners. You can e-mail us at [email protected], message us on Twitter at @seradio or find our group on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. For Software Engineering Radio, this has been Robert Blumen.

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