Skills-Based Hiring Can Narrow the Tech Talent Gap

HackerRank CEO talks about using objective measurements to find hidden talent

By Roy Maurer Dec 8, 2016
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Recruiters are adopting data-driven practices and tools to find skilled candidates, relying less on methods like poring over resumes and following their gut instincts.

The tech industry especially bemoans a lack of qualified job seekers to fill its expanding ranks, but some say part of the problem lies in the traditional hiring process, rigid job qualifications and restricted searches. Tech firms tend to hire from top-name schools or competitors, a practice that overlooks talented programmers who lack that pedigree, according to HackerRank CEO Vivek Ravisankar.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing Technology Professionals]

HackerRank, which develops computer programming testing and a ranking system for tech professionals, and companies like it are interjecting coding challenges into the typical hiring process, which relies on resume screens instead of skills challenges as a gate to an initial interview.  

HackerRank claims 1 million users globally, is free for job seekers and collects fees from employers. Programmers are scored on the accuracy of their solutions to programming challenges and ranked globally on a leaderboard. Employers can set up specific challenges related to jobs they want to fill.

Ravisankar sat down with SHRM Online at the Talent Acquisition Tech Conference in Austin, Texas, in November.

SHRM Online: HackerRank was founded in 2012. How did it come about?

Ravisankar: I was a developer at Amazon and my university colleague Hari Karunanidhi was an engineer at IBM. There was a general sentiment in the developer community that the rounds of interviews we experienced were not the most effective use of time. A resume is a poor indicator of how good a programmer is. We figured that's the reason it took so long for programmers to move through the hiring process. But if you could figure out a prospective candidate's abilities before the interview, that would have a better impact on the interview process. That got us thinking. We wanted to solve the problem of better matching developers and companies. After a couple of failed attempts to solve the problem, we launched HackerRank. As developers started using it, we expanded our idea. This doesn't just have to be a screening product but can be used to build a talent community from which employers can start to engage with and source from as well.

SHRM Online: What's next for the company?

Ravisankar: We have evolved to automatically matching candidates to companies using machine learning techniques. That's a huge shift. If you go to a company and ask, "What kind of developers are you looking for?" you will probably get a generic answer, something like "Somebody really smart and who is a hard worker." We are quantifying what that really means. I think we're in the middle of a shift to skills-based hiring. Our goal is to continually write a better matching algorithm. 

SHRM Online: You've said that the skills gap in tech is a myth. How so?

Ravisankar: Employers are applying very restrictive parameters, and the amount of hidden talent is way higher than what people imagine. If most tech companies apply the same filters—that candidates should have graduated from Stanford or Berkeley and worked at Facebook or Google—clearly the sample size will be limited. One factor is location. Another is background. VMware [a cloud and virtualization software and service company] recently hired a person who was working as a dishwasher. There's no way his resume would have passed the tech recruiter's review.  The only reason he got so far was that he took a HackerRank challenge, scored above the cut-off and got the attention of the company. Resumes are used as a proxy for showcasing skills. A resume doesn't tell you anything. If you want to have a job as a reporter, the first thing they will ask you for are your clips. But for developers, it's hard to show the code you've been working on from a previous company because of proprietary reasons.

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