Increasing Diversity One Nontraditional Candidate at a Time

Recruiters urged to consider candidates’ skills, not just histories

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright March 30, 2017
Increasing Diversity One Nontraditional Candidate at a Time

​TORONTO—Jon Deng's tech story began 18 months ago in Baghdad where, during his deployment, the former U.S. Army captain taught himself to code.

The tale of his career transition ended last month in California—where he now works as a software engineer for Snap Inc. (formerly Snapchat).

Deng, who has a business degree, had no formal training in the IT field. His route to software engineer didn't follow the typical trajectory of those working in the tech industry, said Vivek Ravisankar, CEO and co-founder of the tech recruitment platform HackerRank. Ravisankar introduced Deng to attendees during a session at the International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM) conference at the Westin Harbour Castle here this week.

HackerRank, with headquarters in Bangalore, India, and Palo Alto, Calif.,  helps companies evaluate IT talent based on skills—not formal education or experience.

"…Resumes are a poor indicator of your skills," Ravisankar said. "There are people who add keywords to resumes in every other sentence" so their resumes will match the terms that are most likely to be listed in an applicant tracking system's job description. Even then, he said, the recruiter's "eyes go to education. Most of the filtering criteria goes to what school did you go to? And what GPA did you get?"

He added: "In the developer world, 60 percent of the people who are now working as coders are self-taught"—yet recruiters are still considering resume data and targeting passive candidates whose resumes simply contain the right keywords.

Wanted: Diverse Candidates

Ravisankar, who once worked at Amazon as a software developer, was asked to sit in on candidate interviews for the nation's largest online retailer. "At one point in time we were doing 15 to 16 interviews," based solely on considering information in candidates' resumes, to make one hire.


[SHRM members-only toolkit: How to Build a Diversity Initiative from the Ground Up]


Ravisankar said many tech jobs go unfilled not because there aren't enough people to fill them, but because companies are using outdated and biased methods to find talent.

Jess Oney, HackerRank's senior manager of sales development, agreed. She said there's not a shortage of qualified candidates, there's just "a massive … shortage of people from MIT and Stanford. There are a number of people [like Deng] learning on their own. In order to source properly, you have to screen properly and see the unseen."

Ravisankar said companies are all hiring talent from the same places, using the same legacy recruiting tools and practices that prioritize ethnicity, experience, pedigree, connections and location. He said the process is fraught with bias and overlooks enormous pools of diverse, talented candidates from around the world.

We live in a world where "[a candidate with the name] Connor is 50 percent more likely to get a call back than [a candidate with the name] Jamal," Ravisankar said. "When you consider [that white-sounding] names are more favored, how do you get beyond the bias …and look at people based solely on their skills?"

HackerRank counts Cisco, VMWare, Quora, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and BNY Mellon among its more than 1,000 clients. 

More than 2 million aspiring coders from around the world come to HackerRank's site to learn and practice how to write code, to discover new computer languages, to take coding challenges, to prep for interviews and to improve their coding skills. Companies typically use HackerRank assessments as a first step in the recruitment process. Without knowing an applicant's race, gender or nationality, companies ask candidates to take a coding challenge to assess their skills.

In a YouTube video, officials at Palo Alto, Calif.-based software company VMWare discuss how a candidate in Spain got a job coding—despite his background as a dishwasher. Ravisankar said the dishwasher learned to code on HackerRank's platform and was promoted to a senior developer position at VMWare in 18 months.

As for Deng, he told SHRM Online that "transitioning from the military to software engineering was a big challenge for me because it meant dealing with a lot of uncertainty around my career change. In the end I felt that it was worth it because now I have a job that I can constantly improve at and use to help people.

"I don't think I'm an exceptional candidate and feel that anyone with perseverance and a good support network should be able to do the same thing."


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