On this episode of Crafted, Alex Maher, Director of Talent at Artium, shares tips on how to position yourself, how to talk to recruiters, what *not* to put on your resume, and so much more. Plus, she’ll share her philosophy on talent acquisition and why remembering that we’re human is at the center of it all.
Here’s Alex Maher on Crafted, Artium’s new podcast.
Listen to all episodes and subscribe here!
Dan Blumberg: Hey, Crafted listeners, given the turmoil in tech right now.
Alex Maher: Yeah, it’s rough out there.
Dan Blumberg: We decided to bring you a special episode with Inside Tips on how to get your next gig.
Alex Maher: I love helping people and I love seeing people grow in their careers. Like what we do for work, ties in deeply with who we are as individuals. It’s not the be all are end all by any means, but it takes up a significant amount of our time.
Dan Blumberg: That’s Alex Maher. She’s Director of Talent at Artium, and helps companies recruit the dynamic teams we’re always talking about. Each week, Alex speaks to a lot of people looking for their next job as a developer, designer, product manager, data scientist, manager, senior executive, or, you name it. On this episode of Crafted, Alex takes us through the ins and outs of finding great people. And what you should know when you speak to recruiters and put yourself on the market. So you can navigate the process smoothly and land comfortably in a new role. Welcome to Crafted. A show about great products and the people who make them. I’m your host, Dan Blumberg. I’m a Product and Engagement Leader at Artium, where my colleagues and I help companies build incredible products, recruit high performing teams and help you achieve the culture of craft you need to build great software long after we’re gone.
And there are a lot of people who are fresh on the market right now. There have been a lot of tech layoffs recently. This follows a period of massive overhiring during the pandemic, and you’re working with a number of startups. Just first of all, what are you seeing right now in the tech hiring market?
Alex Maher: Yeah, it’s rough out there. I mean, much to your point, we saw a lot of large organizations really having to pivot during the pandemic, both from the constraints of the work from home, being in lockdown. But we also saw the emergence of products that really emerged to solve problems that the pandemic created. As a result, a lot of organizations did overhire, we saw a lot of bloat. And now we’re kind of reaching a juxtaposition of the world opening back up again, and organizations essentially trimming down in a lot of areas. Additionally, a lot of the products that did well, Peloton, I’m looking at you, during the course of the pandemic, are really struggling to pivot again in such a short period of time.
So it’s really unique. And then in terms of what we’ve seen recently is, I would say, a lot of reactivity in the market. And I’ve heard it floated around that there’s a lot of like me, in terms of, “Oh, if Google’s doing a massive tech layoff, I suppose we should also be doing a tech layoff.” I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think that we need to really look at things more objectively and not necessarily be swayed by these behemoths that have been deeply influential in the past. I don’t think that it’s necessarily as relevant or applicable to all industries or all businesses. But it is really rough out there. There are a lot of really talented folks on the market and there’s a lot of competition for work.
Dan Blumberg: So a lot of tech workers find themselves on the market right now, including some who’ve not been on the market in a long time. What do you recommend those folks do right now?
Alex Maher: A lot of times when I speak to candidates that have experienced a layoff or job loss, my very first piece of advice to them is to take a moment and really grieve. I think that doesn’t get talked about enough. That our work and what we do is deeply tied to our personal identity. And during such a pivotal and monumental change, it’s okay to not be okay in that moment. Give yourself the space.
Dan Blumberg: After a grieving period Alex recommends, well, a lot of things. Number one, leverage your network.
Alex Maher: Don’t reach out for cold referrals, it won’t work. A lot of people don’t want to put themselves on the line like that, but you can connect with individuals within those organizations. Really lean in and like, “Tell me what you like about the organization, how has your experience been?” And it’s a really great way of building warm connections.
Dan Blumberg: Number two, take a close look at your resume and ask former colleagues or recruiters to give it a once over too. Because despite living in the age of LinkedIn and digital portfolios, resumes still matter.
Alex Maher: I would love if we got rid of resumes collectively as a society. I think it is so challenging to expect people to consolidate their experience in two to three pages, when the work that they’ve done is so nuanced or large. But anyway, here we are. This is the system that we operate in. What I look for? I think these are some just general good practices. You do not need fancy formatting, black and white, easy to read, bullet points. Please do not include personal information on your resume, outside of city/state. I see a lot of people put full addresses, please don’t do that. That’s unsafe for you. Please don’t include a picture either. It is not necessary. I think it’s important as well to try to minimize bias where possible. Making sure that you summarize specific skills, whether it’s particular programming language, methodology, things like that are really important.
What I typically look for is, steady progression. I like to see growth. And growth can look like different things for different people. So for somebody that’s, let’s say, an IC. They’ve been in software engineering for seven years, they’re not really interested in taking on a leadership role because they want to be elbows deep in code all day. Awesome, tight. During the course of their experience working as a software engineer, are they consistently taking on more challenging projects? Why did they move? Did they move to a different organization because it presented a more interesting problem or technology stack to work with? How do you describe yourself and your relationship with your craft as well, I think is important. Software is made for people by people and that’s a really important element. So being able to successfully describe your relationship with your craft is really key there.
Dan Blumberg: Whether it’s resume related or not, I would love to hear a few more common mistakes that people make that would be so easy not to do. Any kind of mistakes. Resume or otherwise.
Alex Maher: I have very big feelings about all these things. So starting with resumes, common mistakes in pitfalls that I see. I once had a guy put his IQ on a resume, which was interesting. Like weird flex, but okay. Double-check the spelling of words. Typically, you’re applying on a company website and when you submit your resume, that resume gets parsed into an ATS or Applicant Tracking System. Applicant Tracking Systems are nothing but databases and I want to be very clear, there is no bot rejecting your resume. It is all done by hand. It is all people. Just want to clear the air on that. When you submit your resume online, submit it as a PDF, not a Word document. It causes issues with how the information is parsed if you have it as a doc or a Word doc when you upload it into an ATS versus a PDF. Really simple thing to do.
A lot of people think that they have to create a brand new resume for each new job that they apply to. They do not. That’s a lot of work. What you can do is, you can actually take a few lines from the job description itself and edit it to make it relevant to your experience. Usually like job postings, you break it down pretty easily to see, you need these skills. So that’s a really easy way of quickly editing your resume and tailoring it a little bit more to the job description versus having to revamp the resume.
Dan Blumberg: Another key recommendation, get your LinkedIn house in order.
Alex Maher: Love it or hate it, it’s here. It has monopolized the market. LinkedIn is the place to go and really understanding how recruiters search for candidates is a really good way of thinking about it. Sort of taking a user-centric approach to your job hunt and understanding who are your users. Who’s going to be the first person that looks at your resume, looks at your LinkedIn. And really optimizing things for that individual. What I like to see is action outcome being described in resumes or LinkedIn. I did this thing, I did this action and it resulted in this particular outcome. And that’s a really good formula to implement. Additionally, I think making sure that your skills are updated, understanding that LinkedIn is a database and how recruiters search on LinkedIn is through Boolean strings typically. So being able to optimize the language in your profile to reflect your skills appropriately, particularly searchable skills, will increase the likelihood of somebody pulling up in a search.
Dan Blumberg: Could you give an example of what you just said about, recruiters use Boolean search? So if you’re looking to hire a data scientist for a startup that you’re working with, what would the skills be that you would be putting into that search in LinkedIn?
Alex Maher: Yeah, so it would all depend on the requirement of course, but let’s say big data. So Hadoop, Snowflake, let’s say those are some of the primary skills. I would create a Boolean string. So I would search ‘Snowflake and’. So Booleans use ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘not’ operators to help define the search and you can also search in groups. So I tend to leverage Boolean strings over just some of the basic search functionality within LinkedIn recruiter particularly. Because I make the assumption that people don’t use LinkedIn and may not have their skill section up to date. So as an alternative, by using Booleans, I’m more likely to find those keywords hitting in their profile elsewhere. What tends to happen as well is those words get highlighted. So as I’m looking through somebody’s profile, let’s say I am looking for a data scientist with experience using Snowflake. If they mention that, if I see that word highlighted in their previous experience, that’s an indicator to me that this person has the necessary skillset and experience with that particular technology, that I’m probably going to put them into a project or attempt to reach.
Dan Blumberg: So, folks who work in tech, developers especially, are very fortunate. There are recruiters reaching out to them often all the time. And they complain about this all the time, which I find hysterical. What a lovely problem to have. But it is tricky sometimes. I wonder if you can just walk through how to speak to some of the recruiters who may be reaching out, and how to diagnose whether this is someone that you want to work with or not.
Alex Maher: So I think I read a statistic somewhere that said, “Senior developers can have upwards of 30 plus messages sent to them on a weekly basis through LinkedIn.” So that is a lot of chaff to sort out. So first of all, I think it’s really important to understand the different types of recruiters. Recruiter kind of is a title that gets lumped together in a more generalist way. Understanding the specific type of recruiter will really help you as a candidate. So you have your in-house recruiter, usually they are working directly for a company, they’re supporting that company’s growth and trajectory. They are helping to find the talent acquisition process and are also responsible for interviewing and moving candidates through that internal process. Those are probably the recruiters that I think most developers want to work with, because it is directly with the company. The other recruiters that we see quite a lot of, are contingency or agency recruiters.
These recruiters work for a recruitment firm that has multiple different clients. These recruiters, typically the structure of contingency agency firms, it is structured very similar to a sales organization. So understanding that these recruiters are high volume, they are trying to throw a wide net and get as many people into their pipeline as fast as possible. So I’d say that those are the two types that you need to be aware of is, pretty much in-house and contingency and agency. When it comes to kind of breaking down, “What’s a good message? What should I respond to?” There’s a few things that I look for. One of the things that I hear a lot from developers is, “I don’t know the name of the company.” Or, “Why can’t you tell me more information about this?” And it can depend. It can vary. Some of the reasons are legitimate. And if for some reason they say that they can’t share those things, they should be able to give you a valid reason why.
There’s absolutely no circumstance in which we cannot say, “Hey, unfortunately I can’t share the name of this company. They’re still in stealth mode currently. Once we move through the interview process, I can open up and share more details. How does that sound?” That’s an appropriate response from a recruiter. But if there’s just straight up gatekeeping, I don’t agree with that. And I don’t think that it’s an ethical way of approaching things. The next thing I start to look at is if the opportunity is contract, full-time, 1099, Corp to Corp, there’s a lot of ways to work. I think it’ll be really interesting in this market, to see if we see a larger emergence of contract work versus dedicated full-time work. Making sure that the recruiter is really clear on if this is a full-time opportunity? Is this a contract? Contract to hire? And getting really clear on those terms.
And again, the name of the game here is how open and transparent is that recruiter with you about these things. And I would say the more open and clear the communication, that tends to be the type of person that you want to work with.
Dan Blumberg: Say we’re talking about an agency recruiter, contingency recruiter here and they send a message, it’s enticing, doesn’t have the name of the company, which is very typical. It’s a high growth startup and it’s soon to be a unicorn and etc, etc, etc. But you get excited and you talk to the person. What are a few of the questions that you want to ask to understand, is this recruiter someone that will have my best interest at heart? And then also you talk about some of the things about just learning about the role specifically. Where would you recommend folks begin in that conversation?
Alex Maher: Start with the recruiter and really drill in on whether or not they’re going to be able to provide you the necessary support. At the end of the day, it should be a bidirectional relationship. A few ways of really digging in here is, “Walk me through the interview process. What role will you play?” Is another really great question. “Are you simply making an introduction and can I expect a handoff of somebody internally? Are you going to be my primary point of contact?” You should really have a clear understanding and idea of how involved in the overall process they should be. A really important thing to dig into, is setting expectations on timeline for feedback. I know that this is a sticking point across the board for people is, recruiters and ghosting are kind of synonymous with one another. A lot of the times recruiters are beholden to the inner workings of an organization, particularly contingency recruiters. And may be waiting for feedback just as much as the candidate is.
So how proactive they are in that feedback I think is a really strong indicator on the type of recruiter that will keep your best interests at heart, so to speak. In the interview, I think it’s appropriate to ask the recruiter, “What can I expect proactively? What’s the agenda? What information should I be prepared to bring?” Have that dialogue. Advocate for yourself first so that you can show up in appropriate ways. Then when you’re in the interview with the recruiter, it’s not that important to me if you look nice, or have a nice Zoom background or things like that. Hybrid work is here to stay. Things happen, dogs bark, kids barge in. All of that is okay. And I am of the very firm belief that if any recruiter gate keeps for that reason, that’s not a company or an organization that I want to work with. Specifically because if you can’t accept me as a human being that has human being issues and problems, how is that going to show up at work when we’re finally there?
Dan Blumberg: This might be a tricky question, but if a contingency recruiter reaches out to you, are you a stronger applicant because you’ve come through the recruiter versus just applying? You’re more expensive now.
Alex Maher: Yeah.
Dan Blumberg: They’re going to pay a fee on top of your salary. What is the value add there where you’re working with the recruiter or in some cases, is it not?
Alex Maher: Yeah. That is a tricky question. I would argue that working with the recruiter is going to be more advantageous. I think fundamentally the recruiting team provides appropriate framing for the candidate that can potentially leverage and help them through the process. Whereas if they were to simply apply with a resume with zero context, they may not have the same traction to move through the interview cycle.
Dan Blumberg: Tell us a little bit about your role here at Artium. Who are the clients that you’re helping and what are you helping them with?
Alex Maher: The clients that we tend to support most often tend to be Seed series A, series B startups that are really trying to not only define their product but also define what their company cultures and teams will look like. When Artium Talent engages with one of our clients, we tend to embed ourselves in their ecosystem. So we operate as an extension of the company itself versus an outside agency. So we really immerse ourselves in the culture of that organization. We work with very key stakeholders in establishing brand identity. And in terms of what we actually help with, we can actually stand up a full talent acquisition process. We advise on best practices when it comes to hiring technologists, and we also find the technologists as well. One of the things that Artium is really good at is hiring very good individuals to execute at their craft.
We hear a lot of, “How do I get another Artium level developer to join my team?” The other piece that I think is really important is, it’s not lost on, I think anyone that typically when an organization goes through a layoff, some of the teams that are initially impacted are typically recruiting and people teams. What that means though is, it’s kind of cyclical where it’s like, “Okay, we need to hire, so let’s hire a recruiting team. We’re ramping down our hiring, we need to lay off the recruiting team.” And it kind of vacillates back and forth. The nice thing about our model is, it allows us not only to embed with the organization, but kind of stop-start on their terms. What we typically see is a lower average cost to hire as a result of that, that far supersedes like contingency fees. We’re delivering really amazing candidates.
The candidates are having a really amazing experience through the interview cycle, and then on top of that, if we also have Artium Tech involved on that engagement, the tech anchors that individual and helps provide a successful onboarding. So it creates a really holistic and well catered service for everyone.
Dan Blumberg: Alex, when you think about growing a strong team and how that sets up a company for success, what is one experience, whether from Artium or anywhere else, that has changed the way you look at talent acquisition?
Alex Maher: When I first started doing technology recruiting, I was doing it for an agency. And one of the things that really shifted my whole process, it was a very pivotal moment for me in my career. Was when I was working in this agency, there was a prioritization of just getting people through the door. I was working on contracts, contract recruiting in the infrastructure space, and it was just numbers driven and quota driven. And I’m a big firm believer of leveraging data. Data tells a story, it needs a narrative to tell the story. And what we experienced is talent acquisition and recruiting is inherently a people-based world. We’re dealing with people every day and it is really hard to quantify humans. It is really hard to just boil that all down into numbers or metrics or things like that. And what I started to find is, in that moment, my craft became diminished because I was trying to hit these targets and these numbers. I was doing well, but I was sacrificing my ethics and my morals just to secure numbers.
It was such a massive disconnect for me and I was deeply, deeply unhappy, which ultimately led to me leaving that organization. Even when I looked at my own recruiting data, I was in a top 30th percentile. Which is great, but how come I felt so miserable? And it’s because we diminished that really human element. That’s what I really enjoy about working here at Artium is, we bring that human element to our clients. Our clients are building amazing software products. To build amazing software products, you need amazing humans doing human things and having human experiences to help deliver that.
Dan Blumberg: Awesome.
Alex Maher: Great.
Dan Blumberg (20:30):
Thank you. That’s Alex Maher, Director of Talent at Artium. And this is Crafted from Artium. At Artium, we build incredible products, recruit high performing teams, and help you achieve the culture of craft you need to build great software long after we’re gone. We artisans love partnering with creative people to build their visions of the future. If you’re building something ambitious, let’s talk. And we’re hiring tech talent both at Artium and on behalf of the awesome companies we work with. You can learn more at thisisartium.com. And you can start a conversation with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like today’s episode and hey, you’ve made it this far, please subscribe and spread the word. After all, Crafted has proven to increase your IQ by at least one point each time you listen.
Alex Maher: Weird flex, but okay.