Hiring Skilled Developers: Taking Risks Versus Mitigating Risks

There are so many aspects to the contentious subject of the skills shortage in South Africa. We sometimes hear of candidates; skilled developers, being declined for what we see as rather silly reasons. When a candidate is a top-of-the-pile developer what really is the problem? Some companies have impossibly high and even unrealistic expectations when it comes to hiring skilled developers. A developer rarely fits the cookie-cutter mould of what businesses envision their staff compliment to be, while there are many, many reasons for this, sometimes a little more flexibility goes a long way and the potential benefits far outweigh the risks.

Humans are Complex, Developers are Even More Complex

For certain businesses, bandying around the term ‘company culture’ is code for not extroverted enough, not well spoken, not dressed in a suit and not ‘normal’ enough. Here’s the thing, there is no normal. In the same way that creatives have been rallying for years to wear pink hair and show their tattoos, developers also need to rally to be seen for their skills rather than their ability to make friends and influence people.

How do You Find the Right Fit?

Okay, there is absolutely no doubt about the need to find the right fit. It’s a thing. What isn’t a thing though is placing too much emphasis on what can be superficial rubbish. In order to avoid overlooking incredible developers, how do we overcome this ubiquitous counter productive trap? Objective decision making is essential; what should hiring decisions be based on? Quite often what seems like a deal-breaker can be addressed in one way or another.

The Rocket Scientist Dev or the Dev Who Really Wants the Job

Understandably some companies want to hire rocket scientist developers, but do they need them? Are you building a rocket ship or are you merely cleaning it? A rocket scientist dev will actually die of boredom and leave within their first three months if their job is rooted solely in maintenance. Similarly turning down a completely competent developer with the expectation that you have enough to offer said rocket scientist developer, can sometimes be fanciful.

The Required Skills or Just a Wishlist?

In other instances companies like the developer, but the developer doesn’t have the impossibly long list of skills they require. Again, are these realistic expectations for the salary and package on offer? What companies should be asking themselves is this; can this developer be upskilled? Is this developer ready and willing to learn more? Ultimately, that is the kind of work ethic and tenacity which is invaluable.

The One That Got Away

When the perfect developer leaves a company the knee-jerk reaction is to search for someone with the exact same skillset. Unfortunately, that skillset was six pages long and it comes at a cost. What’s more; if you do get that absolutely perfect developer, what do they get out of it? Are you offering quality of life, a great work environment or great technology? A more diplomatic approach might be to narrow down the required skillset and rather focus on finding a developer who is competent and will benefit from additional training.

Psychometric Evaluations

Psychometric tests are controversial at best. There have been instances where chairmen have been appointed to the boards of massive companies, only to fail miserably amidst allegations of drug abuse. Despite flying through the psychometric test which assessed Paul Flowers’ personality (a non-executive chairman of the UK based Co-operative Bank), verbal skills and numeracy, none of his fundamental personality flaws were detected. Of course, that is by no means an accurate representation of all psychometric tests, but it does speak to the complexity of the human psyche. Psychometric tests should be considered as only one aspect of the hiring process, not the single defining decision-making tool.

Evaluate the Risk and Take it

If there wasn’t any risk attached to hiring staff, recruiters wouldn’t have jobs. What some employers may not see is that while recruiters share that risk, they are also trained to present candidates and developers based evidence and intimate market knowledge. That said; the most talented and intellectually capable developers don’t necessarily fit within the predefined ideal. When a developer is off the charts clever but doesn’t fit within the so-called company culture, is that it may be time to reconsider your wish list?

What we are really trying to address here is the fact that turning a developer down because they are a few skills short or turning them down because their psychometric test falls outside the company ideal might be short-sighted. How many brilliant, intelligent and skilled developers actually fit perfectly into a neat little box? There is no skills shortage in South Africa. Know when its right to take a calculated risk and you may be pleasantly surprised.

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