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Unicorns don’t exist, so stop waiting for one

Stop looking for unicorns and take a chance on your talent

In London, the struggle to find the right tech person for the job is real – there are more jobs than people. In this candidate-driven market, my job is being a matchmaker – so I chatted to Oleg Vishnepolsky, Global CTO of Mail Online, and Martin Hill, from IPONWEB, to hear their experience of building great teams.

The part of my conversation with Martin that stood out was his belief that hiring is about taking a chance.

“I’ve hired people who performed badly at interview,” Martin told me. “Another guy I hired came from a fish packaging factory, but we talked about how he found solutions that suited the business needs, which is always key for me. He had no ad experience in AdTech but I hired him. You should not pigeonhole yourself, be willing to train new hires and take a risk – otherwise you are narrowing your options.”

During our conversations, the one skill that kept coming up was problem solving. In the fast-paced tech sector almost anything is possible and both said this was an important skill. Being able to identify problems and work towards finding a solution that aligns with business needs, and remains efficient, is critical. When I asked Oleg about his favourite interview techniques he said, “focus on their past track record and successes, how they solved problems”. The ability for a new hire to be able think about tasks objectively and find solutions will save you time in the long run, and will also create an environment where your staff share ideas and, often, will discover better working practices.

However, this may not always go to plan. Martin said, “sometimes though, you need to see it from the business’ perspective,” citing an example of the company complaining about ROI on page adverts. “The client was concerned the page load was slowed down by ads, so we were working hard to optimise them and speed up the process – but actually the ads were lucrative, so they doubled the ads. The page load was even slower but the ROI increased.”

“The problem is the hot job market, candidates are disappearing faster than offers can go out,” Oleg pointed out.

Martin agreed that timing is a big issue. “You have to move fast, so make sure your budget and package is signed off before you start the process. Always stay in touch with people, they may follow you to your new role,” he said

“It is incredibly difficult to have a great interview – what can you really learn about someone in an hour?” Martin asked. “You don’t work in interview or test conditions. It’s about teasing out the potential trigger points.” He added that “if speed is of the essence, a good recruiter is essential. They have the talent pool and can do some of the filtering. Using your own contacts,” he said, “takes time and if it takes time then it costs money. This expense should be balanced against the benefits of outsourcing the recruitment process.”

Oleg suggested that the key things to look out for when hiring tech staff are “passion, curiosity, wit, technical depth and the ability to work with people”. We live an era of open source everything. Yes, people have monetised this but in a sharing economy your staff must be able to collaborate with their peers.

The whole hiring process is a learning curve for everyone though, no matter whether you have never hired or hired thousands of people. One of the main things that Oleg said he has learned is “that everyone has a talent, sometimes it’s just waiting to be discovered”.

On the same question, Martin said, “The best way is to start is with a wide brief, you can then narrow down from there without skipping over some potentially great hires. Similarly, some people may not apply if the spec is too narrow. If the core skills are there then you should be able to train them up in other areas”.

It all boils down to a good attitude and a solid track record – on both sides. The management style and type of project the candidate can expect are important too. Be open with them about your upcoming projects, what you want to achieve and most importantly what their role will be on a day to day basis. When the team is lean, experience is key – as it grows, you need a good balance of senior and junior staff, so you can nurture fresh talent.

The key takeaway points of this article are that you need to be fast and follow your gut, take a chance on someone.

“You don’t always have to recruit people smarter than you,” Martin said, “But they should have the potential to be smarter.”

Oleg wrote a great post on the importance of good employees – read it here.

If I can help you source the right talent for your team, drop me a line: alastair@zebrapeople.com

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