Sports teams are better at recruiting than tech companies

An NBA team won’t draft 5 point guards in a row, but I’ve seen companies hire 100 people with the same background and the same skills in one year. This needs to change.

Missing the point

I’ll admit that it’s easier for a basketball coach to build a 12-man team than it is for a Fortune 500 company to build a huge number of 3-to-8-man engineering teams. It comes down to understanding:

  • what you’re trying to achieve,
  • what skills you need to achieve it, and
  • how you should organize those skills among your team for the best performance.

Most companies know what they are trying to achieve, and have a rough understanding of what skills are needed. The team structure falls apart when their recruiting initiatives are focused on “top-talent” without taking into consideration how that talent is meant to fit in the organization.

Perhaps this problem is rooted in a disconnect between the recruiters and hiring managers. A survey from the iCIMS Hire Expectations Institute revealed that 80 percent of recruiters think they have a “high” to “very high” understanding of the jobs for which they recruit, but 61 percent of hiring managers say that recruiters have a “low” to “moderate” understanding. Ouch. On-the-ground managers often have plenty of insight into what they need from new recruits in order to build a high-performing team, and they feel the pain when they have to interview candidates that clearly don’t fit. This is why engineering referrals carry so much weight — it’s a lot easier to qualify someone for a role if someone with the skills has already evaluated them.

In many organizations, hiring is forecasted to account for planned growth and employee turnover. This means that some recruiters, concerned about sticking to plan, are not necessarily talking to managers about what they need at the moment or what they need in order to elevate their team over the next few months. Compare this to the NBA, where coaches are fully aware of the capabilities of their team, forcing them to draft, drop, or train team members to get ahead.

Working the fundamentals

So how can tech companies elevate their recruiting to that of a high-performance basketball team?

First, communication is key. Without dedicated time for chatting with hiring managers, recruiters will be relying on a more templated approach to sourcing and shortlisting candidates, many of which fail catastrophically during the on-site interview. Understanding not only the skills needed but how they will be leveraged changes the screening questions and requirements, which can mean a serious shift in the types of people recruiters end up shortlisting.

Second, people orgs need more insight into how employees are performing and what skills they have. In the NBA, statistics about games and players are meticulously kept, all of which are considered when building teams for the next season. Many companies don’t keep this kind of data about their employees; data like code evaluation scores, certifications, time-to-ship, and more. Although it’s difficult to get this kind of data about competitors, tech company employees nowadays are much more willing to share what tech stacks they use and what skills they need to succeed.

The bottom line is this:
To build high-performing teams, talent acquisition must constantly communicate and objectively evaluate.