Disclosure: Thank you Capital One for sponsoring this post! This is a paid endorsement. All opinions are my own and were not directed by Capital One. To learn more about Capital One, visit www.capitalone.com.
The Future of Tech Recruiting
We don’t know what the future will hold, but we can make some early predictions.
For example, we anticipate that by 2020 there will be a demand for 1.4 million jobs in computing, and the expected number of computer science majors who will graduate then to be 400,000. That means only 2.4% of the available jobs will be filled by people who hold at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
There’s been an overemphasis on the pipeline problem, but not a lot on recruiting for the immediate needs.
The real problem is that we have leaky pipes with attrition rates as high as 41% for women in tech and 17% for men. Rachel Thomas has written a thorough post highlighting the specific causes of the attrition.
Hence it’s not enough to teach people how to code. There needs to be a fundamental shift in how we recruit and retain employees. There will be a massive shift in the future of tech recruiting…
Recruiting The Next Generation
In addition to the pipeline problem and attrition rates, millennials have learned that there is more to work than climbing a ladder.
Maria Giudice the Vice President of Experience Design at Autodesk and Co-Author of Rise of the DEO, put it best when she said:
“Career ladders have been replaced by trampolines.”
Millennials are harder to recruit because they know they have options. They are seeking flexibility in terms of where live and work, the hours they choose to work.
Don’t try to woo them with just snacks and the word transparency, those are so 10 years ago! What they care about is results.
What they want is to do meaningful work that is mission driven, human-centric, and makes an impact.
Think stability will attract them? Guess again.
They also don’t believe in stability, and you can’t really blame them for their cynicism, since there is no such thing as job security anymore. Many witnessed or personally experienced the massive layoffs their parents went through in the 90s and early 2000s.
They’ve discovered how to leverage technology to be location independent while delivering results.
What Matters Most To Millennials
Millennials care about diversity in the workforce, because they want to connect with their colleagues. They don’t want to be isolated by their peers because of their age, sex, sexual orientation, and race.
Professional growth also matters because again there is no job security. Their career history needs to tell a compelling story based on projects they’ve completed, expertise they’ve acquired through their experiences, and the brand recognition from the companies they’ve worked for.
So how does a company go about recruiting the best talent for their mission and customers?
Start by re-thinking about recruiting for leadership roles.
There are some impressive companies who are doing it right, and I’m excited to share examples from Capital One.
Overcoming Preconceived Notions
What do you think of when you see Capital One? I’m guessing you think of a bank and a big company.
They know that, and it impacts how they recruit people.
Steph Hay, Head of Content Strategy, Culture, and AI Design at Capital One
Steph got a masters in journalism and moved to DC with big dreams of being an editor-in-chief someday. But in 2003, while in her first job at George Mason University, she ended up creating a newsletter for alumni to read on a website.
“The moment I hit publish on that first newsletter, I was hooked on the web,” Steph said. “It blew my mind how quickly I could create, edit, and delete anything online. So really, I started working in technology because I loved the speed and reach of digital compared to print. Plus, I could stick with my original love — the language itself — and find the right words that convey meaning and connect with someone on the other side of the interface.”
Steph then deepened her skills in the tech industry, moving from George Mason to a startup, web agency, an independent content strategist, and a two-time startup founder.
But her approach to creating content for online products took an interesting turn when, in 2011, she started playing a Nintendo game called Animal Crossing.
“The onboarding experience felt like a conversation between the game and me. In that moment, I knew fundamentally that I wanted to design experiences that felt like conversations.”
Steph started researching how other industries develop their narratives — from video games to Hollywood scripts. She questioned why the narrative-first approach was limited to the entertainment industry, while other products — especially tech ones — focus on functionality and architecture, leaving the actual story to be plugged in later.
Steph says, “The conversation is last. That’s why so many things fall flat. That’s why so many things fail to actually be human. It’s because they weren’t designed for humanity. They weren’t designed for conversation. They were designed to be functional first. And what really makes something delightful is when something ends up being more human than functional.”
This prompted Steph, a freelancer at the time, to start taking a content-first approach with her clients. She also worked with startups to write conversational scripts — before moving to higher-fidelity prototypes like wireframes — to see what would resonate with users.
She started speaking about Content-First Design at conferences and evangelizing the benefits, which included faster time to market and higher conversion rates. Her talks attracted Scott Zimmer, Head of Global Design at Capital One.
Scott tried to recruit Steph, but Steph was resistant. She had preconceived notions of what it would be like to work at a bank.
Scott and his team knew Steph would be a great fit, but they needed to help her see that. They decided to take a different approach: during the six months following Steph’s initial reluctance, Scott proceeded to invite Steph to events with her potential colleagues at Capital One so that she could see the humanity and opportunity in their work.
Over time, Steph realized that the organization wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on her, but was dedicated to implementing a content-focused approach to product development.
Of course there’s always that moment when someone hands you an opportunity and you question yourself. We all know it as the impostor syndrome. The fear of feeling like a fraud. Thinking that don’t really deserve the opportunity.
When I asked Steph if she was concerned about the amount of work that would go into recruiting and leading a team to carry out her content-first approach, plus the scale at which Capital One impacts its consumers, her response was:
“I said no to joining Capital One for six months because I thought: ‘why me?’ But I never thought ‘it can’t be me.’”
The keys to Steph’s career advancement have been:
- Working for a company like Capital One that has entrepreneurialism in its DNA. Did you know Capital One is still founder led?
- A boss who is also a male ally and leads by example when it comes to modeling experience design like Scott Zimmer
- A supportive team who has a collective mission and approach to designing products
Mave Houston, Founder, Capital One USERLabs
Unlike Steph, Mave grew up in a family of computer science professors. Her dad taught at the coding camp she attended when she was 8 years old. The Apple IIe was her first computer, where she saw graphic and visual programs.
Mave aspired to be a fashion designer, and she chose to major in computer science to marry technology with her more creative pursuits.
Mave says, “But it wasn’t until I dug in for a while that I realized I cared more about people, and their relationships with technology, and studying that. I could have the technical piece and creating solutions that really worked for them and their lives.”
Eventually she came across a junior user experience position and decided that was what she needed to be doing.
She began by doing ethnography work, sitting and observing people, and finally found the direction she wanted to go in.
“I had finally found the perfect direction to go in where I believed I was finally in a space where I was going to be allowed to really explore people, their needs, and understand those. And then work with teams to design and develop the right kind of solutions for those people.”
This was back in 2004. It was a time that user experience was in its infancy.
Just like Steph, Scott and his team tried to recruit Mave, but she also resisted.
Mave wasn’t convinced that working for a bank would let her solve the kind of problems she wanted to solve. She had always heard from companies that spouted things like mobile first.
It wasn’t until she attended some sessions at Capital One, and heard them consistently use terms like “people-first” and “putting the person at the center”, then seeing them follow through on it, that she was convinced.
Again like Steph’s impostor syndrome, Mave had it, too. At the cusp of joining Capital One she realized:
“This is big!”
She overcame it by rallying all her mentors to support her and give her extra confidence she needed to accept the challenge.
What Capital One is Doing Right That We Can Learn From
In listening to both Mave and Steph the conclusion I came up with is that Capital One is good at identifying who they think is the right person for the role and their culture, then investing the time into recruiting and retaining them.
At the core, Mave mentions that Capital One looks for experienced folks who are excited about their areas of expertise.
Even if a candidate isn’t initially interested them, Capital One invites them to learn more. Mave says:
“Because we’re excited about sharing the work we are doing.”
The bottom line is Capital One realized the importance of:
- Breaking down the perception prospective employees have about working for a bank
- Putting into practice their people-first approach by investing in employee engagement
What Capital One’s Content First Approach Looks Like
Capital One is the first company to help customer manage credit card and bank accounts using simple voice commands through Amazon’s Alexa. The service is called Capital One Skill.
Earlier today, Steph and Mave, along with two of their fellow women in tech at Capital One, unveiled the newest feature at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference. The new Capital One Skill capability enables customers to easily track their spending habits in conversation with Amazon’s Alexa using everyday language that they would use when talking to a person — a direct reflection of the human-centered design that Steph and Mave emphasized and work so hard to achieve.
Using Alexa and a Capital One account, you can ask questions like:
- How much did I spend yesterday?
- How much did I spend between October 1st and October 5th?
- How much did I spend on Amazon?
This first version handles transactions at more than 2,000 merchants (e.g. Amazon, Starbucks, Netflix). Capital One will continue to add capabilities to make it easier for customers to gain the financial insights they need to make wise spending decisions.
For those who are curious about their technology stack: Capital One Skill is built using Node.js and AWS.
The hyper-competitive talent market means companies need to be relentless in their recruiting efforts, but it also means they need to be aware of how prospective employees perceive them and the practices that are going to change those perceptions.
Interested candidates should take the time to research and learn about companies that have the mission, focus, and technology that aligns with their career path. If you’re looking for your next opportunity, I’d implore you to actively look for companies that have instituted these best practices, and are practicing them as they try to recruit you!