With technology running...well, pretty much everything, it's no real surprise that people who know their way around computer science are in a pretty good job spot. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, asserts that computer and information technology occupations will soar by 13 percent through 2026, adding 557,100 jobs. Even so, many qualified candidates can't get their foot in the door.


The answer might come from a new survey from HackerRank, a company that offers a competitive practice and recruiting platform for developers.

Haste really does make waste

HackerRank's survey, which took responses from almost 1,000 hiring managers, recruiters and reviewers, found that recruiters and hiring managers are vastly mismatched on how they measure tech recruiting success. The top three priorities for hiring managers are the right skills and culture fit (80.5 percent), future performance (50.6 percent) and retention (37.8 percent). Tech recruiters similarly see the right skills and culture fit and retention as top priorities (75.3 percent and 37.3 percent, respectively). But they focus much more intently on time to close/hire (44.9 percent) instead of future performance (31.6 percent).

The end result of the gap? According to Gaurav Verma, HackerRank's VP of Customer Success, because tech recruiters are in a bigger rush to find a candidate and get them in quickly, they lean heavily on referrals to find applicants. They use job boards to a degree, too, but referrals are usually preferable because candidates come pre-vetted from someone they trust, and because the recruiters often can spend only a few seconds per resume. Those resumes often aren't a good showcase of talent even if recruiters take longer to peruse them, either, considering that 74 percent of developers claim to be at least partially self-taught.

The painful ramifications for innovation

So the next issue is, if all tech recruiters are doing is pulling in candidates through referrals, are the innovation results from teams as good? Verma says probably not.

"If recruiters are finding people through networks, they're more likely to get candidates from a lot of the same backgrounds--resulting in an overall more homogenous team, culture and way of thinking."

The solution, Verma says, is for recruiters to objectively vet each candidate's skills. One option for doing this is to require all candidates to take the same technical skill assessment. Alternately, they could work on a specific project as part of the recruiting process.

"When some of the tech recruiters we work with started doing this," Verma asserts, "it turned out, referral candidates weren't always more skilled than other candidates!"

How to get noticed despite the gap

In light of the survey's results, Verma makes the following recommendations if you're trying to land your dream job.

1. Look for companies that value skills, first. "If companies have a level playing field in the recruiting process, that's likely a strong signal of a positive workplace culture as well--one that invests in its employees, recognizes people for great work, and values divergent thinking. When browsing for jobs on career sites, look for companies that have links to a coding challenge. This way, if you have the right skills, you can be seen by the right people."  

2. Seize every opportunity to highlight your skills. Verma says that hiring managers and recruiters are most concerned with whether you can do the job well. And as HackerRank's Developer Skills Report reveals, they're looking most closely at critical thinking, problem solving and programming language proficiency. "If you've created any side projects, make sure recruiters see them. If you contribute to any open source projects, make sure that's included in your resume or cover letter. If you write a blog that shines a light on your thought process or technical philosophies, share it. [...] Prove your skills by highlighting your proudest, most impressive accomplishment first [...]!"

3. Keep practicing and honing your skills. "Employers are looking to see if you can learn new tools quickly, and what you've accomplished with your domain and language expertise. Keep these skills sharp by leveraging online coding communities, taking on new projects, and continuously learning new technologies or frameworks. And leverage your network to get feedback, practice, hone, and keep improving your skills."

4. Take every chance to build your network without an agenda. "Even if you don't have an opportunity immediately, you'd be surprised by how many tech leaders will agree to a chat if you send a thoughtful note, provoke an enjoyable discussion, or express genuine curiosity about the technologies they're building."

The bright light at the end of the tunnel

While the survey results might be a little depressing, Verma offers some final words of encouragement you should know.

"Even if you don't have the strongest pedigree or network of people, the tech hiring landscape is starting to shift toward skills-first hiring. In fact, 3 out of 4 recruiters and hiring managers say they have hired someone who didn't look good on paper."

Roughly translated, that means you've still got a shot. Go fight for it.