How do you hire the best talent? In an age when experienced tech talent is almost as rare as the mythical unicorns they wish to work for, devs and data scientists find themselves inundated with offers from competing employers. Unless you’re Apple or Google, most companies have to take what they can get.
Amidst such competition, many employers are turning to training their own talent, to grow the talent pool. At Umuzi, we work with leading companies as diverse as Investec, a specialist bank, BBD, a software development house, Deloitte, a global consultancy, and Hellocomputer, a fast growing digital agency, to find and develop the next generation of tech, creative, and strategy talent.
The returns on making a good hiring decision are very high. A 2017 article written by McKinsey & Co. cites that the best workers not only produce the best work, they also do the most work. High-potential employees are seen as “force multipliers” who boost team effectiveness, drive a high performance culture by modeling and teaching their winning behaviour in the workplace, and ultimately raise the bar on performance for their peers. The more potential an individual has, the higher the return on investment for the company hiring and training them.
On the flip side, a wrong hiring choice destroys value. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the cost of a bad hire is estimated at 30% of the employee’s first year earnings. However, measuring the true cost of a bad apple goes beyond merely quantifying the financial impact. Organisations need to consider the impact on team morale and productivity if there is a culture mismatch, as well as down the line costs of replacing bad hires.
In the context of South Africa, with millions of un- and under-employed young people desperate to access a high-value career, South African companies experimenting with training their own talent face a dilemma: how do we select from among the hundreds or thousands of applicants, with little experience, to find the best candidates? Are there reliable signals of potential that can be identified in an application process?
Umuzi, an organisation training high-potential digital talent in Johannesburg, has over 13,000 young people in its application funnel, from whom we select around 100–200 of the best candidates every year. More than 80% of our selected candidates go on to successful employment in high-value tech, creative, and strategy roles at top local and international companies. Below we explore a few global tech recruitment trends, before taking a look under the hood of Umuzi’s recruitment process, and chatting to the Umuzi team conducting ongoing research into the most valuable predictors of success.
What you see is not necessarily what you get
School marks and University transcripts have lost their standing as a measure of future success or failure. Leading companies like Google have done away with asking job applicants for a copy of their academic transcript, and hiring exclusively from the top schools. They believe standardised tests are not a strong indication of how well an employee will be able to apply their knowledge and skills to the challenges they face at work. Instead, they value attributes such as intellectual humility, demonstrated by an applicant’s ability and willingness to learn from others. Moreover, practical, competency-based learning that favours skill mastery, knowledge application, and self-driven learning, better develops the complex mix of knowledge, skills and dispositions that are needed for young people to thrive in the future working world.
In dynamic industries, such as tech, hiring decisions are increasingly based on demonstrated skills (coding tests, or technical reviews of previous work) rather than grades achieved. Organisations are leaning more heavily on face-to-face recruitment opportunities that allow candidates to show what they know and how they can apply their knowledge and skills to real-life work situations. Boot Camp challenges, Hackathons, and behaviour interviews are proving to be better signals of culture fit and knowledge application than brain teaser interview style questions. Large international organisations like PayPal and Foursquare host Hackathons in multiple cities globally, where hundreds of the most talented software developers from around the world work collaboratively to solve local challenges faced by these organisations. Not only are Hackathons a lucrative recruitment opportunity, they also act as a breeding ground for innovative ideas, professional networking, and professional development opportunities for candidates.
How Umuzi is innovating on these tech recruitment trends
Like leading tech companies, we don’t believe in school marks. Umuzi incorporates very practical tests of candidates’ competencies into our selection process. While in-person competency assessments are effective, they are a costly undertaking if they rely on the management team sifting through high-potential talent. Thus we’ve developed ways to automate these tests into the early online phases of our application process, to reduce the burden on management to sift through test results, and conduct in-person assessments with the wrong candidates. Mesuli Lotsile, our recruitment manager shares some examples of how we have achieved this.
“In the past, we’ve invested a lot of time into manually reviewing and identifying high potential candidates. To solve this time-suck, we have automated competency-based challenges throughout our recruitment process. These tests have allowed us to better utilise our time by signalling who our strongest applicants are early on in the recruitment funnel. Our Web Development application is a good example of this, as it assesses an applicant’s aptitude for Web Development without considering any prior experience in the field. The test instead looks at indicators of a candidate’s behavioural and functional competencies focusing on literacy, numeracy, sequencing, problem-solving, grit, agreeability and professionalism.”
Coders have personalities too
Dr Michelle Hoogenhout, our head of Data Science at Umuzi and PhD Psychology graduate from the University of Cape Town, has undertaken a research opportunity at Umuzi to create a reliable group of measures and metrics to identify high-potential candidates as early as possible in our recruitment process. Dr Hoogenhout and her team of Data Scientists at Umuzi are currently collecting data and tracking results on a combination of aptitude tests, personality tests and behavioural observations to see which of these will prove to be the most reliable measures of high-potential candidates.
Aptitude tests are necessary to test a candidate’s ability to perform specific tasks and react to a range of different situations. At Umuzi, we look out for candidates with a good command of literacy, logic and basic numeracy as core skills across the board, as Dr Hoogenhout believes these are critical skills that help anyone in virtually any job context. When recruiting for a slightly more technical role such as a Data Scientist or Web Developer, our managers also look for a candidate’s ability to spot patterns and solve problems. This can be observed through testing sequencing abilities and pattern recognition through a series of online tests. Additionally, during our in-person Boot Camp challenges, our managers look out for impulse control — a candidate’s ability to control their impulses and instead follow rules and sequence actions. Over and above this, Data Scientists are also tested for basic command of probability and statistics skills.
Personality tests are used in combination with aptitude tests to check for cultural fit, levels of professionalism and emotional maturity. Dr Hoogenhout and her team have put together a series of personality tests that look out for attributes such as grit, resilience, empathy, systematic thinking, conscientiousness and communication. Grit is a person’s ability to stick with and pursue a goal over a long period of time without concern for recognition or achievements along the way. This is considered to be a better indicator of success than raw talent, as it demonstrates a candidate’s ability and willingness to achieve and persevere against setbacks and challenges. Resilience and strong communication are two key indicators our managers assess during Boot Camp challenges, as it demonstrates a candidate’s ability to thrive under difficult circumstances.
Although some personality tests rely heavily on a candidate’s level of self report, Dr Hoogenhout believes it is important to identify candidates who are able to demonstrate that they are conscientious workers, open to new experiences, emotionally stable, curious, imaginative and agreeable. Forbes and the World Economic Forum predict that similar factors are vital to future competitiveness.
The series of tests and measures we use at Umuzi are based on previous research and retrospective feedback from previous rounds of recruitment. Dr Hoogenhout and her team are working to test whether these measures are true signals of high potential over time.
“Some of the results we are looking at include, but are not limited to, tracking what positions our candidates are hired into in the job market, their financial earning potential, whether they have achieved any professional rewards and recognition for their work, and their ability to hold down a job.”
Dr Hoogenhout and her team will continue collecting data and tracking results over the coming months to refine and continuously test which of these measures are strong predictors of early career success.
What’s already clear is a data-driven approach based on objective aptitude and personality tests, results in better hiring decisions.
Follow our written series as we continue our journey to connect as many un(der)employed young people to high-value digital careers as possible.
Contact Umuzi if you are looking for top junior tech, creative, or strategy talent, or if you’re interested in using any of our tools to improve your own recruitment process.