Seasoned technical sourcer David Nicola explains why community, communication, and contact info are central to getting the job done right
You have to be solutions driven to seek out and attract insanely great engineering talent for a company outside of the big three (Google, Facebook, and Apple) in the midst of California, and so it’s no surprise that technical sourcer David Nicola is looping me on how he solved his latest challenge: following the San Francisco giants games when you live in Dodger territory.
Long story short, he now subscribes to the Major League Gameday app, but more importantly, he knows a thing or too about making top tech hires in an extremely competitive environment.
He also happens to be surprisingly eager to share his knowledge thanks to his own incredibly positive experience entering the industry.
“One thing that I think is super important is that you have to pay it forward. You have to be able to share what you know. I’ve been really conscientious of this because the impact that was made on me wasn’t a tool; it was the community and how welcoming they were. That’s what really stood out.”
Community, alongside communication and contact info, is one of the 3Cs that I find dominates our conversation about succeeding as a technical sourcer. And without further ado, here’s the full lowdown on what David had to say.
What advice do you have for technical sourcing/recruiter newbies or those coming into the role a bit more green?
I would say build up your network if you haven’t done it before and, more importantly, find a mentor – someone who’s really going to be able to help you navigate through the whole process, everything from how to build a pipeline to sourcing tools to even looking for your own sourcing and recruiting jobs.
How can you get in touch with the possible mentors in the community?
LinkedIn is generally the go-to. I don’t know anyone in our industry that won’t accept an invitation from someone who wants to learn and grow.
I remember when I started out how weird it was to think that I could have access to Dean Da Costa or Mark Tortorici or any of these big names. These people will pick up the phone and talk to you – it blew me away how open and accessible our community is, and I want to keep that going and give others the same experience that I had.
I’d also recommend sticking to your personal philosophy within social media and going to the networks that you’re most comfortable with and that you use the most.
When it comes to really upskilling yourself and getting plugged in as a newish technical recruiter or sourcer, how do balance getting to know the tools of the trade with learning the tricks of the trade?
I really had to do a lot of homework in terms of researching everything out there that was totally free. I was constantly asking myself, “What can I kick the tires on?” So it was really a matter of doing as many free trials as possible and what not. And that’s when I came across Dean Da Costa and all his recommendations for Chrome extensions and tools and everything.
It’s also important to remember that tools are great, but I’ll never forget Stacy Zapar’s quote about the fact that tools come and go, and what’s here one day is going to be gone the next. So you cannot wholly rely on tools to do your job. You have to have a fundamental understanding of what the basics are. Just like with sports, you can’t expect to play in the NBA if you’ve never shot a basketball. You have to practice your craft.
So get to know some simple Boolean strings and then add in the use of some tools.
Technical sourcers and recruiters almost famously need to fill high-demand, low-supply roles. What strategic advice could you give to professionals grappling with this pressure?
What really helps is sitting down with your team, whether it’s QA or DevOps or whatever, and picking their brains about what their biggest needs are. Find out about the role’s day-to-day functions as well as the tools, languages, and platforms that that team is using most. That’s going to help you relate to candidates. One question I do ask a lot is, “What in your opinion are the characteristics and traits that make the difference between a good developer and a great one.” The answer is never wrong, but it’s always different and it reveals a lot about where they’re coming from.
Speaking of working with teams, what can technical recruiters and sourcers do to make sure they have a strong relationship with hiring managers?
Amy Miller touched on this, and I think she nailed it. Communication is vital – I can’t stress that enough. That has to be the top-of-the-list thing to be addressed. And that means communicating about everything, from the intake meeting to managing expectations to helping the hiring manger differentiate between required and preferred skills. It means educating the hiring manager on the process in terms of the timeframes. Don’t just start off on the right foot; consistent communication is key. You also need to keep some kind of accountability. Track updates from hiring managers and push them for them.
How did you get to grips with the language of highly technical and largely unfamiliar roles?
A lot of Wikipedia and YouTube. It’s about watching those DevOps videos, for example, and really finding out the nuances of those functions or roles.
What’s Jenkins, Puppet, Chef? What do they all do? When I was first getting going I remember thinking that there are all these weird names…who is naming these tools!
I think it’s also about really digging in and getting a basic understanding of how these tools fit into the big picture. You need to have some context of where the role fits into the larger software development lifecycle process.
And what about effectively screening for roles that come with requirements that are still relatively confusing?
To be able to knock out a 16-minute screen and go beyond just asking general questions, I usually go back to my engineering team and ask them to help me craft some core questions (and answers) that I could ask. It’s also about being able to put the ball in the candidate’s court and get them to really speak to their true proficiencies and core skills. Have them walk through what’s in their head rather than dictate the conversation.
You do need to know the basics though. You don’t want people to think you’re wasting their time by not knowing the fundamentals.
Technical sourcers and recruiters also tend to do a lot of outreach to passive candidates. How do you make yourself heard and get a response in a space where there’s so much noise?
For one, you can’t put all this tech talent on this high pedestal; look, these are people. And it’s all people to people. As far as engagement goes, what’s worked best for me is just to be personable and to be real and honest and up front. Stop with the whole used car salesman pitch. I just like to lay it out on the line.
I would also say, don’t rely on LinkedIn InMails – or as Steve Levy calls them, InMauls. Contacting tech folks through InMails is the worst idea ever. I try to find an email address or a social network that I can use to contact them. From there, it’s just about finding commonalities that you can conduct a conversation around. It’s about having done enough research to understand what their likes and dislikes are.
Also, make it about the candidate. Don’t make it about you. More them and less you.
How do you find contact information, like emails and phone numbers, for people?
There are tons of Chrome extensions and data scrapers out there that can reveal contact info and profiles. I’m a big Hiretual fan boy – and I also use HiringSolved, ContactOut, Hunter, Prophet—just to name a few. If worse comes to worse, you can use email permutators to find work email combinations. You can even take the Facebook URL and hack it to create a search string.
Getting contact info can be super easy, but getting candidates to respond is the real challenge. If you find something that gets you a high response rate, stick with it and keep going.
Given all the recent discussion around AI and automation, are you afraid robots are going to take your job?
Absolutely not – not in the least! Automation is helpful and can streamline our workflows, but in the end, our job is about people-to-people connection – and that is something that robots don’t have the capacity for.
I do think we need to adapt and be flexible. Just like with anything, if you’re not practicing your craft and if you don’t have some awareness around what skills you need, you’re not going to be as effective.