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GitHub is reimagining the technical recruiting process

Mar 16, 2020 - 8 min read

“Even if you don’t land a job with us, we want to help you get a job somewhere.” — Salifu Abudulai, Head of Talent Attraction at GitHub

When it comes to technical recruiting, the pressure is on. Companies are competing for talent in a pool that’s too small to meet demand. Recruiting teams are being asked to fill roles faster and meet increased diversity targets. Hiring managers want the certainty of candidates who have been there and done that, asking for senior resources who have demonstrated expertise solving problems at scale. These conflicting pressures make a small pond even smaller, with the same senior engineers bouncing from company to company. It isn’t working and GitHub realized the need to try something different.

“GitHub brings together the world’s largest community of developers to discover, share, and build better software.” GitHub fosters community engagement and is part of the developer community. They are well positioned to get creative, with the ability to empathize with candidates, understand their journey, and innovate. One of the pain points Salifu Abudulai wants to eliminate is when, “candidates come into the system, and they never hear from us again.” The goal is to increase the pool of qualified, experienced, diverse candidates and GitHub recognizes the need to make a long term play. GitHub’s talent team has designed a “Nurturing Campaign” intended to build and maintain relationships with developer candidates hired today, or, if not, at some point in the future.

“We want to create an ecosystem where we give something back,” Salifu says.

Hubbers (left to right) Brandon Ngo, Jared Valdron, Julie Hata, Amy Cano, Emily Bergen, Andi Aliko (kneeling), Victor Valdez, Sally Tran
Hubbers (left to right) Brandon Ngo, Jared Valdron, Julie Hata, Amy Cano, Emily Bergen, Andi Aliko (kneeling), Victor Valdez, Sally Tran

Nurturing comes naturally to Salifu Abudulai. Originally born in Ghana, Salifu lost his mother to a traffic accident when he was just a baby. As a 2-year-old, he had health challenges that left him unable to walk. His loving father allowed him to travel with missionaries to the U.S. to get the needed medical care. The treatments required more time than anticipated and Salifu was adopted to make it possible for him to continue his recovery. You would never have known any of this if you’d met Salifu as a college student studying Management Information Systems and playing football for the University of Tulsa. (His GitHub handle is pass-rush.) He knows from personal experience what it means to have others provide nurturing support so you can grow.

After college and football, he saw a job in the paper for a consulting company called TEKsystems and he became the single point of contact for all technical project-based work. He gravitated toward technical recruiting and has thrived at meeting the challenge of finding talent for a variety of technical organizations, including Google, Zynga, CBS Interactive, OPower, GoPro and Pandora.

Challenges technical recruiters face

Lack of senior level talent

One of the biggest challenges technical recruiters face is finding senior-level talent. Why? Because the competition among companies to hire the best senior engineers is fierce. Many engineers who are ready to make the move to senior migrate towards the big tech names like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, among others.

The hiring pool also shrinks the higher you go up the org chart. It requires a lot of resources to go out and find these potential hires. While diversity in the talent pool is increasing, most of these candidates have five years of experience or less.

Finding the communities is tough

The number one approach for most recruiting teams is to go to conferences, meetups, and online communities where software engineers are active. While this can be an effective way to attract talent, these solutions typically engage those who are early in their career which doesn’t address the problem of finding senior-level talent.

It’s counterproductive to go to a meetup or conference to accept resumes when you know they’re not a match for the openings you need to fill.

The GitHub Nurturing Campaign

To address the shortcomings of traditional approaches, Salifu and the team at GitHub have come up with a nurturing campaign to help give candidates the best chance to succeed in their careers, at GitHub or elsewhere. To grow the pool, they will grow the candidates. The GitHub hiring process is spelled out on The new difference in the candidate experience is the Nurturing Campaign being piloted now in partnership with Educative.

Amy Cano and Brandon Ngo
Amy Cano and Brandon Ngo

GitHub is enhancing the candidate journey by investing in relationship building with candidates in the pipeline. Salifu is overflowing with ideas. “Where it makes sense, invite them to a training session. Invite them to events or conferences where Hubbers will be.” Because internal referrals are one of the best sources for talent, GitHub wants to make sure candidates have ways to engage with Hubbers.

GitHub is also extending the candidate journey to stay engaged with candidates who do not receive an offer.

How does it work?

Candidates get enrolled into their applicant tracking system by submitting an application for an open position or through one of the various conferences, meetups, and online communities. An auto-reply message thanks them for their interest and invites them to view and GitHub Open Positions. Candidates who make it past a phone screen with a recruiter receive an email with a 3-month gift subscription to Educative. Educative offers a full range of courses for interview prep, as well as many other beginning, intermediate and advanced topics. The first goal is to give candidates the information and resources that will help them perform well in an interview. If at any point they are not selected for a role, candidates will be tracked in their CRM.

Once in their CRM, candidates continue to have access to Educative training, invitations to networking events, invitations to come into the office, and when a job opens up they’ll reach back out to candidates. At this point, candidates will know what to expect and what success looks like and be better prepared the next time. These helpful networking events and online training will be available to interviewers, and candidates can opt out at any time. GitHub is investing in growing the talent in the pool as well as growing the size of the pool. If they don’t offer you a job, they want to help you get a job somewhere.

This approach helps GitHub address the lack of senior-level talent because, “You may not be a senior engineer today, but you will be 3 months from now, 6 months from now, etc.” This will help them keep in touch with potential interviewers and when those candidates are ready, GitHub hopes candidates consider them again.

Victor Valdez and Andi Aliko
Victor Valdez and Andi Aliko

The GitHub + Educative Partnership

Educative first partnered with GitHub as a member of the GitHub Student Developer Pack and the GitHub Teacher Toolbox. When the talent team began imagining the Nurturing Campaign, they thought of Educative. Educative’s mission is to cultivate a community of developers where they can learn and share their knowledge to maximize their economic opportunity. The Nurturing Campaign fits the community engagement values of both companies. “This is an invaluable resource, and I’ve never seen anyone else do this at any company I’ve been at,” says Salifu.

For GitHub, this is a meaningful way that they can give back to candidates, and help them grow throughout their entire career. GitHub genuinely believes in giving back to the community and they want you to succeed whether that’s at GitHub or another company.

“Can you imagine going through the interview process, not getting the job and the company says to you, hey you didn’t get this opportunity but we believe in you and here is some training to get you up to speed and we’ll invite you back in to the interview process when you’re done?” This is the community member GitHub wants to be.

This approach, although new, is helping GitHub reach new candidates, stay in touch with previous candidates, and ultimately give them the help they need to succeed. Carrie Olesen, GitHub’s CHRO, says, “When it comes to diversity, we benefit from being a global community and participating in and actively listening to what’s needed to drive change, and being able to learn and experiment together.”

Understanding your candidates, like knowing your customer, allows a talent team to surface and pilot new ideas. New approaches will be necessary to compete in the tight talent market and GitHub knows how to innovate. The talent team at GitHub is creative and motivated. Salifu gets a lot of job satisfaction from investing in others, honoring and emulating the people who invested in him. He stays engaged with his heritage as well, traveling to Ghana this past December to participate in the historic homecoming known as The Year of Return. For Salifu, nurturing has come full circle.


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