September 5, 2019

A Technical Recruiters Perspective on Architecting Your Way Into Tech.

As a technical recruiter, I love understanding the composition of a team, learning what skills are missing, and recruiting people who will round things out and help the team perform optimally. But most of all, I love being able to work for a company where I can cast a wide net to untapped communities that include underrepresented people because we truly value inclusion.

As a woman and the daughter of Peruvian immigrants, I sit at the intersection of two groups who struggle to get into the recruiting pipeline. I know how frustrating and demoralizing it feels to be excluded from job opportunities when they could mean financial independence for you and your family. As a recruiter, I know the feeling of having to “put butts in seats” as fast as possible and how it can lead to short-cuts like pattern-matching (choosing someone who looks like another successful candidate) that are rooted in unconscious bias. I also understand the pressure to keep your head above water.

While it’s clear that our system needs an overhaul, the good news is that there are strategies that most people can use to navigate the job market, design a career pivot, and speak to recruiters so they can land a job in technology. It’s not a magic pill or a shortcut, but a tried-and-true methodology that I used to architect my way into Ivy League communities like Cornell, influential networks like Teach for America, and ultimately into the technology industry as a technical recruiter. If you’re a job seeker, this article is designed to get you thinking about how to architect your way into technology. If you’re a recruiter with limited time, I hope this guide serves as a resource you can share with candidates as they seek to break into tech.

Ponte las pilas means focus, get yourself together, put energy into what you’re doing, and keep going.

1. Get organized

When I was first applying to colleges, juggling submission deadlines and financial paperwork, I created a system to keep myself on track and solve a complex problem. Later, when I realized I wanted to move from education to technology, I applied this same approach to my job search and got as organized as possible. I created a master job search document that housed my job search journey and all of my research and learning.

Any time I would have an informational interview, the “aha” moments went into the document. Any time I found an article about the career fields I was researching, those key insights would go into the document. And any time I had a conversation where they would use words I didn’t understand, that vocabulary would go into the document. And then I would research some more. I stored this research document on my phone, as well as my computer, so I could add to it as I learned new things in my daily life. This framework helped me get 17 college applications in on time and apply for financial aid, leading me to earn admittance into Cornell University with a full scholarship.

It may seem trivial, but giving yourself the space to learn and organize what you learn is the first step in self-teaching.

2. Figure out your final destination

When you’re starting a career search in a new field, you don’t know what you don’t know. This is where many people I know get stuck. Rather than think through their final destination — the role that would be best suited for them — and build a strategy around getting there, some candidates get impatient and send their resume out in a “spray and pray” style. This overwhelms recruiters and disheartens applicants when they don’t hear back. As a recruiter, I’ve seen the same person apply for a Director role and a Coordinator role, not really understanding what either role did or if their experience was a fit. This is not a winning strategy.

When I decided to leave education, I looked at the places where my skills and passions overlapped: relationship building, community outreach, and opening up economic opportunities for underrepresented communities. What did that mean in tech? In my research online, I learned that recruiting was a role that brought together all of these elements with my passion for inclusion and social justice. This would be my North Star. Now I needed to learn as much as possible about the role so I could reverse-engineer my approach to get there. I didn’t know yet what I didn’t know, but I knew other people did. That’s where the next step comes in.

3. Talk with people currently doing what you want to do

Unless you are pioneering a whole new role and industry, chances are someone else has walked down a similar career path before you. Why reinvent the wheel when you can just ask them how they did it? For this leg of my journey, I reached out to nearly 40 people asking to conduct a 30-minute informational interview. I used social media to reach out to first- and second-degree connections and even cold-messaged people in my broader network, asking for an opportunity to learn from them. Although only 20 got back to me, their advice was enough to get me to my next step.

I know it takes a village to raise a child and, in my case, a village to get me a job in tech.

As a former teacher, I truly believe that knowledge is power. I know it takes a village to raise a child and, in my case, a village to get me a job in tech. During each informational interview, I picked up on keywords and industry terms people used and paid attention to how they framed their career path and current role. If I didn’t understand something, I asked clarifying questions. After the call, I would research the new terms and add them to my research document, all the while thinking about how to frame my own work.

4. Reflect and reframe your work

After all of those calls, there was a lot to process so I could begin translating my own work into the right language for a recruiting job. As I shared, recruiters are under a tight deadline, so you have to be able to connect the dots for them really quickly when sharing your unique value proposition. Knowing this, I knew I had to figure out how to tell my story in a language that would match exactly what they were looking for. If you also come from an underrepresented background, you may already have “code-switching” in your professional skill set. This is very similar.

If you peel back the layers in a role, you’ll often find a core set of skills and competencies that are highly universal. This means that you’ve likely done something similar in your work, volunteering, or social experience. For example, self-management and initiative are two skills highly sought after in any role and you’ve likely demonstrated them multiple times in your life. Examples include changing careers, managing a project beyond your job description, or successfully being able to work remotely.

To help me focus on translating my impact, I created a two-column table;  one side listed my skills and experiences. On the other side, I translated them using the industry terms I heard during informational interviews and used examples to illustrate my potential impact. I was then able to see how the work I had done actually translated to the job descriptions I was looking at. I practiced telling the story and bringing up examples that would best prove my abilities. By owning my narrative and painting a picture for my audience, I helped hiring managers see my value and trust my experience would positively impact their goals.

5. Visualize your path

It’s not going to be a one-and-done and that’s normal.

Now that I could talk about my work in industry terms, it was time to find the companies I wanted to work for. I mapped out all of the relevant job titles that signaled to recruit and began to research their product, culture, and leaders to understand their needs. For me to be happy, I need to work in an environment that is mission-driven, fast-paced, and innovative. From those three focus areas, I curated a list of 30 companies and organizations doing work that inspired me.

When it comes to applying for roles, quality and volume are key. A company could have one spot open and hundreds or thousands of applications for that spot. It’s in your best interest to selectively choose a handful of roles you’d like to apply to and chase after them. Rejection will happen and it’s often not a signal that you’re doing anything wrong. Recenter, refocus, and keep going. As my parents often say, échale ganas (give it your all, throw some life into it, work hard). Continue learning through taking informational interviews, soaking up industry content, refining how you tell your story, and talking to people both on and offline.

6. ABG (Always Be Growing)

It used to be that once you got a job, you stayed there until you retired. But, our current world is more fluid — it’s a puzzle to be solved as you grow and progress. Think of it as a video game: As you work your way through the world, you learn new skills and unlock new gates. You can always be learning, always be leveling up. That’s how we get a competitive edge.

I found meaningful opportunities to make an impact within the non-profit sector before becoming a full-time recruiter, and my path wasn’t linear. I went from teaching Pre-K to working for a non-profit that prepares underrepresented college students for their careers. It was only after learning those transferable skills that I was able to move into recruiting. I worked for a recruiting partner organization where I learned the frameworks necessary to manage technical recruiting. And then, I was finally able to make the move to an in-house role recruiting at Abstract.

Now I get to use everything I’ve learned — skill sets and experiences I’ve picked up along the way — and do the best work of my life in recruiting and inclusion.

7. “Ponte Las Pilas” (Put on Your Batteries)

With the advent of technology, our world, and the jobs we need to support it, have changed. Change can be scary when it feels overwhelming, but I’ve found that adding process and a plan to big problems helps break them into manageable pieces. And it’s fun to solve big problems — I think it makes life more interesting and exciting.

As you begin to think about your own career path, I also encourage you to celebrate how far you’ve come and acknowledged the distance traveled. One thing that has inspired me at every transition is knowing that every step forward is an opportunity to make my family and ancestors proud. My upbringing was framed by Spanish proverbs called dichos, and one of my favorites has become my daily mantra: ponte las pilas. Ponte las pilas translates to “put on your batteries,” but it means to focus, get yourself together, put energy into what you’re doing, and to keep going. I tap into that energy every day and use it to continue moving forward.

One thing that has inspired me is knowing that every step forward is an opportunity to make my family and ancestors proud.

If you’re ready to change careers, chances are you’ve already done something amazing and impactful. You will continue to be successful if you acknowledge and believe it. It will be a bumpy ride, but remember, every “no” only gets you one step closer to a “yes”! By becoming more active and creative in our career paths, we build momentum to continue growing throughout our lives.

Originally published here by Abstract

Edgardo Perez

Director of Recruitment and Inclusion at Abstract