The Evolution of Talent Acquisition with GitHub's Maisha Cannon

April 11, 2016 at 12:00 PM by William Clarke

Evolution_of_Talent_Acquisition.jpgHow many recruiters can say they’ve recruited everyone from rocket scientists to retail store managers and was one of the top contenders in the World’s Greatest Sourcer competition? Not many, that’s for sure, which is why it was such a thrill to have Maisha join this week’s Hiring On All Cylinders.

Hosts Rob Stevenson and Vivek Reddy chatted with Maisha about how much talent acquisition has changed since she first got her start over 15 years ago, which means far less cold calling and sorting paper resumes, and far more digital sourcing wizardry. Maisha also took time so share why her new gig in Strategic Talent Sourcing and Engagement at GitHub has been such a nice change of pace. But that’s not all. Maisha, Rob and Vivek also discuss:

  • Successfully managing applicant volume
  • The limits of automation in recruiting technology
  • The benefits of hiring remotely for technical roles
  • Maisha’s favorite World’s Greatest Sourcer hacks
  • Recruiting for technical vs. non-technical roles

Listen to the full episode below, or head to iTunes to listen to Hiring On All Cylinders on the go:


Maisha also shed light on the transformation of recruiting tech and her forecast on the future of hiring. Check out the full interview here.

You've been in the hiring space for over a decade! Tell us: What timeless skills are crucial for finding people and keeping up with the demand for talent?

Purpose, passion and persistence. A recruiter with a true interest in and enthusiasm for the work they do will continually go above and beyond to maintain their competitive edge. That’s one of the reasons I took a Python class at Stanford as a new tech recruiter and why I continue to study programming languages. I also listen to tech talks while I source because I’m really interested in the intricacies of technology. Additionally, a recruiter with a thirst for knowledge and savvy communication skills will do well across industries.

How is today's recruiting industry different from what it was when you first started out in your recruiting career?

On recruiting tech’s dismal past

Technology has significantly impacted the way job seekers and recruiters interact, but the irony is that now, even with a plethora of technical tools and teams of coordinators, sourcers, recruiters, hiring outcomes are not always better.

When I began my career, the recruiting industry was very employer centric. At NBC in the late ‘90s, resumes were delivered primarily by postal mail or fax. Though there were internal email systems, technology as a tool was minimal. I actually updated a “job hotline” that you could call into to hear about current openings.

There were no applicant tracking systems (ATS), no fancy data aggregation tools, and certainly no thoughts of using the Internet to “find people.” There were expensive “research lists” and name generation specialists who worked their magic for a per name fee, but those resources were exclusively for senior or niche roles.

At E! Entertainment in 2003, we built pipelines from employee referrals, incoming applications, and recruiting agency leads. E! didn’t have a social media presence, but they had name recognition and a well-loved product – that alone was enough to attract a surplus of talent. I recall sorting through large stacks of resumes, and I thought I was “high tech” when I started taking live notes in Microsoft Outlook during interviews. Take that, Evernote!

My initial exposure to sourcing came in 2005 in the form of “mall walking” as a Regional Recruiter for Hot Topic. I would literally walk into the competitor’s shop to recruit employees!

When I started as a recruiter with USC in 2006, they had just transitioned to “online applications only” which was a really interesting era to be a part of. There was a steep learning curve for us when we began to realize that much of our entry-level talent pool did not have convenient access to the Internet. We did a lot of creative problem solving, including hosting “open calls” at the local EDD office. We found that setting up 2-3 company provided laptops and doing quick 10-minute pre-screen interviews on-site during these half-day sessions eliminated the lags in communication. This was pivotal since email for the target candidate pool wasn’t just a click away as it is on mobile devices today.

It was at USC that I began to learn Boolean basics and became an “Advanced Certified Internet Recruiter.” I don’t remember there being any hiring metrics at USC, but I filled 200 positions in 18 months without a recruiting coordinator or sourcer! One of the factors that contributed to my success was that I worked remotely, so I had very few distractions. I was purposeful about how I planned my days. I am a natural organizer, so I grouped similar activities together to maximize output. It was basically the opposite of multitasking! There were processes to follow, but not so much as to impede progress.

I vividly recall candidates at that time voicing their frustrations with “the black hole” - once an application was submitted online, it seemed like all communication from the employer’s side stopped. It made for a poor “candidate experience” (a phrase I don’t recall hearing until 2008-ish).

On recruiting today’s talent

In my current role as a front-end recruiter, my focus is on sourcing - identifying, assessing and engaging talent using proactive techniques. Sourcing allows me to become much more embedded within the talent community and to establish relationships with prospects that turn them into candidates.

Today, recruiting has become very prospect centric, with highly qualified professionals being pursued by multiple companies regularly, even before they become candidates.  Social recruitment, sophisticated ATS’, recommendation engines, productivity tools powered by predictive analytics, and machine learning dominate. The pace in the technology space is lightning speed.

Wi-Fi enabled laptop with VoIP has replaced the landline phone as a recruiter’s primary tool. The Internet empowers sourcers to research and engage prospects who may have never even heard of the company or position before. It’s pretty amazing.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What gets you excited about recruiting? What's to come for the future of hiring and the way people build relationships?

As for the future of hiring, I envision:

Reinventing Resumes

The traditional resume will be replaced with the digital footprint – projects, portfolios and profiles found across the web. Candidates will tell their career stories through video, dynamic web pages, and sites like LinkedIn and Dribbble. The web will make it easier to demonstrate subject matter expertise. Take Quora and Slideshare, for example.  

One problem with resumes is they are one-dimensional. Complicating this is the fact that very few job seekers tell their own story well on a resume (Google “worst resumes” for proof). This is the primary disadvantage when a recruiter has to evaluate a candidate solely on the bullet pointed work summary they have pieced together (usually reluctantly and/or under pressure). Even a well-written resume cannot convey the whole story of one’s experiences - triumphs, failures, and lessons learned.

Being able to authentically represent our best selves in a variety of mediums will be so much more rewarding than the standard “squeeze it all into one page” resume. A robust digital footprint allows recruiters to delve deeper sooner and get a clearer picture of a candidate’s aptitudes.

Video and Live Streaming

Video will continue to be integral not just in recruitment branding and marketing, but in describing and documenting the actual job. (Aren’t most job descriptions downright boring?) Video applications and virtual interviews will become the norm.

Mo’ Mobile

From the candidate side, mobile technology will power company research, updates to online profiles, application submissions, interview scheduling, and offer acceptance. For recruiters, sourcing, outreach, messaging, interview evaluations, and so forth, will be optimized for mobile devices. The entire approach to online applications will have to be reimagined.

Offline Networking

Offline aspects of recruiting will become increasingly ubiquitous. Not so much the job fairs (remember those?), but open houses (think speed interviewing on-site), meet and greets, tech talks, and industry events hosted by employers for target prospects.

What I love about recruiting is the listening, learning, assessing, and consulting. My passion is coaching candidates and helping them navigate the ever-changing recruiting landscape.  

What excites me most about the future of recruiting is that bleeding-edge technology tools will fuel the reinvention of traditional recruiting practices. These changes will redefine how recruiters attract, identify, and assess talent. I can’t wait to reflect in another 10 years on just how far we’ve come.

original_maisha_black_white.jpgMaisha Cannon is a recruiting professional who is passionate about writing, technology and social media. She placed 3rd in The Sourcing Institute’s “World’s Greatest Sourcer” competition (2015). Maisha shares career advice, insights, and resources all over the web at Examiner, Quora, Pinterest and Twitter.


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