How to reverse-engineer finding elite tech talent

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What if you could pinpoint the characteristics that make your top talent so good, and use that info to identify new recruits? Online social learning and collaboration platform Piazza is rolling out a new feature set that it claims allows you to do just that.

Have you ever wished you could clone your best employees? Or wished you could identify exactly what makes them tick so that your next recruiting push would be a guaranteed success?

Online learning and collaboration platform Piazza is rolling out a new feature set that it says lets recruiters, hiring managers and member companies do just that -- identify the characteristics that set your top talent apart and use those to select potential candidates.

More of the same

When Piazza's management team asked their clients what they could do to improve the online social learning and collaboration platform, the answer was a bit surprising.

"Many of our clients said, 'We want to find more students like the ones we have. We hired Jane Smith, and she's great. So we want you to help us figure out what made her so great so we can find more Jane Smiths'," says Jessica Gilmartin, COO of Piazza.

Piazza was founded in 2009 as an online social learning and collaboration platform for STEM students, and in 2013 was expanded to include Piazza Careers, which allows member companies to search for promising STEM and computer science talent, with a focus on female tech talent. The Piazza Careers platform is optional for students, but those who choose to use it in their job search can upload resumes, work samples and show off their coding skills to potential employers.

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"Piazza Careers is specifically targeted at helping proactive, progressive and innovative companies target female tech talent. We believe much of the 'skills gap' and diversity issues companies are facing are pipeline issues, and we can help address that -- there are approximately 60,000 female computer science students using the platform," Gilmartin says. Because Piazza's platform includes extensive user data and information about courses, projects and achievements, it provides an in-depth look at a candidate's skills, knowledge and experience companies can use to vet talent.

'I know it when I see it'

"When you're a company hiring, it can be tough to quantify what makes a great hire. But if you can select characteristics and skills based on a successful hire you've already made, then 'I know it when I see it' suddenly becomes 'I know exactly what I'm looking for'," says Gilmartin.

Data-based decision making

And what are companies looking for? That's unique to each company, and depends on factors like industry, competitive environment and technology stack, among others. Because Piazza provides at least 25 data points for each student subscribed, recruiters and hiring managers can filter those to focus on exactly what they want and need to fit available roles within their organization.

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"They can look at what classes Jane Smith has taken, her work portfolio, we can see she has interest in and experience with advanced algorithms, she spends a lot of time on the platform helping other students, interacting with professors. We can show her side projects, extracurricular activities -- so many pieces of information that go beyond just a resume to help companies make better hiring decisions," Gilmartin says.

Soft skills

Reverse-engineering candidates in this way also improves organizations' capability to screen for soft skills like leadership, communication and teamwork. A candidate who's spent her free time on the platform helping others, demonstrates that she's a leader, and her participation in group projects can show that she works well with others and has great communication skills, for example.

Students who opt-in can also include the extracurricular activities and achievements outside a strict technical or academic focus, such as participation in collegiate athletics -- which highlights their teamwork, communication skills and also their competitive nature.

"So many of these factors outside academic performance can influence someone's success on the job. Are they great team players? Can they communicate and negotiate effectively? Are they able to handle school, extracurricular activities, hobbies and sports at once? Have they been coding since childhood and feel very passionate about their skills? These are all things savvy organizations are looking for," says Gilmartin.

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Reverse-engineering your best hires isn't at odds with the push for greater diversity many companies have, according to Gilmartin. If anything, using these data points and performance information makes hiring diverse candidates easier in some ways.

"Piazza's helping companies make great hires by focusing on a candidate's merit, not on what they look like, what school they attended, or even on who they know. That's increasing the diversity of the candidate pool and allowing more diverse candidates to compete on a more level playing field," Gilmartin says.

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