by Sarah K. White

How to find undervalued tech talent

May 25, 2016
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

There's a hiring war among companies as the tech skills gap grows wider, but you don't need only A players to develop a strong team. Instead, consider hiring undervalued recruits, and coaching them up.

Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike, a company that offers task and project management tools, takes a unique approach to recruiting talent. While some companies might go after the most desired talent on the market, Filev prefers to hire the undervalued players, and foster their strengths to create a well-rounded team.

“‘Island of Misfit Toys’ is a nickname some of our team gave themselves one day at lunch when they were reflecting on how different their career backgrounds were prior to joining Wrike. These are people who landed at Wrike either without a lot of experience, or with an abundance of experience unrelated to their current positions — often in jobs where they lacked challenge and growth. Since starting their careers here, they’ve become key players on our team and many are now in roles as team leaders or program managers, and are also big cultural assets in the company,” says Filev.

For Filev, recruiting undervalued workers was a necessity in the beginning, when his company was still in start-up mode, because they didn’t stand a chance against companies like Facebook or Google when it came to recruiting star employees. But, he quickly found that by identifying the potential in certain candidates, he could essentially craft a custom team of employees by encouraging and fostering their biggest strengths. Filev offers five tips for determining when someone is an undervalued employee who has the potential to become a star.

Acquire passionate people

Hiring people with the right skills for the job is obviously important, but hiring someone who is passionate about the role is paramount to building a successful team. Your workers need to be excited to come into work, because that is what helps maintain engagement and fosters creativity, says Filev.

“One of our top sales reps, who is now a manager, came to us at a time when he couldn’t get promoted from his entry-level role at his last company. During his interview, we found out he had this sincere passion for diving deep into customer pain and providing creative solutions in a process that was too slow for his previous employer. In that case, the consultative style that failed to advance him at his last company was a perfect fit for us,” he says.

That passion doesn’t even need to be career-focused, says Filev. For example, he talks about a woman in sales at his company who discovered she wasn’t that enthusiastic about sales, so they tasked her with organizing the first company-wide volunteer day. It was something she was incredibly passionate about, and allowing her the flexibility to plan such an event resulted in her coming to work feeling happier, more productive and more engaged in her job.

“Give [employees] room to find what makes them excited. If they have a passion project that they can do alongside their current job function, let them run with it. When you give people the opportunity to innovate within a company in an area that they are passionate about, they are going to be very engaged, and come to work excited to get started,” says Filev.

[ Related story: How to Use a Moneyball Approach to Build a Better IT Team ]

Find the bored workers

You don’t want to have to make compromises when hiring, especially if you’re a small company or a startup trying to make your way in the industry. But just because you can’t land that one developer or engineer everyone in Silicon Valley is after, it doesn’t mean you can’t find someone as qualified. However, Filev says, the hardest part is actually identifying these undervalued players; but he says there is one good way to start sourcing these types of candidates. Filev suggests hunting outside of “major brands,” meaning, don’t try to recruit a star from well-known companies like Salesforce or LinkedIn. Rather, identify workers who aren’t being used to their full potential at small or large businesses, or lesser-known companies. Filev specifically tries to find and reach out to workers who are tired of their roles, unhappy at their companies, or just simply bored and eager for more growth and responsibility.

“I’m shocked by how many of these people there are out there. A lot of people fall into jobs that aren’t very challenging, doing work that isn’t very inspiring. Monotony has a way of killing creativity, and if you add toxic management on top of that, you’ll find that there are a lot of really talented people who are itching for a change in their life,” says Filev.

Offer them a challenge

One reason undervalued recruits go unnoticed is because they’re not being challenged in their current environments, according to Filev,. And for anyone who thrives on being pushed outside their comfort zone, boredom can be the ultimate productivity killer. These are the types of employees who want to be given a challenge, and they want to see tangible evidence of how their work affects the company or the bottom line, he says.

In one instance at Wrike, Filev says he interviewed someone for a customer success manager position. This candidate was working for a call center at a major insurance company, and he felt stifled by the environment. The employee had come up with a way to restructure teams to streamline the customer service experience and make it more efficient, but the way the company was set up, no one would listen to the ideas of a low-level worker. Out of that frustration, he turned to startups and, “he went from being a face in the crowd following a well-worn process to an innovator on our team who has implemented some successful changes,” says Filev.

“I think what’s different is that they are people who typically haven’t been challenged. It’s not that they aren’t smart enough, it’s that they’ve been buried under processes that haven’t allowed them to shine. When you have someone who previously couldn’t have their great ideas heard, and now suddenly they have that opportunity, the level of engagement and motivation completely changes,” says Filev.

[ Related story: How HR can bridge the tech inequality gap ]

Hire for ‘coachability’

Filev says that many undervalued recruits are the perfect candidates for coaching. “I have always been a big advocate for hiring based on adaptability and ‘coachability.’ As a company grows, processes are going to change, often repeatedly in a short amount of time. You don’t want someone who gets mired down in the old way of doing things and struggles to adapt,” he says.

These are the types of people who have a “great foundation of skills and are across-the-board smart people,” says Filev. Hiring for coachability allows you to not only leverage their skills, but adapt the employee so they will fit right into wherever you need them most in the company — you won’t be forced to pigeon-hole them into one role. These recruits also tend to do well with mentors, he says, because mentors can help them further cultivate and perfect any skills they need to gain for the task at hand.

“While some positions require deep skills and experience that takes years to build, in general I’m a believer that people can make up for some of that through smarts, motivation and a strong work ethic, especially in a mixed team that has capacity to mentor the transition,” he says.

Think outside the box for recruitment

Oftentimes, these qualified, yet undervalued, workers go unrecognized because they were recruited based only on their skills, rather than what their skills could mean for the company. If you want to find undervalued workers who will thrive, you need to get creative in your recruitment process. Don’t just compare their resume to the job description, instead try to interpret their skills and experience to see how they could translate to other roles within the company. “When recruiters are faced with competition for top talent, they should definitely think outside the box and look for talent with transferable skills, not just transferable experience,” says Filev.

This might mean you look at a candidate who has a background in journalism and then consider their talent for “asking good questions and weaving captivating stories,” he says. Those are skills that translate well and are typically valued in a marketing environment. And if it’s the right person, who is passionate about the job, they’ll likely jump right into learning about marketing technology from courses or books. “And if they have an analytical spark in them, you have a strong candidate for an inbound marketing role,” Filev says.

It boils down to adding some creativity to the hiring process, and thinking outside the box. You’ll want to consider how someone’s skills can benefit the company, not just the open requisition you have to fill. Just because someone has worked in one industry for their entire career, it doesn’t mean they won’t thrive in a new environment, Filev says.

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