Q&A: Overcoming Hiring Challenges in Tech Industry with Naazish Butt


Q: How did you get into HR? What's your experience been like? And can you share your journey?

I started my career in agency recruitment about six years ago after completing my master's in public relations. Initially, I gained PR experience through internships, but I soon realized it wasn't for me.

I transitioned into recruitment, focusing on non-tech hiring for startups. I acted as the go-to HR person for these companies, including one that wasn't a big brand back then, directly liaising with founders and handling end-to-end hiring.

Later, I joined an international agency called Antal, where I delved into technical hiring. I worked with startups like Dream 11 and others, setting up their teams when they were still relatively unknown.

Afterward, seeking insight into internal hiring, I joined Haptik, a tech company. Here, I experienced in-house hiring for both tech and non-tech roles.

Currently, I'm part of a retail e-commerce platform that also operates as a SaaS company. While I handle both tech and non-tech hiring, my primary focus over the past five years has been on tech hiring.

Q: What inspired or motivated you to transition into HR from your previous career path?

I transitioned into HR from public relations due to the inherent communication and interaction aspects of my PR internships. My background in business management aligned well with PR, making the shift seem feasible without wasting years in another profession.

In my first job, the founder recognized my media background and assigned me roles in copywriting and PR. I facilitated sessions to educate colleagues on media roles, aiding in successful closures.

The shift to tech recruitment was accidental, coinciding with the tech industry's boom in late 2017 and early 2018. Embracing this opportunity during the startup surge in Bangalore expanded my career and deepened my understanding of the industry.

While initially not drawn to tech roles, the experience and challenges molded my perspective. I believe venturing into tech companies offers invaluable insight into the future of HR. It's essential to explore one's interests rather than force a career path on others.

Q: What were some significant challenges or experiences you encountered while working in HR, particularly in tech recruitment, that made a strong impact on you?

When I started recruiting for tech roles, a big challenge was dealing with engineers who had loads of job offers, sometimes 8 to 12 offers each. It was new for me in 2018, but now it's common.

To handle this, I learned to talk about expectations right from the start. If a candidate had more than three offers, I stopped pursuing them. I wanted people who were really keen on working with us.

Another tough part was managing a flood of job applications, especially during layoffs in the industry. I made the application process more detailed with questions to filter out candidates based on their skills and experience.

By focusing on setting clear expectations, filtering applications, and paying attention to candidates' interest in our company compared to others, I've overcome these challenges to hire the right people for our team.

Q: What specific challenges do you face when hiring for tech roles compared to non-tech roles, considering the high demand for quality candidates in both sectors?

In my experience, the main difference between hiring for tech and non-tech roles lies in the skill assessment. In tech roles, it's about hard skills, like specific coding languages or tech stacks, which are harder to verify during screening and final rounds. People might claim expertise without actual proficiency.

Non-tech roles, on the other hand, often rely on soft skills like communication, where it's easier for candidates to convince or bluff during the hiring process.

While there are differences, both types of recruitment come with their own difficulties. For instance, hiring copywriters for ad agencies can be incredibly challenging.

Also, the rise of AI tools has impacted the hiring landscape, making the process more complex. So, despite the differences, both tech and non-tech recruiting have their own unique difficulties to navigate.

Q: If given the choice between hiring for a tech role or a non-tech role, considering your experience in both, which one would you prefer to hire for?

If I had to choose, I would lean towards tech roles because I'm eager to enhance my understanding in that field. I find it intriguing to delve into various programming languages, communicate with developers, and grasp the impact of their creations.

Nevertheless, I'm equally interested in non-tech roles. Understanding their contributions to the industry is also valuable. Both sectors hold significance, but tech companies seem to be more trending currently.

In the US, individuals from diverse backgrounds are transitioning into tech via bootcamps. This diversity is valued. However, in India, accessibility to education is different, making this trend slower here.

As more people enter tech, non-tech roles are also evolving. Writers, for instance, now benefit from understanding technical aspects to communicate a product's functionality effectively. Embracing diverse skill sets seems to be the way forward for various roles.

Q: When multiple skills like coding, soft skills, and design are essential for a role, how do you prioritize and evaluate candidates to determine the primary skill needed for the job?

In my observation, there's been a significant transformation in the hiring landscape, particularly in tech roles. Previously, developers were primarily evaluated based on their hard skills, but now the expectation encompasses a blend of both hard and soft skills.

Today, candidates are sought after for their technical proficiency as well as their communication and interpersonal abilities. This shift has substantially altered the criteria for hiring, demanding a more diverse skill set from individuals.

However, this evolution has also brought challenges. Instances of candidates falsifying qualifications or exploiting tools to deceive the hiring process have emerged, creating complications in candidate assessment.

To navigate this changing environment, I strongly advocate for a balanced consideration of hard and soft skills. Yet, I believe this emphasis might be more pertinent for candidates with several years of experience than those at an early stage in their careers.

Q: In the next 3-5 years, with the rise of AI and roles becoming more generalized, what do you anticipate will be the most sought-after or commonly hired role amidst the evolving hiring landscape?

Looking ahead 3-5 years into the evolving hiring landscape, here's what I foresee:

  1. Shift in Hiring Trends: With AI's ascent and the trend toward generalized roles, predictions initially suggested a surge in demand for generalists over specialists.

  2. Reality Check: Human Touch in Recruitment: Contrary to expectations, the recruitment domain experienced a different narrative. Initial forecasts hinted at a decline in recruitment roles due to AI advancements. However, as time progressed, the significance of a human touch in recruitment became increasingly evident.

  3. Value of Human Engagement: Roles like recruitment necessitate a human element that technology can't entirely replicate. The need for a personalized experience for candidates highlighted the enduring importance of human involvement.

  4. Critical Role of Humans in AI Tools: Even AI tools leveraging human-generated content require the touch of human expertise. While AI aids in data analysis, human contribution remains pivotal.

  5. Adapting and Upskilling: In this dynamic environment, upskilling in essential hard skills, especially in non-tech roles, emerges as a crucial strategy. Adapting and learning new skills will be key to staying relevant and resilient amidst evolving job scenarios.

Q: How has tech recruitment changed in the last five years? It seems having a single skill isn't enough anymore. What additional skills or qualities are now sought after, and how does this impact new developers starting out?

Certainly! Setting clear expectations is crucial for companies when hiring. Understanding the specific problems they aim to solve and determining whether they seek an individual contributor or someone to take ownership without constant guidance is essential. Companies need to clarify their needs rather than expecting an all-in-one solution.

For newcomers entering the job market, having practical experience has become pivotal. A decade ago, internships and practical projects during college weren't a stringent requirement. However, today's job market values these experiences highly. Candidates are now expected to showcase practical projects and internships to demonstrate their skills and employability to prospective employers. This shift emphasizes the growing significance of practical experience for new graduates in today's job market.

Q: What's your perspective on the widespread trend of mass job applications, and how would you advise individuals struggling to find employment in such a competitive job market?

In my view, the current trend of mass job applications, driven by tools that enable swift and high-volume applications, poses a challenge rather than a solution. This approach inundates recruiters with an overwhelming number of applications, making it arduous to discern genuine matches for the job roles. My advice to individuals navigating this competitive job market would be to focus on quality over quantity when applying. It's crucial to thoroughly understand the job requirements, ensuring that your skill set aligns with the role, before sending out applications.

Moreover, merely possessing a positive mindset might not yield the desired results. Instead, investing time in upskilling oneself can significantly enhance employability. Use this period to acquire new skills, gain certifications, or bolster existing competencies. Such efforts not only enrich your resume but also equip you with practical knowledge that could be directly applied to your current or future job roles.

Q: How do you foresee the evolution of the hiring industry and its structural changes once the market rebounds from the ongoing trends and challenges?

In the foreseeable future, I anticipate significant changes in the hiring industry. The recruitment teams, especially in larger tech companies, are shrinking considerably. Previously, there were teams of 30 to 40 recruiters in India, and globally, around 15 to 20 recruiters. However, I foresee these teams becoming notably smaller, potentially less than 10 in a particular country.

There will be a shift in evaluating recruiters based on niche skills and their proficiency in data analysis and talent forecasting. Talent intelligence and data handling skills are poised to be crucial in the hiring landscape. While recruitment won't vanish entirely, the focus will shift from sheer numbers to evaluating recruiters based on their forecasting abilities and productivity within the industry.

Looking ahead to around mid-2024, while hiring won't slow down, the roles sought after will be more specialized, making the recruitment for such roles more challenging. The impact of AI is leading to a shift from hiring in high volumes to a more targeted, niche-oriented approach, marking a significant transformation in the hiring landscape.

Do you work in HR?

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Note: All views expressed in this interview are personal and not linked to any organization.