In Austin, tech hiring has gotten…interesting. Employers are lamenting that there aren’t enough quality candidates. Many job seekers assert that they can’t find good jobs. What’s the deal? What’s fueling this perceived Austin tech hiring shortage that appears to be coming from both sides?
We decided to dig into this Austin tech hiring ordeal from a few angles. Here’s what employers, job seekers, and our own tech recruiters have to say about the phenomenon. It’s anecdotal research, but we think it helps to hear what’s happening on the other side of the desk.
What Are Employers Saying?
“Most of our members have been dealing with talent shortages for several years,” Austin Technology Council CEO Amber Gunst told us. “The overall lack of tech talent is a global issue, and the pandemic both helped and hindered hiring.”
We spoke with one employer on the hunt for quality engineers and manufacturing engineers. They told us the pandemic has only exasperated the Austin tech hiring shortage. Attracting talent to a field like manufacturing is an added challenge.
“Our industry is fairly time-demanding (supplier to semiconductor) and, although compensation is good [we look at comp regularly and offer good benefits], folks don’t want to go into manufacturing or don’t see the value or don’t know who to talk to to get advice on what the job may require,” they told us, adding that widening the search on a global scale hasn’t helped. “We hire in Asia also, which is particularly challenging to get candidates, interestingly enough.”
Another employer seeking DevOps specialists admitted that “expectations have shifted, and large firms like ours aren’t always equipped to respond quickly enough. When salary expectations increase overnight, and people are willing to stay put in their current jobs longer while they search for their next move, we end up trying to respond, but large organizations don’t always respond in the right ways. There is a lot of hope in our industry that things will go back to ‘normal’ when the pandemic ‘ends,’ so there is a lot of holding out on salaries and, in my role, I only have so much control over that, so I’m frustrated as well.”
“The expectation of permanent remote work has challenged our ability to meet expectations,” they told us, adding in frustration, “pendulums usually swing in one direction, but somehow this market has it spinning 360 degrees.”
Gunst has seen one job, in particular, serve as the Achilles heel for tech employers. “Data science is definitely the hardest job to fill for companies. This is such a specific role that demands a certain education and experience,” she explains.
And, finally, a small employer recruiting “everything” tech-related worries, “As a small business, we aren’t able to offer six-figure salaries for entry-level work that people say they are getting at the big tech companies.” The increased competition with major tech employers flocking to Austin doesn’t help. “With the flood of people relocating, I don’t foresee this changing. It doesn’t mean we can’t find high-quality candidates; it just takes more work to connect with those that share our values.”
What Are Candidates Saying?
We asked several job seekers who are members of Austin Digital Jobs® (ADJ) on Facebook about their experiences since the pandemic started. Several admitted that even nabbing first interviews has been nearly impossible. Others have reached roadblocks further down the interview process.
Some of their experiences include:
- Wondering if a lack of networking has been why they haven’t scored an interview for a UI/UX/product design or UX research position after three months of applying. “[I probably just need to work] my ass off to network…talk to people and meet people until a referral finally pays off,” the job seeker told us.
- Needing someone to take a chance on their soft skills and seeing their transferable skills. This project manager wants to transition from healthcare at a director level to, ideally, a mid-senior individual contributor role. They expect a pay cut from what they currently make, but “I know where my limit has to be, [and] sometimes employers won’t tell you upfront.”
- Being worried that their differences (in this case, a hearing impairment) are scaring off potential job opportunities. “I hate to think about that; it’s unfair. I shouldn’t have to be discriminated [against] for being deaf,” a graphic designer told us. They’ve been on the job hunt for nearly a year. “If I learn that I am refused effective accommodations required for me to effectively do my job, I won’t take the job.”
- Blaming the bots—the applicant tracking systems (ATS)—for automatically rejecting their applications. “I’m perfectly qualified for many positions. The ATS screws me over, though,” a data analyst candidate told us. “[I need] someone to take a chance with a boot camp grad. I have the skills to be successful, but there’s a negative view of boot camps.”
- Not wanting to settle. “I’ve had two job offers. Both were entirely data entry and used none of my analytical skills. I felt like it would do nothing for my resume or skill-building,” the data analyst told us. A senior software engineer (.Net and Angular) has a similar issue. They’re having trouble finding companies that offer challenging projects. “I will take a Friday night on the laptop tackling a difficult problem over going out any week of the year,” they said.
- Being disillusioned by the process. The senior software engineer told us about bizarre requirements: Employers asking for extensive, day-long programming projects as part of the interview process or asking to complete an exercise for a framework the interviewer knows the candidate knows nothing about. A senior DevOps engineer reports similar behavior. “I’ve certainly walked away when I get a whiff that they want free sample work or consulting masquerading as an interview project or assignment,” they told us.
- Being ghosted. That same senior DevOps engineer has had three employers set up video interview appointments and failed to show up or send a reschedule request, while others have been ghosted further along in the process with no explanation.
- Being turned off in other ways. “When an employer is disrespectful or flippant before the honeymoon phase, it spells trouble and, at my age, I don’t have the luxury of bouncing from job to job,” the senior DevOps engineer tells us. “In my situation, there is no lack of job openings, but a lack of proper salary offerings and rampant candidate abuse. I refuse to lead a team if they’re abused before they’re working with me as the abuse comes from the top, not the bottom.” The senior software engineer adds that they won’t even apply when the “company culture sounds like a clique and uses too many marketing and buzzwords to sell the position.”
And Our Recruiters?
We asked our HTG tech recruiters to give us their own take on the Austin tech hiring situation. You’ll see that while much of their experiences corroborate those of the employers or candidates, they also bring up issues that neither of the other parties mentioned.
What stage of the recruiting process is the most troublesome lately?
“Keeping candidates engaged during long interview processes and convincing passive candidates to consider new opportunities is a challenge,” one tech recruiter told us. “Mandated vaccines and a strong preference for candidates to work onsite is also a deal-breaker for some these days.”
“The most troublesome stage of the recruiting process lately is getting ahold of candidates and keeping them interested,” another recruiter told us. “Trying to get on the phone with candidates over the past few weeks proved to be very difficult. Even trying to get responses to emails or LinkedIn messages was extra grueling. Likewise, once you do have a qualified candidate on the phone, they are likely speaking with 5+ other recruiters and won’t be actively available in the market for too long.”
What’s your top advice for tech job seekers in Austin?
“My advice is to always be transparent with your recruiter about any other opportunities being considered, your interest level in each position, and salary expectations. This avoids time being wasted and any surprises at the offer stage,” advises one of our lead tech recruiters.
“Also, do not add any skills to your resume that you don’t have experience with,” they add. “Instead, highlight your top proficiencies and individual contributions versus what the team did. Employers are interested in the individual’s accomplishments, not necessarily the team’s.”
“Job seekers should explore every opportunity with equal excitement,” another HT Group tech recruiter adds. “Take your time, there are a lot of great positions out there right now and many great companies. I recommend asking thoughtful questions in interviews to determine which opportunity is truly right for you. Likewise, treat every opportunity equally. Don’t go into an interview with little enthusiasm. You might find out something by the end of it that does excite you, but you’ve already presented the wrong side of yourself to that company.”
What about employers having trouble finding candidates?
“Employers need to be prepared to offer competitive salaries and hybrid/remote schedules,” pleads our tech recruiter. “Many companies are doing counteroffers to keep top talent, which leads to backouts during the offer stage. The industry is competitive, and now with inflation, employers may need to dip into their pockets more to attract quality employees. The last thing you want is an unhappy employee leaving for something else. The goal should be to retain long-term employees.”
That sentiment is echoed by every HT Group tech recruiter. “Employers are not currently set up for competitive recruiting,” another tells us. “The internal talent acquisition teams are struggling to attract top candidates. They do not have the network for recruiting in this tech recruiting tidal wave,” they say, adding that those who finally succeed will reach out to outside recruiters like The HT Group to leverage better resources.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Between the feedback we received from employers, job seekers, and recruiters, dozens of tips can be gleaned, depending on your situation.
Some of the main themes we can pull out are, employers:
- Be generous with compensation. “Right now, we are seeing salaries and hourly pay around 15 to 25% higher than it was six months ago,” says Claire Reese, The HT Group’s Vice President of Sales. “We also see clients losing candidates when they don’t use the recruiter’s help negotiating the offer,” adds The HT Group’s CEO/Founder Mark Turpin. “Candidates are getting multiple offers quickly. Successfully responding takes speed and finesse.” Take a peek at the advice we gave job seekers on the subject recently.
- Buy-in from the top is critical. “It won’t be fixed if the decision-makers in the C-suite don’t realize this isn’t a temporary shift, rather a permanent one,” the frustrated DevOps employer told us. Getting all levels of leadership on the same page is tricky and often done best with the help of an outside consultant.
- Be reasonable with your assessments. “I was in recruiting for several years and never respected the aspect of ‘give us free work to prove you are a good fit.’ This is an opportunity for companies to identify new strategies for how they hire,” Gunst says. Technical assessments are important, but they’ve come a long way over the years. Be sure your process is streamlined and respectful of a candidate’s time. Neve base it on work that the candidates fear will be used without payment.
- Speed up your process. “That’s one of the main reasons employers lose top candidates right now: They aren’t acting quickly when they find the right fit,” says Turpin. Another company will hire someone from under your nose if you seem to drag your feet. Ideally, if you must have multiple interviews, they should be on the same day, and you should be able to give thumbs up or down the day after.”
And job seekers:
- Be open to new-to-you industries and job titles that fit your skills. We’ve covered this issue several times in the past few months. Manufacturing and other sectors may not be on *your* radar, but they’re booming.
- Find out if your resume or application just doesn’t pass muster. You may be brilliant at your job but not so keen on resume writing. There are two main secrets to making this happen: Match the job description enough to make your resume irresistible to ATS robots and first reviewers, but also be careful about embellishing the truth insomuch as your resume no longer resembles your LinkedIn profile and real background. Recruiters and resume coaches can help.
- Seek help. Try before you buy (with temporary or contract work). Don’t just keep acquiring certifications or wasting other time and money before finding out if that’s what’s missing from your portfolio. If it’s been a while since you’ve discussed your qualifications with a recruiter, do it today.
And that’s what’s pushing the Austin tech hiring struggle from both sides: Every employer and every job seeker is different. As an employer, you could have the best compensation and a fast timeline, but you won’t get far if your culture is toxic. And job seekers, you could feel that you’re doing all the right things, but one mistake on your resume or a quirk in the way you interview could be the reason you’re not progressing. To spot these roadblocks, you may need to seek feedback from recruiters, trusted colleagues, and others, because they could be hidden out of your view.
Much remains uncertain and there is no limit on anxieties for everyone involved. But the good news is that while the amount of effort required to connect employers and job seekers is great, there is currently ample opportunity available for everyone involved right now.