Under normal circumstances, I would not find myself within several hundred miles of Las Vegas at the beginning of August. I guess I’m a creature of habit and prefer Sin City at the start of the NCAA Tournament. That, and 110 degrees being OK because it is a “dry heat” is about as rewarding as being a member of the “clean plate club” as a kid. At the end of the day, you still ate that food, and 110 is still 110.
When I was invited by my friend and colleague Kathleen Smith (CMO of ClearedJobs.net) to come out and cover the BSides Las Vegas (BSides) security conference, I was happy to take it on. After all, I’ve hired security people before and I’m admittedly a little curious to know how they do what they do. That curiosity is just good recruiting behavior.
But I did have some reservations. I knew I’d be in way over my head with this crowd. I was sure they’d KNOW I was a recruiter. I’d be tossed out like a busted 13-side dice at a D&D marathon. And then for good measure, they’d hack the hell out of me.
I’ve never been so happy to be wrong before.
Busting Hacker Myths
After attending a litany of recruiting conferences, I expected the same old, same old. We’ve all gotten used to the schedule and the routine. We know about the awkward pauses in the day filled with vendors and lukewarm coffee. Staring awkwardly at people as they stare back.
We know the topics and talents. They’ve probably run a webinar or three on the topic before and the allure quickly fades. We tend to flock to them regardless. For the handful of recruiting conferences I go to each year, I always notice how people tend to flock to others they already know. I’m including myself among the guilty at times, but I felt that that always inhibited networking – duh.
From the instant I walked in, I knew I was not at a recruiting conference. Now to be fair, I don’t see a great deal of multi-layer colors in hair, or Utilikilts at the conferences I usually go to either, so there’s that. I’m not sure what I expected when I got to BSides, but seeing the volume of new people being introduced to each other or even camping out on the floor to talk shop was astounding. They weren’t quiet and they weren’t overly buttoned up, like all of the “thought leaders” would tell you in a sourcing session.
As I wandered into sessions, I noticed a format that would likely make someone’s head explode at an HR conference. There were two distinct crowds in each session. You had the faction in the front standing around and watching the presentation. But you also had this great second tier crowd in the back, just mixing and mingling with sponsors and donors, or just chatting away or working on their skills at the lockpick station. (Yes, seriously. These are hackers after all). It was so unique that it totally worked.
Gambling Big: Finding #HireGround
One of the reasons I really wanted to attend this was to take advantage of the opportunity to help out with resume reviews in the career-focused room, called HireGround. I may not be an expert in InfoSec, but I look at enough resumes on the daily that I can help reshape one. It was refreshing to talk to candidates without trying to push them through the funnel or monitor candidate experience.
I found these participants to be exceptionally easy-going, easy to talk to, and genuinely wanting constructive feedback. Most of all – we got to be real, because for all intents and purposes, we weren’t selling them anything and they weren’t buying anything. It’s amazing how that changes the human interaction game.
For two days, HireGround featured great sessions for participants on how to manage your career as well as how to work with recruiters. And yes, the tables were turned as well, with some epic stories of #recruiterfails. Companies like Amazon and DC-based Tenable and Veris Group laid down concrete tips that the participants could take back and apply right away.
The gist I got from talking to these people, the other word for candidates, about this hacking industry is that they are widely misunderstood in what they do. It’s a stretch for me to argue this, as most technical recruiters probably don’t understand what their candidates do. This sector is no different, and has a vernacular all its own, which doubles down on the difficulty.
Doubling Up: BSides Bottom Line
The real question I kept asking myself is, why don’t I attend more conferences where my candidates might be? Why aren’t recruiters spending time and money convincing candidates instead of awkwardly networking at our own events. There’s a plethora of options to learn recruiting and sourcing strategy online. Networking with candidates? Not so much.
In this environment, we can ask questions. We NEED to ask questions. Several participants mentioned to me that they’d be more inclined to work with a recruiter who asked about what they do, and about the technology. And, when you think about it, this is a brilliant strategy.
Even if you don’t understand “pen-testing” and the like, you can glean such a plethora of information from how someone talks about what they do and the depth of detail they go to. You’ll be a better recruiter just by listening and understanding what the best do, and why. There’s no guarantee when you attend yet another session on SnapChat for recruiting.
If you or your company hire highly technical people in any tangible capacity, find conferences that candidates feel like they must attend. Sponsor. Create your own career rooms and facilitate helping candidates, not just interviewing them. That’s the true meaning of candidate first recruitment and opens up an array of opportunities for conversation and learning you may never have had before.
Side Note: I’m sorry there are no pics to share, however it was strictly verboten without explicit permission. And let’s just say it was easier to not ask and rather “truly” attend and soak it all in. Sometimes it’s nice when you are forced to shut off your laptop and phone.
About the Author: Pete Radloff has 15 years of recruiting experience in both agency and corporate environments, and has worked with such companies as Comscore, exaqueo, National Public Radio and Living Social.
With experience and expertise in using technology and social media to enhance the candidate experience and promote strong employer brands, Pete also serves as lead consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consulting firm.
An active member of the Washington area recruiting community, Pete is currently a VP and sits on the Board of Directors of RecruitDC.