Decoding tech recruiting for international talent

The culture surrounding tech recruiting can be mystifying when first experienced. Why does one resume generate many calls from recruiters, while another with similar experience languishes? How do you answer questions like, “Tell me about a time a project failed?” And how are you supposed to code on a (now virtual) whiteboard when someone is watching you?

If this culture is challenging for candidates in North America, even with coaching from their schools and private courses, it can seem impenetrable to those with tech experience in other contexts. These global candidates have skills that are desperately needed in the tech sector, but employers may not recognize their potential across these cultural differences. 

To bridge this divide, peers in tech came together last week to illuminate the hiring process and tackle some of the barriers that can unintentionally disadvantage talented applicants living in refugee circumstances. Twenty-five volunteers from Google, in locations including Waterloo, San Francisco, London, and Munich, connected with twenty-one software developers living displaced in Jordan and Lebanon. This event was hosted as part of GoogleServe, a month-long employee volunteering push, and powered by three non-profit partners working with talented refugees: TalentLift, Windmill Microlending, and Talent Beyond Boundaries.

The idea for the exchange grew from a major opportunity: Skilled visa pathways in Canada are increasingly open to applicants in refugee circumstances under a government pilot called the Economic Mobility Pathways Project, facilitated by non-profits like TalentLift that connect companies facing skills shortages to displaced talent worldwide. Canada is targeting 500 principal applicants and their families moving on skilled visas from displacement over two years. Mohammed at Bonfire and Omar at Shopify are just a few of the brilliant newcomers supported into our teams and communities under this pilot.

The challenge for these candidates is they often have little experience with the style of interviews that are common for Canadian tech employers. When it comes to tech recruiting, few companies do it at a larger scale than Google. Many “Googlers” have experience from both sides of the table, as candidates and interviewers. From that deep experience, volunteers offered tips and techniques and engaged in practice interviews with candidates. In return, they formed connections and gained insight into the experience of their peers coming from contexts that often present challenges such as unstable networks, time constraints, and countless other pressures on their wellbeing that come with living as a refugee.

Here are some of the tips from Googlers supporting their peers in displacement: 

  • Clean, simple, consistent, bullet-pointed: Bullet points help make your CV more legible.
  • Action words & metrics: Start each bullet point with an action verb (e.g., created, designed, improved) and include metrics to highlight the impact you had in each experience on your resume.
  • Review the minimum & preferred qualifications: Call out applicable skills that match the minimum and preferred qualifications listed for the position to which you’re applying.
  • Experience & projects: Recruiters need to see experience with programming languages and frameworks. This can come in many forms. A “Projects” section is a great way to speak to your experience, especially if you don’t yet have a lot of work experience. 
Technical interviewing
  • Know the types of questions to expect:
    • Algorithms – can you figure out a solution, efficiently?
    • Coding – can you write working, readable code?
    • Systems design – can you reason about how to design a system, ask questions to gather the requirements, weigh design tradeoffs, etc.?
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice coding interview questions from sources like: Do practice interviews to work on your communication. 
  • During the interview, ask for clarifications. Don’t jump immediately into coding.
  • Make sure the interviewer understands your idea. Speak while coding and explain your solution. Think out loud.
  • Try to test your solution without being asked. Refine as you go. Scan for bugs in your code. 
  • Don’t panic if you don’t know the answer, try to come up with the best solution you can. Be honest. If you’re stuck, ask for hints. 
  • Be confident. You can be nervous about the interview itself, but be confident in who you are and your skills.

What’s next?

The hiring process can also keep displaced talent out by unintentional design. There’s lots more that can be done to deconstruct, understand, and redesign tech hiring to include the immense talent in displacement. 

Pioneering companies in Canada have formed the Tech Talent Welcome Council to support hiring from this talent pool. We’ll be sharing innovations and good practice as our community grows. 

Ways to get involved: