Tech recruiting: It's brutal out here

Recruiting and hiring highly skilled tech workers has become somewhat of an extreme sport over the past year

A person shrugging at a laptop

A combination of pandemic-related changes has created a great mat of recruiting hair that will take more than some extra financial conditioner to fix.

Photo: Yan Krukov via Pexels

One completely obvious, totally unintentional theme has bubbled up in our reporting over the last few months: 2021 has been an absolutely brutal year for tech recruiters and tech hiring. A combination of pandemic-related changes has created a great mat of recruiting hair that will take more than some extra financial conditioner to fix.

It mostly boils down to tech workers feeling empowered in manifold ways. The last 20 months of remote work taught most people in the industry that their physical offices, so revered for years, are basically useless. The emphasis on Bay Area living, while still valuable for some, suddenly felt downright silly for those who would rather live somewhere more affordable or far less politically progressive (ahem, Texas). The Great Resignation made more workers feel comfortable quitting, as well as more willing to say no to less-than-satisfactory job offers. Tech worker unions took off for the first time in a serious way, starting with the Alphabet Workers Union in January.

While the rest of the world could barely stay above water financially, most tech companies absolutely thrived. Public companies saw their stock prices skyrocket; private companies found themselves flush with an unexpected wave of VC cash. All this additional investment meant an unprecedented demand for new hires, and more companies willing to pay higher rates.

And when the wave of demand crashed into rising worker empowerment, the little nagging flaws in recruiting processes all ballooned into real problems at the same time. Suddenly, some companies didn’t have enough qualified recruiters. The filtering systems designed to flag people with impressive company experience and specific coding skills were sometimes ignoring and rejecting the less obvious talent. The same problem applied to the interview itself: Questions optimized for the engineers who could easily solve difficult coding problems or ace a whiteboard interview ignored or rejected the talent that couldn’t. This means no fair shake for people who are neurodiverse, don’t have the time to practice whiteboarding, perform poorly under pressure or just might be brilliant coders with the assistance of Google at their fingertips.

To give you a sense of the scope of the problem, here are just a few of the stories Protocol Workplace has heard from people in tech in the last few months:

  • At Facebook, around 50% of candidates who actually received job offers in the Bay Area turned them down in the first quarter of 2021. We reviewed a memo called “Why hiring is hard right now,” which explained that Facebook failed to meet early 2021 hiring goals and that in the Bay Area and Seattle especially, yield rates for job offers were continuing to decline. The recruiting leader who wrote the memo speculated that private companies with VC cash had become newly stiff competition.
  • Around the same time, Facebook also experienced a 600% increase in one-star reviews on Glassdoor over a four-month period. According to a document reviewed by Protocol, unhappy workers were especially frustrated with their lack of work-life balance.
  • At Google, many people who interviewed for technical jobs shared frustrating experiences with the interview process itself, describing how the company will suggest people study hundreds of pages for months in preparation for initial interviews. Some of the sources who spoke to Protocol also said that they believe that Google’s reputation as an impressive place to work, in addition to the enormous scale of the recruiting, allows Google to unintentionally drag people through a long process without noticing how it might affect their lives.
  • One engineer, frustrated with the extremely low response rate to his applications, decided to create a fake resume with a stereotypically impressive list of jobs — Instagram, Zillow, Microsoft, degree from UC Berkeley. He also added in some not-so-impressive bullet points — sourcing coffee from Antarctica, connected with Reid Hoffman on LinkedIn, etc. — to see if recruiters would notice. Spoiler: They did not. The fake Angelina Lee seems to be the most-desired candidate in tech.
  • And at Stripe, which is the highest-valued VC-backed private company in the U.S. and on a truly massive hiring spree, some folks have come to Protocol with stories about having verbal offers rescinded, or feeling as if the company hired them just to fire them.

If you work in tech recruiting or hiring, or if you’re a tech worker and have a story to tell about your own recruiting or hiring experience, I would love to hear from you at or on Signal at 610-701-1197. If you’d like to speak confidentially or anonymously, just let me know.


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