Nashville companies find ways to fill tech jobs

Nashville businesses have fretted for years about not being able to find enough qualified local talent to fill a variety of technology positions.

More than 800 of those jobs remained unfilled as of the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a report from the Nashville Technology Council. About 60 percent of those positions have been unfilled for six months or longer.

To address the issue, the council has launched initiatives to develop more homegrown tech workers, and the Greater Nashville Chamber of Commerce announced a campaign last week to help companies attract talent from other cities.

But some companies are bucking the trend and say they’ve developed effective strategies for finding tech talent — shortage or no shortage.

The Tennessean reached out to a few who’ve developed effective approaches to recruiting and training to learn some of their secrets.

Don’t be afraid to hire new grads

Mobile app developer Metova has been on a hiring binge during the past year, snapping up 14 developers and one engineer, with two more employees scheduled to join after graduating in the spring. A focus on picking up hires directly from bachelor’s and master’s programs — as well as an emphasis on on-the-job training — has allowed the company to quickly fill new roles as it grows.

“We’re really not that interested in their experience, or their degree, for that matter,” said President Dave McAllister. “We’re most interested in their intellect. We can take any smart individual with a passion for what we do and teach them.”

Its recruiting techniques — attending college fairs, posting online ads, getting referrals from employees — certainly aren’t novel. But a willingness to hire people whose skill sets don’t necessarily meet Metova’s immediate needs has been crucial to the company’s success, McAllister said.

Metova builds mobile apps for Android and iOS platforms, and its developer needs to be able to write code for both. New hires rarely can do that from the start, McAllister said.

“When we hire someone right out of school,” he said, “we take on the responsibility of getting them up to speed.” He said that process typically takes at least six to eight weeks.

Another benefit of hiring younger developers, he said, is that they often have fresh ideas and an understanding of emerging technology that more experienced developers don’t always have. “We just wanted new blood,” McAllister said. “We didn’t want all the old paradigms weighing us down.”

Never stop looking for great talent

In the early years of CentreSource, a strategic marketing, development and web design company, CEO Evan Owens said the firm didn’t always anticipate when a hiring need was about to pop up. When they needed to hire someone and a large project happened to be under way, he said, they needed to do it immediately.

“That’s a dangerous way to hire,” he said.

As many area tech companies can attest, finding the right fit — and doing it quickly — isn’t easy, and Evans said the company encountered a few “false starts” along the way.

“We long ago gave up the practice of waiting until we had an opening to start recruiting,” he said.

The company is constantly cultivating relationships with talented prospects, Evans said, and sometimes creates positions for them to grow into. But first, he said, “we have to spend some time, you know, romancing them for a bit.”

He gave the example of a recently hired developer, whom he’d been in contact with for months: The developer didn’t know a programming language the company wanted him to know, so Centre­Source bought him some books and told him that when he learned the language, he had a job.

To create an enticing culture that would draw people to the firm, CentreSource offers a results-only work environment: There are no set hours, no vacation or sick-day policies. Employees just need to meet productivity metrics, and if they get their work done early, Evans said, “Awesome. Go home.”

The company also has a leadership training program and recently created a “bench training process,” where a manager oversees the development of junior employees.

“You have to create a culture where you want them and they want you,” he said, “so it’s just a matter of timing” before they join.

Hire smart people with smart friends

While email marketing firm Emma has been one of the mainstays of the Nashville tech scene for years, the company has no recruiting process on paper, said Director of Talent Sara McManigal.

Over the years, that’s been one of her biggest challenges, but as Emma has grown — it has about 100 employees, with an office in Portland and a focus beyond just email marketing — finding good tech talent isn’t as daunting as it once was, McManigal said.

“The last 18 months have been a complete difference in the talent pipeline,” she said.

McManigal attributes much of that to a momentum that’s picked up as Emma’s ranks of developers have grown. The company taps into its developers’ networks, and its recruiting process is mostly driven by word-of-mouth referrals. “In a sense, (employees) are all recruiters themselves,” she said.

Another crucial key to being able to lure tech workers, she said, it that Emma has been at the center of many of the efforts to boost the local technology and startup scenes, from letting groups like the Nashville Software School use its space to hosting or sponsoring events like SobroFest and developer hackathons.

“It’s one thing to throw your logo up” at an event, McManigal said, “but if your developers participate and your leadership participates, that’s where you get the one-to-one connection” with potential prospects.

Additionally, Emma hired an outside adviser, Brendan Wovchko, to help drive tech recruiting efforts.

The company also has started offering internships, and takes on less-experienced employees and has mentors help them, McManigal said. That’s the next wave of hires.”

Don’t look at résumés

When looking for, say, a systems administrator, Concept Technology CEO James Fields said the IT consulting firm is less interested in the experience listed on a CV, and instead focuses on skill sets.

The company doesn’t begin its applicant screening process by filtering résumés; instead, applicants begin by taking an online quiz that assesses basic knowledge related to the position. If they get past that, they’re invited into into the office for interviews, exams and technical evaluations.

As a result, Fields said, the firm sometimes hires people with strong skills but limited experience, and who probably wouldn’t have gotten a look based on their previous jobs.

For example, he said, the company hired a sound engineer for an IT position. The person also had IT responsibilities in his previous job and did great during the company’s evaluation process. “But if you looked at the résumé,” Fields said, “you’d say that’s a sound engineer. We were looking for a systems administrator.”

The company used to rely on third-party staffing and recruiting firms but now uses a full-time internal recruiter, Fields said, and always keeps the hiring engine in gear.

In part due to the hiring and screening process, he said, Concept Technology has almost zero unplanned turnover.


By Walker Moskop, Staff Writer, Tennessean

This article originally appeared in the Tennessean.