November 27, 2013

Among my many roles in my last full-time financial services position was serving as the school captain for our recruiting relationship with MIT. I went into the assignment naively assuming that it would be easy -- after all, we were a large, global financial services firm with a sterling reputation for the quality of our IT architecture and systems.

This notion was quickly dispelled in the first conversation I had with MIT's placement office: "One third of our students go on to graduate school. One third start their own businesses. And the rest want to work for Google or Facebook, not you."

What matters most in recruiting top talent is not what you think about your own firm; it is what the talent thinks about your firm. And lately, there are more opportunities than ever for developers, data scientists and innovators in other industries. In 2012 alone, New York City's tech/information sector (PDF) (not including financial services) added almost 11,000 jobs and $2 billion in additional wages.

[For more on the challenges financial firms face when it comes to finding technology talent, read: Good Luck Finding A Data Scientist.]

Beyond the statistics, these technologists and the new, innovative startups are all deeply imbedded in a creative culture that you are no really part of. Meetups offer free warm beer, cold pizza and deep technical talks to anyone who is interested. Speakers passionately describe the things they have delivered. The CTOs in these meetups recruit with the pitch "we need coders." And it works: the monthly Google meetup gets over 300 registrants within minutes of the announcement; the New York Tech meetup gets 800 registrants in even less time.

This new tech community is part of a larger fabric of urban innovators who believe they have the power to drive change across the political, cultural and economic fabric of our society. They express little interest in the traditional perks of a financial services career -- quick promotions, good bonuses and "masters of the universe” status. (So maybe it doesn't matter that those perks are themselves no longer guaranteed.)

So what can you do about it? Probably not a lot, but here are 7 suggestions for your next recruiting event:

1. Open your event to the community; don't assume you know where the talent is.
2. Emphasize your technology, not your company. Be humble.
3. Talk about what you have done, not what you plan to do.
4. Let the folks who deliver speak for you.
5. Come bearing food (and beer).
6. Lose the suits.
7. Useful swag counts.

At the end of the day, you are not going to win all of the great candidates. Nor are your competitors on Wall Street. But at least, you will be in the game.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer L. Costley, Ph.D. is a scientifically-trained technologist with broad multidisciplinary experience in enterprise architecture, software development, line management and infrastructure operations, primarily (although not exclusively) in capital markets. ...