Bigfoot Recruiting: How To Source Candidates That Do Not Exist

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Jan 8, 2024

It is sometimes a comedy of errors to observe the (sometimes) disconnect from reality between recruiters and well-meaning hiring managers. Case in point, I was perusing prompt engineering jobs and quietly chuckling as I scanned the experience requirements. It is widely known that prompt engineering is relatively new, yet there are companies actively seeking “Senior Prompt Engineers.”  I suppose “senior” is relative but, is it really? Sigh.

When I used to work for Siemens (way back when), I remember reading an article in VOIP Magazine about how a certain HR manager of a certain cable broadband provider contacted a certain expert for assistance in finding experienced IP communications people. It seems that this certain company had made a decision to deploy Voice over IP next year to round out a consumer package. What this certain HR manager wanted specifically, was a Director Of VoIP Operations. Since Director Of VoIP was a brand spanking-new position, involving a new technology, and a new service model for the company, whomever landed that gig would need an excellent understanding of an emerging technology and a crystal clear view of the impact that this service would have on this cable broadband provider’s business model. The writer of the article was not wholly optimistic of the HR manager’s success. Why? Long story short, there were not many people around that fit the job description the HR manager described. And this got me thinking.

“Self,” I said to myself, “How would you go about recruiting Bigfoot candidates?”

“Bigfoot candidates?”

“Yes,” I continue to say to… ummm… myself. “Bigfoot candidates are those candidates that some people believe exist, but most folks accept them as general myth.”

Bigfoot citings are not uncommon in HR, as they usually occur whenever new technologies become popular. Case in point, when the JAVA programming language was released in 1995 (or was it 1996?), it was not uncommon to see job postings for Java developers with 5 years (or more) experience. This was laughable on one level and frustrating in every other sense for both recruiters and hiring managers alike. How was a recruiter going to find the perfect candidate when (overall) they did not exist as the technology itself was barely a few months old?

I ran into this when I was recruiting executive and technical personnel for startup companies in the 90’s. So what happened back then? Well, some businesses changed their mind on how they chose to proceed on certain projects, delayed their initiatives (until the dotcom bubble burst), or dropped them altogether. If I could go back in time, I would rattle off a list of what they could’ve done (or I could have done) to find Bigfoot candidates skilled in Java or any other hot new emerging technology. Alas, I cannot go back in time; but perhaps you dear reader can benefit from these finite pearls of wisdom.

When you are asked to find a candidate with years of experience in a technology that is only a few months old, do one (or all) of the following:

  1. Look for the best of the best in last year’s technology.

Ask yourself this, “What technology out there is like (fill-in-the-blank) technology?” If (fill-in-the-blank) technology does the same thing as (last year’s technology), but faster, perhaps I can find a potential hire from someone who is really good with (last year’s technology) and potentially could take it to the next level? I should focus on those candidates that innovated (last year’s technology) and really stretched it in different ways.

  1. Convince the business to add training time into its development cycle.

Explain to your client that experts in (fill-in-the-blank) technology are in short supply and that it would be infinitely easier, more productive and cost effective to train the engineers already on the payroll in (fill-in-the-blank) technology and factor their training with the development cycle of the new product.

  1. Consider the source

Every technology, has a creator, so consider recruiting the people who invented the (fill-in-the-blank) technology (or buying the company they started).

  1. Forget about Beta, go Alpha!

Get a working prototype online ASAP and post it online for people to kick around. Pay close attention to those who give the best technical feedback and recruit them.

  1. Use your Lego building blocks

Look for technology that can perform a portion of what the (fill-in-the-blank) technology can do and then find another and then another. Imagine putting these technologies together (like a Lego set) as a means of competing against the (fill-in-the-blank) technology. Once you have all of the parts together, search the patents behind each piece of technology. Every artist signs his work, so find out who was good at making these pieces and then recruit them.

  1. Spill the beans

This is a risky play and worth it in the end, but I advise doing this ONLY with the full approval of the company (especially the tech department). Leak reports on what you are doing to the blogosphere and study the reactions. I speculate that you will find:

  • A. People who will debunk it as hearsay.
  • B. People who will be impressed and speculate on the final product.
  • C. People who will not be impressed and cite other companies who are doing similar things and doing it better (at least, in their opinion).

You want to pay closest attention to “C.” Why? Elementary my dear Watson, they are providing you information on companies and/or technology that you might not have been aware of. This is intelligence you can use to find more potential hires. It is a sneaky play, but works VERY well if executed correctly. Um… At least, I have heard that it works well (wink).

When confronted with a Bigfoot search, convince your customer of the time wasted in finding what does not exist (or is extremely rare at best) and steer them in the direction of training the developers they have in the latest technical fashion trend. After all, it is easier to build a “Bigfoot” than to waste time looking for one. Still, I am reminded of all those explorers who refuse to believe what is most likely true and pursue a mythical beast that has been seen (only) with a shaky camera. For those recruiters who service clients with similar folktale faith, you have my pity.

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