8 Unconventional Ways to Discover Great Tech Talent

By Anand Chopra-McGowan

The following is an excerpt from 6 People Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation, an exclusive white paper from General Assembly. Download the full paper here.

Companies of all sizes are constantly struggling to find and retain talent that can stay ahead of emerging technologies, and use them to drive business innovation and success. Discovering people who excel in fields like digital marketing, data, web development, and more involves going beyond posting a job description online and letting the candidates come to you. Organizations need to be proactive and creative when it comes to hiring and cultivating great teams. This means looking both within and outside of your company’s walls for inspiration, capabilities, and assets.

Below, we’ve outlined several strategies for leveraging the talent you already have, plus offer off-the-beaten-path places to seek out emerging leaders.

Leveraging Talent Within Your Organization

Bolstering rising talent within your organization not only helps motivated individuals get ahead. It also presents opportunities to empower industry veterans who may be behind on tech skills, which is a win for everyone.

In analyzing data from 10,000 individuals who took GA’s entry-level digital marketing skills assessment, Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1), we learned that top digital marketing talent can lie in fields outside the marketing function. (Read more about this in our report, The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018.) Being able to look beyond people who hold the job titles you’re looking to fill opens up a whole world of potential candidates. Company leaders can also equip HR teams and recruiters with the skills they need to attract exciting candidates.

1. Embrace reverse mentoring.

Bureaucracy, structure, and rigid culture can often mean that some of the freshest ideas rarely make it to an executive’s desk. When done right, reverse mentoring programs, wherein high-potential junior talent exposes more experienced managers to new ideas, technologies, and ways of working, are an effective way to skip levels, break down silos, and enable fresh ideas to permeate the organization.

This strategy was effective at Procter & Gamble Co., says the company’s former Group President Deb Henretta. “While running P&G Asia, we designed and executed a technology reverse-mentoring program,” she says. “Each leader on my Asia Leadership team had a millennial tech mentor who they met with on a regular basis. In these meetings, leadership could learn about what’s new in the digital space, experiment online, and get answers to all the ‘silly questions’ leaders may otherwise hesitate to ask. My wonderful tech mentor helped take me from ‘near dinosaur’ to ‘near diva’ in the digital space. He made it safe, fun, and insightful to learn.”

2. Offer accelerated promotions.

Similar to reverse mentoring, accelerated promotions can help bring new perspective and capabilities to leadership teams. While heading up the Asia region at P&G, Henretta decided her group needed to become more technologically adept.

“I needed to augment my leadership team with someone who was both skilled and knowledgeable in the digital and eCommerce space but also business savvy,” she says. “I found that person in a young mid-level level leader who was significantly younger and less experienced than the president- and VP-level folks on my Asia leadership team. When I said I wanted to bring this individual on, I got significant pushback by nearly all of my team — category heads, country heads, and function heads. And yet, this may have been the single most important decision I made to advance our team knowledge and capability, which was a key driver in our Asia business acceleration.”

3. Train your recruiters.

Traditional recruiting teams often lack the vocabulary, understanding, and networks to attract qualified candidates with the right tech and business skills. It’s important to train your recruiting team in the structures, motivations, backgrounds, and ways of assessing talent. General Assembly offers a number of online foundational lessons and in-person workshops to help HR teams understand the basics of concepts and practices such as coding, user experience design, and data science.

“As the primary points of contact for new hires, recruiters have significant influence on a candidate’s perception and experience of your company and the role for which they’re applying,” says Kathryn Minshew, CEO and Founder of The Muse, a leading career development platform. “Particularly for emerging roles in the digital space, recruiters could benefit from focused training and development to ensure they’re representing the role in an exciting and accurate way.”

4. Create projects that tech experts will love.

Faced with the option of joining a young startup or an established behemoth, most emerging talent will opt for the former — the chance to work on something truly novel, coupled with the appeal of flexibility, innovative benefits, and open work plans is hard to ignore, particularly as well-funded startups are often able to match or even exceed salary offers from larger companies. Large companies should consider establishing separate digital units, free from some of the structure and restrictions of the overall entity, to attract top talent and incubate new products and ideas.

Finding Talent Outside Your Organization

Go beyond applicants from traditional job postings to find emerging talent in fields like web development, data, design, and digital marketing. Seek out future tech leaders — many of them digital natives, those who work at companies born in the digital age — through programs like hackathons, startup accelerators, and more.

1. Get involved with startup accelerators.

Accelerator programs like Founders Factory, Startup Bootcamp, and others are excellent sources of motivated and creative young talent with a wide range of skills. Relatively small financial contributions in the form of investments, sponsorships, and corporate memberships can afford large companies access to this talent for projects, early investment opportunities, and inspiration.

2. Have students tackle projects in your organization.

General Assembly’s full-time Immersive courses regularly partner with companies large and small to build and deploy custom projects that students work on during their time on campus as part of the course curriculum. These projects save companies an estimated $20,000 per project in free design, tech, and data resources, while also being valuable practical learning experiences for our students.

3. Sponsor hackathons.

Pioneered by tech companies only a few years ago, these all-night coding sessions (sometimes scaled down to one-day experiences) can help rapidly generate solutions to thorny business problems and innovations. Corporate sponsors are often able to shape the nature of the competition, with the benefit that dozens of innovative minds are intensively focused on fresh solutions to the company’s problems.

4. Actively consider acquisitions.

Brand and product acquisitions have always been an active element of portfolio-building in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) world. But with the growing number of new consumer products players and the increasing speed of digital transformations, there have been many more such purchases in both the CPG and retail world.

One significant example is Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion. Though Dollar Shave Club was not making a profit at the time of its purchase, its benefit to Unilever can be significant and multifold. The company represents lessons in branding, distribution, and, of course, an accelerated entry into a category dominated by just two rivals — the irreverent but highly authentic ads that went viral on YouTube are a particular manifestation of why this brand become so valuable so quickly.

Searching for the technologically equipped individuals who will evolve your business can feel discouraging. But if you’re smart and strategic, there are countless ways to find talented team members and leaders, both outside your company’s walls and within your organization. Get creative in your search, and strengthen your teams and business.

Motivate teams and galvanize leaders.

In 6 People Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation, discover the clear habits, practices, and investments that drive success.