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What’s next for Seattle talent?

A few months ago I met up with a head of talent at a growing mid-sized company based in Seattle. As we were catching up over lunch, she said something that caught my attention. “The more we grow, the harder it is to hire well. You’d think it would be the opposite.”

We spent a while theorizing about why that might be true. After lunch, she thanked me for the conversation. “It’s good to just get another perspective,” she said. “I don’t know what’s us, what’s Seattle, and what’s the entire tech market.”

Her conversation has been on my mind since, and so when Marcus Knight here at Textio suggested that we pull a group of Seattle talent leaders together for dinner to compare notes, I jumped at the chance.

Last Thursday night we gathered a group of about 20 leaders in Seattle talent to discuss the question, “What’s next for Seattle talent?” It was a diverse group that included VPs of talent, heads of diversity and inclusion, heads of product, CEOs, the director of a coding academy, recruiting consultants, and many more.

Seattle has a vibrant talent scene. Our varied group had a lot of alignment on the themes they’re seeing around the region. Three highlights from our discussion:

“Culture-fit” hiring enables bias because it’s vague, and good teams are moving away from it.

Everyone wants to hire people who will work well on their teams. But hiring based on vague qualifications is less effective — and admits far more unconscious bias into the hiring process — than getting crisp about the specific attributes you require.

When you say you want someone who “works hard,” be specific about the behaviors you’re looking for. Is it someone who works in the evenings? Someone who is always on Slack? Someone who always delivers ahead of schedule, or volunteers for stretch assignments? Be clear about what you value (and honest about whether it is really needed).

Talent is pouring into Seattle, but teams still can’t hire fast enough.

I observed that more than half our job applications at Textio come from Californians looking to move here — even more for senior roles. Another attendee cited recent research from WTIA that showed that more than 80% of software engineer hires last year came from out of state. The tech scene in Seattle is exploding.

Despite this influx, it takes a long time to fill engineering roles. There just aren’t enough qualified people to fill the positions available — so companies are increasingly turning to code academies to meet the hiring need. This is fantastic for the region — the expanding tech industry and the development of new kinds of talent bode very well for the long-term growth of the region.

Everyone talks about diversity, but you have to try new things to get results.

My favorite part of the evening was the way that attendees shared practical strategies: sponsorships, approaches to sourcing and interviewing, and technologies (like Textio) that are helping. I always find the D&I community inspiring by how much its members dig in to help each other succeed, and this dinner was no exception.

One thing that was universally agreed upon is that goal setting and measurement are part of the solution, but they aren’t enough. To make real progress, you need to keep trying new things. It takes more than good intentions: It takes time, money, and commitment to change.

I really enjoyed the evening and the great discussion. Thanks to everyone who attended. Hope to see you at our next event!

Want to come to our next Seattle talent leadership meetup? Let us know!

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