Recruiting tips for a Learn-To-Code program

This photo shows a group of almost 20 people climbing a mountain. A learn-to-code program is a similar feat—a significant learning curve, complete with some discomfort, but with a great view at the top.

Suppose you’re contemplating a Learn-To-Code program to reskill people from non-technical backgrounds for upcoming software projects. You’re considering this approach, because you’ve scoured the landscape for computer science grads and can’t find enough qualified candidates. Tapping non-tech talent seems like a viable and intriguing option. But how do you identify employees who will thrive—or at least persevere—in an intense reskilling curriculum?

“Finding candidates who are both interested in a coding career and well-suited for it can be the most challenging part of running a reskilling program,” says Jessica Schneider, VP-Product Development at DevelopIntelligence.

You’re looking for people who have the aptitude and grit to make a radical, swift career change into software development. Learn-To-Code programs are like drinking from a fire hose. In 14 to 16 weeks, participants will be ready to write code in an entry-level developer position. They need the drive, endurance and frustration tolerance to handle a steep learning curve.

Think of a backpacking expedition with substantial elevation gain. For your trip, you want people with the motivation and commitment to reach the top, even if parts of the journey are tough.

Finding these candidates involves three distinct phases

Phase 1: Recruit

“Begin with a clear goal for the number of candidates you want to recruit, as well as minimum qualifications,” advises Allison Freedman, Implementation Program Manager with DevelopIntelligence. “Also, track the application source, so you can focus your efforts on sources that are driving the best results.”

What groups do you want to target for your Learn-To-Code program? If you’re recruiting from the outside, are you looking for people from a particular background, such as musicians? Are you aiming to increase diversity in your tech workforce? Is there a geographic requirement?

Where will you find these candidates? Through workforce development centers? University alumni offices? Recruiting websites?

If you plan to reskill internal candidates, who can apply? Some organizations ask managers to recommend potential participants. Other companies invite applications from anyone who is interested.

Most important, how will you screen for applicants’ motivations, aptitude and commitment? Asking for mini-essays can help you understand why a candidate is interested in the program. What do they hope to get out of it? Recruiters: Is the candidate’s reasoning realistic, authentic and compelling?

These applicants do not have coding experience, but you need to assess basic computer literacy. Additionally, cognitive assessments can reveal how candidates approach challenges and solve problems. Do they have the right aptitude for coding and the rigor of a Learn-To-Code program?

In this initial screening, some candidates will stand out, and you’ll want to take a more in-depth look. Others will wash out, because of low assessment scores. Or, they didn’t complete the requested steps by the assigned deadlines. If candidates don’t have the drive to meet commitments during the recruitment phase, they are not the right fit.

“If you find you’re not getting the right kind of applicant, go back to the drawing board and revise your recruiting strategy,” says Freedman.

Phase 2: Evaluate

The evaluation phase is two-way. You want to get a feel for how well the candidates are able to learn and apply new skills. And you want to give them a taste of what the program will be like.

What does it mean to “learn to code” or “learn to be a developer”? What kind of content and curriculum does a Learn-To-Code program cover? A well-designed evaluation phase helps candidates answer these questions, so they can make an informed decision about fit. Is this the right opportunity for them?

Assign basic learning material—self-paced pre-work and/or an exercise. This gives applicants a feel for what they’ll be doing and lets you see how they tackle problems. They may not get everything right, but you’ll get a sense for how they approach problem solving. As well, you need to test their knowledge retention.

If a candidate is brimming with excitement after this evaluation, that’s a great indicator of potential fit. “By successfully completing this portion of the recruiting process, they’ve also demonstrated they are committed to learning and able to follow through on deadlines,” notes Schneider.

At the end of this phase, you’ll have a short list of highly qualified candidates.

Phase 3: Select

The final leg of the recruiting journey involves a behavioral assessment and one or more interviews.

Schneider says, “You would never hire job candidates without interviewing them. The same is true for a Learn-To-Code program. You want to determine fit and commitment. Really think about the engineering culture that candidates will be going into after the reskilling program.”

Involve a variety of people in the interview process—software engineers, managers, people on the program team and at least one professional recruiter. If you get green lights from these interviewers, you likely have the right candidate for your program.

Because a Learn-To-Code program represents a dramatic career shift for many candidates, consider building in a grace period for opting out. Candidates can go through this extensive vetting process and think they understand what’s involved in the curriculum. But two weeks into the program, they realize, “This isn’t what I expected and it’s not for me.”

Accepting a spot in a Learn-To-Code program represents a big change for the candidate. While no one wants to see attrition, employers need to plan for this contingency.

Knowing there’s an option to bow out without penalty by a specific date can make the decision process easier. An opt-out provision helps reduce the fear factor and stress involved in making a career leap.

Things to keep in mind when recruiting for a Learn-To-Code program

“Allow more time than you think you need for each step in the recruiting and selection process,” advises Freedman. “Make sure to build in time to review the results of each phase with your selection committee.”

Even if you have a compressed schedule, resist the temptation to take shortcuts. You want to get the most from your reskilling investment, and this requires having the right candidates in your program. You want people who will stay with the program through graduation and become full contributors to your software projects.

Though recruiting for Learn-To-Code programs is a challenge, it becomes easier over time as you refine your process. Many employers are now utilizing this type of reskilling program to create a dependable candidate pipeline for upcoming projects.

For more information on reskilling non-technical talent for software development and IT roles, email info@developintelligence.com

Photo credit: istock.com/Svetlana_Mokrova

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