Disruptive by Design: Three Tips for Attracting Tech Talent Today

February 1, 2020
By Maj. Ryan Kenny, USA

Over the past few months, I have participated in a forum to help competitive graduates find quality internships and jobs after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious engineering and computer science programs. Listening to the next generation of technologists, innovators and leaders has helped me understand their concerns and desires in the hiring process. I have also gained new perspectives on what applicants think employers do right and wrong.

The following tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) are meant to help those in the government and defense sectors attract tech talent today.

First, new graduates may be digital natives—but they prefer human contact. Most job seekers say they want to get to know an organization and team before applying. Applications take time, and true talent has many options, so more barriers result in fewer applications.

Therefore, avoid recruiting solely online. Get out to campuses and, while there, host an information session. Job fairs may solicit calling cards and resumes, but they are too chaotic and limited for most applicants. Information sessions, on the other hand, allow applicants to ask questions and make contacts with the actual managers or potential colleagues. Additionally, because only interested applicants attend, the audience is genuinely interested in the organization. Scheduling an hour-long session in the evening works best for most students’ schedules. And free food is always welcome!

Second, informed targeting flatters recruits. Cookie-cutter emails and batch responses may save time and increase the scope of the audience, but tailored invitations are more meaningful. Targeted recruiting demonstrates that someone has taken time to get to know an applicant before reaching out. It lets candidates know they are special and that the organization cares about getting the right fit.

Imagine a world-class sports franchise needing to gain the commitment of the one and only athlete with the talent for a winning season. Recruiters would do their homework and know the athlete’s history. After a thorough background check (ahem, Patriots) the franchise would do all it could to convince the candidate that the team was the right fit too. To attract talent, do the homework and recruit the right people.

Finally, exploit pockets of shared interest—not just institutions. Rather than simply having another booth at an annual job fair on campus, why not reach out to a given club or department and offer to sponsor a social event or information session? Offer to give a professional talk or symposium. To hire a world-class robotics engineer, for example, start with the school’s robotics club. To recruit a computer scientist or software developer, check out hackathons. Most schools have these organizations, and students know they can build a network by joining and participating. They want to meet classmates who may be lifelong colleagues and friends. That is a free talent pool.

In closing, these three TTPs assume organizations that want to attract the best of the best will be proactive. To attract tech talent, organizations must compete with every other tech company looking to fill its numbers annually. Don’t just wait for resumes to roll in off the website’s job postings. Avoid cumbersome barriers to entry. Provide in-person opportunities for recruits to get to know the organization, research candidates intently, and narrow the focus to find shared interests. Doing so will attract more talent and identify the right fit from the get-go.


Maj. Ryan Kenny is an officer in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He is a chief of staff of the Army-sponsored Advanced Strategic Planning and Policy Program Goodpaster Scholar. He is currently pursuing a doctorate within the Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, where his research focuses on policy issues concerning artificial intelligence. The views expressed here are his alone and do not represent the views and opinions of the U.S. Defense Department, U.S. Army, or other organizations with which he has had an affiliation.

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