Tips from a Technical Recruiter: an interview with Maisha Cannon

We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Maisha Cannon about technical recruiting tips and pitfalls. Maisha is a remarkably accomplished recruiting professional with over ten years of experience who has hired for positions at companies as varied as E! Entertainment and The Style Network, the University of Southern California, and SpaceX. She is currently a Technical Sourcer for a major Bay Area tech company.

What trends in recruiting do you see that are especially interesting?

There are so many new trends within recruiting, especially in the context of the last decade. I was thinking about job fairs— I used to go to them so often, while these days there’s much more scouring the net. Having a digital footprint has become even more important than attending job fairs.

I’m also very interested to see where the next phase of the resume is going to go. I like the concept of a visual resume, and there’s so much creativity out there. The other day we had a candidate whose resume submission was a playable Super Mario video game.

I’m curious for your thoughts as to some of those elaborate resumes. I grade applications with HireArt, and there’s such a fine line between a creative, interesting resume that hits the spot, and one that is hard to get information from or is just too complicated.

It’s a great point. It reminds me of my first internship as a high schooler at Castle Rock Entertainment. This was during the time when a candidate mailed resumes in via snail mail. We had a “special file” that we kept in the storage room, which held those resumes that were over-the-top. Poster board presentations, 3-D pop-out things— in retrospect, innovative stuff, but they were always marched away to a storage closet. You can definitely go too far— it all depends on the position, the recruiter, and most of all, the company culture.

What are some things you’ve seen candidates do well on resumes or cover letters for technical positions?

I think when a resume is succinct and well-planned, one to two pages, not six to eight pages, that helps. It’s also helpful when a technical candidate highlights the technical skills they are currently using, instead of everything they learned in college and haven’t touched in years. It’s great to see three to four core programs, which helps narrow the conversation, rather than a straight list of twelve programs.

Contouring the resume to the position one is applying for is important as well. The best candidates will align their resume in a way that will make it easy for the recruiter to digest. Oftentimes, you’ll see a resume with three or four bullets per position, but the bulleted descriptions are so crisp and lucid that you understand exactly what they do. Other times, you’ll see seven or eight bullet points per role, but the descriptions will be foggy and wordy, and you’re left with a lot of questions. When you can boil down what you do and make it plain for the recruiter, it can go a long way towards landing that first conversation.

In terms of programming and engineering experience, how do you view candidates who came to programming later on using programs like Coursera and Codecademy versus those who have a more traditional undergraduate or graduate academic background?

For most technical firms, it’s really about the ultimate skill level of the employee. I love to see someone who is so passionate about computer science that even though they didn’t major in it in college, they go on to get that training. That’s a good thing— it shows the passion that may not always be there just because you majored in it. A lot of tech companies, even here in Silicon Valley, do not require a Bachelor of Science degree; they list “Bachelor of Science or equivalent experience.”

I think everyone’s aware that there are computing geniuses, or people who find out later in life that they are really adept at programming. The bottom line is you must be able to demonstrate what you can do in the interview process for a technical role.

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