3 Key Recruiting Tactics Which Propelled GE’s Transformation Into a Software Company

October 13, 2016

When GE started recruiting for its newly-formed digital business, GE Digital, back in 2012, the most common reaction from prospects was: “If we want to work in software, we go to a startup or Google. GE is a hardware company.”

Definitely not what a recruiter wants to hear when tasked with hiring 800 software engineers in six months. At the time, the company’s brand was associated solely with light bulbs, kitchen appliances, and mechanical engineering jobs which tech candidates saw as completely irrelevant to their skillset, Amber Grewal, GE Digital’s global head, told TA leaders at Talent Connect in Las Vegas.

A lot had to change if GE was going to become a software company. Since then, the company has shifted its recruitment philosophy and went from a digital “family of 100 to a nation of 28,000” in less than five years.

Here’s how GE did it.

Why GE wanted to become a tech company

GE has come far since its lightbulb business days 124 years ago. Today, its machines generate 40 percent of the world’s power and help save 3,000 lives daily. All of these machines are generating billions of data points, Grewal explained to a crowd of more than 4,000, yet while there’s a lot of tech disruption in both the consumer and the enterprise world, there’s not much happening in the industrial world.

“This is both the opportunity and the challenge in what GE calls the industrial internet,” she said and GE wants to build the first cloud-platform for the industrial world. “This will allow for smarter cities and smarter healthcare machines,” she added.

But in any kind of revolution, you need people, which meant GE needed to hire a lot of software engineers. The company quickly adopted blitzscale recruiting—”something that only happens when you need to grow really, really quickly” in a new market, according to Reid Hoffman.

3 Key Blitzscale Recruiting Tactics that Allowed GE Digital to Grow Quickly

In order to compete for top tech talent, the GE Digital team first had to take a critical look at its recruiting process. It turned out that as they were kicking off their ambitious hiring venture, their time to fill was 165 days, the hiring manager satisfaction was hovering at 43%, and the 20-page application process that the recruiters had to deal with was extremely burdensome.

To overcome that and meet the aggressive hiring targets the company set, GE focused on the following three key approaches:

1. Be deliberate about what kind of recruiters you hire and build a strong hiring manager-recruiter partnership

As the recruiting team had to hire a huge amount of tech talent in only a few months, GE had to make sure the talent acquisition team is set up to succeed. That’s why, they identified 4 key characteristics that its recruiters should possess:

  1. Be subject-matter experts. Any software developers who were looking to move into recruiting were especially welcome.
  2. Know how to recruit passive candidates.
  3. Have robust networks of tech talent.
  4. Hit the ground running.

Step two was instilling the mentality that hiring the right talent is a task for the entire organization—not just for recruiters. At the time, GE’s talent acquisition model wasn’t built on partnership. The company decided it was time to change the way it saw process. Instead of recruiters being the order-takers or vendors, the company encouraged both hiring managers and recruiters to work together as partners. This meant that both parties needed to be responsible for sourcing and finding prospects.

2. Make the best out of the office location...even if it seems like a challenge at first

When GE Digital was born in 2011, the company picked San Ramon, California for its headquarters. For those not familiar with Silicon Valley geography...well San Ramon is not in Silicon Valley. It’s an hour east from both San Francisco and Mountain View (Google HQ) and it’s definitely not a prime office location.

However, the GE recruiting team was determined to make the best out this. Through talent mapping, it learned that there was a massive number of software engineers who live in the area of San Ramon and commute two hours each day to the offices of tech companies in Silicon Valley. GE decided to take advantage of that and started targeting these software engineers with custom messages promising a shorter commute and intellectually stimulating work.

3. Address employer branding challenges head on, across all fronts

The biggest problem the GE Digital recruiting team encountered right away was the lack of a known brand. According to Amber Grewal, 10 out of 10 of the software developers her team talked to had no clue GE was in the software business. Nine out of 10 had no idea GE was even in the Bay Area.

To counter that, the company put together an ambitious branding plan which included building up its social channels, spreading its mission statement, building talent communities through hackathons and meet-ups, and getting its software engineers out to recruit new talent.

However, one of the most prominent examples of how seriously GE Digital took employer branding is its string of refreshingly honest and funny recruitment ads which have been airing on television.

“We want to change the perception that we are this big corporate company,” Grewal said. “We are fun, we are lively, and we build software that makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”

In the commercials, “Owen” is shown as a young, earnest software developer trying to explain to friends and family why he’s so excited to work at GE and change the world. No one ever shares his excitement because they all only see GE as a hardware manufacturer and not a software company. Oh well, Owen, they will get it eventually.

The ads have over 600,000 views on YouTube and according to Grewal candidates love bringing them up during interviews.

The road ahead:

Following these tactics, in less than five years, the GE Digital team has grown to over 28,000 employees and the future ahead looks bright, according to Grewal:

“Today, we have amazing machines in the world. Machines that power our cities. Machines that can take you to New York or California by lunchtime. Machines that save young lives. Imagine what these machines will do tomorrow. They will all tell a story. And that is what GE Digital is doing is transforming and pioneering GE, our customers, and the digital industrial world.”

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