It is already well known that Costa Rica is a small, but popular destination for IT, BPO and shared services. However, the entire country only has a total population of just under 4.9 million; smaller than some global cities. This has created a tight labor market, but Costa Rica’s highly skilled workforce still makes it an in-demand location, in many ways like the Silicon Valley of Central America.
This creates challenges for recruiters—both in-house and third-party. Many of the more experienced ones get creative to ensure that their placements get filled with the best candidates. One of the principal strategies involves adding value to the recruitment process—for the candidate. Make sure that the candidate gets something out of the process, even if they end up not being the candidate hired.
“We like the staffing process to be a unique experience, where the applicants can get something out of the process, even if we don’t end up hiring them,” said Adolfo Cruz Luthmer, CEO of Proximity Costa Rica, LLC. “This means that both the company and the applicants are investing time and effort to participate and we want that, at least, the experience is memorable for them; we want them to think ‘man, I want to work there.’”
“More than ever before, time can be your enemy. Candidates are being wooed by many companies and have many choices. They are entertaining multiple offers (some with sign-on bonuses), blogs recruiter Betsy Harper. “Make sure you have a short schedule for the recruiting process. In this market, that should be between two to three weeks maximum after you have identified candidates.”
Another strategy is developing talent from within, similar to Major League Baseball’s farm team system. “More than 80 percent of our new recruits in Costa Rica in the recent past came from within the organization,” said Convergys’ LatAm head Jason Brown. “A few years ago, we examined the availability of skilled human resources and then decided to groom talent inside the organization instead of poaching talent from competitors.”
“The fact the projects are challenging, and that customers have sophisticated engineering practices themselves, motivate sharp minds” – Merino
Some companies leverage their North American chops in creating a work environment and a path that could lead to opportunities north of the border. Gorilla Logic is a boutique firm that develops web and mobile applications for Fortune 500 firms. Gorilla attracts senior talent that works with their customers in the United States in advanced and complex projects that are usually mission-critical for customers. One of the company’s services is developing agile teams of between 5-8 people that embed directly into their customer’s release trains.
“We understand and value our engineers above anything else, and understand what drives people to work for us. In the U.S., we have won ‘Best Places to Work For’ in Colorado, and that culture has permeated to Costa Rica,” says Gorilla Logic’s Managing Director Mario Merino. “With a lean and agile operations structure, our customers are receiving great value, and our people are focused on delivering without middle layers to interfere between themselves, their teams, and the customer. This is relevant because it gives our teams a structure that translates into sustainable work weeks, more flexibility to work-from-home, and a relaxed company culture.”
One of the oldest methods of recruiting remains one of the most successful and that is the tried-and-true “refer a friend” model. “Our challenges in recruiting in Costa Rica are not unique; we face the same challenges as our competition, though the narrative in the three years of Gorilla Logic in Costa Rica are that we face little to no obstacles in attracting ‘Gorillas’ and when we have someone join the company, they are in it for the long-run. We incent our team members to refer engineers they know and trust—we know that our team will refer only people they will work with side-by-side, and succeed in our multi-step vetting process led from our Boulder, Colorado headquarters recruiting team,” says Merino.
During the interview process, perhaps the challenging market conditions lead to an increased emphasis on the soft side of the recruitment process. Interviews become a much more two sided sales process, with the recruiter selling the candidate, as much as the candidate is selling himself or herself for the position. In an employer’s market, it is much more “what can the candidate do for us,” however when there is tough competition, the employer has to make a 180 degree shift to “here is why you want to work for us.”
“We like to invite the applicants to spend a day at our office so they can see the culture. At the end of the sessions, we like to spend time on exchanging honest and assertive feedback and this is where both parties learn from each other,” says Adolfo Cruz.
When candidates have most, but not all of the skills required, rather than rejecting the candidate, recruiters and employers may consider bringing the candidate up to speed where they are lacking. “Very senior guys cannot communicate properly sometimes, so we have a program to fill the gaps. These gaps are measured with specific tests,” says Cruz. “There a few other challenges besides the tight labor market: English skills are sometimes a challenge, even though it is a common language in Costa Rica. Sometime the skills are not to the level we like to present our clients. We have an internal English program at the office to compensate for any gap.”
Explains Merino: “The candidate pool, and an ever-growing demand for talent in Costa Rica have a two-fold effect: the available pool gets allocated quickly, but the small pool also drives the engineers to improve and self-actualize constantly and that is the explanation behind why Costa Rica concentrates such top-level talent in a very small geography and why it has become one of the premier destinations for high articulation of value.”