Now more than ever, as all industries begin to embrace some aspect of technology in their work, it is important to be able to deliver the best software as possible. Companies of all types are investing in web apps and mobile apps to grow their business.
Because of this, demand for software engineering talent has skyrocketed. High demand coupled with low supply continues to pose a real challenge. What makes a top candidate want to work with you? And once you’ve secured the ideal candidate, how do you get them to stay?
I talked to recruiting firms nationwide to get some input and have also provided some of my best practices. Some of these tips may seem like no-brainers, but simple concepts can very easily be overlooked and fall on the back-burner.
When it comes to recruiting, all of these elements feed off of each other. Depending on how you go about it, your company can either benefit or suffer. The recruiting process is an extension of your business’s brand and reputation and needs to be done well.
Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
“We constantly meet with people even if they’re not looking,” said Joseph Skiff of Technology Navigators. “Clients are always hiring, even if there aren’t posts on their site.” Skiff, along with co-worker Brianna Baschnagel, emphasized how important it is to stay in contact with potential candidates in your network. Take them out for coffee, and stay updated on what’s happening in their lives.
Alex Mason, City Manager for Austin Fraser’s US headquarters in Austin, said their company is constantly attending, as well as hosting, meetups to find the people their clients need. “It’s such a good way of finding that talent, but you have to go out there and get it, put yourself in the market, and give yourself a strong reputation,” Mason said. “You have to go above and beyond to make sure you’re finding the best talent.”
The same goes for the other end of the process. If an applicant doesn’t end up fitting the role, let them know in a timely manner. Just because they weren’t right for this particular role doesn’t mean there won’t be another role in the future that’s a perfect fit.
“We’ve placed the same people time and time again,” Baschnagel said. “From junior positions up into management and leadership positions.” Baschnagel and Skiff both attribute their company’s success to the relationships that have been built and maintained for the 20 years that their company, Technology Navigators, has been in business. As the tech scene becomes more crowded, the tech recruiting scene, of course, follows suit.
“People see the dollar signs, especially in tech recruiting these days,” Baschnagel said. “But again, knowing what you’re talking about and having an educated, tenured team helps you separate yourself from the pack a lot of the time.”
Chuck McCoy, owner and partner at Creative Alignments, said recruiting is becoming more and more impersonal. “People were shocked that I’d responded,” he said about turning down prospective applicants. McCoy stressed that these things are a long-term play. Someone who didn’t get the job might be impressed, and refer a friend. He views it from a company branding perspective. “When people aren’t treated well, they talk about it,” McCoy said.
Know What You’re Looking For
“You can spot a great engineer, but having an intimate knowledge of an ecosystem is very valuable to have,” said Troy Rudolph, technical recruiter at The Bidding Network.
Engineers want hiring managers to understand their expertise and unique skill set. Sure, you’re looking for a software developer, but what are you actually looking for? It can often seem like there’s a new programming language to learn every day, as there is an ever-growing variety of skills that potential hires have. No two engineers are the same.
“Tech-based professionals, regardless of their level of leadership or where they are on the organization chart, typically have to have pretty state-of-the-art skills in their specific technical space,” said Donna Sphar, founder and CEO of CSI Executive Search. “So fresh skills and recent use of those skills is typically very important.”
Pay Attention to Detail
Sometimes just changing the job title on your posting can help you attract more talent.
“I have clients that give me a job title and the job title doesn’t reflect the actual person they’re looking for,” said Eric Lyublinsky, technical recruiter at Valintry. “I change the job title, and then I advertise it, and I go after those different candidates and just based on job title alone, people are excited.”
Mason said that each staff member at their company specializes in something different. One consultant specializes in mobile development, another in QA, and so on. “Specializing in each of those fields enables us to really get a grip on the local market,” Mason said.
What Are Your Company’s Strengths?
Developers are constantly bombarded by recruiters. How are you going to make your company stand out among the noise? What can you offer that other companies can’t? Have a strong message, and convey it on your website, social media pages, and wherever else your brand has a presence.
Skiff said that a larger company might not have the best reputation, but will try to make up for it by offering more perks: catered lunches, team-building events, a benefits package, or more PTO.
McCoy said small companies can be just as, if not more, attractive than some of their larger competitors. Some engineers have their sights set on FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google), but smaller companies have plenty of benefits as well. If the engineering team is smaller, developers might be able to have a greater say in what gets done, and experience more personal growth. Communication with other departments might be more efficient, and the overall work environment more relaxed.
Beware of the Counter-Offer
Bigger companies are locking up their engineers, and unless they’re just a start-up type of person, it can be incredibly hard to convince a passive candidate to take a pay cut. If and when you do make an offer, anticipate their current company or another company making a better one.
“Always be preparing yourself,” Sphar said. “Especially in tech.”
Gwen Schirpik, General Manager at HireStarter, said tech positions are in such high demand and skillsets are limited, so it’s a lot harder to get the attention of a potential tech candidate compared with other industries. This is especially true in high demand cities such as Austin, Texas, where every company big, and small is competing to hire top talent engineers.
Time Is of the Essence
Available talent gets snatched up quickly–more quickly than just a few years ago. In the past, you might have had an additional 24-48 hours to make up your mind on an applicant. But as soon as they submit an application to you, they’re probably going to send it to about ten other companies.
“Companies need to be aware of the climate and the market and the competition,” Schirpik said. “They need to be able to move swiftly.” Tad Margolies, a technical recruiter at Mondo, said his company focuses on speed. Job candidates usually have multiple interviews lined up at the same time.
“I was skeptical at first but most candidates love it,” Margolies said. “They are dragged through month-long interview processes that oftentimes do not lead to offers. We try to do the exact opposite and will not work with a client who has multiple interviews.”
Use Your Powers for Good, not Evil
There has been a lot of buzz lately over AI’s future role in recruiting. There is software that will do most of the job for you: scan resumés, schedule meetings and the like. All of the recruiting companies we talked to said building strong and long-lasting relationships is key. The job search is a painstaking process, and applicants will continue to appreciate human warmth and interaction.
But by all means, use the available recruiting tools to your advantage. McCoy said that 20 years ago when he had potential candidates for a company, he had to drive all over town delivering resumés. Technology is great to replace a process like this, but not to replace an actual human.
“We’re offered tools all the time,” Cunningham said. “There are technologies that dumb down professions. We keep it really old school. We want to be a true POC and true voice and that won’t ever change.”
My Best Practices
The process will be different for every company as employers figure out what works best for them. Here are some of the things I’ve found to be beneficial for building my team at Enola Labs:
- Offer mentorship within the company, allowing senior engineers to mold junior engineers into the talent you need. Don’t rule out someone based on age, as they may have the baseline skills needed and be willing to quickly learn the skills necessary for the job and will be more inclined to remain loyal to the company.
- Identify a career path within each job description. Great candidates want to know there is a path to growth within the company.
- Although tools such as LinkedIn Recruiter are incredibly helpful, utilize some non-traditional resources such as Facebook groups and meetups.
- If it’s taken over a month to find a candidate, set aside some of the budget for a third-party recruiter or initiate a referral bonus. If that’s just not in the budget, hire someone that writes job descriptions professionally. It’s always helpful to have another pair of eyes and see what you might be missing.
- Be clear about your expectations and culture at your company. If a position is “remote”, what does that mean exactly? Can the applicants work remotely from anywhere, or does it have to be in the same city? Will there be occasions where they need to come into the office?
At the end of the day, hiring technical talent will never be easy. However, it doesn’t have to be this hard and it certainly doesn’t have to keep you from scaling your business.