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Morten Olsen
Morten Olsen

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How to hire engineers, by an engineer

It has been a few years since I have been part of the recruitment process. Still, I recently went through the hiring process when looking for a new job. Therefore, I will mix a bit from both sides for this article. You get some experience from hires, what worked, and some experiences from the other side of the table, which caused me not to consider a company because of the spoiler alert: Engineers are contacted a lot!

So first, I need to introduce a hard truth as this will be underpinning a lot of my points and is most likely the most important takeaway from this: Your company is not unique!

Unless your tech brand is among the X highest regarded tech companies in the world, your company alone isn't a selling point. I have been contacted by many companies that thought that because they were the leader in their field or had a "great product", that would make candidates come banging at their door. If I could disclose all those messages, it would be easy to see that except for the order of information, all say almost the same thing, and chances are your job listing is the same. Sorry.

If everything is equal, any misstep in your hiring process can cost you that candidate, so if you are not amongst the most exciting tech brands, you need to be highly aware, or you will not fill the position, at least not with the best candidate.

Okay, after that slap in the face, we can take a second to look at something else.

Many people focus on skills when hiring, and of course, the candidate should have the skills for the position, but I will make a case to put less focus on the hard skills and more focus on passion.

Usually, screening skills through an interview is hard, and techniques like code challenges have their issues, but more on that later.

Screening for passion is more accessible. Usually, you can get a good feeling if a candidate is passionate about a specific topic and passionate people want to learn! So even if the candidate has limited skills, if they have passion, they will usually learn and outgrow a candidate with experience but no passion.

Filling a team with technical skills can solve an immediate requirement, but companies, teams, and products change and your needs will change. A passionate team will adjust and evolve with your product. A skilled team without passion will stay where you hired them.

Another issue I see in many job postings is requiring a long list of skills. It would be awesome to find someone skilled in everything to solve all tasks. However, in the real world, whenever you add another skill to that list, you are limiting the list of candidates that would fit. Hence, chances are you will not find anyone, or the skills of any candidate in that very narrow list will be way lower than in the broader pool.

A better way is to add the essential skills and let them learn any less critical ones at the job. If you hired passionate people, this should be possible (remember to screen for passion about learning new things)

While we are on the expected skill list, many companies have this list of "it would be nice if you had these skills". Well, those could be framed as learning experiences instead. If you have recruited passionate people, they will see new skills as a plus, and any candidate who already has the skill will see it and think, "awesome, I am already uniquely suited for this job!"

I promised to talk a bit about code challenges: They can be helpful to screen a candidate's ability to go in and start to work from day one, and if done correctly, can help a manager organize the process to best suit the teams' unique skills but;

Hiring at the moment is hard! And as stated, pretty much any job listing I have seen are identical, so like in a competitive job market where a small outlier on your resume lands you in a pile that is never read through, as likely is it in a competitive hiring market that your listing never gets acted upon if the process is more requiring than the others.

Recruiters often contact engineers, and speaking to all would require a lot of work, so if a company has a prolonged process, it quickly gets sorted out, especially by the best candidates. The latter most likely get contacted the most and most likely have a full-time job, so time is a scarce resource.

So be aware that if you use time-consuming processes such as the code challenge, you might miss out on the best candidates.

Random filler image

Please disclose the salary range. From being connected to a few hundred recruiters here on LinkedIn, I can see that this isn't just me but a general issue. As mentioned before, it takes very little to have your listings ignored, and most likely, most of your strongest potential candidates already have full-time jobs and would not want to move to a position paying less (unless the position were highly unique which, again, yours most likely isn't). Therefore if you choose not to disclose the salary range, be aware that you miss out on the best candidates. A company will get an immediate NO from me if they do not disclose the salary range.

Let's close on a more upbeat note. I have used many words telling you that your company or position isn't unique, and well, we both know that is not accurate; your company most likely has something special to offer! Be that soft values or hard benefits. Be sure to put them in your job listing to add this uniqueness. It is what is going to set you apart from the other listing. There are a lot of different companies with the same tech stack, using an agile approach, with a high degree of autonomy, with a great team, etc.... But what can you offer that no one else can? Get it front and center... Recruiting is marketing and good copy-writing.

Cover image resources: Hiring stickers created by Stickers - Flaticon

Top comments (5)

marissab profile image
Marissa B • Edited

Minor tip: some headings might break up your article a little bit for easier reading. Great content though and you have a lot of good points.

It's at the point on LinkedIn that any recruiter who messages me and doesn't include the salary + skills/tech stack gets a canned message response: "Hi , thanks for reaching out. I'd like to know the salary and tech skills or tech stack before scheduling anything."

Many of them will try to wrangle you into a half hour meeting call to discuss it to avoid answering directly. The one from Shopify said that they don't use salary ranges when I asked about it. What?! I don't care what company you're from - you need a reasonable range. And cop-out answers like "Oh it's $50k-150k" are stupid. You have a budget for this position, so just say it. Everyone says they're competitive because no one is going to say they're actually mediocre.

The best experiences I've had with recruiters are those who include this basic info up-front and ...act like humans. Like friendly humans treating me like a human and not a number in a field or checkbox on their list.

chaocyu profile image

Thanks for sharing, would love to hear more tips on screening for passion on a topic and willingness to learn. During interviews, people show their best motivations, that not always aligned with everyday work. Wonder your thoughts on this.

collimarco profile image
Marco Colli

if you use time-consuming processes such as the code challenge, you might miss out on the best candidates
Please disclose the salary range.

I totally agree. It's so fun when they call you and ask for a code test or don't tell you the salary range xD

Btw: when I graduated (cum laude) I received so many job offers... all equally awful (and even disrespectful I would say). For that reason I became an indie hacker with my own projects and it's totally worth it, under every perspective.

marcomoscatelli profile image
Marco Moscatelli

Great article mate!