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Alex Mesropians for WorksHub

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HIRING TECH TALENT: HOW A STARTUP CAN OUTGUN GOLIATH TECH COMPANIES 🚀

OK - so you’re building something that will change the world, you’ve got some of the smartest minds in software engineering already on your team, you’re using awesome (functional or non-functional) technology, and have enough funding or make enough money to scale up quickly. All you have to do now is hire more engineers to take things to the next level, easy right?

The competitive nature of hiring software engineers is well known and well documented. Hiring managers and recruiters at tech start ups all over the world despair whenever they hear the phrase “Oh, just so you know, I’m also interviewing at Google - seems like a cool place!”.

Out-recruiting the likes of Google and Facebook is no easy task but it can be done. These are my tips on how to improve your chances of engaging the very best candidates and convincing them to work for you:

Tell a Story
Humans love a good story; it’s in our nature to become emotionally involved. We want to be drawn in. Being able to tell a great story is key to success, not just for hiring, but for every aspect of a fledgling tech company.

Take this statement, made by Larry Page:

  • “A method for rating web pages objectively and mechanically, effectively measuring the human interest and attention devoted to them.” It’s a pretty vanilla description of Pagerank, arguably one of the most important technologies to be invented in recent times, the vast majority of people who read that statement won’t find it remotely stimulating.

Now read Google’s first mission statement:

  • “We’re going to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” Anyone who reads that sentence knows exactly what Google is about and is instantly drawn in by the scale and importance of their mission.

Every data point about your company that is publicly (or privately) available tells your story, make sure it’s a good one. If you can’t sum up your mission in a single sentence people will lose interest, if every subsequent interaction that a potential candidate has with you doesn’t reinforce your core message they won’t want to work with you. A compelling, consistent story is the most important tool in your armory when you want to hire the best.

Build a Network and Community
Did you know that you’re only 6 handshakes away from Jack Dorsey? Or more importantly if you want to hire top engineering talent; you’re only 6 handshakes away from Martin Odersky (Scala) and Rich Hickey (Clojure)? The software engineering community is one of the most vibrant, friendly, and informative professional communities in the world and the best engineers play an active role in this.

Chances are your own employees already know some great engineers, chances are too that they’d love to have their friends come and join them at work. If you don’t encourage your employees to refer their friends, you need to start. Employee referrals consistently rank as the most effective way for internal teams to source and hire great engineers.

Got no friends to refer? Make some. Go to a Meetup, or better yet start one (here is our functional meet-up in London). If you get your engineers talking about what they’re building, and the challenges they face, people will listen, especially if you’re working with some interesting technology. Consider open sourcing some (or all) of what you’ve built and invite contributions from the wider world (Check out how we are using opensource to hire here ). Run hackdays and dojos, sponsor an important cause, the possibilities are endless.

Any goodwill you create will come back to you in spades and all of this community love can be leveraged to start conversations with some of the most talented people, not just in the room, but in the world.

Use the Power of Impact
I recently spoke to an engineer at Google who had been working there for two years and never shipped any code, he decided he wanted to stay put until he’d had the chance to make a real impact (lol). Facebook’s engineering philosophy used to be “move fast and break things”, as they’ve grown this has changed to "move fast with stable infrastructure".

It’s no secret that as a business grows, the speed at which anything happens will slow. This can be a real frustration for someone working at one of the big tech companies and can also be a great leverage tool for your small, agile, fast moving, “let’s break things and ship code” start up.

People like to have an impact, granted Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all changed the world, but how much of a meaningful impact can an individual have at one of these companies? A huge amount of engineering talent gets swallowed by red tape and unnecessary process and there are tens of thousands of engineers who would achieve more if they came to work for you. Make sure you press the point that not only is your engineering team free to ship high quality, beautiful code, but that same code is being used by real people, in the real world, and making a real impact.

The Returns of Compounding Intelligence
Stephen Cohen, the founder of Palantir, the enigmatic data startup coined this concept and expressed it far better than I ever could in a conversation with Peter Thiel and Stephen Cohen:

“We tend to massively underestimate the compounding returns of intelligence. As humans, we need to solve big problems. If you graduate Stanford at 22 and Google recruits you, you’ll work a 9-to-5. It’s probably more like an 11-to-3 in terms of hard work. They’ll pay well. It’s relaxing. But what they are actually doing is paying you to accept a much lower intellectual growth rate. When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge. You won’t be the best anymore. You won’t be able to fall in love with new stuff. Things are cushy where you are. You get complacent and stall. So, run your prospective engineering hires through that narrative. Then show them the alternative: working at your startup.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Know That Cash is King
What? Someone turned down an offer to work for no salary and 0.5% of equity in your pre series A start up? I'm shocked!

People have been saying the bubble is going to burst for years, but recently there has been a shift in attitude away from chasing equity to having cash in the bank at the end of the month, every month. The good news is that this has strengthened the position of the smaller employer: as long as you are offering a competitive base salary Twitter swooping in and offering $200,000 of stock options won't sway as many people as it used to, particularly when you look at their tanking share price.

Equity and stock options are the icing on the cake, but make sure you are offering enough cake to begin with.

Nail the Process
This is one of the simplest, most powerful, and cost effective ways of improving your hiring pipeline and yet so many companies just get it plain wrong. The top complaint of job applicants in every industry is that their application gets lost in the black hole of a database and they never hear back from the hiring company.

The most important thing to remember here is that you’re dealing with someone’s career. From first contact to the first day of work there should be a seamless, well managed process that ensures the candidate knows how important they are to your business. There should be consistent feedback at every stage, whether positive or negative, and the process should move quickly leaving no one wondering where they stand. Discuss salary upfront to make sure you’re not wasting each other's time and always leave the process on good terms.

On average in the USA it takes 45 days from first contact to make a hire, the more you can bring this number down the more likely you are to successfully bring someone on board. Big companies have bureaucratic HR processes, hiring committees that meet once a week, and can only make offers once they’ve been signed off by the CFO’s dog. You don’t have any of this red tape and if you think someone is a good fit for your organisation you can expedite the process to get them on board.

Move quickly and make people feel special and they will respect your for it regardless of the outcome.

Hiring is difficult - at times you will pull your hair out when the Nth engineer you’ve been interviewing tells you they’re going to Facebook, but keep going! Have a consistent and compelling story, build a community around you, make sure everyone knows they will have a real impact on the business and will be constantly challenged, pay people with real money, and make your recruitment process the best in the world and you will make much better hires much more often.

If you are looking for a new gig or looking to scale out your engineering team then do check out WorksHub to help get things moving : )

Top comments (2)

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zenmumbler profile image
zenmumbler

Also, please avoid all caps in body text and especially in titles. No need to scream.

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fleshmecha profile image

Fix the typo in the title.