Dave Fecak has served as the President and Founder of the Philadelphia Area Java Users' Group since 2000. He is an active blogger on software engineering career topics at http://jobtipsforgeeks.com, and author of Job Tips For GEEKS: The Job Search ebook (http://jobtipsforgeeksbook.com) Professionally, Dave has been a recruiter and consultant for 15 years helping startup and early growth firms to hire software engineers (primarily focused on Java/JVM, Python, Ruby, functional languages, and mobile). Dave is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 68 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

How to Hire Geeks, Brand Your Shop and Beat the "Talent Shortage"

12.31.2012
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As a recruiter of software engineers, I hear every day how difficult it is for software companies to find technical talent. If hiring engineers was easy, I wouldn’t be in business. Using a recruiter is one way to have qualified potential employees neatly packaged and delivered, but there are several other strategies that forward-thinking firms can implement to differentiate themselves from their competitors who are just posting ads to the same old places and hitting up the friends and family networks. Your company probably spends significant amounts of money to advertise your product and brand, but very little attention is paid to promoting the company’s identity as a good employer for engineers. These strategies can take a bit of time and effort, but the rewards are stronger talent at a lesser expense.

Here are a handful of ways to make your company more attractive to new engineering hires.

Creative ads, inviting job descriptions, unique process

I have both reviewed and written more job descriptions for software engineering jobs than I care to mention, and it seems that well over 90% of the ads out there consist of the same trite words and phrases mashed up in different ways. More importantly, it is incredibly rare to see ads that ask the reader to apply. You will see ads that specify who should not apply (“must have x years of experience with ______“), but how often do you see an ad actually encouraging an applicant to “check us out”? Request your reader to act and apply, particularly if your ad is placed in a location where qualified candidates are more likely to be.

Making the application process itself more interesting is another way to set yourself apart. I don’t know anything about Parse, but I know they allow engineers to apply via API. Asking an engineer to fill out an online application that takes ten minutes is an annoying barrier to applying, while adding a small element to the hiring process that engineers view as a minor challenge is a potential draw. If you are going to argue that the application process is a test of an applicant’s commitment and interest, I will counter that a better measure of interest is to have engineers solve a small technical problem to apply (see API example above).

Engineering blogs

Geeks like reading about cool stuff that other geeks are doing. How often do you see links publicized from the Twitter engineering blog, Facebook’s engineering page, or Netflix’s blog. Are you sick of seeing the phrase “____ is a GitHubber!“? Maybe your company isn’t solving the types of problems that these firms are, but that doesn’t mean the problems you are solving won’t be interesting to a specific audience. Smaller shops that post even once or twice a month about a technical challenge, decisions being made, or new additions will draw some readers and potential hires. Comments on your engineering blog are a signal of potential employment interest.

Open source projects and GitHub/Bitbucket public repos

If your company has developed something internally that could have some utility to other developers, making it open source can score your firm some credibility and visibility with the community. Exposing well-written code shows off your team’s expertise and making it freely available to others builds goodwill. Those interactions with developers that contribute to your project or use the code are a good way to start a recruiting dialogue.

Community involvement/outreach

Sponsoring and/or presenting at meetups, conferences, and users’ groups is probably the most targeted advertising you can do to promote your company as an attractive employer of engineers. In theory, money spent on sponsorships could be much more effective than job ads on general employment sites. Unfortunately, many companies spend the money but end up making a negative impression by trying to turn a meeting into their own career fair. As someone who has run a users’ group for almost 13 years, it appears that the most effective way to attract potential hires in these forums is to have a couple of your best engineers present and demonstrate how they solved a challenging technical problem. If you can get the audience to leave the session thinking “I’d love to work with them“, you will get some new applicants.

“Courting” during the hiring process

What is your typical hiring process? If you are like most of the companies I’ve worked with over the past 15 years, the process consists of a phone screen and one or two face-to-face interviews (and sometimes a test). When your process is exactly the same as that of your competitors, what does it say about your company? Nothing. Mix it up a little by initiating contact with an offsite coffee or lunch, especially if the candidate appears to be very strong and in demand.

Always be interviewing

If your company’s five best engineers resigned tomorrow, who would you try to hire? I expect that most simply don’t know. They say timing is everything in hiring (and everything else). However, the main reason timing is such a factor is that most companies are only willing to interview candidates when they have a well-defined open position. Timing is indeed everything when the hiring window is only fully open during short instances and cycles.

I am constantly trying to encourage my clients to always keep an open ear to new hires, and to be willing to interview candidates even when there is not a budgeted position currently open. It is probably important to tell candidates when there is not a current opening, but many will still want to take an informational or informal interview. This gives a firm the opportunity to develop a wish list of hires for when a vacancy arises. During times where an open job is not immediately available a company may raise the bar as to who is invited in, but interviewing exceptional candidates as they appear is one way to defeat much of what is attributed to ‘bad timing’.

Focus more on overall talent, less on buzzwords

If your company has explicit and rigid rules on only considering candidates that have a certain number of years of experience, whether overall or in a certain technology, you are doing it wrong. In a buyer’s market it is common for firms to create very specific requirements for experience, but in times like now when demand is high and supply is low we see the requirements open up significantly. Companies that hire the best available engineering talent instead of an engineer with a specific skill should end up with better teams in the long run. Turning away a savvy engineer because his/her experience is with a different language is a tough choice. Of course some hires are made with short term goals, particularly in the start-up world, but focusing too much on a narrow skill set contributes greatly to the perceived skills shortage.

Conclusion

In my own experience, the companies that are using some of these strategies are much easier clients to ‘sell’ to candidates. Being stealthy is intriguing but by design it won’t get you noticed. Making your engineering organization visible to your target audience (great engineers) and promoting the company’s image as “engineer-friendly” should result in a larger and more qualified candidate pool.

Published at DZone with permission of Dave Fecak, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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