Hiring tech talent — software engineers, data scientists, DevOps, and related — is hard, especially when your business is new or on the small side. But it doesn’t have to be that hard, as long as you focus on making your business a place where people want to work.
Here are 10 tips for attracting (and retaining) tech talent, from a variety of recruiters and talent acquisition specialists at startup companies.
1. Culture is key.
One of the most important factors for attracting talent is cultivating an atmosphere that makes your employees happy to come to work. Tom Perrault, Chief People Officer at MemSQL, says, “Look first at what you have to offer a prospective employee. Have you created a fun, engaging work environment? Do you offer challenging work? Do people see a chance for growth and upward movement in your organization? Those are the things that matter to tech talent today.”
Katie Evans-Reber, head of HR at Gusto, emphasizes the benefits of a relaxed office environment. “Build a culture from day 1. Create office norms that make employees feel comfortable. Gusto has a no-shoes office policy inspired by the company’s founding roots in an apartment — making everyone feel more at home.”
2. Build your employer brand.
If you have a good employer brand, you might not even need to post job openings — top talent will come to you. What’s involved in an “employer brand”? It’s simple: having a reputation as a good place to work and providing value to your employees rather than only asking for value from them.
Halai Shukran, Director, Talent Management at Viant, says, “Talent usually gravitates towards bigger names and the more you can do to build your brand, the more that talent will come your way organically. Ensure you have a strong presence on LinkedIn, get integrated with your local community, host networking events, etc.”
Not sure where to start? “There are companies out there that can help you to create more excitement and awareness of your brand. Stop being a ‘best hidden secret’ and get yourself noticed,” says Perrault.
3. Find small ways to stand out from the rest.
“As a startup, you’re competing for amazing talent against larger companies with well-known brands and more resources,” says Amanda Bell, Director of Recruiting for Lever. “To stand a chance, show candidates the unique elements of your team that they won’t find elsewhere.”
There are a couple of ways you can showcase what makes you special: maintain a blog with regular update posts about your team, office, company events, etc., to humanize yourself to potential future employees. When you make job postings, include a blurb about the company, what you care about, and why candidates should want to work there. Emphasize the things that set you apart (of course, remember that once you set those standards, you’ll need to actually live up to them).
4. Partner with universities.
Fresh college graduates can be a great addition to a startup, because their skills are current and they’re a fresh slate who won’t have to be re-trained or carry expectations over from past workplaces. To get access, says Perrault, “Set up relationships with top universities and continue to recruit yearly from the same places, both for internships and regular employment. In this way, you build a brand on campus. Creating this pipeline requires focused short-term investment, but you get a long-term payoff.”
Josh Graber, Head of Talent Acquisition at NewsCred, has some specific advice about attending university career fairs. “One of our best tactics is to attack career fairs at universities side-by-side with members of our engineering team. Bringing technical talent along gives prospective engineers the opportunity to ask technical questions and gives them the chance to know people that they may ultimately end up working with. We also typically invite candidates to join us for a dinner at these events so we can get to know them as people and in a more relaxed environment.”
5. Emphasize the product itself.
Most people would love to work for a company that has a useful, interesting product that they can truly believe in. “You start first with an amazing product and an awesome challenge,” says Perrault. “The best engineers want to work on solving the thorniest and most difficult problems.”
6. Great talent attracts great talent.
Work culture is not ultimately defined by a blurb about your mission on your company site: it’s defined by the people. Focus on really finding the right fits for your company rather than just accepting the first person who interviews. “Evaluate potential candidates for shared values and aligned motivations,” says Evans-Reber.
“People join us not only because we have a great culture, but also because we have amazing, world-class tech talent already here,” says Perrault. “When a prospective employee meets some of the talented folks we already have on board, they are more eager to join. Great talent attracts great talent, and it’s a virtuous cycle.”
7. Use the right technology.
When people choose to work in tech, they’re usually excited about technology. “When attracting valuable tech talent, it is important for the startup to have technology that stands out to those who will be working with it and for the company to give its employees the opportunity to grow and be a part of something BIG,” says Shukran.
Erin Flynn, Chief People Officer at Optimizely, says that using top technology brings in top talent. “We’ve brought in certain technology that only top development talent would know about. Using these technologies in our tech stack has really helped us to attract the right talent. For example, we are early adopters of Spinnaker, an open source continuous delivery tool, which has been a great incentive for many developers.”
8. Show the candidate how they’ll make an impact.
Startups are perfect for mission-driven employees, because they can make a much greater contribution to the company and customers than they may be able to at a larger company with more levels of bureaucracy. In job postings and interviews, make sure to highlight how their specific role is going to make a difference.
“We show candidates that the problems they solve at Quartet make a real and lasting impact on people’s lives,” says Schuyler Yost, Head of Talent at Quartet. “That really resonates.”
Chuck Lenhard, Head of Talent at Plaid, says, “Create an environment where engineers can draw a line between their contribution and impact with the end user. It’s important that future employees understand that they will be a part of the creative process and build products that customers love.”
9. Utilize current employees for referrals.
Word of mouth is a great tool, and you’ll have the benefit of the candidate being referred by someone you already work with and trust. Stephanie Amancio, manager of Talent Acquisition at Pixability, says, “Do what you can to foster positive word-of-mouth about your company and team. Build a robust referral program that excites your employees and will drive the referral pipeline.”
10. Realize that all good things take time.
“Hiring tech talent is a lot like dating: there is a rhythm and cadence to the process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires both parties taking the time to get to know each other and build the excitement and connection,” says Perrault.
Once you’ve made those first hires, lay the groundwork for future success by focusing on being a great place to work instead of just looking like one. You’ll build your employer brand, and loyalty will follow.
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