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The secret to hiring great engineers or other employees in a tight labor market

by Matt Nunogawa

People often ask me what is the secret to hiring great employees, especially engineers.

They often ask Where Can I find great engineers? What website? What meetup? What secret fishing hole do they congregate?

Unfortunately, there is no hidden enclave of talented, unemployed engineers. In fact, sourcing quality employees is often the last thing that I advise hiring teams to focus on.

A well tuned hiring and recruiting machine can be achieved by focusing on four factors:

  1. Candidate Experience
  2. Speed Matters
  3. Promote the Opportunity
  4. Filter

Order Matters

The important thing about the four factors is the order. Most companies (especially in the SF Bay Area) get the order exactly backwards.

Candidate Experience

At every stage, anticipate and solve for the needs, questions & anxieties of your candidates.

As much as possible, infuse your process with surprise & delight. A all else being equal candidates will gravitate towards companies who provide them with a positive experience. In a tight labor market, you must stand out and this is one of the most impactful ways to do so.

Lastly, it’s just the right thing to do. Candidates are taking time off work to better their career. They are considering significant life and professional changes. Often they are under a combination of stress, nerves, excitement, uncertainty, adrenaline, or other atypical state. The way to take care of your candidates sends a strong message about your culture and it’s also a strong signal of how well you take care of your employees.

Speed Matters

One of the best ways to lose your best candidates is to take your time.

Every action in the hiring pipeline between first contact and the offer should be done ASAP.

Responsiveness matters. If a candidate contacts you, your response time should be in the 1-2 hour range. If your status quo as a company is closer to 24 hour response times, then I estimate you are losing a good 10-20% of candidates that you could otherwise be converting.

In addition to being responsive, make sure to be a little pushy. You want the candidate to know that they are a priority and push for the soonest possible scheduled times. If a candidate says they are available next week Friday, simply reply with something along the lines of “We were hoping to chat with you sooner than that. Any change you can make some time this week?” Again, the goal is just a little pushy, not overly pushy. If you are in used car salesman territory, you’ve probably gone overboard and into a negative candidate experience territory.

Promote Everything

You should be selling the opportunity at every stage. Every stage of your interview should have some aspect of selling baked in. This includes the job post and even the technical interview stages.

Every company has something to sell. It might be the the role, the tech, the perks, culture, benefits, vision, mission, the future, the present, etc. Find out the best aspects of all the attributes and put those in front. An engineer who’s worked at BigCos for their whole career might not understand how rapidly they may be rapidly promoted or quickly put in charge of teams at a growth startup. Someone who’s worked for startups may relish the opportunity to just stare at a monitor all day and love the ultra generous benefits for their next gig at AppAmaGooBookSoft. You should be bragging about your industry, especially if is involved in Education, Healthcare or a hot tech field like AI or crypto.

Filter Methodically

The number one cause of incredulous looks stems from filtering’s placement on the list. I’d like to stress that filtering candidates is important. It’s just number four on the priority list.

  • iterate
  • measure
  • remove bias
  • remove bullshit
  • remove friction
  • remove things you can trivially google
  • incorporate real work samples
  • simulate the proper environment

Let me dig in to that last one for a bit. When talking about engineers and developers, it’s important to understand how they work on a day to day basis. Typically is something like this:

  • code on a laptop
  • brainstorm and high level architecture is done on whiteboards
  • detailed architecture documents done on shared docs (such as google docs, internal wikis, etc.)

If your interview process has them coding on a whiteboard and doing high level architecture in a web browser, then something has gone terribly wrong. Interviewing is a noisy process and having the wrong environment just adds further noise.

And Yet…

Remember, you are competing against the likes of Google, Facebook, the hot new crypto-startup and even competing with VCs who may want to give those engineers millions of dollars to start their own thing.

  1. Strive for a positive Candidate Experience
  2. Speed Matters
  3. Promote Everything
  4. Filter Well

Lastly, measure. Offer Acceptance Rate is a good (not perfect) low-hanging-fruit metric you can use. If you improve and iterate the above well, you should see OAR go up over time.