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These days, every company is essentially a tech company. No matter the industry you’re in, developers, information technology (IT) engineers and data scientists will be some of the first roles you begin hiring for in a new startup or online business.
A report from iCIMS found that, in 2019, it took companies an average of 66 days to fill tech roles, compared to 55 days in 2016. Competition, rising salary expectations and even immigration constraints made the hiring process especially challenging for entrepreneurs at the start of their journeys, with great ideas but limited budgets.
While the current global climate is posing many challenges for SMBs and new enterprises, it’s actually easier right now to find and hire for tech positions. There isn’t just a bigger pool of candidates available, there’s a better pool available. Tens of millions of jobs have been affected over the past few months — Medium laid-off one-third of its people and Airbnb had to cut 25 percent of its staff.
A wider selection of top-tier talent has suddenly become available. These five guidelines will help you secure that top talent for your budding business, even when working with a smaller budget.
1. Understand what candidates are really looking for.
The first step in attracting tech talent is to understand exactly what the skilled candidates out there are looking for. Workers today are actually more likely to accept modest salaries — not just because of the economic downturn, but because they’re more interested in the rewards of their next job than the paycheck. This is especially true if they’ve been laid off, in which case they’re likely to be reassessing whether they want to return to a corporate lifestyle.
If your company is going to attract these kinds of employees, the experience has to be worth it. Surrounded by health and economic issues, tech workers are gravitating towards companies where their contribution can have a larger impact.
“A lot of applicants are looking for new challenges and sectors,” says Dina Bayasanova, co-founder of skills-based talent marketplace PitchMe. “New companies have to be open to accepting career shifters, innovators who are going to want to operate outside of the box and who are driven by purpose over pay.”
Another big shift in new candidates’ expectations is the remote option. In a recent survey, 27 percent of tech workers said they will want to work from home permanently even after most of us return to the office.
If you want to build the best team possible, you have to embrace (and thank) the remote revolution. Remote hiring has expanded your candidate pool to cover the whole country, if not the world. You’ll be able to reach more diverse talent, including candidates who would have been discouraged from applying because they couldn’t commute or move home.
With the money you’re saving on office space, make your workplace oriented towards the well-being of your staff. Everyone is going through hardship right now, and employers need to be supportive of people’s general health.
So, to be a viable option for that top talent, advertising your flexibility, adaptability and consciousness of the moment is key.
2. Do your homework.
A frequent challenge when hiring is understanding exactly what you need. People often try to hire generalists who can wear multiple hats, but while this might work for some roles, it’s not the case for tech.
Before you put out an ad for a non-descript tech guy, do your homework. What do you need a tech employee for? Should they be a front end, back end or full-stack developer?
Understandably, you may not be the best person to answer those questions. The first place to go is your network. Identify the business leaders and companies whose business operations you admire, and ask them how they approached this stage. Consulting your role models and studying your competitors is essential — not just for hiring, but for all aspects of building your startup.
“When we began putting together our tech team, the first thing we did was look at who our competitors’ first hires had been when they were at a similar stage,” says Bayasanova. “We did our first couple of hires that way, and by then we had a clearer vision of our own roadmap and hiring plan.”
3. Take time to craft the perfect job description.
It’s surprising how many early-stage founders struggle with writing a job description correctly. This task is very different for startups than it is for established companies. Bigger businesses have consolidated their product, reputation and prestige (i.e. people know what they’re getting when they join). But as a young company, you’re not selling your business — you’re selling your vision, work culture and career and personal development opportunities.
That’s what you need to transmit in those few lines of each job ad. People need to know how they would be treated if they joined you, as well as the values and mission that drive you and your staff. Remember that people who join startups are more driven by this added value, than by money.
Diversity and inclusion are essential features of any startup, and you should be showcasing this to potential hires.
“You’d be amazed at how many talented developers are out there just waiting for the opportunity to show their potential,” says Amyn Gillani, CEO at software company Talos Digital. “Start by creating a diverse environment where everyone is welcome, and offer individuals the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and advance in your team.”
Your job description also has to make your startup process transparent to the candidate. Explain where you are now, but also where you want to be in six or 12 months, and how that new job position will help you get there. Give a brief overview of your product roadmap, and mention your fundraising plan if you have one. Candidates need to know that you are economically sound for the foreseeable future, especially if you’re not offering equity.
At the same time, the description of your desired candidate has to appeal to people’s personalities as well as their skills.
“When advertising our job roles we focused on what we wanted in terms of their characters,” says Bayasanova. “We made it clear we needed people who weren’t afraid of challenges or lack of structure.”
4. Learn the basics or bring on a technical co-founder.
Your tech team will be one of the main gear wheels in developing your product, which means you’ll be in close contact. For that to work, you need to be speaking the same language.
“My experience with developers is like having a bonsai tree garden, you are constantly pruning and adjusting until you get a beautiful product,” says David Dorr, co-founder of fintech company Coro Global Inc. “Having an exciting project definitely draws more talent, but it does not alleviate the responsibility of the founders overseeing the development process.”
As you’re hiring, familiarize yourself with basic tech knowledge: What are the different programming languages and what are they best for? What’s user interface design, and how do you improve SEO?
Smooth communication will help you hold on to those important new hires. That requires time and understanding. “Unless a founder has a background in programming, they’ll have an entirely different thought process from their tech staff for how things should be done,” Dorr adds. “Be patient, respect each others’ opinions, try new things out and be prepared for things to go wrong.”
Crash courses and good communication can be feasible, but if the process is overwhelming and your product is tech-heavy, consider bringing on a technical co-founder. As well as holding the fort, they’ll make sure you’re bringing on the best candidates for the job.
“Our first hires were not the best hires, but we learned from this experience,” says Bayasanova. “Luckily we had a technical co-founder, and they were crucial in identifying what our issues were and building a functional team.”
5. Put yourself out there in the right channels.
Traditional job boards aren’t the only platforms available to you. Of course, they’re useful, and you can even use them as a testing ground to see what kind of feedback you can get from different ads (basically A/B testing). But to hone in on the industry niches and type of talent that fits you, experiment with several options.
The first one is closer than you may realize. Slack is a staple instant messaging tool for startups, and the COVID-19 lockdown has made it even more in demand — in March, it had 12.5 million connected users.
For people in tech, different channels are being set up to discuss changes in the industry, job opportunities, and company recommendations. Slack List shows all the most popular groups (you can search by keywords to suit your needs), and there are plenty of blog posts and online listicles for more niche tech communities. It’s worthwhile noting that some of the groups have open access while others require an invitation.
When posting your job ad on different groups, also take opportunities to ask for feedback on your advert.
A relatively new trend is industry-specific hiring platforms that only feature applicants with certain experience or qualifications in a sector.
Platforms like HackerRank, X-Team, and interview tool CoderPad are great for viewing, assessing and hiring developers from different expertise and job seniority levels. Many of the sites host a number of programming languages to conduct tests, and they also integrate with HR software for outreach.
Your hiring platforms don’t have to be exclusively online, and branching out may help bring on more diverse talent.
“Make sure to look around and reach out to local organizations for potential candidates,” said Gillani. “You’ll find incredibly talented graduates from developer bootcamps, such as resilient single mothers who are now great programmers after joining the program Girls Who Code.”
Virtual events have proliferated during the lockdown. If you have the resources and expertise to host your own webinar, quiz, or workshop, it’s arguably the quickest medium to meet people while showcasing your brand.
In Europe, ride-hailing startup Bolt hosts the “Bolt Championships” coding contests to find engineers. The top participants are awarded a cash prize, and the winners are given a complete relocation package to the head offices in Estonia.
If you don’t have the time to plan an event, join one. Do some research and reach out to event hosts who attract attendees that align with the positions you’re trying to fill; Eventbrite has an extensive list of upcoming tech events. You can offer someone from your team as a speaker or contributor. During the event they should take the chance to explain particular features of your product as well as your business’ future plans, when relevant – they should always use their personal and company experience and expertise as points of reference.
At the end of the presentation, add a brief slide or mention the vacancies at your company and how to get in touch. You’ll be surprised how many guests reach out.
Remember, while now is the optimal time to hire developers and tech talent, people are more conscious than ever about how companies deal with a crisis. Expect potential candidates to ask about how your business has responded to current events and what social impact you aim to achieve. Be sensitive and conscious. Give your staff the freedom to express their creativity, and you’ll be ready to bring on board some of the brightest tech talent in the industry.