Tech Talent War: Part II

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I wrote a blog post about our hiring experience earlier this year. It is time for an update: we have learned new things worth sharing. I also want to take a look at the less rosy parts of our hiring experience.

Wait until the ink is dry

In the first part of this series, I bragged that we had hired three great candidates instead of the one we had been looking for. I bragged too early: we had reached agreements to hire three great candidates. We ended up hiring only one of them.

One candidate decided to move to Georgia (the country, not the US state) with his girlfriend to take care of their newborn child while she finishes her master’s degree there. That’s not something you can plan for. It certainly came as a surprise to us.

Another candidate had told us at the outset that she had also applied to a PhD position but that she had no chance to get it, and would prefer to work with us even if she did. Guess what? She got the PhD position, and decided to take it. She told us two weeks before she was due to start with us.

To me, both stories illustrate the core problem in the tech talent market: good people have many choices, and it is really hard to get them to choose you. In our case, we did the best we could: we got two exceptional people to put us on the top of their list. They chose us over many other software companies they could have worked for. Unfortunately, they both chose a different direction altogether, leaving the tech job market for family life and academia. 

Never stop looking

So there we were: two weeks to go until the planned start of a major project, and two people short in our team. What did we do?

We got lucky. A senior developer applied for the position out of the blue, we immediately recognised that he would be a great fit, made him an offer, and he started right away.

Looks like luck, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t just luck. We had also continued to promote our job ad even though we thought we had already over-hired. The final candidate found us through an unrelated newsletter where we as a company where mentioned on an unrelated topic. He looked up our website, saw the job ad and simply applied.

We still have the job ad on our website. I will keep it there forever. I never want to miss the chance of a great person applying. If they are a good fit, I will find a way to hire them even if we’re not looking. I’m more and more thinking that this is the way to go: to always keep our eyes peeled for good people. Maybe in the future, it will spare us the hassle of having to actively look for and hire someone under time pressure.

For us, this already paid off.

When you meet a great person: hire them!

We hired another person in the meantime. He is not a developer, he is a sales person. We had been half-lazily not-really kind-of looking for a sales person for the better part of a year. Looking back, I would say we were strategically open-minded about possibly hiring a sales person if the opportunity presented itself.

The opportunity did present itself: a friend shared another friend’s post who was promoting another friend of his who was looking for new challenges in sales. We talked, saw a fit, made an offer, and he’s been with us for almost a month now.

This also showcases the importance of networking. There is no better channel for great people than your network. People you know are the best judges of who might be a good fit for your company. They are multipliers for your search when you are looking. Use your network to find great people, and give back: refer great people to your network when you see a fit (even if they might not actively be looking).

This is the best possible position from which to hire: without time pressure, without an urgent need. It allows you to pick and choose, and hire only if there is a good fit.

I want all my future hires to work like this: to start with a great person that we want to hire, and not with us looking for someone. If there is a good personnel strategy, I think this is it: collect the best people you meet along the way, and make sure that you keep them.

How does this work?

  • By being aware what kind of people are a good fit for your company.
  • By recognising these people when you meet them.
  • By being open to hiring even if you don’t see an immediate need.
  • By proactively approaching people who you would like to work for you even if they are not currently looking.

We will keep you posted on how we fare. I’m sure that there is more to learn!

Bottom Line

  • Don’t be sure of your hires until they have signed their contract and have started to work.
  • Never stop looking, even if you think you have filled your position.
  • Use your network: tell your contacts who you would consider hiring.
  • Be open to hiring great people even if you are not currently looking to fill a position.

Johannes Ebner

Marketing Manager