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How to Make Tech Talent Fall in Love With Your Company

It's tough times for companies trying to hire software developers. Here's how to give yourself an edge.
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Need to hire an engineer? Yeah, so does everybody else. "People we talk to can't hire enough employees with iOS or Ruby on Rails or Java skills today," says Jon Bischke, CEO of recruiting-software maker Entelo.

In other words, you can't just pop out an ad, wait for people to turn up, and then hire your first choice. Candidates with hot technology skills need to be wooed. How can you entice them? As a small company, you may not be able to offer the salary or perks that a corporate giant could, but you might be able to connect with techies on a human level in a way that a large company can't.

Here's how:

Learn about the job.

I know, I know. The whole reason you need to hire someone who understands this stuff is that you don't. I'm not trying to turn you into a software developer, but the better you understand what the job is all about, the more you'll pique a candidate's interest.

"The more you can learn, the better," Bischke says. "At a base level, learn the lingo so you understand how Ruby on Rails is different from Java, so when you talk with engineers they won't perceive you as knowing nothing about technology."

Tech people really appreciate managers who understand their world. "If the CEO of a company has that base level of knowledge," says Bischke, "it will carry a lot of weight with the person you're trying to hire."

Bischke says he's known startup CEOs who have devoted a portion of their time to learning about the technology their companies need for exactly this reason. At the same time, he warns, don't assume just because you have a rudimentary understanding of the technology that you're qualified to evaluate applicants for engineering jobs--you should also have a tech expert check out the candidate's specific skills.

Learn about the candidate.

You'll need to do this anyway before making a hiring decision, so it really makes sense to check out the candidate online and in social media before the two of you meet. "Do your homework, and make your prospective hire feel special," Bischke explains.

A somewhat personalized email might say something like, "I see that you are a software engineer at an XYZ company. I see that you know Java. We have an opening for that." An even better approach would be to note that the candidate posted a project on GitHub or a question on Stack Overflow relating to a project or potential project at your company. You might also note that the candidate tweeted something relevant to a prospective role.

"Personalized outreach beat out generic outreach such as mass mailings," Bischke observes. "Candidates are getting bombarded with the latter and very little of the former."

Ask about career goals.

This is part of every single interview at Entelo, Bischke says. "Everyone has grand plans for the future," he says. It can help to give some examples of how people currently or recently on your team have moved up or had notable achievements. Software engineers often aspire to working with new technologies or on open-source projects, which become bankable assets for them. "They know that some time in the future they'll be evaluated by what's in the public domain attached to their names," Bischke says. On the other hand, some tech people want to become managers, and that's also something you can help prepare them to do.

Don't pretend you expect them to stay with your company for decades--as Bischke points out, three to five years is forever in the world of technology. You can show you understand this by telling them about company alumni who have gone on to greater achievements or started a venture of their own. You can even tell them that if things work out well, you'll connect them with other tech professionals in your network who could be helpful for their careers. "All of these things will show a commitment to helping them succeed both during and after their time at your company," Bischke says.

Explain what's great about your company.

"Sell candidates on your culture and your sense of mission," Bischke advises. "Our internal studies have shown that even though top talent values company culture very highly, many recruiters forget to emphasize this aspect of an opportunity. They focus on details such as daily tasks, projects, and compensation."

That can be the wrong approach with geeks. "Tech is about working with brilliant people to build a better vision of the future," Bischke says, so a smart employer will engage with that desire. It might be working on an exciting cutting-edge technology, or it might be that your company actually helps make the world a better place. Or it could have to do with the company's extracurricular efforts, such as Salesforce.com's 1/1/1 model of giving 1 percent of employee time, 1 percent of equity, and 1 percent of product to charitable causes. (Don't have a model for charitable giving? This could be a great reason to start one.)

Put more resources into recruiting.

Most company leaders say that their people are their most important asset, but their approach to hiring doesn't support that view, Bischke says. "I ask a lot of companies what percentage of employee time is devoted to recruiting," he says. "The vast majority don't put enough effort into it."

It makes a difference, he says. "There's a gap between companies that are good at this and those that aren't. Those that do recruiting better and devote more resources to it end up hiring more talented people and growing faster."

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IMAGE: Gallery Stock
Last updated: Mar 13, 2014

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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