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Hiring tech workers when you’re not on their A-list

Even on a good day, hiring tech workers is hard. It’s no secret – there’s a mounting gap between open tech jobs and the talent required to fill them. It’s worse when you’re in a sector or industry that doesn’t really appeal to tech workers accustomed to filling their resume with the newest hot startup or Google/Amazon. What if you’re an online fashion retailer? A sports gambling site? A staunch, upper-crust banker?

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

employer branding for hiring tech workers

And now, more and more businesses are investing in technology – which means hiring tech workers is on the rise in 2020. A new Spiceworks survey on IT budgets finds that 44% of businesses plan to increase their tech spend in 2020 from 2019. If you’re reading this, you’re likely also ramping up your efforts to build out your in-house tech talent. In fact, Workable has regularly held events on how to hire in tech, most recently in Boston, London, and San Francisco.

But not all of them (or you) are cool Silicon Valley startups. Developers don’t think about construction, or banking, or makeup when they’re looking to grow their career in their area of specialty. They also tend to gravitate towards IT-first companies because that’s where they feel most comfortable. So when you’re not on the tech worker’s A-list of awesome places to work, how do you reel in that hard-to-lure talent?

The problem mounts

Matt Buckland has a lot to say on hiring tech workers in general, and especially in that specific challenge. He’s worked in recruitment and team-building for online fashion service Lyst, tech trader Getco, Facebook, Bloomberg, among others. In a recent video chat, he says to ignore the temptation of trying to take the “non-sexy thing” and making that tech. That’s a common pitfall, he reminds us.

Instead, put that non-sexy part of your business aside – it’s not your concern right now. You have to promote your tech opportunities in a way that specifically caters to the motivations of tech talent.

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He highlights three crucial attractors that’ll have tech applicants more likely to beat down your door:


How many people are you impacting through your work? How many channels are you influencing? What is the reach of the job?

In a company like Facebook, Matt says, you could mention that your contribution will impact significant numbers of people.

“If you make a change and it goes live to 1.9 billion people, that’s exciting for a techie.”


How comprehensive is your work inside the organization? Matt highlights the immense appeal factor in talking about the scope of the job you’re hiring for and other jobs throughout the organization.

“Are you a dev or just a cog in the wheel? Or are you exposed to requirements that capture all the way through to testing, delivery, deployment?”


How challenging is the day-to-day? Just as the challenges of team-building can make your own job more interesting, highlighting the complexities of a dev job is crucial in successfully hiring tech workers.

“Are you a dev just working on boring front-end stuff? Imagine just moving a widget around, or a big old enterprise app where you’re just moving a tech box. Or on the other hand, you can be a dev working in AI at the top end of this sort of stuff.”

He elaborates by saying every company – whether tech-first or not – has exciting tech complexities that you can sell to the candidate. (More on this below.)

Don’t conflate your brands

A lot of it is about how you brand yourself to different people, Matt says. In the same way that your language is different when speaking to young fathers aged 25-44 than when speaking to teenaged Twilight fans, your outreach should be different when you market your jobs to tech talent than when you’re marketing to front-facing retail or finance candidates.

“Attract [tech candidates] using a technical brand, which is a subset of your employer brand. Your technical brand are things like what tools you’re using, what technology you’re using, what tech stack you’re using.”

Also, remember to keep that separate from your company brand. In other words:

Your candidates are not necessarily your customers – they are two entirely different markets. Click To Tweet

Matt talks about the example of a London-based banking service that caters to high-salaried clientele.

“I bet you the people working there aren’t customers of that bank. No candidate has experienced being a customer of them because they’re not billionaires themselves.”

The same goes for fashion, makeup, and other non-tech markets, Matt says. “I wouldn’t say in the job ad that you’re a great place to buy. I would say a lot of developers aren’t interested in fashion or retail and certainly not high fashion [like Valentino handbags]. I’ll also get rid of all the ‘most prestigious’ content. That’s not the stuff a dev gets up for in the morning.”

Show off your numbers

Instead, when building a tech team, Matt will go straight to the company’s CTO for a sit-down, and ask them for the exciting numbers.

“For example, I’ve worked in trading before and through our trading systems, we’ve processed billions of transactions per second. We talk about latency where if we shave off one-half of a microsecond equates to $10 million for us. That’s insane. That’s what excites techies.”

He noted how he showed off another subset of numbers at Lyst in his job ads.

“[At Lyst], there were over a million different lines of products from something like 50,000 different vendors – when you get those numbers, people will build up the complexity,” Matt says. “It was the number of products and the number of retailers and the infinite possibilities – both good and bad – within that. We had one shopping cart at Lyst that could potentially hold a hundred different products from a hundred different retailers at a time. How do you manage all the different payments of that? Developers are essentially interested in solving that specific problem.”

It’s also about knowing which numbers to highlight when hiring tech workers. Matt did some work with a gambling company recently. “The company was saying, ‘We’re a big gambling company and we make millions of pounds.’ And I said, I bet techies don’t care. They do not care that you personally make millions of pounds. But they might care about how many transactions per second go across your system.”

The gambling company then asked him why the second stat was more important.

“It’s because it tells techies something about the technical solutions you’ve got; the scale, the scope, the complexity. They were doing something like 1.6 billion transactions per day. It’s crazy that they have so many transactions.”

That kind of number will make developers sit up and take notice.

“When you talk to devs about this, they’ll try and envisage what the problems might be and then they’ll start to think about how they can solve those problems. So once you get your hook into them about that, that’s what they’ll jump on.”

“That always goes back to scale, scope, and complexity. If you can get two out of three of those, you’re probably going to get them entranced.”

So, go ahead and invest in tech. Just don’t forget to invest in that technical brand that’ll attract the people you need to exercise the tech.

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