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Ace tech recruiting: advice from recruiters and candidates

Read our key takeaways from a co-hosted webinar with Hired and learn how to attract and engage tech talent throughout the hiring process.

Finding great employees is never easy. But tech recruiting, specifically, has challenges of its own: you need to look into the right places, have a stellar approach and pitch your company culture, if you want to attract the best developers out there. And you have to be fast, because competition for tech talent is particularly fierce compared to other disciplines.

On November 21, 2019, we collaborated with Hired on a webinar – which attracted more than 750 registrants – to discuss those challenges and hear the different perspectives of recruiters and tech candidates. Four tech candidates and recruiters talked at length about their own experiences and shared best practices in hiring tech talent through every step of the process:

  • Cory Fauver, software engineer at Hired
  • Ben Somers, dev lab team lead at Bain & Company
  • Alexys Flores, lead technical recruiter at Quip
  • Bryan Menduke, senior technical recruiter at DraftKings

Here are the key takeaways of this webinar, or check out our recording of the entire session:

1. Sourcing tech candidates

One of the biggest challenges that tech recruiters face is where to look for candidates. Traditional channels are not always effective when it comes to high-demand jobs. But this doesn’t mean recruiters need to reinvent the wheel. Alexys and Bryan talk about successful sourcing techniques:

Meet before you need

First, Alexys, drawing from her own experience in tech recruitment, emphasizes on the importance of going beyond simple job advertising.

Recruiting isn't just a short game. It's about building and nurturing relationships with people and connecting them to the right opportunity when that presents itself, as well as when they're ready to move. Click To Tweet

On that note, Alexys recommends reaching out to potential candidates to share company news, tech articles from your company’s blog and relevant talks and events you’re hosting. This way, you’re establishing a relationship with candidates – effectively, building your brand in their eyes – and, when the right thing comes up, or when they’re looking for a job opportunity, they’ll be more receptive when they hear from you.

Market your employer brand

Bryan reminds his fellow tech recruiters that it’s useful to spread the word out about your company and to build brand awareness – even if you don’t reap the benefits right away. You can host a meetup, for example.

“Have people come in, show them your office, the environment and the great people that you have,” Bryan says. ”You’re not going to actively solicit people there, but they might come in and say, ‘Hey, this office was awesome! I really liked what they had to say!’ And then you can meet some people that know people and you can reach out to them and find different ways to really connect with those people.”

He also shares how they’ve seen success with recruitment marketing strategies, such as display ads on the sidewalks and in elevators of targeted talent competitors and sponsored Facebook and Reddit ads. “The content of those ads are employee testimonials, because we think storytelling is an authentic way to differentiate your brand.”

Rethink how you use hiring tools

You might already use platforms like Hired or Stack Overflow to connect with candidates, and an ATS like Workable to organize your pool of candidates. You might also use social media to source people with the right skill sets. But you can get more strategic with how you leverage those tools.

Your ATS, Bryan says, can also work as a CRM-type tool. “Maybe there’s that new grad that you know – you just can’t hire someone right out of school right now, but in a year or two, or three, or four, that person might have moved on and got a great job and now has a great skill set. You can go back and find their profile really easily.”

If you’re sourcing candidates on social media, it’s important to show them that you go the extra mile to connect with them. Let’s say that a software engineer is tweeting about an Angular conference. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, I saw you’re going to this conference. I see you’re a front end developer, but here’s this back end, embedded engineering role…’ or something like that.”

Instead, Bryan suggests finding a way to relate to them and take the discussion outside of social media. You could find their email address and send a message along these lines: “Hey, I saw your awesome post on Twitter. We’re sending a few engineers to that conference as well, you should definitely meet up and grab a drink with them or something, while you’re out there.” This way, you’re engaging candidates with relevant content and you’re building a network that can prove to be helpful in the future.

2. Attracting tech candidates

Finding great tech candidates is one thing, but getting their attention can be a bigger challenge. Because they’re in-demand talent, developers are bombarded with emails and LinkedIn messages that promise a “great job opportunity”. So, how can recruiters make their message stand out and get a reply?

The developers of the panel, Cory and Ben, explain what’s the best – and worst – way to approach them:

Build a strong brand

Cory highlights again the impact of a well-known brand. “If I’ve seen a talk at a conference by an engineer from a company, and I thought it was interesting, and then an email contains that company’s name, I’m far, far more likely to read through that whole email and get into the details of it and possibly respond and find out more.” In other words, the more active your company is in the tech community, the more likely it is that candidates will recognize your brand when you reach out with a job opportunity.

Be straightforward

Long, vague emails that give little or no details about the job and the company can be a turnoff for candidates. Instead, be brief and to the point. Cory also prefers when emails come from either a hiring manager or another technical person so that he can reply to them and discuss technical details about the role.

On that note, Alexys mentions a technique she’s using in collaboration with hiring managers to increase open rates. “You can set up a ‘send on behalf’ feature so that it looks like your emails are coming from the hiring manager. Of course you need their permission to send emails on their behalf, but you also need to be really clear on what the role is, what it’s asking for, what the right skill set is that you’re looking for.”

Show respect and professionalism

Ben, being a tech candidate himself, talks about the difference between a good email and one that’s poorly written. For example, emails that are obviously templates and stealth emails that don’t disclose the company’s name or any essential information about the role are some of the biggest turn-offs. The same goes for ‘trick emails’, as Ben explains: “The emails that are like, ‘Hey, just following up’ when there was never an initial email, where you pretend to have an existing relationship.”

Ben agrees that a good email is one that’s well-written and informative:

I tend to read more deeply when an email has some justification about the opportunity and why it's a good opportunity. Click To Tweet

“It could be because the company is growing fast, or the team is really stellar, and has some really great talent, and people I could learn from and work with. Or, if they can make the argument that their company’s making a difference, I think that those are all really good hooks.”

Personalize your outreach

It might sound like more work to personalize your email as opposed to sending the same, generic message. And it is more work. But it’s worth your time. “I really appreciate the personalized part of the pitch,” Ben says. “Even if I can tell that paragraph one is generic and paragraph two is personalized, the fact that they actually have paid attention, they’ve read my resume, they know what my experience looks like and what I’m interested in, that makes a very big difference.”

At the end of the day, even if the candidate doesn’t get hired, a positive candidate experience today might prove helpful in the future. Ben confirms by sharing an anecdote, also showing the value of relationship building:

“One of my favorite stories about a good recruiter doing a good job was someone I actually worked very deeply with, for a job I wound up not taking. And then, just a little while later, that recruiter changed jobs, and reached out to me for a different company and a different opportunity and I was far more likely to listen to her, and hear what she had to say, because we had already had such a good experience working together before, even if it wasn’t ultimately successful.”

Want to learn more tips on how to attract and engage tech talent? Read our takeaways from our tech recruiting event in London.

3. Engaging tech candidates

So, you managed to grab a tech candidate’s attention. But don’t rush into thinking that your job as a recruiter ends there. It’s also part of your job to keep them engaged throughout the hiring process. And you’ll be able to do this if you focus on the things that matter to them the most.

Early in the hiring process

Cory talks about his job search in the past and explains how, at the beginning of the hiring process, he’s evaluating companies based on their location, industry and mission. “At an early stage, these things are kind of big considerations. You don’t want a giant commute, [and] you want to make sure you’re going to be working in something you’re passionate about.”

Then, it’s also important to get candidates excited about the role or, at least, to give them useful information about the job. Bryan notes that when the recruiter mentions just the basics (e.g. “Hey, we use C# and AWS and that’s it.”), that’s not a guarantee that he’ll want to pursue this job. Instead, as an engineer, he’d rather learn a few things about the team and the projects they’re working on. For example: “Hey, you’re on a team of 5-8 or 20-30 and you’re working on this part of the product, and these are some of the projects [you’ll be involved in].”

Alexys agrees that this initial call, that recruiters like her are having with candidates, is what builds the foundation of the rest of the interview experience. “I think the only way to really set yourself up for success at the end of the process when you are trying to close, is really knowing what that person is looking for, what’s important to them and what’s really going to drive their decision-making process.”

In some cases, there’s some sort of brand bias that you also need to deal with early in the process, according to Bryan, alluding to his own employer as an example. “A lot of people may think of DraftKings as this ’bro-y’, tech company, all these sports bros out there. We get that a lot, people may be shy from applying because they’re like, ‘I don’t love sports, how can I work there?’,” Bryan explains.

“So one of the things we like to talk about in our first call is really [about] how we are a technology-driven company that does sports. We’re not a sports company that just has tech. And talking about some of those technical challenges, because that is something just for us personally that we deal with a lot here and we have to overcome.”

During the hiring process

Once the candidate is hooked, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty of the job. Cory gives some examples of the things they like to learn at this stage, including tech stack, the problems and benefits that the company has, and what technologies they’re working with. Cory adds that candidates are also interested in whether they offer an opportunity to learn something new or if it’s too much of a stretch and outside of their comfort zone.

“During the interview process, I think about the tactics that companies are using to interview me,” he adds.

If I run into old assessment techniques, I feel like they are not really measuring for great candidates. Click To Tweet

This is a potential red flag for Cory, making him worried about the selection process and the work environment.

Timing is also very important at this point. A slow hiring process is more likely to cost you great candidates, particularly in markets like Boston where tech talent is in high demand.

Ben, though, highlights that keeping candidates in the loop can make a difference. “I’ve had reasonable experience with companies that needed more time as long as they were able to explain to me why. So a quick email from the hiring manager saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a big leadership summit or whatever, it’s going to take us a week to get back to you.’ Or, ‘We’ve been asked to rebalance a couple things, I won’t have an answer for you this week, but next Monday expect to hear something.’”

At the end of the hiring process

At the later hiring stages, tech candidates like Cory take all the previous factors into consideration before they make their final decision: they think about the people they interacted with, how the process went, as well as their potential for growth with the company.

But before you go and pitch a specific growth track, you want to understand what each specific candidate wants to accomplish. Alexys explains: “Do they want to move into management? Do they want flexibility to work across the stack? Is there a certain technology on your road map that they want to get more exposure to? It’s really important to have at least a shortlist of selling points that you can tailor to an individual’s needs at this point.”

Finally, since compensation can often make or break the deal with a candidate, Alexys suggests having this conversation early in the hiring process, but after you’ve built some rapport, e.g. towards the end of the first call you have with candidates. “You can say something like ‘Hey, what are you looking for in terms of compensation? The reason I want to ask you this is that I really want to be respectful of what you’re looking for, and I want to be respectful of your time, so if we can get some sort of range, we can make sure we’re both aligned on that front.’”

Alexys has found that candidates are more comfortable disclosing if you approach compensation like that. Otherwise, they’re concerned that if they’re open about their desired salary early on, you might low-ball them, or somehow use that information against them.

Did you find this webinar helpful? Stay tuned for more HR-related webinars and events.

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