Since offering my free advice session, engineering hiring has been the No. 1 topic people ask about. It inspired this article.
One question I always ask myself when hiring is what can we do beyond covering common hygiene factors, knowing that it only keeps you afloat but not winning the talent war.
These are actionable items for tech or tech-enabled startups and scale-ups going through rapid growth, resulting in the (urgent) need to make (large number of) engineering hires to support product development. They are also battle-tested.
Therefore it is an action-oriented piece for “hows”. For the (explained) “whys” and (detailed) “whats”, another article titled “Hiring as a Product” is due soon.
Review pipeline and pinpoint where the bottlenecks are
- If it is sourcing, i.e. at top of the funnel, use a platform such as Cord (getting candidates on the platform, with a London focus, pushing into the US now, affordable and my favourite) or Otta (different approach, more on broadening the advertising reach).
- If it is the offer rate, revisit the interview process and candidate experience.
- If it is the acceptance rate, review compensation and candidate experience too.
- If not sure, set up a tracking system for recruitment first to gain visibility and gather data.
- The magic number is 5% which is the conversion rate from screening to offer accepted, i.e. for every 20 candidates you talk to, there will be ONE hire at the end. It varies seasonally and moves around between 3% to 6% reflected in my last few years of tracking.
Review difficult-to-hire roles and find alternatives
- Case-in-point: TPM, tiny pool and high bar to entry, difficult to compete with big tech - a good example of decomposing the role to see if a PM with some technical skills would fit, or a tech lead with excellent communication skills could be paired with a PM.
- Contracting out is another way to bring in expertise without going through lengthy permanent role hiring.
Red herring: compensation
- Easy to point fingers at a less-than-ideal compensation package when hiring is difficult. It’s a proxy signal on the attractiveness of the organisation as candidates don’t just consider compensation as the sole indicator of an offer.
- If not already, starting to offer equities will sweeten the package to make it more attractive to a certain type of candidates who have a high-risk appetite.
- Last but not least, candidates who join because of higher compensation are likely to leave because of even better compensation somewhere else (unless your organisation is always paying top of the market).
False hope: recruitment agency
- No-hire-no-fee sounds like a fair deal and it can work once or twice with the right candidates, i.e. a stop-gap solution but always expensive.
- However there is no differentiation between organisation A hiring from this agency and organisation B hiring from the same agency, and no control over the full hiring process, therefore is no helpful feedback to improve the process.
- There are new breeds of external recruitment agencies that address some of the concerns, such as operating in an embedded model which helps organisations shape their hiring process; this is far more beneficial than transnational, ad-hoc hiring however costs remain high.
- Get your best engineers involved in the interview process, the earlier the better because hiring is selling and your best salesperson should be on it (see one of the longer-term recommendations below for other topics to get them involved).
- Set up a referral scheme; doesn’t matter how much the reward level is to start with (see one of the long-term recommendations below for iterating in hiring).
- Take risks if comfortable. The attrition rate will inevitably go up but this opens up a new stream of candidates who are overlooked by other organisations, who in turn make your organisation more neuro-diverse (see one of the long-term recommendations below for diversity).
- Offer equity of the company if possible, be it shares or options with a vesting schedule. I found it particularly attractive to senior and beyond candidates, especially since the company is early-stage, and venture-backed meaning that there is more headroom for share price growth.
Investing in employer branding
- Typically through blog posts and conference sponsorship/speak, social media helps too.
- Encouraging your engineers to write and speak (and be an influencer lol) with their authentic voice.
- There are plenty of resources to tap into.
Hiring as a product
- Track -> Review -> Tweak -> Track -> … (because in hiring, like in product development you should always iterate).
- Similar to the previous point, set up a feedback loop where good hires and bad hires are tracked and analysed to gain insight, mostly helping CV screening and positive/negative signal capturing during the interview process.
Putting diversity at the centre of the hiring process
- Diversity is more than how many female/LGBTQ+/minority engineers you hire but they are good starting points.
- Neurodiversity, if your organisation can truly support it, not only unlocks a hidden candidate pool that other organisations rarely tap into but also makes teams more creative and productive.
- Again plenty has been said about why and how.
Advocating a strong, positive organisational culture
- Organisational culture is the key to attracting and retaining talent who share the same vision and mission.
- Hiring only gets people in; how to keep them is far more crucial.
- There are many ways to build and defend culture; It is what you do NOT what you say, which applies acutely during hiring.