Attracting the best: How do top tech firms assess technical skill in job applicants?

Daniel Goldstein - CEO

When it comes to building leading products, technology organisations need to secure the very best candidates. But demand currently outstrips supply and competition for the best is fierce.

So how do tech companies successfully attract the strongest candidates – including those who aren’t actively searching for new jobs?

1. Show your culture

Every potential candidate wants to be sure that they will “belong” in your company and culture. It is extremely important that you not only understand your culture, but that you can also promote it.

Many of the most successful tech companies do everything they can to paint the picture of a career with them, often creating “culture videos” that showcase the stories of their employees. These film clips help candidates to understand what to expect at work, and the sorts of values that they aspire to. Done effectively, these videos will help unsuitable candidates deselect themselves – if they don’t like what they see, they won’t fit in, and they won’t take up your time during the hiring process.

2. Understand what passive candidates are personally interested in

Usually the very best tech candidates are already employed, so you need to know what makes them tick if you plan to tempt them away. Remember that your competitors will almost certainly be able to match any financial incentive you offer, so you need to consider other drivers that will influence them to consider something new.

Promoting factors like career development or ways in which a candidate can grow outside their role within your company are powerful motivators. You can then tailor your initial approaches to the interests of your target candidate. Big or small, focus your pitch on these factors and you have a much better chance of landing the best candidate for your team.

And remember – if money is their primary motivator, the candidate is unlikely to be a good cultural fit for your business or stick around to enjoy your future success.

3. Focus your approach

When contacting passive candidates, take a thoughtful and considerate approach. Start with a conversation to outline the opportunity, highlight the vision, and promote the culture of your business with a big emphasis on the story behind the product and the impact it will have. If you have high quality content that demonstrates the experience (such as videos) share them, and be open to questions. Be aware that some candidates, particularly those in critical roles, tend to be extremely busy, so you may have to be available “out of hours” to talk with them.

Take a no-pressure approach, outlining the role, your culture, and how you think that particular individual may fit in. If the candidate is interested, arrange a more in-depth follow-up call. If they’re not, offer to call them back in a few weeks (or months). Whatever you do, make sure you stay in touch with anyone who seems like a great person for your team.

4. Personalise your interview process

Tech roles invariably involve some form of assessment to evaluate the candidate’s technical capabilities. Many employers set an online test to be “completed in the candidate’s own time”, overlooking the fact that an Engineer is unlikely to spend another four or five hours on a coding exercise after work. Especially if they are not actively looking for a new job or have personal commitments like a young family that get in the way.

Instead you should try to make the process interesting and engaging. Using video conferencing and screen sharing tools you can lay out a scenario in person, and assess performance in real time. You will also get a much better “feel” for each person and how they would fit into your team. Pair-programming is a great way to see someone’s work in action within your culture without an arbitrary testing process.

Short-listed candidates can then be invited on site for further discussions and evaluation, again balancing their strengths against your own. The whole process needs to be as human as possible to keep outstanding candidates engaged and considering you favourably against anyone else they may be talking to.

5. Personalisation and simplicity rules

Attracting great tech candidates hinges on your pitch and your hiring processes. The approach needs to be personalised, particularly when attracting candidates who already have good jobs.

You must then simplify your hiring procedures as much as possible to keep people engaged, and to make it easy to flow them through interviews and the eventual onboarding process.

These two refinements will greatly increase your chances of attracting the very best candidates for your organisation.

Daniel Goldstein


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