How to Recruit Top Development Talent as a Manager

Written on September 7th, 2015

Spoiler Alert: if you have a large budget, you will dramatically increase your chances of recruiting top developer talent. Having a foosball table and some multi-colored uncomfortable couches, does not make you a hip company that will automatically get talented developers to join your team.

But now thats out of the way, if you don’t have an endless budget or your having a tough time hiring solid designers or developers, read on…

Rich Tradition

Yes, there has been a rich tradition of leaving the recruiting up to the company recruiters or even a recruiting agency that company’s will hire. This can certainly be effective and has been since (I am pretty sure) dinosaurs and stuff. It also has been ineffective in a lot of ways, specifically in the past 12 years of living in a digital world with a limited supply of people who know how to build on it. Successfully recruiting from such a small pool of talent amongst a larger pool of people claiming they can do the job presents a major challenge. Leaving any recruiter who does not have a strong development background at a huge disadvantage.

As a fellow designer/developer over the past 13 years, finding good talent in this field can been a rollercoaster filled with ups and downs and the occasional near catastrophe. Let’s just say contractors who contract who contract who then contract their work is a real thing and not just a funny article from “The Onion”. Several years ago, I noticed a consistent pattern of potential new hires coming in that would miss the mark of coding at the level needed for a technology leading software company. I started noticing the following patterns in the recruiting and interview process that seemed to contribute to this result:

  1. Basic conversation-type interviews that allowed the candidates to verbally communicate what they know rather than show it.
  2. Majority of interviewers had minimal development knowledge or lack of of modern development or design best practice knowledge.

Because of these results and hurdles I was up against, I started getting involved directly in the recruiting process and no longer just waiting for resumes to come to me. It’s been a few years now and I have identified 5 specific tactics that helped tremendously and has brought a steady flow of solid developers to our ever growing team.

This is what I did, and what I continue to do moving forward:

1. Get involved in the people business

Be authentic and honest. Go out and make friends with your local Art Institute professor or Computer Science professor at the local college. Get the low-down on some talented students and get the chance to go and speak at the job fairs establishing those relationships early. It’s better that you do this as a manager so you can speak directly for what your group does and the environment you have rather than a general rep. Do the same at the local dev meetups, just get involved and be a human…at the very least, you’ll learn a lot and most likely make some good friends who share the same passion you do.

2. Speak at conferences / show yourself as a thought leader

I have had the privilege of being able to travel and speak at several different conferences each year. I love the design and development community. It’s what has driven me and taught me everything I know. It’s the only reason why I ever got involved in speaking. I enjoy sharing my experiences and getting new ideas from all the brilliant people there. However, over the past few years, I’ve noticed the speaking engagements have been a huge catalyst to showcase the work we’re doing and spark some interest from designers and developers attending that has lead to recruiting them shortly thereafter. This in particular has been very effective for recruiting especially because you already know these people are already passionate about what they do, just being there shows that.

3. Test, test, test

Crucial! Don’t waste yours, others, and the candidates time with a formal on-site interview without first ensuring that they can perform at the level your organization needs. For developer candidates, I found that giving them a 30 minute timed test to build out a web page based on a PSD file, write a number of different javascript functions or a quick program and then have them walk you through the approach they decided to take and why. Warning: don’t be surprised if you get less than a 20% pass rate. These tests are great for quickly separating the novice developers, from the pros who stay current.

4. Have a team website and social media accounts to show off a portfolio of what your group has done

Start sharing the type of work environment you have, the cool projects you work on, what tools and frameworks you like to use and blog posts about lessons learned. Don’t be so closed off. Creating a community around your work not only gets people’s attention but it provides a visible portfolio that most companies don’t think about ever doing, also it gets your current team members excited to be involved in something that is getting shared and promoted. Of course, if you work for Google or for a few other software companies, there is a lot you can’t share at a given time, so be mindful of that.

5. Submit your teams work to an awards organization

I know this is in the same vein as #4, but this will not only get your current team pumped up that their work is submitted for an award, but potentially establish your team, as well as company, as a thought leader in the development and design space. Of course, an award will elevate the work your team does as well as spark the interest of top candidates who are looking to join an already proven and talented team.

These are the primary things I do that has truly changed the game for me. Thanks for reading. If you have any other “go-to” tactics to help recruit top developers, please share, I’d love to hear them.

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