As a leader, your ability to hire top talent can greatly impact the success of your business. This is especially true in the field of software engineering, where individual engineers can have a significant impact. Therefore, it's crucial to effectively attract and retain software engineering talent.
However, hiring great software engineers is no easy feat. The demand for exceptional talent has only grown in the last decade as software continues to eat the world. Even in the face of layoffs across the tech sector, software engineers continue to be highly sought after and difficult to hire. Such is the demand for engineering folks that they have their choice of opportunities.
The bad news is your hiring funnel is almost certainly broken. If you've struggled to hire or found that the candidates making their way through your pipeline are lackluster then you can bet your process is at least partly to blame. The good news is you can quickly address the most common issues with your funnel by following a simple framework.
Make a Strong First Impression
Start at the top: this will make or break your pipeline. Mistakes here will trickle down to every step afterward and can easily be the difference between a great funnel and one that doesn't function at all. This means the job description, which is often the first impression candidates will have of your business. Make it a good one.
Spend time crafting your job description. Tailor it to a specific profile and avoid using boilerplate.1 The first one to two sentences should appeal directly to your ideal candidate with a strong value prop. This is a kind of marketing document and it needs to connect with the right audience. When you've succeeded, candidates will have mentally placed you at their top of their list because it's an excellent mutual fit.
As a startup you likely have cultural advantages that are appealing to your ideal talent.2 You might be working with exciting new technology and can emphasize this. On the other hand, you might be working in a more mundane space but offer an exceptional environment to code in (e.g. emphasis on mentorship and growth, top-notch coding hygiene, reduced bureaucracy, etc). Consider what makes you unique and weave that into the job description.3
You also must be honest. Do not mislead candidates. If you do, you'll soon find that any such candidates you do manage to close will soon leave.
Move Quickly and Provide a Stellar Experience
The next thing you need to do is build and maintain momentum. If you're a hiring manager then you must take it upon yourself to ensure that the funnel is always moving. Finding candidates is just half the battle, ensuring they stay engaged and don't fall out of it is even more important. Because candidates have virtually limitless options, it's on you to hold their attention.4
You may be working with a talent team or you may be your own recruiter but in either case you should be checking on your openings daily–do not outsource this. This means opening up your Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and going through each step of the pipeline, checking on candidate progress.
Use a structured routine to ensure the pipeline stays healthful:
- Screen new resumes daily–as a hiring manager you should be reviewing these yourself and moving them on to the next step for those that pass.
- Review candidates further along in the pipeline daily.
- Are any waiting for feedback from you, another interviewer, or someone from the talent team? Minimize time candidates spend waiting.
- Are there candidates that need to be filtered out of the pipeline? Keep the pipeline up-to-date with reality to reduce noise!
- If you're working with a talent team, ensure you meet at least weekly with the recruiter.
- For internal recruiters, keep an open line of communication and relay real time updates to them.
- When working with external agencies, make sure you're meeting regularly and recalibrate the role as needed–do not delay as it will only lead to a lower quality pipeline.
One of the key themes to note here is the emphasis on candidate experience. By building a streamlined process where the candidate can be moved through a process quickly you are maximizing your chances of finding and closing phenomenal talent. You're also demonstrating to your candidates that you can both design and execute a well structured process that delivers key outcomes.
Measure For Success
Finally you should be measuring the effectiveness of your funnel from top to bottom. Even if you're only hiring for a single role, it's important to understand the efficacy of each step along the way. For instance, you may be reaching all the right candidates, but if later stages in your process introduce too much friction or test for the wrong signal then you'll soon run into problems.
Pay attention to how long it takes candidates to move through each stage of your hiring loop. Look for steps that take multiple days and then note where candidates are falling out of your funnel. As you see correlation, consider revisiting those stages. You might consider orienting your later stages around a framework that leans more heavily on experiential input, such as past projects or key outcomes.5
When candidates do fall out of your pipeline, try to get feedback about why.6 While you may not have enough data here to identify any true trends, you can often spot low hanging fruit in the pipeline: maybe the candidate received an offer while still at the top of your funnel maybe they didn't have time for the take home assignment you asked them to complete. Calibrate accordingly.
A Winning Pipeline
Remember to start at the top with your job description. Don't be tempted to cut corners here and really invest in appealing to your perfect candidate–they should read it and immediately think this is the job they've been waiting for.
Curate the candidate experience with a routine. Ensure candidates don't linger in the hiring loop. Stay in close contact with your internal and external talent support.
Finally you must measure the performance of your funnel from top to bottom. Reevaluate the pipeline periodically and tune progressively. Eliminate inefficiencies and low signal steps.
With this essential framework, you'll be well on your way to attracting and hiring great talent.
Avoid opening with generic info about your company. Start with the role! Also whatever you do, do not copy-and-paste a generic job description–expect generic candidates if you do. ↩
Experienced folks especially will seek out specific qualities, such as a low friction, high trust environment. Make sure candidates know what's different about your company culture. ↩
In one instance we were building a Content Delivery Network (CDN) and the first sentence of the job description read, "Have you dreamed of building a CDN?" Of course, not every job opening can offer such a grand project and so in other cases I've emphasized things like our exceptional culture for mentorship and growth. Lean in to your strengths. ↩
Candidates won't wait for you to remember they're in your pipeline–they'll have long ago accepted another offer if you let them languish at this stage. ↩
It's an open secret that the big tech "algorithms and white board" hiring loop simply does not work. ↩
The maximally post hoc version of this is to look at Glassdoor or similar. It should go without saying this should only be used in lieu of actually talking to candidates. ↩
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