January 13, 2021

Having Trouble Hiring Developers? Try These 5 Tips

Hiring great talent is becoming increasingly difficult. Companies are fiercely competing for the best candidates, and everyone is upping their hiring games in different ways, from offering amazing benefits to transforming entire company cultures.

Nowhere is this competition more evident than in software development, one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. It’s also highly meritocratic, which presents hiring managers with an interesting problem: How do you hire the best developers before your competitors find them?

Here are some tips to help solve that problem:

1. Learn the Basics

No one expects a recruiter to be a coding pro, but familiarizing yourself with the industry can be of great help. You’ll be more informed about what you’re looking for in your candidates, and you’ll find it easier to follow conversations between the candidate and the hiring manager.

Here are some things you should be familiar with:

What technologies are developers using? There are numerous programming languages your developer team could be using, all with different characteristics. For example, C# is an object-oriented language often used for games, while PHP is used for server-side scripting and content-heavy apps. You don’t need to be an expert, but the least you can do is ask your hiring manager for some details on the most important tech your team uses.

What’s the going rate? Developers’ salaries depend not only on their seniority levels, but also on the technology they specialize in. For example, Objective-C developers are, on average, paid more than Swift developers. When you know which developers you’re looking for, you’ll have a better idea of how easy they are to find and the kind of salary you’ll realistically need to pay to get them.

What will the candidate be doing? Will this new hire bring knowledge that other team members don’t have? Will they be working on your core project or a bunch of side tasks? Familiarize yourself with what, specifically, the team is looking for from this new developer.

2. Emphasize Practical Knowledge

When it comes to developers, your hiring process should always prioritize practical knowledge over the things written on a resume. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take someone’s education into consideration, but that should only be a part of the wider picture — not a deal-breaker.

The most obvious thing you can do to emphasize practical knowledge is give a more prominent role to coding tests in your hiring strategy. A well-designed coding test should mirror the challenges that will be a part of the candidate’s job, should they be hired. Be sure to give your hiring managers a chance to discuss the test in more detail with the candidate during the one-on-one interview as well.

Another way to pay more attention to the practical skills of your candidates is to ask for a portfolio of their previous projects. That way, you can see concrete examples of their work. In the interview, you can take as much time as you need to discuss how they executed those projects, what their biggest challenges were, how they solved problems, etc.

3. Consider Freelancers

If your team needs a specific hire with a specific skill set for a particular project, it might be better to go with a freelance developer. You can ask your current developers for references — more often than not, they’ll have someone in mind. I’d also recommend checking popular freelancing websites like Upwork, Freelancer, Toptal, and Fiverr. Upwork in particular is known for having a large talent pool of developers, with JavaScript being the most in-demand tech skill on the website.

When assessing freelance developers, references are critical. Pay close attention to freelancers’ profiles: Most freelance platforms are pretty transparent, and clients’ ratings — good or bad — are generally publicly available.

4. Increase Your Talent Pool

If you’re having trouble sourcing the candidates you need, you may simply be working with too narrow of a talent pool.  You can increase your reach in a couple of ways:

Loosen up the job description. A job description that’s too exacting might deter interested candidates, who may worry about not meeting all of your overly specific criteria. Only list the technologies and skills that are really necessary; you can find out additional information about a candidate during the interview. You should also avoid using the word “requirements.” “Desired skills” communicates a similar idea, and potential candidates will be more willing to apply, even if they don’t tick a box or two. 

Consider A-player potential. In the tech industry, we’re all looking for A players — competitive, highly productive individuals who excel in their jobs. When no such talent is available, you don’t have to settle for lesser candidates. Instead, look for candidates who have the potential to develop into A players in the future. A good work ethic, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn can turn “A potential” in “A player” in no time.

5. Pay Close Attention to Soft Skills

Never underestimate soft skills when it comes to hiring developers. If you focus solely on technical knowledge, you may end up hiring a sub-par candidate with no work ethic and bad organizational skills. Plus, one study found that soft-skills training can deliver a 256 percent return on investment — so soft skills are more valuable than you might initially think.

Soft skills are particularly important for candidates who will be working remotely, since working effectively from home requires high levels of responsibility, work ethic, and task management.

If it’s taking a lot of time and effort to hire the best developers, don’t worry. Bringing in A players can be a long process.

That said, there are certain things you can do to position yourself for success. Collaborate closely with your development team leaders, increase your talent pool, and stay patient. And once you’ve made your first few great hires, it will get easier: Good developers are always eager to join a team of great professionals!

Tom Winter is the lead tech recruitment advisor and cofounder of Devskiller and coauthor of IT Recruitment Process That Works: Proven Strategies, Industry Benchmarks, and Expert Intel to Supercharge Your Tech Hiring.

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Tom Winter is an inveterate hacker, whether it means automating the tech recruitment process or enhancing his morning commute with an electric skateboard. At work, he is the lead tech recruitment advisor and cofounder of Devskiller, a developer screening and online interview platform powered by RealLifeTesting. Devskiller has helped companies like ING, Accenture, PayPal, and Deloitte improve the quality and speed of their technical hiring. Tom is the coauthor of the book "IT Recruitment Process That Works: Proven Strategies, Industry Benchmarks, and Expert Intel to Supercharge Your Tech Hiring." Madly in love with everything tech, he specializes in data-driven recruitment and streamlining the developer hiring process. He's also an avid conference speaker.