Key strategies for winning IT talent in competitive markets

This article was published on enterprisersproject.com
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The number of technology-related job opportunities is expected to increase 12 percent by 2024 according to a report by Modis. This might be a great stat for people entering the industry, but it also means that competition for this talent is going to commensurately increase. Anyone who’s been in our industry over the last decade knows this isn’t anything new; just five short years ago we were already struggling to get people to apply. 

Recruiting and retaining technical talent for your team can be tricky. When you’re headquartered as we are in the Puget Sound region, it means competing with both small, trendy startups and well-known giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Facebook, and Google. In a sea of whales, it can be tough to inspire engineers and developers to take notice of a minnow.

So how do you make sure top talent is looking your way, especially when you’re up against the deep-pocketed industry titans, and then retain talent once they’ve joined your ranks? There are a few things we've learned.

  • Recruiters matter: First and foremost, recruitment is a team effort, and in leading that effort, you’ll need an empathetic recruiter who truly understands the technology landscape, has a keen eye towards what attributes to look for in a new hire, and is a good partner with the hiring manager. Recruiting for tech skills can be extremely difficult – especially if you’re not technical yourself. Having a recruiter who listens well and is organized is the best first step to take.  
  • Include your team: Keeping your teams included in the recruitment process will not only help to generate great referrals, but your employees in the trenches working on projects have a firm grasp on the type of skills the people you are hiring will need to have. 
  • Lean on PR and marketing: Recruits don’t always come looking to your firm just because of the opening; culture and fit are also very important.  Your marketing and PR teams can be extremely helpful here. They have creative ways to showcase your company vibe, develop great collateral to use in the process and apply for awards that will get you noticed, such as a “Best Place to Work.” 

How tapping into code academies helped us

Try also looking for candidates outside the box. When you’re combing through potential recruits, high profile institutions might grab your attention. However, competition for these types of candidates are going to be high, and the value may not actually be there. We’ve invested much of our recruiting efforts into code academies, and it’s paid off. 

One of our very first interns was from one such program, and really showed the value they have to offer. She was a grad transitioning into a second career, with an abundance of talent, energy and a strong willingness to learn. She proved to be such a great find, that we offered her a job at the end of her stint, and she graciously accepted. Then, she introduced us to two of her “study group” friends who were also looking for jobs. They, too, were second career folks: one was a classical pianist, the other a former Marine Corps officer. We invested in an intern that didn’t just turn into one great hire, but three.

In retrospect, much was gained by taking a chance with code academy recruits:

  • They’ve helped us to increase our gender diversity. We have hired more than twice as many women as men from these programs.
  • Second-career candidates tend to be more mature. We try to hire developers who can grow into becoming consultants. Being able to code is just one slice of the pie: Can they communicate with the team? Are they open to feedback? Do they play well with others? Are they open and honest? Almost to a “T,” the answer is “yes” in our second-career candidates. 
  • Our process of recruiting through code academies also led us to one of the best tools for retaining talent: mentorship and connection. From the start, every new person is teamed up with an office veteran. These mentors regularly check-in with their mentee to build a connection, give them guidance, and provide an early warning if the new person is going off the rails. We encourage them to find a reason to go get coffee, meet up for lunch, or just do a drive-by check in with each other.

Another way we integrate new employees and help them build connections to the team is through our passport program. Each person meets with their lead, who assigns them a passport, or guidebook, that lists individuals in the business they need to meet (the office manager, a systems engineer, or the CEO, for instance), or a process they need to go and learn. After finding someone to meet or explain something new to them, they get a line item signed-off in their passport booklet. There’s no quiz at the end; only new contacts, connections, and friends in the office. 

Over the years we have found that genuine connections and a love for what we do are the best ways to retain great talent. Money isn’t necessarily everything for software engineers; great culture is important too.