January 28, 2021
Insights for Recruiting and Retaining Great Software Talent
From transportation and retail to e-commerce, finance, and healthcare, demand for software developers and engineers is surging amid the “great software development talent shortage,” widespread digital transformation efforts, and a global pandemic.
Attracting and retaining talented developers is critical to your company’s success. At the same time, it is also incredibly challenging.
CTA’s 2020 Future of Work survey found that 75% of respondents say it’s difficult to find candidates with the right skills right now, and only 15% said they believe it will become easier within the next five years.
In this article, we’ll draw on years of experience in the software development industry and share some best practices for finding and retaining top tech talent.
We’ll also discuss the skills organizations should look for while hiring, how to develop internal talent, and what makes developers stick around (beyond $$$).
Audit your existing internal resources to pinpoint where you’re falling short when it comes to hitting your strategic goals.
The hard skills you’ll want to look for should reflect gaps in your team. For example, maybe you don’t have anyone with AR/VR experience or someone who understands the ins and outs of Go, Scala, or Kotlin.
What might enhance your customers’ experience? Consider the feedback you’re currently receiving–for example, are users requesting specific features? Faster service?
It’s worth mentioning that running an internal skills audit is a complex process, especially when you consider the variety in this space, and all potential combinations of technology, stacks, and experience.
Look beyond official credentials like whether the candidate graduated from college, has an advanced degree, or attended a specific school. Instead, look at candidates’ past work and ask them to take a skills assessment, which provides a linear understanding of a developer’s hard skills.
You might also consider moving away from the “typical interview questions” and test developer knowledge by asking situational questions instead.
Hard skills, like experience with the right technologies, programming languages, and methodologies, are essential for this highly technical role. That said, they don’t represent the entire picture of a great developer.
Soft skills are what determines whether a candidate is a good “cultural fit” and should be based on your organization’s values, communication style, workflows, and how your org chart is structured.
What characteristics enable workers to be successful in your work environment?
Here’s an example of the soft skills we might look for in a developer:
Curiosity (with grit), a love of learning, great communication skills, ability to work with a team, empathy, resilience–are all just as valuable, if not more–than finding that coding unicorn who can write perfect code in any language.
You’ll also want to define what makes it hard to work with certain employees.
Let’s be real: sometimes, the most talented engineers haven’t mastered critical soft skills like “being a team player” or communicating ideas.
These factors are all important to discuss with candidates (management roles, included) early in the interview process so that you avoid recruiting top tech talent that has trouble adapting to your culture and eventually leaves.
How to Recruit Top Tech Talent
Before we dig into things like company culture and skills development, let’s talk about compensation.
Attracting and retaining talent starts with offering competitive rates.
You’ll want to make sure that all employees are paid fairly based on market rates and that everyone is held to the same standards. For some companies this means, you’ll want to avoid offering more to new hires than veteran developers.
Check your records for the following disparities and make things right ASAP.
- Do new hires earn more than existing staff in the same role?
- Are benefits better for new hires than existing team members?
- Do new hires receive more perks than those that were hired before?
Money is important, but it’s not the only factor to consider when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re bringing in the right people.
Ask for recommendations. Tap your professional networks and existing employees for referrals. Typically, you’ll end up with higher quality applicants. Tovala co-founder & CTO, Bryan Wilcox, says that the company relies heavily on their network to find talent with qualities that are hard to screen for during interviews: kindness, integrity, growth mentality.
Make sure your reputation is in order. Today’s candidates are looking for more than a regular paycheck. They want a rewarding career that aligns with their lifestyle, values, and professional development goals. Focus on building a strong brand that reflects your company values to attract like-minded job hunters.
How do you support workers? Do you have a mentorship program, a learning stipend like Tinder, a rotational program like Stryker? Do you give back to the community? Stand up for disadvantaged groups? All of these things are selling points you can use for recruiting top tech talent.
Additionally, take a look at your social profiles, media mentions, and customer reviews. What do people think about your company? If you’ve made mistakes in the past, what can you do to fix them?
Finally, you might try amplifying your efforts by creating employee referral or brand ambassador programs that show off your culture from the employee point of view.
Start an internship program. Being a recent grad with no experience is tough, no matter what industry you’re in. However, breaking into the tech scene is uniquely intimidating when you’re first striking out on your own. This is due to its emphasis on continuous learning and the rapid pace of change.
Providing internships is a proactive recruiting strategy that allows you to build a pool of future talent. It sets you up to hire the best developers for long-term roles–or at least get them ready for real engineering work.
Even if you don’t end up hiring all of your interns on a permanent basis, building a great program can raise your profile among young developers. Over time, this effort can create a steady pipeline of talent.
Check out Asana’s internship program for inspiration. They’ve done a nice job of creating capacity by targeting ten different universities but only take on five engineers at a time. The selective process allows them to offer a valuable mentorship experience with a focus on nurturing the community.
Consider working with a recruiter. A professional recruiter (be it an in-house employee or an agency) can help you identify candidates with the skills that best align with your organization’s strategic goals and make sure you reach the right pool of applicants.
How to Retain Software Developers & Engineers
One of the pillars of 3Pillar’s culture comes from Daniel Pink’s Drive. Specifically, it leans on his theory on human motivation. The idea is intrinsic motivation consists of three key elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Assuming people are compensated fairly for their work, these three factors create the ideal conditions for productive work.
Here are some examples of how that concept might play out on the job.
Great leadership is crucial. Retaining top developers and engineers starts with making sure that you have a great leadership team. Poor leaders will cause employees to “quit the manager” instead of the company or the job. Over time, former employees will spread the word to their network.
While “bad leaders” come in all shapes and sizes, you can usually spot one based on the following three “failures:”
- They don’t stand up for their team.
- They miss potential disruptions early in the process.
- They fail to strategize effectively and respond to issues appropriately.
The leadership team is responsible for nurturing autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Here leaders create a safe, supportive space where workers are encouraged to take ownership of tasks, explore new skills, solve problems, and ask each other for help.
Create a culture that nurtures learning. Provide training and resources that allow employees to refine existing skills and master new ones.
Keep in mind, mastery takes more than reading books and watching videos–it should support those engineers who have achieved a certain level of maturity in a new area, providing an opportunity to teach others, or start working toward a specialized role.
Offer a career path. No one wants to stay in the same role forever. People want to move up, tackle new challenges, and change their surroundings.
That said, companies aren’t schools. Employers might consider offering opportunities for growth and specialization in a team setting. That way, companies can upskill multiple workers at a time and measure the direct impact of those initiatives against strategic goals.
Be open to remote work. Remote work is the current default due to the COVID situation. You may want to consider keeping this arrangement around for the long-haul.
According to a recent Robert Half survey, 74% of IT workers say that they’d like to keep working remotely after the pandemic. Workers appreciate the flexibility, while employers benefit from the ability to tap a larger talent pool. Note that the report also mentioned that businesses are still competing hard for critical tech roles.
It won’t be long before compensation packages include benefits for remote workers. If you want to know how to recruit top tech talent, get ahead of the pack ASAP by investing the money saved on office space into your employees.
Rewards & incentives. Prizes and compensation can be effective, but so is recognition for a job well done. Management 3.0 suggests making recognition both unexpected and centered around the celebration of learning–using a team exercise called Celebration Grids. Here, teams gather to reflect on lessons learned on the job–regardless of outcome–and engage in a positive discussion around wins, losses, and goals.