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May 10, 2019

Hiring Developers? 5 Top Tips to Recruit and Retain a Good Team

"Rather than shaming your team when a bug or defect is found, establish a system where developers chip in a buck or two to a common fund (we call ours a 'bug jar')"

By CBR Staff Writer

Hiring developers can be as frustrating as pinpointing a post-release software bug and as time-consuming as writing a requirement specification document, writes Aaron Horst, Director of Engineering, iHire

As technology disrupts virtually every market, it’s not surprising that software developer jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 24 percent through 2026 – much faster than average. But the tight labor market and widening skills gap are making filling these positions even more challenging. In fact, 65 percent of technology leaders believe a lack of talent is holding back their organization.

hiring developers

Aaron Horst, Director of Engineering, iHire

However, acquiring talent is only one part of the equation. The other part is retaining that talent. With more than 250,000 developer jobs emerging within the next few years, devs will have more options to pursue opportunities in seemingly greener pastures.

In such situations, hiring a replacement is often more taxing than hiring for a new role. Employers must unexpectedly spend time and resources quickly finding and onboarding a new team member without losing sight of current projects and priorities.

Whether you’re actively hiring, experiencing high staff turnover or simply trying to stay a step ahead of the talent shortage, your recruitment and retention strategies may be due for an upgrade. Let’s start by exploring five tactics for recruiting qualified software developers:

1: Diversify your resources. Where are you advertising your job openings and are those resources most effective in bringing in the right talent? With so many options – general and industry-specific job boards, social media channels, online communities and even your own website – now is a good time to expand your toolbox. If you’re using technology-specific job boards, don’t get discouraged if you’re not receiving a large volume of applicants. You should find that those you do receive are more likely to be qualified, which means you’ll spend less time digging through irrelevant applicants.

2: Branch out into the community. You don’t necessarily need a job board, social media channel or headhunter to find your unicorn. Some of the very best candidates come from word of mouth. Consider starting a referral program – your current developers likely have a few connections they can share with you. Or, join a local tech networking group and expand your professional circle. And, if you’re looking for interns or junior devs, a nearby college or university is a great place to begin your search.

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3: Document the process. Create a plan for evaluating applicants that hit the top of the recruiting “funnel” – the point at which they enter your talent pool. Determine how you’ll assess candidates at each phase of the recruiting process, from the interview to onboarding. For instance, which qualifications are nonnegotiable “must-haves”? How many references will you check before making an offer? Documenting and following these steps will help maximize your time and bring the right candidate on board faster.

4: Validate resume claims. One of the biggest pitfalls in hiring developers (especially when you’re in a rush) is improperly validating resume claims about experience and qualifications. During the interview, your candidates should participate in assessments and scenario-based peer reviews. Think about past successes and failures your development team has encountered and run your candidates through those situations. Learning how they’d respond in the same situation can help determine if they align with your team, your workflows and your tech stacks.

5: Consider culture: Adding headcount can naturally cause a cultural ripple. Before making a hiring decision, introduce your existing team to the candidate. Ideally, the candidate should meet briefly with the development team they will work with daily before they are hired. This allows for feedback from current employees and jump starts the acceptance process for expanding the team, thus leading to a smoother onboarding process. 

Tips for Retaining Top Tech Talent

Now onto the fun part: how to retain developers. Regardless of your industry, employee retention is all about creating a rewarding, collaborative and flexible environment that keeps staff engaged and committed. You want to offer something that employees cannot find elsewhere – a company culture that makes them want to come to work and give their best every day. Here are four ideas to help you get started:

1: Go into the trenches: It is always motivating when managers step in, roll up their sleeves and work to remove barriers right alongside their teams. Sometimes this involves doing the dirty work that developers often do not enjoy (talking with partners, vendors or other business units), and other times it involves writing code. Encourage senior leaders to step up and in – leading by example goes a long way.

2: Encourage a healthy work-life balance: It is not uncommon for highly motivated developers to become so engulfed in their work that they avoid taking regular personal time off. This leads to burnout, which is a precursor to turnover. When fatigue starts to set in, encourage a couple days off to hit the reset button so team velocity and quality remains at a high standard.

3: Prioritize what’s most interesting: Allow your team to work in areas they find most interesting. Find what each developer enjoys working on (features, technologies, front-end, back-end, etc.) and allow them to prioritize that work. This also helps form mastery and a sense of ownership, which in turn creates stronger teams who are more likely to stick with your organization.

4: Help devs learn from mistakes: We are all human and mistakes are inevitable regardless of your staff’s experience. Rather than shaming your team when a bug or defect is found, establish a system where developers chip in a buck or two to a common fund (we call ours a “bug jar”). Use that fund to treat everyone to a happy hour or another fun activity. This gives your developers something to look forward to, while reminding everyone of their more positive accomplishments and allowing them to celebrate what they have learned.

As you implement these practices, remember that people are the most important part of your organization. Technologies will come and go, and skill sets will evolve, but the people behind them will never become obsolete. By refining your hiring strategies and making extra efforts to retain your best talent, you’ll build a solid team of developers that can grow with your company well into the future.

Read this: Diversity in Security: A Collaborative Effort

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