Trying to Recruit Top Technical Talent? Watch Out for These Motivators

July 2, 2013

If you’re hiring technical talent, especially software engineers in the Bay Area, then you probably have noticed that it’s, shall we say, a bit challenging. Lots of companies hiring. Lots of companies looking for the same skill set.

There’s a feature on Zillow called a Make Me Move Price that reminded me of what it must feel like to be so highly recruited. The feature allows you to let others know what price you’d be willing to sell your home for, without actually putting it on the market. Think of it as an “I’m not trying to sell my home, but if you paid me xxx, I’d be willing to sell” type of thing.

This concept is extremely relatable when speaking with technical candidates, with one major exception. Make Me Move from my home is about money, Make Me Move from my job very often is not.

Developer Zone at Dreamforce'12

For engineers in the Bay Area, where the competition for their talent is as high as many of us can remember, a person’s motivation often has nothing to do with money. Frequently a software engineer’s motivation falls into one of three categories.

1. Technology:

What are the technical challenges your company has to work on? What are the difficult, real-world problems that the engineers are trying to solve? What impact does engineering team’s work have on the business? Or, put another way, does the engineering team’s work matter to the company? Virtually, every company claims to offer cutting-edge technology, highly-scalable applications, and an appreciation for open source technology. What does this actually mean?

Engineers are drawn to companies that have specific problems they are trying to solve. If a candidate is interested in a rapidly growing environment, have them meet with the Ops Director in charge of scaling the environment 10x. If the candidate is interested in Hadoop, have them grab coffee with the Hadoop Subject Matter Expert at your company. If working on an impactful product is what the candidate is passionate about, set up a meeting with a few users/customers so the candidate can see and hear first-hand the impact your company’s product is having on people.

2. Business Vision:

What impact does your company have on the world? People want more than just a stable job and a steady paycheck. This is especially true when they have a skill set that’s in high demand. An engineer can do great work, but if the company isn’t doing well, it won’t matter. Does your company offer engineers the opportunity to do long-lasting, impactful, and meaningful work? Passionate people desire the chance to help shape an organization. If they work hard, they want to know that the contribution they make will matter. Taking the time explain your company’s business model can go a long way. Does the candidate understand, identify with, and agree with the vision of your company? If the candidate doesn’t understand the short and long-term business strategy, it’s going to be difficult for them to truly be passionate about the business.

3. Environment:

What’s the culture like at your office? More specifically, what’s the engineering culture like? Do employees have a strong relationship with their boss? With their peers? For some, perhaps many, who you’re working with is as important as what you’re working on. If you’re a tennis player and you want to improve your game, play against someone better than you. If you’re an engineer and you want to get better, work with people that have expertise that you don’t have.

Do employees relate to the executives/management and agree with the direction of their company? Does it feel like “their” company, or does it feel like someone else’s? The average professional in the Bay Area spends nearly 50 hours/week in the office.* Are you happy during those 50 hours? Or, put more simply, is going to work fun? During the final interview, think about setting up lunch or dinner with the team members the candidate would be working most closely with. Rather than saying you have a great culture, show them you do.

If you want to make someone move jobs, you need to understand their motivations, and be able to explain how the opportunity meets those motivations. Listen first, act second. There’s a price that will make someone leave their company and join yours…but often times that price isn’t monetary.

*These statistics are from a survey that I made up…but hey, we all spend a lot of time at work.

** Photo by Jakub Mosur (Salesforce)