TL;DR - if you’re serious about hiring techies you need a specific tech employer brand.
If candidates act like Consumers it’s time to recruit like marketeers.
It's time to use the tools that meet candidates where they're at.
We surveyed the Haystack community to analyse what sources of information they used to explore companies of interest and what they looked for in them when evaluating whether or not to apply.
We analysed the results and distilled them into how you can create a custom experience for software engineers that will transform your tech recruitment prospects.
Building a tech employer brand is about providing the insights techies need to have before making the leap to apply. If you don’t have a specific tech employer branding strategy you’re missing a trick.
We asked our community how they learn about a company when considering changing positions.
Get your own house in order
Although 58% of respondents sought out information on third party company review sites like Glassdoor or Blind, your website (69%) will be the first stop for the majority of job seekers interested in your open positions.
The great news is that this is entirely within your control.
Start with your company careers page
Make sure your website meets their expectations with a careers page that provides the information and personality they're looking for (more details on this below).
Look after your Glassdoor profile
Over half of job seekers will also visit Glassdoor (or similar) to check out your company reviews. It is free to build a basic company profile, outline your mission and respond to reviews. Take the time to respond to all reviews - positive and negative. It shows you take feedback seriously. Avoid sounding like a dumped 16-year-old, however unjust that one-star review from the guy who never showed up might be! Encourage your existing team members to leave reviews without pressuring them or flagrantly trying to cancel out the negative review that has just been left.
Just under half of people (47%) admitted to taking a look at Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to gain insights into potential employers. This is a great way to show off the mission, personality or diversity of your organisation. If you’re in need of some inspiration check out Girls Who Code on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/GirlsWhoCode) and HubSpot on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/hubspotlife/).
Media About Company
After speaking to personal network (34%), the fifth most utilised source was general media articles about your company (27%). Run your company name through Google News and see what comes up. If it’s nothing or an article talking about your seed round from five years ago it’s probably time to start drafting some press releases. New office openings, client wins, recruitment drives, funding rounds, CSR initiatives all qualify as newsworthy and show your business on an upward curve.
We then surveyed our community to find out what would most influence them when assessing whether to apply to one company or another. We removed factors such as salary, benefits and location and asked what three characteristics are most important to them.
The results showed there were definite factors specific to the tech community and significant differences between women and men.
Display an authentic company culture
#1 consideration for women, #2 for men
The general company trait that techies look for most is authenticity. Make sure your content delivers in terms of the information and personality they are looking for. That way it will resonate emotionally. The best way to do this is to think of your company as a person. What qualities do they have? How do they talk? What interests and motivates them? What do they find funny?
- Organise employee focus groups to build persona and voice
- Record employee testimonial videos that empower your team to share their experience unedited
- Consider a culture deck or cultural manifesto of core values and beliefs
- Be bold. Don’t create a watered down version of an existing brand
- Embrace your quirkiness and collective sense of humour
- Stand for something, not everything. Consumers want companies to weigh in on the big political and social issues **Button to blog here
Talk about the technologies, frameworks and languages they will work with
#1 consideration for men, #4 for women
Even if your brand is not the coolest or most sought after in the tech world, by promoting the virtue of your tech stack you can still stir the interest of techies.
- Talk about the projects that they will be working on. Just because your company is known as a supermarket, haulage firm or building society doesn’t mean that the tech you use isn’t cutting edge or the projects aren’t really interesting.
- Show off the product. Showcasing what they will be working on is a good way to pique their interest.
- Engineering practices are important here too, so if you’re proponents of pair programming, continuous integration or, our favourite, chaos engineering say so!
- It is also worth talking about the scale of your tech team. If you aren’t known as a tech business, but employ 25 engineers, that will be attractive to other engineers.
Show the personal benefits of flexible working
#2 consideration for women, #4 for men
This is a common theme found on most company careers pages, but so many fall short of backing up their claims. Highlight what the team is up to out of the office in the time that flexible working affords them - and make it personal.
- Feature what people working from home are doing with the time previously spent commuting. If the time is being used to exercise or meditate or means getting the chance to walk the kids to school a few days a week that’s something most people can relate to.
- Ask if people are willing to share, as part of your recruitment strategy, what flexibility enables them to enjoy in life. Maybe they can spend more time volunteering or personally caring for an elderly relative. Perhaps it’s learning a new skill or picking up a hobby they’d neglected when grinding into the office every day.
Opportunities for professional development
#3 consideration for women and men
Tech talent has an appetite for fast moving personal development. They’re often self-taught and motivated by constant learning and development. Engineers are looking for positions that will help them learn and grow. Tech changes so quickly, that good devs know that if you want to progress it’s imperative that you put the time into learning. Good companies know that they need to support their engineers with this endeavour.
- Show prospective employees the range of professional development opportunities available to them, whether that be networking events, educational opportunities, L&D budget and/or days or mentorship programmes. Ask employees to share how they’ve used the opportunities available to them to grow personally and professionally.
- Showcase career and growth opportunities. Authentic employee video testimonials with individuals talking about the position they started in and the position they are in now are a personal and powerful way to convey this.
- Highlight company culture that would interest engineers, such as hackathons, idea pitches and building algorithms.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)
#4 consideration for women, #8 for men
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DEI stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. Diversity is the presence of differences within a given setting. Equity is the process of ensuring that processes and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual. Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace.
A lot of companies want to increase and improve their levels of diversity and there are sound moral and business reasons for doing so, but fewer talk about how they do this, which is where equity and inclusion come in.
- Talk about how you have adapted your recruitment processes to ensure a level playing field so the barriers to entry are the same for each and every individual.
- For example, women tend only to apply to jobs where they match 100% of the requirements, whereas men will apply at a 60% threshold (https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified so talk about how you have adjusted your job descriptions so everyone has an equal chance to apply or to encourage applications from people who can do the job but can’t necessarily tick every box.
- Inclusion is what maintains diversity. Without it people will leave. Individuals should be able to bring their whole selves to work without having to shield part of their identity. Celebrating your inclusivity (and diversity) is a must.
#5 consideration for men, #8 for women
Make sure you’re not confusing remote working with flexible or hybrid working. You don’t offer remote work if your employees need to spend one or two days a week in the office. If you do offer genuine remote work options that’s great, but saying you offer it is only part of the story. The key to the success of a dispersed team lies in the onboarding, regular and effective communication and nurturing a shared sense of purpose.
- Talk about how you onboard remote employees and integrate them into the company culture. If you’ve created a modern intranet that serves as an online headquarters explain how this will help them stay in the know and get to know their colleagues. A bit like a virtual watercooler.
- New hires will arrive with a lot of questions, so make sure you let them know you have the systems in place to be able answer them. Talk about your use of real-time collaboration apps like Slack, for quick and informal communication, and Asana to ensure everyone knows where various deliverables are.
- If you have established virtual drop-in hours or scheduled time to blow off steam it shows potential remote workers that you are serious about bonding the team and keeping both productivity and morale high.
A sense of mission
#6 consideration for women and men
Start With Why. Nobody wants to work for a company that exists purely for shareholder gain. What inspires people is a sense of purpose. They want to feel that their work has meaning.
- It’s not difficult to come up with your ‘why’ if you’re NASA or a cancer charity. It can be more tricky for the rest of us, but employee focus groups asking individuals to think about why they come to work (other than to keep a roof over their heads) is a great starting point.
- Once you’ve come up with it paste it at the top of your careers page. Just by reading one sentence prospective employees will have a clear idea of whether or not they will be a good fit for your company.
Work with great people
#7 consideration for women and men
The best perk you can provide is to surround new employees with an outstanding existing team. It is not enough just to claim expertise or expect people to know you only recruit the best, you need to showcase it as well.
- Get senior leadership involved. Executives say they appreciate those on the front lines, but prove it. Ask your CTO or Lead Dev to take an active role in recruiting the best talent on your careers page by showing that they are hands-on and passionate about finding and nurturing the best talent.
- Thought leadership is also evidence of a team passionate about what they do, so providing easy access to your engineering blog will display an existing team on top of its game. Let them talk in detail about specific projects and problems they’ve solved, providing candidates with detailed insight into what a day in the life might look like in your company.
- Use that team member with a bit of a Twitter following or who is a big contributor to open source or who is riding high in Stack Overflow’s reputation league to convince prospective joiners that they’ll be in good company.
In the second part of our survey, we quizzed our community to find out what was most problematic about their experience of the application and interview process.
These were the common themes.
Lack of salary information on job ads - 73%
Lack of communication or feedback - 62%
Slow - 55%
Difficult to apply - 52%
Unhelpful job descriptions - 50%
Irrelevant Tests - 38%
Too one-sided - 27%
Poor mobile experience - 22%
Inflexible - 15%
Below, we talk about each of these in a little more detail, particularly around quoting salaries and code tests, which stirred up a lot of feedback other than just the headline figures.
If you take only one thing away from this report (TL;DR) it would be this: Make your application and interview processes more human. Nobody likes to feel they are being pushed through a talent pipeline.
Post Salary Information
A whopping 73% of respondents said that they found a lack of salary information on initial job ads a turn-off. So, unless there is a very good reason not to, you should quote salary information on open jobs. Why? Well, three main reasons.
- They get more applications
Vacancies with salary information on Haystack get 55% more views and 65% more applications than those without. It is one of the first things that professionals look for and is a motivating factor that can’t be ignored.
- It shows transparency
Transparency across all company policy, behaviour and performance is becoming of increasing performance in any business. One way to ensure that your organisation is on a committed path to equality and fairness is to disclose salary ranges. It is a very powerful action that illustrates how your company isn’t interested in mystique.
- Millennials demand it
In Jennifer Deal’s hugely successful book ‘What Millennials Want From Work’, she found that:
“Millennials are most likely to discuss their compensation with their parents (71%) or their friends (47%). In comparison, older staff are substantially less likely to discuss their compensation with co-workers (19%), friends (24%) or parents (31%).”
Openness about finance is a deep-rooted trend among this cohort. And considering the fact that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, it is perhaps worth thinking about this in terms of how to attract them. If salary ranges appeal to this generation then it makes sense to include them in job postings.
More than six in ten (62%) of people surveyed cited a lack of communication after applying as a negative of the application process. Tech talent are used to using technology to communicate instantly through platforms like Slack. Is your HR or Talent Acquisition team readily available for real time communication with both new talent and existing employees? It’s a real bonus if you are, as it positions the brand as forward thinking and tech savvy in the mind of the people you want to engage with. It is also good practice and keeps potential new talent engaged. Nobody likes being ghosted right?
Snooze you lose
According to our community, the average techie will lose interest in your process after two weeks. Just over half of our community (55%) cited pace as a frustration during interview processes. Given tech professionals are in demand it is likely that they are involved in multiple processes at once. It could be that you are losing potential employees because your process is clunky.
- Make recruitment a priority. Get all decision makers to move interviewing candidates to the top of their to-do list. It isn’t one person’s responsibility, it’s a team effort. Nobody should be too busy to make space in their diary to meet potential recruits.
- Streamline the number of steps in your process as much as possible (without compromising on rigour), see if steps can be merged and keep candidates engaged between stages. When you’re ready to offer, move quick!
- Building your talent pipeline is the long-term solution. Build relationships with talent before a role goes live. By networking and building relationships with techies, every time you fill a role you will have a vast pool of potential candidates - hiring becomes easier, quicker and less expensive.
Shorten and remove hurdles from your application process
There are few things more frustrating than seeing a job you could potentially be interested in, hitting the “Apply Now” button and then spending the next 45 minutes filling out a standard form (that doesn’t work properly on your phone). 52% of our respondents complained that the process of applying was painful. Asking a potential recruit to fill out that form, then upload the same info as a CV, then write a cover letter, then undergo a code test - it’s a lot. Slimming those requirements down as much as possible, or spacing them out with great communication after each step, goes a long way to improving this experience.
- Warm Lead Generation Mindset
Sounds salesy right? But consider this. If you have a talent team their job is to speak to potential talent for your business. Often they will reach out to people with very little information and not receive a response, which is not a good use of their time. If you made your application process less cumbersome you would actually get more information than that (although maybe not a CV) AND you would know they were actually interested in your business. You would generate more interest from interested people. Or warm leads.
- Insert a short, 10-15 minute screening call with potential candidates in to your process
Make the initial application or expression of interest as easy as possible, especially on mobile, but don’t commit to meeting each other just yet. Ask yourself: how much information do I need to decide if this person is worth having a 10-15 minute phone call with? Taking a more liberal view will increase the numbers of people interested in your business. Sure, you’ll end up speaking to some people who aren’t suitable, but that’s got to be better than missing out on the rest altogether.
Sort your job ads out
First things first. There is a huge difference between a job ad and a job description. If you are copy and pasting it’s a mistake.
Only 50% of our surveyed community found jobs ads useful at all and there were four common complaints.
- The language is wrong in a way that the job details don't make any sense. If you are not a tech person just run it by someone in your tech team.
- Conflicting messages in the description and criteria, for example an entry level position that also requires a year of commercial experience.
- Lots of words, but no actual information, especially when it comes to salary information or the specific tasks involved.
- The language doesn’t hint at equity. When talking culture don’t just talk about your beer fridge, go-kart days and United tickets.
Relevant Code Tests
There is a general acknowledgement that code tests are a legitimate part of the interview process for software engineers. It is difficult to assess and hire developers without actually getting them to write code. Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow and Co-founder of Trello, provided further backing of this perspective with a simple analogy.
“Would you hire a magician without asking them to show you some magic tricks? Of course not. Would you hire a caterer for your wedding without tasting their food? I doubt it. Do whatever you want during interviews, but make the candidate write some code,” writes Spolsky.
So, why do 38% of our respondents dislike code tests and how can you change their perspective? Irritation at code tests seemed to come from three main areas.
- They only test algorithmic skills
Look for coding assessments based on unit tests - developers write unit tests on a daily basis. Also look for assessments that use language specific frameworks - preferably the same languages that candidates would be writing code in if hired at your company. Testing for the nuances of each specific language helps to better surface candidates who will deliver clean code on-the-job.
- They’re time consuming
This objection is far easier to overcome. From the perspective of the hiring company, all it takes is a little self-awareness and empathy for the applicant - make it a point to be mindful and respectful of each candidates’ time.
- They’re too generic
Software engineers complain that coding tests don’t reflect the actual experience of writing code as you would on-the-job. For example, many coding tests require developers to build something from scratch, whereas, in the real world, on-the-job experience would instead dictate that you familiarise yourself with an existing code base and learn to contribute to it effectively. There are countless generic coding tests out there because they are easy to create. Instead, look for coding assessment tools that give you access to a database of pre-built assessments in a wide variety of languages, scopes, and challenge types that are as similar to your own code base as possible.
Don’t ask for a lot, but give a little
Just over a third of respondents (36%) mentioned that they felt that the initial part of the application process was one-sided in the sense that they provided a lot of information in exchange for very little. In addition to providing all of the insight they need to apply, explain your interview process on your careers page. Making the process more transparent makes you more trustworthy. It lets people know what to expect. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Google (https://careers.google.com/how-we-hire/) and Nike (https://jobs.nike.com/how-we-hire).
Insert a short, ten minute screening call with potential candidates
Optimise for mobile
Around 78% of millennials and 73% of Gen Xers search for jobs via mobile. Even 57% of Baby Boomers are searching with their mobile device. This is not jobseeker behaviour, it has become human behaviour to use mobile devices for all kinds of tasks. 22% of people surveyed complained of poor mobile experience when searching or applying for a role. You can no longer get away with a careers page that is not optimised for a mobile device. Rather than zoom and squint and constantly adjust the screen, potential job applicants will just X out and potentially never return.
- Google penalises domains that aren’t mobile friendly
Since 2015, mobile friendliness has played a much greater role in mobile search results. Sites that don’t play well with mobile technology will suffer a significant hit to their rankings. Given that mobile searches make up more than half of the searches on Google.com, you are at a competitive disadvantage if your website is not mobile friendly. Additionally, visitors are five times more likely to leave if navigating your mobile site is painful (https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/7323900?hl=en).
- It goes deeper than a responsive design
Lots of times when companies think about mobile-friendliness, they don’t think beyond a responsive design. But a good mobile experience goes deeper than that. For example, in addition to showing up well on mobile and tablet devices, a mobile-friendly page’s content also renders well on a small screen. This means you should:
- Write short paragraphs
- Maintain short sentences
- Use a lot of white space
- Use light images
- Use shorter videos
Also, try (or get your CEO to try) applying for one of your jobs on mobile and rank the process out of ten!
It is normal for most people to have to give one week notice for annual leave, so making candidates attend an interview at 10am on a Wednesday morning both delays your own process and makes life difficult for your prospective recruit. 15% of respondents complained about companies’ inflexibility in scheduling interviews. Consider offering interview slots on a Saturday morning or in the evening. If travel is an issue, consider meeting them halfway or taking advantage of video interviewing software. This shows your commitment to interviewing being a two-way street and makes candidates feel loved.