Guest author Sarah Nahm is CEO of Lever, a San Francisco, California-based startup that builds software to help businesses source, interview, and hire top talent.

If you haven’t gotten the memo, good engineers can work almost anywhere they want. If they’re actively looking to make a career move, they can rack up multiple offers in as little as a week.

Unless you’re a candidate’s dream company, you have to pull out all the stops to get them to join your team. But what does that mean in a talent market where a competitive salary and loads of perks are just table stakes for entry?

To find out, I asked three seasoned engineering leaders to share their best practices on hiring best-in-class engineers.

Make Hiring A Top Priority

It takes a collaborative effort between recruiters, the hiring manager, and the hiring manager’s team to find and close the best people. However, chances are slim that non-recruiters will make meaningful hiring contributions unless the need is established upfront.

“The number one thing you need to do [for a competitive engineering hiring process], is tell all of your engineering managers that hiring is a high priority,” says Lumosity’s VP of engineering, Gordon Kass.

Calling hiring a priority is one thing, but getting employees to take it seriously is another. Kass reviews recruiting metrics (number of resumes seen, number of phone interviews, number of onsites, etc.) with his team on a weekly basis so they have full visibility into the process, and includes the metrics in his hiring managers’ quarterly goals. By prioritizing hiring and actually evaluating managers for their hiring efforts, employees are incentivized to solve tough problems around recruiting and build a strong process.

Obsess Over Candidate Experience

Add candidate experience to the list of things you need to do just to be in the running for the best candidates. “You have to obsess over candidate experience to even be competitive,” says Art Gillespie, the director of engineering at Udacity.

Much like Kass expressly makes hiring a priority, Gillespie spells out expectations for his team, including the following: Don’t ever be late for an interview, do everything you can to put candidates at ease, and send a personalized thank you email to candidates who come on site. Gillespie also asks candidates for feedback at the end of the process to make sure he and his team are always improving.

Act Fast

Once an engineer is on the market, they might accept another company’s offer before you have the chance to extend one. “You need to turn things around really quickly, or else you do lose good people,” says Kass. From reaching out for the first phone screen to extending an offer, you should aim for efficiency in every part of the process—especially for engineers in hot demand.

To make sure his team acts quickly, Kass tells them to reach out to candidates no later than a day and a half after receiving the candidate’s pre-screened resume, and even requires engineers to make sure there’s free time on their calendars for interviews. One person’s schedule, he says, absolutely cannot be the blocker in arranging an interview.

Speed and personal communication are also crucial post-onsite steps in Lumosity’s process. Kass stresses the importance of prompt feedback and holds interviewer team meetings within a day of a candidate’s onsite. Speed is one of the most straightforward aspects of recruiting to get right and can make a big difference if you do.

Treat Candidates Like People

One of the most surefire ways to mess things up with an engineering candidate, according to Addepar’s director of product development, Derek Brown, is to treat them like an asset instead of a person.

If a recruiter reaches out to a candidate who only started a new job two months ago, for example, Derek says the recruiter needs to acknowledge that and approach the conversation differently than they would with someone who’s been at a job for a few years. He calls his approach “people-first” recruiting, and he infuses it into his entire process, including into how he positions the company, role, and work experience to candidates.

“If you can’t connect their day to day work to the problem you’re trying to solve and the people you’re trying to serve, you stand far less chance of getting candidates to join,” Brown says. At the core of his philosophy is the idea that you can’t get candidates excited about working at your company when you don’t take the time to treat them like a human and find out what makes them tick.

Best practices for recruiting engineers, it turns out, aren’t much different from recruiting best practices in general. Getting the best people takes common sense and a concerted effort. Get buy in from your team, create an efficient, professional process, and don’t forget to treat candidates like the unique individuals they are. 

Lead photo courtesy of Fitstar