5 Ways the Best Engineering Leaders Get More Qualified Engineering Candidates to Onsite Interviews
Hiring talented software engineers is hard, and it’s getting harder.
Our data shows that it takes an average of 86 candidates and 15 onsite interviews to get one accepted offer for a mid-level software engineering role.
If you have two additional engineers (plus yourself) in a two-hour in-person interview, that means you’re committing a minimum of 90 hours to hiring one role. Put another way, every time you repeat this hiring process, it’s like one of your teammates is going on a two week vacation. If you’re hiring six engineers, it’s the equivalent of a 3-month sabbatical.
That’s incredibly tough, but the best engineering managers in the country are getting smarter about their hiring process so they can save time, hire faster, and win the talent war in their market.
Every hiring market in the United States is different, but there’s one commonality we’ve seen from San Francisco to Des Moines. The outliers in the market are able to perform multiple orders of magnitude better than the average firm.
We studied these outliers to find what sets them apart, and we’ve found five things that they do differently than the average hiring manager…
(Note: Click on the hyperlink to skip to each section.)
We didn’t stop at what makes them different, we also explored what you can do to beat them at their own game. In this post, we’ll break down each of these factors to success and show you how you can take these lessons from the United States’ best engineering leaders and give yourself an unfair advantage in your market.
1. Taking Concrete Steps To Improve Your Employer Brand
“Employer brand” is a fluffy term, and I don’t want to waste your time with fluff.
Instead, I want to focus on specific and maybe counter-intuitive actions you can take that will actually have a real, measurable impact on the number of talented software engineers that want to join your team.
Here are a few things that market leaders are doing differently that can make an order of magnitude difference in attracting great engineering candidates.
Know thyself and lean into one specific strength of your team
A great brand is more like pruning a tree than painting a picture. You want to strip away extraneous details and only focus on the thing that makes you different. Every opportunity talks about being fast-paced, exciting, and innovative with competitive pay and benefits. If that’s your sales pitch, you are going to lose the best candidates.
Instead, the outliers in your market are likely focusing on something entirely different… What do we have that no one else does?
For some, this is an ultra-modern tech stack, like building on AWS Lambda. For others, it may be purpose-driven work or generous vacation policy. The more specific you can be with this differentiator, the more successful you will be. One of the most effective examples we’ve seen of this principle in action is one of the least intuitive… Daily nature walks.
The organization in this situation was older and operating on a clunky tech stack (specifically: T-SQL that relied heavily on stored procedures), making it hard to sell the job to software engineers. Despite their disadvantages, they were able to attract some of the most talented engineers in their market, even for hard-to-fill specialty senior roles.
The thing that moved the needle for them wasn’t talking about compensation or benefits—although those are the most important factors when moving an applicant from getting an offer to accepting an offer—it was promoting the fact that their engineering team did daily nature walks around their scenic campus. If you’re trying to find ways to stand out in a competitive hiring market, find your “nature walk” and make sure it’s discussed everywhere… Your careers page, job descriptions, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
Show off your engineering culture
All employees, regardless of discipline, want to go where they are valued. For engineers, this consideration isn’t always monetary. Plenty of organizations are willing to pay them what they’re worth, but not every organization is willing to treat them like an integral part of their business.
This is evident on a lot of company culture pages, which are filled with smiling employees from Sales, Marketing, and HR, while the Engineering team is ignored. Many organizations have a “culture” that goes stated on their website and an “engineering culture” which goes unstated and unpromoted. The market leaders aren’t making this mistake. Instead, they’re putting engineering culture front-and-center and promoting the work that their team is doing.
You can follow Etsy’s lead and build out a custom blog that lives on its own domain, or you could simply host a Medium blog, like Square. One of our clients was able to use their unique engineering culture to pitch a local tech publication to write regular bylines.
This type of work takes months of deliberate work, but it pays off in the long-run.
Differentiate your job post
I know what you may be thinking right now…
“This all sounds great. I’ll just hop in a time machine, go back six months, and implement these changes so that I can attract candidates for the role I need to fill this month.”
Never fear, we’ve got you covered. If you have a job to fill today, there are steps you can take to brand yourself more effectively in your job listing as well. Based on internal client data, we’ve seen that the most effective job postings focus on two high-leverage activities and put everything else on the backburner.
Crafting an attention-grabbing headline: When candidates see our job post, we want them to think "that sounds cool." To the most talented developers, Ninjas and Gurus aren't cool. We have seen the most success in posting real job titles, with a prefix or suffix that describes the impact and/or mission of this role. Imagine being a talented engineer, wading through a pool of "Senior .NET Software Engineer" jobs when you see one of the following:
Disease-Fighting Software Engineer
Martech-Disrupting .NET Software Engineer
Agile-Minded Senior Software Engineer
Hooking the applicant immediately after they click: Once we've gotten them to click on our job posting, we have 2-3 sentences to hook them. We should spend the majority of our time working on making this hook compelling. Here, we're looking to sell the value of this role to the candidate. We can talk about why the mission of the organization is meaningful, why the working conditions are exceptional, or how this opportunity could advance their career.
This hook can follow a simple, proven formula: Identify a problem, position this role as contributing to the solution, and describe the urgency of acting now. For Example:
Have you ever found yourself or a loved one waiting hours in a hospital Emergency Room to get care? Our team is looking for full stack engineers who can help redefine how healthcare systems work. We're currently going through massive growth, and you can help us scale our solution to impact millions of healthcare consumers this year alone.
By simply making these changes to your job posting, you can start out-performing your competition on job boards and social media within the next week. Which leads us to the second thing that elite hiring managers do differently than their average counterparts.
2. Hacking Job Boards to Attract More Inbound Talent
Top hiring managers have learned something about job boards that others sometimes choose to ignore. Regardless of what role you’re hiring for, job boards have a material impact on your ability to attract and retain the best software engineers for your team.
Even if you’re only hiring for super-senior roles, or looking for highly-specialized talent, if you’re not focusing on job board optimization, you may be getting out-performed by other companies in your market.
For example, if you’re not actively soliciting Glassdoor or Indeed reviews from both your current team and applicants, you’re likely to take a hit from potential candidates who haven’t even applied yet. Almost half of all respondents use Glassdoor at some point in their job search and fresh reviews (less than 6 months old) have the greatest impact on perceptions of your company.
This goes far deeper than soliciting reviews, however. The stronger your inbound candidate pipeline, the easier it is to find elite-level candidates in your market. Here are a few of the tactics we’ve seen the best-in-class hiring managers implement to attract more candidates from job boards.
Job Board Optimization
Optimizing your presence on job boards is pretty straightforward. You need to:
Establish listings on as many free job boards as possible, followed by remote-specific job boards and paid job boards
Solicit reviews to establish yourself as a high quality employer
Post multiple job titles per role at varying seniority levels and with different keywords
Establish a cadence for “bumping” job posts to keep them fresh
Here is a simple distribution checklist that can help ensure that we've maximized our job post's reach:
Maximizing Use of Free Job Boards: To maximize your coverage with free boards, you'll want to use Indeed, which isn't indexed by Google Jobs, but which has a high volume of candidates. Once your post is set up on Indeed, you should choose one of the following job boards that is indexed by Google Jobs and post there as well:
Job Boards for Remote Jobs (Or Doing Relocation): If you're hiring a remote position, or you're willing to pay for relocation, you can post on the following channels to increase your candidate volume:
Free job boards in surrounding metros
Free job boards in major metros
HackerNews' monthly hiring thread
Using Paid Job Boards Effectively: Paid job boards are another common vehicle for expanding the reach of your job. We recommend posting to these after you've exhausted the free options you're interested in. Some good resources include:
RemoteOK (For remote roles)
Using "Post Bumping" When Applicable
Once we've posted on both free and paid boards, we can keep our posts top-of-mind by trying to "post bump" when relevant. By taking down our listing and placing a new listing, we can keep our position on the top of search results.
This is most relevant for organizations that are looking to cast a wide net and can make substantial changes to the job before re-posting the description. For example, maybe week one, you post a Senior Engineering role. Week three you remove that position and post a Mid-Level Engineering role.
3. Recruit Unto Others as You Would Have Others Recruit Unto You
If you execute on steps one and two, your inbound candidate flow should be bringing in a high volume of good applicants, but sometimes outbound recruiting is necessary. If you have a highly-specialized role that you’re hiring for, or if you need a Senior-level candidate because even the best mid-level engineer in the world wouldn’t work for your specific needs, you may need to work your network and do some recruiting.
So, what do the best hiring managers in software do differently when recruiting engineers for their team?
Put simply, they recruit them how they would want to be recruited.
By making a few changes to their recruiting and interviewing process, many engineering leaders have seen outsized results in increased candidate volume and offer acceptance rate. Austin Broyles, the Director of Engineering at Primer AI said in an interview, “Our onsite experience was actually kind of brutal. (Many candidates) didn’t have a comfortable experience, so we weren’t presenting the company in the best light. We were able to nearly double our close rates by changing [our onsite experience].”
If you need to double the number of quality candidates you can meet with via outbound recruiting, here are three easy steps you can take today that leading hiring managers in your market are likely doing:
Host a Referral Jam with Individual Team Members and Friends: The easiest way to get a candidate interested is via someone they already know. Getting these referrals isn’t hard, but it is work, and it requires a deliberate ask of people within your network. If you’re interested in generating more referrals from your network, offer to buy lunch for one of your friends if they’re willing to go through their LinkedIn with you and identify a couple engineers worth reaching out to.
Network Within Your Current Company: It’s often repeated that a disproportionate number of hires are made via internal referrals, but these referrals don’t have to come from the Engineering team. According to LinkedIn, 56% of software engineers have moved to companies where they knew at least one employee. Comparatively, only 29% knew at least one engineer. This means that half of those referrals are coming from outside of the department. If you’re only soliciting referrals from your team, you’re missing out on half of the potential candidates. Try doing a referral jam with people from Sales, Marketing, or HR. You never know who they might know.
Ask for Advice: One of my favorite axioms in business is “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.” Some of the most successful hiring managers don’t even ask top candidates if they’re interested in a role. Instead, they send the job description over and ask for feedback. They might say something like “We’re trying to find someone to help us solve [X] problem, and I think that you fit the archetype of a perfect candidate. I’d love to get your feedback on this job description. If you think it misses the mark, we probably have to make some improvements to attract the right candidate.”
4. Building a Candidate Screening Process Based on Weights, Not Filters
So far, we’ve learned what the world’s best engineering managers are doing differently to attract great candidates through inbound and outbound recruiting, but we haven’t gotten anyone onsite yet.
This can be just as big of an issue as a lack of applicants, especially if you don’t have a rock-solid candidate screening process put in place.
Average hiring managers filter candidates. For example, let’s say 100 people apply for a role. The average hiring manager might:
Eliminate 25/100 because they don’t have a CS degree
Eliminate 25/100 because they don’t have enough years of experience
Eliminate 10/100 because they saw typos in their resume
Eliminate 15/100 because they didn’t link to a Github profile
This quarters the potential pool of applicants before the hiring manager has any real idea whether they can do the job or not. They’re choosing filters that they believe may be indicative of future performance, and maybe they’re right!
But how confident do you need to be in those filters to eliminate 75 percent of your applicant pool from the jump? How about 90 to 95 percent?
The best hiring managers we’ve talked to build their screening process around building a positive case for a candidate instead of a negative case against a candidate, and they apply a weight to each factor that is proportional to their confidence that the factor will predict future job performance.
As Charity Majors, the CTO of Honeycomb, said in an interview, “It’s about hiring for strengths, not for a lack of weaknesses.”
Instead of leading with a resume screen, for example, leading hiring managers are putting technical screens earlier in the process. By leading with a work simulation that looks and feels like real work, instead of an arbitrary coding challenge, they can weigh all 100 applicants based on factors like:
Technical ability, broken down by specific coding language
They can then filter candidates out based on a weighted score of several different factors. This has a few practical implications:
They hire faster, because they have higher confidence in candidates that make it to a phone screen.
They make better hires because they’re judging candidates based on factors that are more predictive of on-the-job success.
They win Moneyball… Great candidates that other companies overlook make it through their process.
As Greg Brockman, the CTO of Stripe has said, “It's difficult to tell the difference between someone who is good and someone who is great. Your interview should be focused on distinguishing the great from the good.”
The best hiring managers in your market have likely built a screening process that is great at making that distinction. If you’re not seeking out a world-class screening solution to counter their process, you could struggle to compete.
Shameless Plug: Woven has built a technical screening solution that is being heralded by both hiring managers and candidates as best-in-class. If you want to out-hire your competition without having to out-work them in the process, we can automate this entire process for you. Request a demo or email me personally to learn more.
5. Moving Quickly… Really Quickly
According to our internal data, many top software engineers are on the job market for 10 business days before they accept a job.
That means, if they applied to your role on their first day of looking for a new role, you would have two weeks to make an offer simply to contend for that talent. That’s not to win, that’s simply to compete.
The average hiring manager is screening resumes once or twice per week, and may take a week to schedule a phone interview with a potential applicant. Then, they wonder why the best talent accepts another offer before their interview process is complete.
The secret isn’t to shorten your interview cycle, it’s to get better at moving through your process quickly. This requires a combination of information-dense interview stages and systemic follow-up.
Here are some best-in-class benchmarks you need to aim for if you want to win top talent in your market:
Within 24 hours of application: Follow up with a candidate and get them to the next stage of your interview process.
Within one week of application: Schedule an onsite interview with top candidates.
Within ten business days of application: Be prepared to make an offer to your top candidate.
Another Shameless Plug: Following up with every candidate in your pipeline within 24 hours is really hard, which is why Woven has automated that process. Now, you can be best-in-class at candidate follow up without allocating any time to screen resumes. Again, request a demo or email me personally to learn more.
At Woven, our team works with some of the fastest growing software teams in the United States to help them grow their engineering teams. We’ve seen the same trend time and time again, whether you’re in the largest market in the country or the smallest… There are definite winners in every hiring market
Sometimes they’re bigger than you. Sometimes they’re sexier than you. Sometimes they’re just flat-out better at running their hiring playbook than you. Regardless of your specific circumstances, they playbook to beat them is the same.
You have to give yourself an unfair advantage. You have to get at least one order of magnitude better than them at one of the following:
Attracting world-class engineers
Screening engineering candidates quickly, efficiently, and accurately
If you want to learn more about how Woven is helping scrappy startups and scale-ups defeat Goliath tech companies across the country, request a demo to talk to our team.