Developer

Beyond the want ads: Creative ways to hire developers

With the competition for IT workers—especially developers—being so fierce, you have to find creative ways to recruit your talent. Tim Landgrave suggests several unorthodox methods that just might work for you.


Recruiting great software developers is never easy. With all the job opportunities available to them today, the really good ones get picked up quickly.

This shortage of development talent means that you have to be willing to use non-traditional means to find, recruit, and select new developers. Using a help-wanted ad is a great way to let your competitors know what you’re up to, but it’s not a good way to find new developers.

Development managers I’ve spoken with during the past few years tell me they get less than 5 percent of their new hires from help-wanted ads. In fact, most of their new recruits are found through their friends (or those of their developers) or from people changing their careers to information technology.

In this article, we’ll explore resources for finding potential programmer candidates and methods you can use for seeing if they’ve really got what it takes.
 In our first article, "The IT job shortage: The developer and the enterprise," we explained a developer's role and gave you projections on the developer shortage. Our second article, "How to organize your development to ensure success," showed you how to organize your development team by product or tier. Our third installment in this series, “How to build and retain great developers,” explored ways to foster loyalty among your own developers.
Before you go looking…
The first two critical steps in staffing your development shop are defining your development platform and organizing your development team.

Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ll know what skill sets you need and what positions you have available. But where do you start looking? Just ask your developers. (If you’re building a development organization from scratch, then ask every development candidate that you interview instead.)

Your current developers are in the market every day and know where other developers hang out and what they do. Begin by surveying these employees for some simple information like:
  • ·        What bookstores do you frequent? How often? What time of day?
  • ·        Where do you normally eat lunch?
  • ·        What are the last three movies you went to with a friend?
  • ·        Which computer stores do you frequent?
  • ·        What computer games do you play?
  • ·        Which Web site do you have marked as your home page? Which sites do you visit every day? Every week?
  • ·        Do you read the want ads?
  • ·        Have you ever looked at an online recruiting site like monster.com, computerjobs.com, kforce.com, and so on?
You may think that it’s odd for me to suggest that you ask your own employees how often they read local want ads or look at online recruiting sites. If you’re uncomfortable asking these questions, you may want to re-evaluate your relationship with your employees. My best employees have always been aware of their “marketability” and will look at the want ads once a month or peruse recruiting sites occasionally. The fact is that if they look around but choose to stay with you, then you have a much more committed employee.
Networking with your future employees
Once you know where developers “hang out,” you can begin recruiting them by providing networking events. When publicizing these events, use the information you gathered from your developer inquisition.

If a significant number of developers read the classifieds, then take out an ad to promote your networking events. Do a joint promotion with the local bookstore, computer store, or movie theater to get people to come to an open house to be held at one of these locations. Advertise on the Web sites your developers look at the most. Negotiate with restaurant, bookstore, and theater owners to place flyers promoting your events in their establishments.

When you hold the networking events, make the cost of admission a current resume. You may even allow people to sign up and submit their resumes online. Then you can send them a ticket via e-mail. At the event, hold drawings for prizes such as movie tickets, books, computer games, and so forth. Even if you don’t snare developers from these events, you’ll be letting future employees (and customers!) know that your company is a cool place to work. If you can’t justify the expense on your own, then team up with two or three other companies who have similar needs and hold events together.

If you happen to have training rooms at your disposal, then consider holding gaming tournaments as networking events. Most good “wonks” won’t pass up the chance to show off their gaming skills with network-based games like Doom, Quake, and Age of Empires. You should give prizes for individual and team-based play. Spend some time seeing how well the game players work together in team games. It will tell you a lot about how they’ll work together with other developers if you hire them.

How do you know you’ve found the right people?
In addition to using observation and interviewing techniques to screen potential employees, you should also consider personality and technical testing for these candidates. How do you know what personality types will be successful in your environments?

Again, go back to your existing developers. You can work with a local human resources screening company or the psychology department at a local college to arrange for your best developers, architects, and designers to take a standardized test like the Myers-Briggs analysis.

Once you’ve developed the profile for your successful employees, have candidates take the test to see if they fit the profile. I’ve found the Myers-Briggs instrument to be an excellent indicator of personality styles and have seen a great deal of consistency in developer types based on the test.

If potential candidates don’t like the idea of taking the test through your company, then have a human resources company or a local college administer the test and report results to you.

In addition to personality testing, you should do some basic skills testing as well. In my experience, the certifications and job experience that people put on their resumes don’t always relate to their actual skills.

The best way to figure out what people really know is to have them answer some questions about the platforms and programming languages you use. We developed a battery of 50 technical questions that covered the skill sets we were seeking. After a brief discussion about the job and a candidate’s qualifications, we would ask the employee to take the technical test and the personality test. (You learn a lot about a candidate not only from the answers to the questions, but also to their reaction when asked to take a couple of simple tests during an interview.)

 After taking the tests, you should discuss the results openly with the candidate. If they know you’re willing to help them by sharing the results, then they’re a lot more willing to take the tests seriously.

Given the demand for great development talent, you’ve got to be a lot more creative about finding good developers. And as you begin finding developers who have less experience or are career changers, make sure you protect yourself by using testing instruments to ensure that the candidates you’re recruiting have the right disposition to increase their chances of success.

Tim Landgrave is the founder and CEO of eAdvantage. His company assists small to medium enterprises in the development of their electronic business strategy.

What creative things have you done to recruit your development team? Let us know by posting a comment below or sending us an e-mail.

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