Software Development

10 developer want ads that will attract topnotch talent

Most programmer want ads are written in a way that makes the best candidates unlikely to respond to them. Why? Because the people writing these ads often don't understand developers, and they produce a generic ad that reads like a boilerplate job description. Justin James offers 10 examples of ads that are designed to catch the interest of top programmers.

When your company is trying to hire programmers, there is a good chance that your ad on Monster, CareerBuilder, other similar Web sites is going to be the first thing potential candidates see of your open position. Unfortunately, most programming "help wanted" ads are written in a way that makes the best candidates fairly unlikely to respond to them, even if they are a good match for the job.

Why? Because the people writing these ads often don't understand developers, and they produce a generic ad that reads like a boilerplate job description with an Apply Now link at the bottom. Here are 10 want ads for developers that show how to get top programmers to click that link.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Show them the money!

While the compensation for this position is ultimately dependent upon the candidate's experience and other qualifications, the approximate salary range that has been approved for this position is $XYZ/year to $ABC/year.

There are some good reasons why most job ads omit salary information. The problem is, candidates don't care about your reasons for omitting it. They want to be shown why they should apply for your open position. Programmers are busy people, and they don't enjoy sneaking away from their desk to have a 20-minute discussion with recruiters doing the ritualistic "compensation dance." Providing an approximate salary range (with all disclaimers, of course) in the job ad ensures that no one's time will be wasted and encourages candidates to apply.

#2: Leave the laundry list at home

We are looking for candidates to fill a senior Java developer position. Position focuses on creating and maintaining Web services that interact with a complex database and implement precise business logic. Candidates with experience in the insurance industry will be given preference.

Did you notice that the only technical skill listed is Java? Most job ads turn away many qualified candidates by presenting a laundry list of skills that are "must haves." In reality, few candidates will actually have that precise combination of skills, so they simply will not apply. What generally happens is that the technical manager writes down all the technologies they use and how often their programmers use them. The recruiter then turns that into the list of "must have" and "plus" skills based upon the usage. When job seekers see the list, especially the items labeled "must have," they do not apply, even if those skills could be easily learned. Another downside of the laundry list is that it takes up a huge amount of space in the ad. In the example above, skills like XML and SQL are implied by the statement that the work is in Web services; there is no need to explicitly mention it.

#3: Offer a chance to learn

Even the most experienced developers in this position will have the opportunity to expand and improve their skill sets in many advanced areas of knowledge.

The very best programmers did not become good just sitting around and learning by osmosis; they did work beyond their capabilities and learned how to do it. They are much more interested in jobs where they will use old skills in new ways or learn new skills entirely. If your project is run of the mill, you will have a harder time recruiting (and retaining) top talent compared to a more exotic project. But if your project is a challenge, let the candidates know. Not only will you attract more of the best developers, but the programmers who are not as interested in having their limits stretched will be less likely to apply.

#4: Show a commitment to their education

The firm believes that it is critical to encourage personal development to have a successful team. As such, we have established a budget for employee education and allow developers to take training courses or otherwise improve their skill set during normal business hours.

One of the best ways to attract (and retain) developers is to show them that you really value them. And one of the best ways to do that, as well as to show that your company is special, is to establish and advertise an education program for your programmers. Most companies fail to do this and at best allow managers to buy a few books. The expectation is that programmers are supposed to show up ready to work with all skills already learned, and any new skills have to be learned on the employee's own time. By advertising a formal education program, you are letting candidates know that they will be valued, and that your position is a smart career move for them.

#5: Play up the most attractive languages, when possible

Interested in Ruby? So are we! We are hiring developers to work in Ruby. Candidates with prior Ruby experience will be given extra consideration, but all candidates with a strong grasp of programming principles, particularly experience with other similar languages (Perl, Python, Lisp, Scheme, etc.), will be viewed favorably. We are hiring one senior member of the team and three mid-level team members. Training in Ruby will be provided at the company's expense.

Wow, an ad that essentially says, "We are looking for a skill you don't have, but we will hire you anyway"? Yup, that's right. There is something magical about Ruby amongst programmers. People who work in Ruby are extraordinarily loyal to it, and it seems like a number of really smart programmers are willing to travel or otherwise make sacrifices for the chance to use it professionally. As a result, working with Ruby and advertising that fact will get the resumes piling up pretty quickly. Other languages out there have similar followings, such as Python, Lisp, and Scheme. If your team is using a language that developers are really passionate about using, advertise it.

#6: Mention that relaxed atmosphere

Our development environment has a laid back feeling, with business casual dress throughout the week and Friday "jeans day." Schedules are flexible within reason, and employees are given the option of working from home one day each week.

When applicants see an ad like this, they know you will be a lot less likely to feel the need to have them under your thumb. Top programmers hate that feeling, and it may very well be a reason why they are thinking about leaving their current job. When you post an ad like this, you are showing candidates that you are not just looking to fill empty chairs, but you actually will give them the latitude in hours, dress, and in-office presence that most developer positions can allow.

#7: Offer toys!

We believe that the most productive developers have the full backing of the company. We ensure that our developers have the most modern workstations and provide a modest budget for all developers to customize their workstation or purchase peripherals they require.

The best developers tend to be interested in computers in general, not just in cranking out code. While many developers are not working on projects so massive that their PC's capabilities will make a huge impact on their ability to complete the project, giving them a super-nice PC will win big points with them. It shows the developers that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is in terms of supporting them. And giving them a moderate budget to customize their tech is just icing on the cake. When your ad makes it clear that you get the right tools into the hands of your development staff, potential candidates will be more likely to apply.

#8: Advertise the benefits of your location

Our office is located right in the middle of downtown Manhattan, one block from the E line and a wide variety of restaurants.

If your office is located in a place that has a lot going for it, let the candidates know. After all, if they are choosing between your ad and another one that looks roughly the same in terms of work and compensation, things such as the ease of commute, lunchtime options, and after-hours entertainment suddenly become deciding factors. If your office is in or near a great school district, that is a major selling point too. But whatever makes your location special (in a positive way) should find its way into your ad if possible. The response rate to your ads is likely to improve.

#9: Show that you "get" developers

Our company is committed to making our developers as successful as possible. A manager with a work history in IT leads each team, and our sales process includes technical personnel throughout every step of the sale to ensure technical viability of every project.

Some of the biggest complaints voiced by the best programmers are business problems, not IT problems. All too often, their ability to do a good job is hampered by managers who do not understand the special needs of a programming project or by a rogue salesperson who makes wild promises that the development team knows it can't fulfill. When your job ad shows that your environment works the way a programmer would have it work, candidates will be a lot more interested in your ad than the others that look like another exercise in corporate futility.

#10: Advertise your success

The department has increased revenue four years in a row and is considered the "crown jewel" of the division.

One of the things that can scare a possible job applicant away is a project (or department or company) that might be teetering on the brink. After all, why jump jobs only to lose the new one a year later? Even if the job itself is in no danger of going away anytime soon, no one (especially top programmers) likes working for a project that is not successful. When your candidates know that this job would have them working for a proven winner, they will knock down your door to apply.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

14 comments
bfpower
bfpower

I am a deskside technician and these truly apply to my field as well. I would think they would apply to any situation where a company wants to attract top talent and expects to have to sift through lots of mediocrity to do so.

apotheon
apotheon

That was an outstanding article. The only thing that immediately occurred to me that could need touching up was this: "[i]In the example above, skills like XML and SQL are implied by the statement that the work is in Web services; there is no need to explicitly mention it.[/i]" If you said "the work is in Web services with Java", it'd be more accurate than just saying "the work is in Web services". Web services development with other languages often avoids significant XML, and in many cases will involve a strong ORM that doesn't require much knowledge of SQL (if the DB is already in place and well organized).

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

cv is attached. :D I'm trying to think of any I've seen that would score more than 2/10 and I can't, which is sad. I never apply without knowing a salary range, one proviso though, don't make the range too big. Put ??20 - ??40k on a job and I guarantee you only get people who would be happy with twenty but will take 40. Hmmm seems to be a character set problem here, $40 - $80k

bettonirm
bettonirm

You are right about all of it. In the area I live is not the highest paying IT jobs. When the ad does not have the salary range in the ad I wonder if I am waisting my time applying for the position. Also when you mentioned about all the technologies used, there are quite a few jobs that I do not apply for becasue I may meet most of the requirements but there are technologies there that I have never used and it tends to make me not apply for the job.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Display your spider and snake food prominently.Tell them that your blood letting room is being remodeled and will be in tip top shape shortly and that they can have that two week paid vacation start on their very first day.

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

#1: Show them the money! I'm not playing games with a seemingly endless supply of recruiters, senior recruiters, technical recruiters, senior technical recruiters, recruiter managers, senior recruiter manager, technical recruiter managers, senior technical managers, PLUS the mandatory 2 interviews to find out the position pays $25K less that what I'm making now. No pay, no play. If the listing doesn't mention salary, then it gets bypassed. Be honest about the pay. Don't fluff the salary like so many of the vacancy announcements or the major job sites do. Be able to prove it. #7: Offer toys! Companies please offer reasonably current technology to do the work. I worked for one company years ago (2002 timeframe) and we were doing kernel development on Pentium 75 PCs. Whoopie. It would be helpful if the company specified that they provided the hardware instead of developers having to buy it. Same with the software. Visual Studio isn't cheap. Be prepared to prove that the company will buy both. #11 Security clearances If it's needed, please specify that the company will handle the expenses for the reinvestigation, and be prepared to prove it. #12 Position description Be honest. No "oh by the way" once I walk in the door. Spare everyone the number of years needed for competency. It's unlikely that posting "15+ years of Java development required" will actually get you anyone from the Green Team. #13 Benefits Be honest. No bait and switch games starting day 1 by telling me that the 401K option suddenly isn't available for my position.

Justin James
Justin James

I consider that a really nice compliment, thank you! I am glad that you liked it. :) J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Glad you liked it! Yeah, the wording on that example was slighly ambiguous. Re-reading it, I realized that someone would need to backtrack to the example prior to that paragraph (where it mentions that the position is for a Java developer) to fully "get" my meaning there. :) J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

... my company already has one freelancer in England working for us. :) A huge range on salary is just as bad as no range, you are right. The folks who can pull the top end of it say, "these folks really don't want my level of talent, but are willing to take it if it is all they can find" and don't bother. At least that is my view on a stated salary range where there is more than about 20% difference between the top & bottom numbers. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

You are so right about ads with the giant list of technologies. Let's be honest, anyone who has recently worked with 25 different skills probably didn't do much with any of them anyways, you know? But that's not how HR thinks. They don't know what we do for sure, so they just keyword bomb and hope to hit gold. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

... but I think that Balthor's usual jesting here might actually work. :) J.Ja

arignote
arignote

#14 Developer not salesperson or teacher. I shy away from job descriptions with duties that include having to explain or promote new technology to upper management. This implies you will spend more time teaching technology to non-technical managers that will continue to deny all requests for technology and training. Imagine working for Dilbert's boss.

Justin James
Justin James

Kam - Those are some good additions to the list, thanks! the "bait and switch" on position descrption is spot on. When someone leaves their job to come work for you, it is best to have them doing what they thought they would be doing. Not doing what I left my old job for has sent me back intot he job market more than once. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

I know the feeling, that is never fun. Unfortunately, my experience has been that it is difficult to not end up in that role once you get to a certain level in the organization, unless the people above you are also really technical. For example, at my last job, I had a great CIO & manager who understood what I was saying; they would explain it to the CEO, President, etc., and have me in the room just to answer deep questions if needed, or make corrections if they made a mistake. It worked out really well. I was just high enough so that those upper executives would get in touch with me directly if they felt like, and I was the "busk stops here" person as far as they were concerned (they never had to talk to anyone under me), but it was not common for that to happen. But I am grateful that other folks were the business-facing end of the work more than I was, at the same time. :) J.Ja