A series of tweets by Patrick McKenzie (aka 'patio11'), CEO of a startup trying to fix developer hiring inefficiencies called Starfighter and well-known for his writing on tech topics, got me thinking about hiring and branding discussions that I've had with clients in the past.
In my initial recruiting conversation with a new engineer contact, I always ask about the engineer's job search criteria. I frame the question a few different ways in order to try and make sure I'm getting an honest answer, and (in order to best serve the needs of both candidates and clients) I try to note at least two or three criteria. Without fail, "I want to work with good people/teams" is an answer that I get at least 90% of the time.
Who Are the Good People?
For the purposes of these recruiting conversations, "good people" is generally shorthand for "skilled software professionals". The "good" doesn't equate to morals and ethics, although those are certainly part of the equation at some point.
When I've asked for a deeper definition of "good people", I've learned that good people are smart and ideally want to do things the right way. They genuinely care about the quality of their work and their own ability to perform.
While consulting to my startup clients on the topics of employer branding and hiring challenges, I generally refer to some good people as magnets. A magnet is simply someone that other engineers want to work with or for, and usually possesses that mix of technical and soft skills that you wish every team member had. These are the engineers managers want to clone.
The hiring problem for many firms is that it's difficult for the general public to discover if the company employs good people, or how many they might have.
Engineering Brands and Good People
If we definitively know or are relatively sure that a company has a talented software team, we could say that they have a strong engineering brand. Patrick's tweet alludes to the fact that Google doesn't have any issues with their engineering brand.
How do we know if any particular company employs these good people?
They Build Great Products
Good people build great products, right? But that has some major limitations for most of the world.
It's relatively easy for companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to attract applicants because everyone uses their products. There is a second and third tier with somewhat less traction but enough clout within the industry to attract a healthy number of aspiring employees. Netflix and LinkedIn are good examples of the second tier.
But what about the startup building healthcare data visualization tools, the GIS apps developer, or even the regional consulting firm down the street? These firms may very well fall into the employers of good people category, but their products aren't widely known.
They Show and Tell Us
Companies like Google and Facebook have engineering blogs and publish developer-targeted products that probably help with recruiting, but their reputations are already established. It's the companies that aren't in these top tiers of known entities that need to focus more time on these efforts. Unfortunately, most feel they aren't able to make branding a priority.
And because of that decision, they don't get the pipeline of applicants necessary and end up paying more for talent. If this is true, it is often worth paying a salary above market value to hire a magnet to join your company due to the cost savings that hire will generate on future recruits.
CTOs and hiring managers should be conscious of whether they have a positive engineering employer brand beyond just having a reputation in the industry. A general positive employer brand does not always equal a positive engineering employer brand.
As someone who has been in agency recruiting for almost 20 years, I can say rather confidently that engineering branding (and not just overall employer branding) is the most overlooked and underappreciated aspect of hiring in the market today, so much so that my own business will focus more on consulting to clients about engineering branding and less on the traditional transactional recruiting model in the future.