How Startups Can Recruit (And Keep) Top Engineering Talent

We recently sat down with The Org’s own CTO and co-founder Andreas Jarbøl to learn about hiring top engineers and tech talent, even in an unsteady job market. Check out the Q&A here.

5 minute read

By Mike Baumgarten and Eliza Haverstock

Great software engineers have always had their pick of top jobs. That’s true today, even as startups reckon with hiring freezes and layoffs — like a recent 20% firing spree at Snapchat’s parent company.

The breakneck hiring pace has slowed slightly, but the overall U.S. labor market remains strong: 315,000 new jobs were added in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Engineers are often considered the most essential employees at high-growth startups — and with increasingly distributed workforces, these tech-savvy workers can be more discerning about which offers to accept.

Without massive recruiting budgets and the luxury of name recognition, how can startups stand out and attract talent? Luckily, there are plenty of low-effort, high-impact ways to gain an edge in today’s hot hiring market. The Org’s CTO and co-founder Andreas Jarbøl recently sat for a Q&A to discuss actionable insights like:

  • Writing exciting job descriptions that attract passionate engineers eager to solve tough problems
  • Boosting your employer branding while getting in front of the candidates who you want to meet
  • Running productive candidate interviews that lead to the right hires

The following Q&A, facilitated by The Org’s Senior Business Development Director Ryan Gallagher, has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Click here to view the full webinar recording.

Ryan Gallagher: How do I get potential candidates to respond to my initial message?

CTO Andreas Jarbøl: It really comes down to the composition of your outreach. When I’m reaching out to potential candidates, I usually include a quick pitch of our company and highlight a couple of problems that the person assuming the role would work on. That approach — making clear some actual things that they would be involved in — resonates a lot with people.

Having access to a range of information gets potential candidates super excited, especially for roles on the engineering and product teams. Those folks spend time with the info that you provide them — they explore and try to better understand the opportunity that’s in front of them.

I also make sure to highlight who their future teammates would be by linking to the role in our org chart. We also link to our employee handbook.

RG: Why are candidates with certain skills, like engineers who can code React, so in-demand and hard to find?

AJ: Generally speaking, I think JavaScript is growing really quickly — it's one of the most popular programming languages out there. React is a widely used framework, and some delivery frameworks, like Next.js, which is really popular right now, are built on top of that.

Big companies like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook and Netflix are all adopting React, which creates a high demand for these React roles in the market. And as for why it’s so popular: it's pragmatic, it's easy to set up, it's efficient for shipping products and it's really scalable.

I think the key here is to look for underdeveloped, ambitious talent — the diamonds in the rough — rather narrowing your search to only include existing React developers. Try expanding your search to include resourceful candidates who can pick up React, and who are great cultural fits and team players.

RG: What are benchmarks or main motivators for engineers who are willing to make the leap to new opportunities?

AJ: It’s been challenging in recent years to really know what moves the needle. During the pandemic, people really dug into their existing roles, but it seems like they’re starting to get adventurous again.

It’s important for hiring managers to highlight real problems that their teams are facing — to be open and transparent. Developers get excited by hearing about the technical challenges they’d get to tackle in the role.

They’re also looking for colleagues who would challenge them, who they can learn from. Great technical mentoring within the company can go a long way in terms of catching candidates’ eyes. Developers and engineers respond enthusiastically to opportunities for growth within an organization.

At the end of the day, most engineers and developers want to build products that make a difference — software that interfaces with real people and solves real problems. Including this in your outreach is key.

RG: How do I boost my company’s brand without much marketing support?

AJ: The first step is to have an internal brainstorm with your developers and with your People team to figure out what cultural elements would entice them to look at another company. For example, my team suggested hosting hackathons. Events like that are a great opportunity to highlight your org’s offices, team and culture. And every developer loves free pizza and beer, right?

I also think it's important to encourage your engineers to be more active in networking opportunities, like talks, industry events and panels. If you have the bandwidth, consider publishing an engineering blog that covers the technical difficulties that your engineers face and how they solve them. We also post evergreen technical challenges on social media. Maybe even try doing something a little bit crazier to get people involved with the company, like posting some sort of code that needs to be broken.

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