Last Updated: 27 Mar 2012
Finding Technical Talent
How do you find good technical people? If you’ve already seen the how to guide on hiring, you’ll know that it is predicated on having a bunch of resumes to pick from.
How do you get those? There’s no magic bullet, but here’s what I’ve found generally works the best. Note that this list might be slightly biased toward the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, where I work. If you have local resources for other areas of the country and the world, please add them to the comments field, or email me directly.
- Personal Referrals: This is always, always, always the best source. Its hard to tell how talented a programmer is without working with him or her, and so if you can get a referral from one of your existing staff, it’s a powerful thing. You should have a solid referral program established, with some reasonably large incentive (perhaps a few thousand dollars).
- Less Personal Referrals: Of course, that requires that your firm be large enough to have enough programmers who have enough friends that they can recruit. If that isn’t the case yet, you can turn to some semi-automated referral programs and business networking sites, such as LinkedIn. These aren’t quite as good as a personal referral, but you can mine some of your contacts there.
- Job Boards: You can always post a job description yourself, on any of the many job boards. Here's a list of some of the more interesting ones for web/tech people:
- CraigsList, the 800 pound gorilla, is a great place to start. The cost is $75 for the SF Bay Area, and $25 for most other areas of the nation. If you use CL, I highly recommend that you use the 'turing test' outlined below.
- Startuply is a site aimed at startups. I haven't had the best luck here yet, but then again it is new.
- Job Boards - A few notes: If you go this route, write a good job description. You’ll want to include a description of your company, a list of requirements, a list of responsibilities for the person, and contact info. You should write it truthfully (obviously) but make it sound as interesting as you can. If you’re a hot startup that’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal and just closed a $15mm round of financing, say so. You can use my job description templates to get you started.
Finally, consider doing the turing test: add a challenge to your job description to help figure out if the respondent is a computer or a human. OK, they're all human, but some people actually care about your job and would make a good candidate. Others simply throw out a resume to every job posted, and its hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Somewhere near the bottom, I like to bury a sentence with a challenge: If you've read this far, and really want this job, here's what you need to do: find the last name of our CEO, and put it in the subject line of your email. We're filtering these responses into a separate box for special consideration. Some people who are resume spam-bots will still do it, but most won't. Your signal to noise ratio will go up a lot.
- Recruiters: Recruiters are always an option, although they can be expensive. If you go this route, be sure to find somebody that has a lot of technical knowledge. You should interview the recruiter with some of the same questions that you would ask the technical candidate, to see how they do. Keep the tech questions really simple, but if you’re hiring a Java programmer and your recruiter doesn’t know the difference between J2SE and J2EE, you’re going to be in trouble. Unfortunately, most recruiters these days are little more than glorified secretaries, and are just in the business of pushing bodies. I know this doesn’t describe ALL recruiters, but if the only thing your recruiter can do is filter out resumes that don’t say ‘Java’ anywhere, you’re paying a lot for not very much.
- Contractors: If you’re looking for a contractor rather than an employee, there are a few other options. ELance is dedicated to finding contractors, and CraigsList now has a gigs section, specifically for contracting. You’re liable to get a lot of offshore development companies using these services, but they can be a good starting point. If you're specifically looking for somebody offshore, I've had very good luck with oDesk. You won't find real senior people on here, but for basic tasks it can be great! Hiring a contractor can also be a good starting point to getting a fulltime employee: you get to find out if they are good by working with them. Check with your lawyers before you do this, though: you can't hire a contractor and treat them like an employee; they have to pass the IRS's 'contractor test'.
Once you’ve got the resumes, you should move onto the guide for hiring technical people.