Top 5 Ways to Attract and Retain Tech Talent

by Peg Bogema

It’s a fiercely competitive labor market right now, especially for technical talent. Many companies worry that because they cannot match the wages on offer from other firms, they won’t be able attract or retain the workforce they need.

When companies have the mindset that it’s a SHOW ME THE MONEY market, they can feel like they are operating at a disadvantage. Unless, of course, they happen to be the company with the deepest pockets.

In truth, when it comes to hiring techies, it’s not just about the money. Yes, money is definitely in the mix, but it’s only one of the areas that techies are evaluating when it comes to a job offer.

And if you don’t know what those different areas are, you may not be marketing your jobs and your company to the fullest potential.

1. Money

Since we’re already talking about money, let’s round out the picture. Salary is definitely important, but salary is only one component of an overall compensation plan. How good is the health insurance? How much of the premium does the employer pay? How much does the employee pay? How much vacation time is on offer? Paid time off is highly valued by techies, and especially if you are trying to lure a senior resource away from another company, asking her to drop back to two weeks of PTO is likely to be a deal breaker.

One common mistake companies make is that in tendering an offer, they don’t really spell out the full value of the compensation plan. If you google search “total compensation statement,” you’ll see many examples of just how detailed some employers get in quantifying the value of the offer.

It can also benefit a company when it comes to retaining employees. Their heads may be turned by the jaw dropping salaries that are on offer, but with a total compensation statement in hand from you, they can view another company’s numbers critically…even skeptically.

2. Workplace Culture

This is a biggie for most employees, technical or not. What makes a desirable workplace culture for a techie is pretty specific.

Let’s start with great hardware. There is nothing that reduces productivity more than slow or inadequate hardware. Multiple monitors and fast processors are two of the top requests.

From there, the physical plant is important. To whatever extent possible, you should offer a variety of workspace options to your teams. Some people like a workspace that is quiet and isolated from interruptions. Some people like a collaborative workspace. Some people like an informal workspace with couches and lounge chairs. And there are those who like to move from workspace to workspace, depending upon what they are doing. Offering a variety of workspaces can increase productivity, collaboration and satisfaction on the job.

Overly aggressive schedules that demand near constant overtime are a huge turn-off. Work/life balance is of paramount importance to techies. When you do need to meet an aggressive deadline, make sure the overtime really means something. A tradeshow, a vital release—yes. But unless you’re a start-up with its promise of rich rewards, constant overtime will drive your employees away in droves and give your company a bad reputation.

There are many other things that fit into the workplace culture category. From a casual dress code, to pinball machines in the break room, to working from home one or two days per week.

You may already have an awesome workplace culture. If you do, it should be part of what you market to your candidates when you are interviewing them. If not, it might be feasible and affordable to improve your workplace culture—improvements which can pay huge dividends relative to the cost. Asking your own team what they would value is a great place to start.

3. The Work Itself

Everyone wants to do important, meaningful work. And if the work is high profile, the kind that you can impress your relatives with at Thanksgiving, so much the better.

But not all companies are saving the environment or curing cancer or making the next big video game.

Fear not. There is a lot more to say about the work you have on offer.

For one thing, working in a modern technology stack is extremely important to techies. The longer they work in an old tech stack, they more obsolete and antiquated they are becoming.

If you already have a modern technology stack, it’s definitely a point to market to candidates.

If you don’t, then you need to understand how you can modernize—a bit at a time. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished, without waiting for a wholesale rewrite. In a Web application you can frequently start using new frameworks or libraries, even whole tech stacks for new features that sit alongside your existing application. Your developers can also add abstraction layers to isolate problem code areas, which make it easier to rewrite in the future. A microservices architecture in particular is an approach that facilitates using many different languages together in the same system (though it has costs and pitfalls, so don’t undertake this approach without thought).

Allowing the team to introduce tools into the tech stack is also a relatively inexpensive way to improve the work. The source repository, the build tool, the chat tool, etc. are all things that go a long way to making the work seem more pleasant.

Introducing automation for repetitive tasks is another thing that can greatly improve the day-to-day work. And that’s a win-win, since it frees up developer time to do more important work.

Along with the nitty gritty technical details, things like having and following an appropriate software development process, allowing your team to interact with the end users, giving the team a degree of autonomy and authority—these are all important aspects to on-the-job satisfaction.

There are so many directions this can go in, and there are probably already many things that you are doing right. Asking your team what they like and dislike about the work can reveal areas for improvement and areas that you can brag about when you interview candidates.

4. Career Trajectory

Okay, let’s face it, someone who you are hiring into his first job probably isn’t going to be worried about a career path. But three or four years into their careers, all developers start to think about how they can grow. Growth might be technical, it might be in terms of responsibility, authority and autonomy, and it might be into a completely different role.

Some companies have a clear technical growth path. For instance, Programmer I, Programmer II, Programmer III, Lead Programmer, Architect, etc. That’s important. If a developer never changes title within an organization, does that mean the developer never merited a promotion?

Even if you do have a clear technical growth path, there is another aspect to career trajectory that is often overlooked. Not all technical people want to follow a traditional path. The opportunity to move into a role in sales, in product management, as a scrum master or project manager may be of great interest.

The key question is this: do people need to leave your company in order to progress along their desired career path?

Sometimes the answer is yes. You only have one CTO, and an individual who wants to, and is ready to, become a CTO may have to join another organization to fulfill that goal.

But in many cases, companies have plenty of room for growth or movement within the organization.

Formalizing this can reap rewards. Having personal career plans in place, and helping employees achieve them, can be very important when it comes to retention. Offering mentoring or training to help employees qualify for whatever comes next is often quite affordable.

And promoting the fact that you promote from within can be very attractive to candidates you are wooing to your organization.

5. Improve Your Hiring Practices

Most companies are in a state of continuous refinement when it comes to how they approach hiring. A few things that we consider to be highly important are:

  • Write better job ads. If you can avoid using the HR job description, do so. A job ad should be as much about marketing the job to candidates as it is about setting the minimum requirements.
  • Speed up. When the market is hot, time is your enemy. Move your interview process along, and get offers out quickly.
  • Interview several candidates concurrently. This dovetails with speeding up. There is a very good chance that your top choice is going to turn down your offer. If you have your second and third choices well into the interviewing process, then you can get the next offer out right away. If you deferred interviewing your second and third choices, you’ve added a lot of time into the process for those candidates. By the time you get around to interviewing them, they may already have found jobs.
  • When you interview, repeat over and over again what makes your company a great place to work. Workplace culture, technology stack, career opportunity, compensation package.

We just wrapped up presenting workshops on this topic in Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. We found that regardless of industry, size or area, technical and HR managers are all looking for tips to improve their recruiting and retention practices. Hopefully this quick round-up of suggestions will give you some areas or points that you can improve in your own company.

And, shameless company plug here, we would be happy to recruit on your company’s behalf. Despite market conditions, which have forced us to improve our own practices, we are having recruiting successes!

Contact us about your hiring needs or if you are a candidate looking for work, please review our job board and upload your resume!

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