Why your tech startup can’t hire engineers (and how to fix it)
Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of watching thousands of engineers interview at hundreds of startups, from four-person seed stage companies all the way to brand-name corporations listed on the NASDAQ. Below are 7 of the most common mistakes made by companies when recruiting engineering talent — and advice on how to avoid making them yourself:
1. Seeking someone in your own image who is willing to work 18-hour days.
And with that, an unwillingness to look at candidates who have a different (or non-startup) background or are a missing a few buzzwords from their resume. Sure, it might work for your first few engineering hires, but scaling this hiring approach becomes incredibly difficult and brings with it huge opportunity costs. The faster you move out of your comfort zone, the better.
I know one well-known startup that has been trying to fill a role for over four months and has gone through two dozen candidates, simply because of a strongly held philosophy by the founder who mandates 80-hour work weeks — effectively eliminating most people who are married or have kids.
2. Using fizzbuzz technical coding challenges as a proxy for how effectively someone will contribute to the team and help your company hit product roadmap goals.
“Can this person meaningfully contribute to us hitting our product roadmap?” and “Can we work well together with this person?” are the two most important questions, not whether they’ve memorized an obscure algorithm from CS class five years ago.
If you’re looking for an alternative to model, check out how Stripe does interviews.
3. Failing to honestly assess where your company stands.
If you’re a 7, trying to hire a 10 can be a recipe for failure. This is especially true if you’re trying to pay below-market rates. That Google engineer making $250K/year is unlikely to take a 50 percent pay cut to join your “Uber for Laundry,” so focus your search where it makes sense.
4. Moving without a sense of urgency and speed.
If hiring is really your #1 priority, be willing to skip your monthly lunch with Mom in order to make time for a hot candidate. In general, working under the assumption that anybody good is going to have multiple paper offers in hand is a good philosophy. Start a countdown clock the first time you meet someone: you have 10 business days to present them with a paper offer or a rejection. The longer you wait, the more competing offers you will have.
If you’re trying to hire at the talent level that Amazon/Google/Facebook/Dropbox/Square compete for, then SPEED is your main advantage — they have the brand recognition and deep pockets and can afford to wait.
5. Lack of decisiveness.
There’s a big difference between making the offer when you’ve found the right house and balking because the color of the living room is wrong. Don’t hunt unicorns; they don’t exist.
6. Offering below-market compensation packages.
Pay market rates for good talent, and pay a premium for the rock stars. Simply going from $100K/year in Silicon Valley to $120K/year will increase the potential talent pool that you have to hunt from. Move up to $150K/year, and the world is your oyster.
Important: The CEO should rarely be the highest-paid person at a company.
7. Keeping the red carpet at home.
Roll out the red carpet for every person you talk to. Don’t wait until the last minute when you are sure they are “the one.” Never, ever cancel or postpone an interview because of a scheduling conflict that YOU have or keep someone waiting. You want to come off as professional and organized all the way through because it builds trust.