May 222011
 

Recruitment is all about relationships and trust, whichever way you look at it common recruitment practices support neither. While there are countless articles focusing on how hard it is to hire good developers little is said about how to find good companies. Trust work both ways and in order to ‘fix’ recruitment both sides of trust equation must be balanced. Examining each in turn:-

Employer-> Candidate trust

Employers have low trust in external recruiters, low trust in CVs, and low trust that candidates can complete a Fizz Buzz question. This means that it’s not possible to invest sufficient time in individual applications, which in turn makes it less likely they’ll ever attract really good people.

Services like LinkedIn and Stack Overflow have made some gains in solving the employer-> candidate trust problem. In LinkedIn’s case they have scaled the ability to ‘ask around’ for recommendations and Stack Overflow provides a feel for someone’s knowledge. Neither is perfect and in truth the best they can do is give me confidence that the candidate is not a total waste of time.

Candidate -> Employer trust

The Candidate -> Employer problem is more interesting not least because it’s generally ignored. Unless you happen to be Google or Facebook candidate->employer trust is a major stumbling block. How can a candidate be sure that they are dealing with a good company? They can’t trust their agent to have a clue (or care) and they themselves will not be aware of a host of interesting companies. As such applications tend towards the bland and generic since candidates cannot afford to spend days tailoring individual introductions, this in turn fuels the employer perception that passionate interested candidates do not exist.

As an example, I work for a small B2B Telecoms company, our work is on the public eye, but our brand is not. Most developers will not be aware of us. Once hired, developers tend to want to stay with us, with working environment and the freedom to ‘get things done’ playing a big part in that. However as a company I have no easy way to express this. It’s not even a case of saying ‘Isn’t my company great!’ it’s much more about about describing the trade offs. Not everyone will appreciate the chaos, pace and variety of working at a small company, some will prefer the promise of a well defined career path, security and greater opportunity to specialise typicallly afforded by a larger organisation. It’s down to personal opinion.

Individual companies can solve this problem by publishing an engineering blog, sponsoring community events, getting people speaking at conferences and generally exposing their culture and values. It could be argued that companies willing to go to these lengths clearly value recruitment more highly than others and deserve the rewards. However, if there was someway that candidates could pull that information rather than have it pushed then that would be hugely valuable.

The closest example I can see is the Joel Test. To me the Joel Test is starting to show it’s age and could benefit from an update, the best it can say is ‘this company is less likely to be a horrific place to work’. Glass Door also addresses this in part, though practically speaking companies must be a of certain size before it becomes useful.

I’m not sure what the solution might be. Perhaps a curated job board/job fair is the way to go, the curator finds a way to characterise companies and makes sure it only backs good companies. This builds trust with candidates, and should mean that it attracts the top people, especially those for whom money is not the top driver. Companies are happy to pay decent rates because they know how good the candidate pool is, further more there is prestige in being associated with the agency.

The Challenge

So, world, here is my challenge to you. How can I, as a company, express my culture and values in a meaningful and standard way so that candidates can approach me with confidence.

  13 Responses to “Why Work At Your Company?”

  1. For a small company, you definitely need to get out there and talk about the merits of your company. Whether it’s through sponsoring events or speaking engagements, I think achieving some sort of mindshare among prospective candidates is essential to finding the real gems.

    Another idea would be to identify and participate in a usergroup in your area. For example, if your company develops in C#, participate in a .NET usergroupe! You’ll get to meet motivated, interesting people with the required skill set. Offer to speak at the meetings and you’ll be all set ^_^

  2. Easy: hire a top recruiter. There’s a reason you’ll pay several months salary to a third party. When it works, it works! The problem is that there are so many idiots around. If the recruiter demands to meet you in person at your place of employment, and also confirms that they’ve met the individual candidate in person, then you know you’ve found someone who’s doing it right. These are the recruiters that can get someone with offers from Facebook or Google to investigate other companies that might be a better fit.

  3. Thank you for your excellent article. I was just thinking about this. I run 40 job boards over at Specialtyjobmarkets.com I now believe that the job market is no longer about the basic information about who is hiring and who is looking for work. It is about the risks, the trust factors, the ratings. I know how to solve this problem.

    Actually it is very easy for you to express your company culture. Just write it in English. The tough part is how do employees find out if it is true or not and come to trust it.

  4. It’s easy to express your culture, in the sense most companies do – write something about it in the job ad, write something about it on your company website. It’s also easy for this to come across as corporate PR platitudes if you get the tone wrong.

    If you want us to *trust* what you write about your culture, it helps if your employees are willing to speak up for the company culture in their individual capacity. Sending them to conferences helps with that; giving them some time during work hours to engage with the community and with open source helps.

  5. A lot can be done to address this in the job posting itself. It’s brutally obvious that most software job postings are dictated by dev team managers to the recruiters who parse out the keywords and stick them all into the “requirements” field, then add some corporate messaging BS boilerplate, then recycle the same crap about wanting “independent, team players” and “outside the box thinkers”. I’ve read dozens upon dozens of these.

    If you’re working on a cool project, that should come through in the job posting in a way that actually seems genuine. Meaning you have to drop the corporate speak and show a little excitement. This is what attracts talent. Software is a wide open field right now. Anyone who can compile and run Hello World can get a job in software these days if they show up to enough interviews.

    The real talent you’re after already has a job that pays well but are bored with their project. Or their organization is a disaster, and they would like to work somewhere they can actually participate on a functioning team and get big things done. Or they are upwardly motivated but their company lacks opportunities for that. These people aren’t even going to bother submitting a resume, let alone put in the effort to adjust it to highlight their strengths related to the specific job posting they are applying for, if it’s clear the company has put little effort into the process from the other side.

    Websites exist which fit your suggestion for “someway that candidates could pull that information rather than have it pushed” in other areas. There’s Angie’s List, RateMyProfessor. But these sites are always prone to corruption by a few pissed off students, pranksters, competitors, etc. Really the best way for candidates to pull information is by asking good questions in the interview room. Sadly, learning what those good questions are is usually based on experience in jobs that suck.

  6. “…attracts the top people, especially those for whom money is not the top driver.”

    You want top people, but you don’t want to pay top dollar. Do you not see that this is disconnected from reality? Can you provide a reason as to why software developers should be different from every professional on the planet? The best people command the highest salaries, that’s just how it is. Athletes, plastic surgeons, strippers, soccer players, musicians, fashion models, wedding DJs, lawyers, the list goes on and on and on and on.

  7. If a company is big enough to acquire a general reputation, it is probably big enough that the difference between individual workgroups within the company is larger than the difference between that company – averaged out – and others. Assuming that you are recruiting to fill a particular slot, it is up to you to convince good candidates that they want to fill that particular slot in that particular workgroup, to work for that particular boss and in that particular environment.

  8. If your company has some some useful code that you can open source, by all means do it, and spread the word. Developers will notice that you are doing cool things, and are good enough to share them.

  9. Simple answer: you can’t. The primary reason being that you don’t know what your company’s culture and values are. You might think you know what they are. But that’s not necessarily the same. My present employer excluded, I can’t remember the last time I worked for a company that didn’t claim “our staff are our most important asset”. I also can’t remember it being true at any of them. Yet as far as management are concerned, the company exists to keep the staff happy. Anyone in a position to publish information about the company to prospective employees is rarely in a position to see the real company culture. They’ll see what they’d like it to be, not how it really is. It probably doesn’t have to be like that. But decades of experience show that it invariably is.

  10. Personally, in the job interview I like to ask about typical projects, the tools and languages being used, the workplace in general (team-rooms? big room with separated spaces?). I kind of miss that on many/all companies websites, so when I search for a job and visit a companys website I can already see what the workplace looks like and what tools they use. I can understand maybe that is not something the company wants to make publicly visible to each and everyone, but well, that is my point of view as a job searcher.

    And boy, I hate PR-babbling that tells you nothing.

    I also really like the idea a commentator pointed out. Community and Open Source.
    A company blog that gives insights and general advises gives you so much information, as an applier.
    One that really stands out is the blog of Assembla. I am following their blog for some time now, because they post great blog posts about distributed development and much more. That way I not only came to get to know that company and, even more importantly, follow them, I get to know how they work and that they really know what they’re doing. If you can get people to follow your company for informative blog posts you made it. That is THE way to go IMO.

  11. Why work at your company? Simple: I have to earn a living somehow, and crime only pays well if you’re a banker or a politician. As for developer->employer trust, let me clear that up for you: I don’t trust you. I will never trust you. Is that better?

    Look here. I’ve been in the software development trade and I think I know how this works by now. If you hire me, you’re going to try to get as much out of me as you can. If you can get me to work 50 hours a week instead of 40, you will. If you can get an occasional Saturday out of me, you will. If you can get me to accept a mediocre salary, you will. As far as you’re concerned, I’m not a man, but a resource. Men command respect. Resources get exploited.

    You’re going to use me up if you can, and then throw me aside to make room for another sucker who will work for a shittier salary than you offered me because he’s younger and isn’t cynical enough to realize that he’s being led to slaughter.

    So don’t ask about trust. Don’t you fucking dare. You haven’t earned the right to expect trust out of me, or out of any other developer. We’re mercenaries by necessity, because loyalty to an employer is a sucker’s game.

  12. Thanks for the feedback, I particularly liked the idea of focusing job specs on the energy and excitement of specific projects. Not to mention to the massive win of open sourcing an appropriate project.

    Some specific responses

    @Tet
    “Anyone in a position to publish information about the company to prospective employees is rarely in a position to see the real company culture.”
    This is really great point. I think that below a certain size, probably the size at which individuals can still influence the entirety of a companies culture, it is still possible, but at larger companies it’s a matter of expressing a group or department’s sub culture.

    @Amazed
    Perhaps I should clarify, paying people anything other than a fair and equitable salary is completely counter productive. That said, as a London based tech company, we will never be able to compete with the rates available contracting from an investment bank. So it’s a matter of preference. If money is the sole driver at the expense of job satisfaction then a curated job board makes no sense since the value of the company can be neatly expressed as a number. If, on the other hand interesting work in a challenging, open and engineering driven environment is a key selling point then some level of curation makes good sense.

    @ Eddie Van Helsing
    Perhaps some sort of XKCD inspired ‘read back your comments out loud before you post’ might have helped here? We do agree on one point though and that’s the use of the term ‘resource’ to describe people, in fact I wrote a post on this very subject just a few weeks ago.

  13. @neilj I read my post to my cats. I took their purring as approval.

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