How to Build an Amazing Engineering Team When You’re an Early-Stage Startup

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When it comes to hiring the best engineers, competition is fierce. What can you do to make sure it’s you they want to impress?By Jasmine France (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

The right talent can mean the difference between a thriving startup and a floundering one. When it comes down to building a solid team, engineering hires are often at top of mind. But, there’s a huge amount of competition when it comes to recruiting top-notch engineers.

“A great compensation package will only get you so far with engineering talent,” says Sam Wholley, Partner at the recruiting firm Riviera Partners. “There are a number of other factors that will help you attract the best people to your team.”

Tighten up your hiring game with some of the following tips:

1. Create Buzz About the Company and Culture

The first step to attract the best talent for your team is to publicize what you’re doing.

Let it be known that you have cool technical challenges, especially if you’re not a tech company (or are perceived as a non-tech company). Create videos, write blogs and put on or present at events. Engage with the community.

When creating the job listing, articulate that you offer an environment where they can learn and grow. “Most people don’t care about foosball tables. Maybe food,” says Sam, “But at the end of the day, they want people who can make them better engineers.”

2. Lighten up on the Specificity

Many engineering listings include strict language requirements. But if you’re too specific, you might miss out on people that would be a good technical or cultural fit.

“If a company is operating on Python or Ruby, it may look only in that vertical,” says Sam. “But a good engineer can come in and learn any language in two to three weeks.” Think creatively because some people have very transferable skills.

That said, you may have to be specific if your company is in the earliest stages where things must move at lightning speed.

3. Make the Best Use of Your Networks

Referrals are still the best way to get great talent, but simply telling your network, “We’re hiring engineers!” won’t attract the right talent.

“Especially with internal referrals, employees often don’t know what they’re referring for, so they refer people who aren’t the best fit,” says Sam.

Ask if you can look through employees’ LinkedIn contacts and incentivize it. You’ll find the best candidates, they’ll get a referral bonus -- everyone wins.

4. Deal in Relationships, Not Transactions

Often times, people who recruit new talent see the process as transactional. This is a mistake.

“Recruiting is all about developing relationships for the long term,” says Sam, “because you never know when you might have to make a call and get someone in a position right away.”

Be sure to spend the extra time and emotional effort to make a candidate feel comfortable. You want them to walk away liking the company.

5. Be Humble with a High Bar

Similarly, it’s important to be humble. It’s perfectly fine to have a high bar, but be nice about it.

“Many companies go into the market with an attitude of ‘you’d be lucky to work here,’” says Sam. “Actually, it’s the company that needs to earn the right to say no.”

Until you can’t pick them, make them want you. Roll out the red carpet for everyone so they’re actually disappointed they didn’t get the job. They may end up sending a great candidate your way someday.

Learn more about how you can attract the best hires to your business at our upcoming How To Conference.


About the guest blogger: Jasmine France is a travel-addicted, food-obsessed Bay Area writer with a decade of experience covering consumer electronics, digital music, mobile apps and cloud computing. Follow her on Twitter @WeirdEaredJas.