How do you find the right talent in an ultra-competitive market?

The market for software engineering talent has been on a wild ride over the last few years. Hot demand for battle-proven talent has made it difficult for companies - big and small - to find the right person who will be a great addition to the team. High salary expectations price smaller companies out of great talent that is sorely needed to build world class products and reach ambitious goals. Managers have no real way of knowing whether or not the talent they’re bringing in will meet expectations until they’re on the job, sometimes leading to disastrous consequences. 

The need for knowledgable talent is paramount, and in most cases prompts an outside search for folks qualified for those roles. Companies typically look for new, more senior talent when processes change, deals close, new products are added to the roadmap, or when more junior talent on the team needs a guiding hand in their tasks. Often, this search means delaying roadmaps until that talent is found, sometimes for months on end. Even companies that can afford the talent, have limited ways of knowing how well they would perform on the job outside of referrals from within their network, and indicators from past work history that don’t always paint a full picture. 

So, What Can You Do?

The best kind of talent that gets overlooked as potential leaders are those who are in the earlier stages of their career within the company. Often the assumption is that fewer years of experience makes them less suitable for a role with more responsibilities. In many cases this is true, but there are some key characteristics that can indicate whether or not a more junior level engineer has the aptitude to grow very quickly into senior roles. Being able to easily identify and tap into these skills gives you an easier way to find capable talent when you need it - without going outside your company to find it. How?

What Are You Really Looking For?

Think about it - why do you need a senior engineer? Seriously. Are you looking for someone to start your company from ground zero up? Or do you simply need someone who you don't have to hand-hold for months on end? Often, people assume 5, 8, 10 years means that someone has exactly what you’re looking for and that they’ll know what they’re doing. Anyone who has been hiring engineers long enough knows that this isn’t always the case. Resumes can be good - but neither great nor perfect - indicators that someone has the exact skills that you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a founding engineer, are starting an entirely new product that requires a certain level of expertise, or have a niche product that requires a certain specialization, then the amount of experience an engineer has will be critical to success. But if you’re simply looking for a strong individual contributor and don’t have the bandwidth for proper mentorship, then how you’re approaching your search might need to be tweaked.

Plan, Plan, Plan!

Start your search for senior talent way in advance of when you’ll know you need it. Look at your junior engineers as future leaders in the organization and actively treat them as such. Use weekly 1:1’s to look for engineers that are showing potential. Oftentimes they might not be proactive in finding out what it takes to be a senior - not everyone knows what it would take to be one even if they want to. Some gentle prodding over time can determine interest level. Even for those who are unsure it’s what they want, give them small projects that they can build on over time and measure week by week how they perform. The people who have the most knowledge of the problems and successes of your company are those who are already there and have worked on them from the ground up. 

Look Out For Fast Learners

If someone has the ability to absorb knowledge quickly, take in constructive criticism, learn from experiences and apply the knowledge they’ve acquired, these are all great signs that someone has the aptitude to progress quickly in their career. See how they apply their acquired knowledge by giving them projects they can take the lead on. Observe how closely their application and solution aligns with the thinking of a more senior engineer. Do they come close? How far off are they, really? How much do they differ from what you would have done? Give them feedback on how they can improve their solution and explicitly tell them how someone who is further along in their careers would approach the problem. Give them resources they can turn to and encourage them to ask for clarification and feedback when necessary. Fast learners are typically also eager students, hungry to learn more and improve their skills.

Technical Communication

Nurture their ability to communicate ideas clearly and concisely. This is another place where weekly 1:1’s come in handy. Asking them to verbally walk through how they successfully completed a more complex ticket can encourage them to refine their thinking and be more confident in their skills. This will also give you more confidence that they can walk the walk and talk the talk. Have them do presentations periodically to the wider team on new features or processes. Give constructive feedback on where they might have fallen short, and how they can improve their skills for the next time. 

Use Every Possible Tool At Your Disposal

If you’re not sure that the talent you currently have can be up to the task, take a leap of faith. There are many tools out there to help you discover engineers with great potential. Platforms like Hatchways bring you junior level talent that already exhibit the soft and hard skills that are indicators of a fast growth trajectory. Use Loom videos to walk through a solution for your engineers for faster, async collaboration - eventually you can build a library that engineers can reference for future use to help them grow in their role. When someone is fully onboarded and gets more independent, encourage them to propose ideas during the critical weekly 1:1’s, setting their own deadlines and adding it to their backlog. Notion is also a great tool for documentation and async collaboration, while Linear helps with keeping track of tasks. 

No matter what you use or where you find them, using these strategies can help you spot senior talent without the hassle of looking outside when it suddenly becomes apparent you need it. These require quite a bit of effort, but the rewards can pay dividends over time. Always look to nurture junior talent into the senior talent you need - way before you need it. 

Looking for high performing talent? Get in touch with Hatchways!