Hiring Programmers

by Krishna on December 28, 2010

Alan Skorks’ recent post on programmer interviews reminded me of a couple of old posts (here and here) that I had written about the reality of hiring. In short, 99+% of good programmers are not actively looking for a job. 99+% of the rest don’t know about your company. Of those who know, many won’t apply at your company. So your pool of potential employees is not a true representation of the overall programmer supply.

The posts that disparage 99% of programmers for not having basic skills are counter-productive in another way. It implies that we should so lucky to have programmers who can code a loop. The truth is that companies should be improving their hiring processes to attract better programmers to interview for the position that they have available.

Big or well-known companies attract employees, even if they don’t actively chase them. Companies like Google or Facebook probably get hundreds of resumes every week. But smaller companies, especially those not VC-backed with expectations of an IPO or buyout bonanza, have a harder time.

A small company usually only has a handful of openings (or more likely, 1–3 openings) at anytime during the year. The kind of opportunities and benefits it can offer are very different from larger, more famous companies. And there is greater risk for potential employees with respect to career stability and future prospects. Therefore, the applicant pool is more likely to contain desperate than good candidates.

So small companies have to work harder to attract talented employees. A few obvious places for improvement are:

  1. Website: Why should someone join your company? The usual text about benefits and “fun place to work with” are great. But what is truly different? Also, do you have an easy way to get people to submit their information (not just resumes, but specific pieces of information) through your website. Many companies simply offer a career email address or a 3rd party resume tool.
  2. Recruiters: Do you have recruiters who are very smart at reaching good programmers, or are they simply doing searches on Monster.com? Do they continue to reach out to and maintain relationships with capable programmers even when there is no urgent need. Here is an example of a recruiter who you don’t want in your company.
  3. Job Postings: Many job postings are so generic that they invite many unwanted responses, or so particular that they lose out on capable individuals who can learn quickly on the job. Companies also have weird numbers of years of experience for various technologies when a simple overall experience range may be enough.

Needless to say, there is a bit of chicken-and-egg situation here. Since they have few openings, most small companies rarely allocate enough resources for hiring, let alone spend the extra effort required to attract and engage potential employees. But that is the root of the poor application pool. Somewhere, the cycle has to be broken.

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