10 Best Practices for Winning an Unfair Share of Top Technical Talent


technical talentJordan Burton has been advising companies on recruiting and interview best practices for almost 10 years, currently serving Bay Area clients through his consultancy Burton Advisors. We were thrilled to have him as a guest in our most recent webinar, “Winning Your Unfair Share of Top Technical Talent.”

There were far too many takeaways to include them all in this post, but following are 10 of our favorite tips on how to make your company a serious contender for the best technical talent.

1. Assign ownership

In Jordan’s experience, he says assigning ownership is a hallmark of companies with a strong recruiting process across the board. Companies who assign ownership know who is in charge of each discrete step of the process, and everyone can clearly articulate their role. Companies who do not assign ownership end up sharing responsibilities and making decisions by committee. This kind of group accountability, says Jordan, is no accountability.

2. Create results-centric job descriptions

A job description is typically a long list of qualifications needed. Instead, Jordan recommends focusing on the results expected and competencies needed, like “Deliver enhancements and bug fixes, 1x/week, 95%+ error-free, across 2-3 modules at a time,” and “Innovative problem solver. Elegant solutions to ambiguous problems.” In this way, you concentrate on what a person will actually be expected to do on the job, and hone in on the qualities that are truly needed.

3. Get leadership involved in referrals

Top engineers, says Jordan, are rarely “on the market.” They tend to move primarily through their networks, which makes your referral program one of the most important areas to focus on. To create an effective referral engine, you want to leverage every single person at your company, so it’s essential for your company’s leadership to lead by example. When the CEO and executive leadership pay referrals more than lip service and actually get involved, you start to create a culture of referrals. Others will follow suit.

4. Help your team generate candidate leads

Take some of the burden off of your business teams by doing some of the referral legwork for them. Hold ongoing 1:1s with engineers to help them search their networks and identify promising talent, and schedule an introductory meeting with every new hire.

5. Be careful with referral bounties 

Jordan recommends to go big or go home when it comes to referral bonuses. He tells a story about a day care who instituted a fee for late pick ups to encourage parents to pick their children up on time. What happened? The problem got worse. The intended solution simply minimized the parents’ moral imperative to pick their children up on time and replaced it with a dollar figure. Jordan warns against the same phenomenon with small monetary referral incentives that employees can easily opt out of.

6. Avoid hypothetical interview questions

Questions like, “How would you deal with…” give the candidate license to fabricate reality, says Jordan. It allows them to spin a story that has no reflection on how they would actual do things. In fact, it gives people an opportunity who have done and continue to do things poorly to talk about all the things that they know they should do.  

7. Add safety nets to your coding interviews

Coding interviews are essential in assessing a candidate’s skills, especially for more junior talent. But Jordan advises avoiding an black box, “here’s the problem now go solve it,” type of situation. An ideal setup should allow the majority of candidates to reach an answer in the end, even if they fall short of your bar for performance. If you let a candidate crash and burn, on the other hand, you compromise the candidate experience.

8. Be kind to passives 

Many candidates don’t make it past the first coding challenge, so it’s common practice for companies to place a coding screen at the very beginning of their recruiting process. This helps you identify qualified talent so your team only invests time in promising candidates. However, you risk losing sourced candidates when you focus too heavily on assessment. They didn’t seek out your opportunity, so the first conversation with a sourced candidate should be about you selling them.

9. Cut out the stock messages

Don’t assume that the way you’d want to be sold on an offer is the way a candidate wants to be sold. Everyone has different motivations. Career growth, for example, can be a 10 out of 10 in importance for some candidates, and a 2 out of 10 for others. Take the time to find out what makes your candidate tick in order to make your offer as compelling as possible.

10. Study offer declines religiously

It’s not realistic, nor advisable, to expect a 100% offer acceptance rate. Great companies will always take some chances on hard-to-get candidates.  When you do face declines, it’s important to study them diligently. Rather than sending out a post-interview survey, Jordan recommends a phone call follow up. The purpose of the call is, of course, to understand why a candidate said no, but also to establish rapport for reconnecting in the future.

To hear Jordan expand on these ideas and more, listen to the full session here. For his insights on bad, better, and best types of behavioral interview questions, read here