Software engineers are short in supply and high demand today. Many companies — from start-ups to large enterprises — have difficulty recruiting and hiring software engineers as well as other technical talent, such as developers, programmers, and coders. While your company may be a great place to work, there’s a good chance you’re struggling to recruit good engineers and hire them before they take offers somewhere else.
Just What Is a Software Engineer?
Before you can recruit or hire a software engineer, you have to understand what a software engineer does. If you’re not an engineer yourself, that may not be obvious, especially in relation to other technical roles, such as coders, programmers, and developers. (While these titles can be used interchangeably, there are distinctions among the roles.)
In a nutshell, a software engineer designs and develops computer software and/or applications. The terms software engineer and software developer are essentially interchangeable in most industries and used for someone who designs software or applications (which is software) loaded onto a computer or that runs as software-as-a-service (SaaS) through a web browser.
Engineers often have a computer science degree. The design the engineer creates is sometimes handed off to a computer programmer who implements the actual code that runs the software or application. Ideally, the engineer knows how to program him/herself so he/she can work closely with programmers when not doing the actual programming.
According to CareerExplorer.com, a software engineer needs a solid understanding of:
- Programming, coding, and databases (add to that a thorough knowledge of a software development environment)
- Software design and architecture
- Computer science
- Algorithms and data structures
- Information analysis
- How to debug software
- How to test software
And because engineers often work with clients, colleagues, other engineers/developers and users to understand the business needs that a piece of software or application solves, he/she needs solid interpersonal and communication skills as well.
How to Best Recruit Software Engineers
Recruiting software engineers is best done with many of the same recruiting practices used for any role. And like any role, it starts before you actually post an opening. In addition to regular recruiting best practices, for hiring engineers, you want to create a culture where they can thrive. That might mean more flexible work hours, a relaxed dress code, ensuring your tech stack is up-to-date (no engineer wants to work on outdated technology), and establishing an employer brand known for technology or a strong technology department.
Brand Your Company as a Technology Workplace
Establishing an employer brand known for technology is particularly important if your company isn’t Google or a similar company already synonymous with tech. Georgia Ilios, senior manager, experienced hire recruitment, Deloitte Canada, shared, “We started off with our brand. Many still think of Deloitte as an accounting firm. I would go into tech conferences or career fairs that were technology-focused and get asked, ‘Why is Deloitte here, you’re an accounting firm.’”
A big undertaking for Deloitte was to then brand itself as a technology company. Hear how Deloitte Canada did that with efforts that included social media and more in Georgia’s breakout session from Horizon 2019: What Coding Challenge Did for Deloitte Canada.
What you pay for talent is part of your employer brand. You want to protect that brand by paying a competitive salary. If you can’t pay enough, try and compensate with benefits, perks, stock options, and more.
You want a current tech stack and a brand known for technology (and competitive pay). Engineers want to work on current technology that supports the growth of their skills and career prospects. When you have a brand known for technology, you inherently imply your tech stack is up-to-date.
In his Horizon 2019 breakout session: Nordstrom’s Technical Recruiting Transformation, Nordstrom Recruiter Chris Trask, summed it up perfectly, “We’re focused on needing to keep up with the ever-changing Seattle tech market …. We need to keep our presence relevant, stay marketable, and compete with the other companies we’re competing with …. We do that by providing a great experience [and] innovative solutions ….”
When you’re ready to post the opening, don’t hesitate to get references from your existing engineers too. Chris shared that 20 to 30% of Nordstrom’s early-in-career pipeline comes from referrals — both internal and external. And ensure your hiring process is competitive with some or all of the following ideas.
How to Best Hire Software Engineers
There is no one-size-fits all approach to the hiring part of recruiting for any role. But there are some ways to make hiring software engineers easier once you’ve recruited them.
Reduce Your Time to Hire
According to CBNC, software developer was the most in-demand career for 2019, which explains why many software engineers don’t spend more than a few weeks looking for a new role. What that means for you is that you have to ensure your time to hire is fast. If you can do that, you can make an offer — preferably a competitive one — before the candidate is off the market.
Here are a few ways you can reduce your time to hire.
Create Alignment Between Recruiters and Hiring Managers
As both Deloitte Canada and Nordstrom point out in their Horizon 2019 breakout sessions, empowering recruiters and removing hiring managers from early candidate screenings is a powerful way to reduce time to hire. Both companies did this by ensuring tight alignment between recruiters and hiring managers. Chris shared, “As a recruiter, I’m not super technical, I don’t know how to code. I don’t know how to pick a coding challenge all that well. But what I can do is partner with engineers.”
That partnership empowers recruiters with knowledge about the roles they’re hiring for, so that hiring managers are comfortable not being involved. By eliminating steps in the process, time to hire can be shortened dramatically. Deloitte Canada took its time to hire from at least 2 weeks to just 3.9 days on average.
Use a Coding Assessment at the Start of Your Funnel
Another way to shorten time to hire for software engineers is to ensure they know how to program. One way to do that is with a coding assessment, such as HireVue CodeVue coding challenges.
Even better is using the alignment between recruiters and hiring managers to set up those challenges. For Deloitte Canada and Nordstrom, by involving both recruiters and technical hiring managers in jointly creating coding assessments, managers are willing to forego initial interviews yet still trust in the quality of candidates who make it into the hiring funnel.
Assess Upfront for More than Ability to Code
As mentioned, software engineers need to do more than know programming and how to design software. They don’t have to be the life of the party, but they do have to be able to work with people and communicate. A few ways to assess that early in the funnel without lengthening your time to hire are with game-based assessments and behavioral interviews.
You can use game-based assessments, such as HireVue Game-Based Assessments, to assess software engineering candidates’ ability to work with people, persistence, and the ability to think logically — all critical skills for engineers. Games can be completed in from 5 to 30 minutes too. And you can combine games with a coding challenge and an OnDemand video interview in an on-demand screening experience that’s engaging and that candidates can complete on their time. Hiring managers and recruiters can review candidates’ interviews and assessments when it’s convenient for them too.
When you choose a solution like HireVue, your recruiters get a dashboard that rolls up candidates’ results with a score and recommendation that can be used to quickly pass candidates through the funnel to hiring managers.
Keep the Candidate Experience Positive
Nordstrom uses candidate results from CodeVue coding challenges — even if they don’t pass — as part of creating a positive candidate experience and a way to keep its candidate pipeline strong.
A candidate who fails an assessment may still have significant potential today or in the future. Candidates who may not have the exact experience you want, may be coachable, be able to transfer other experiences and knowledge to a role with your company, and/or refer another candidate to your company. And if they have a good experience, they’re more likely to recommend your company to other candidates and consider you a potential employer in the future.
Chris shared, “We’ve had plenty of candidates who may not have passed our tests, but enjoyed the process … and they’ve sent us resumes [from their peers as referrals]. Those referrals did pass our tests. They moved forward in the process and they were hired. They brought their referee [the person who referred them] back and they were hired as well. So, it’s a continuous cycle of building that relationship … and getting candidates in the door and ensuring that they stay in the door.”
Hear more about Deloitte Canada’s technical recruiting transformation in Georgia’s breakout session from Horizon 2019: What Coding Challenge Did for Deloitte Canada.
Hear more about Nordstrom’s technical recruiting transformation in Chris’ Horizon 2019 breakout session: Nordstrom’s Technical Recruiting Transformation.