People: How do you attract the best people to your business?

Tips on getting the right people into your tech company through the startup and early stages – from the 2017 series of Threads discussions.

Discussion host: Andrew Gifford, Founder/MD and recruiter at techfolk


Recruiting at the very earliest stage of the business is all about the personal relationships. It’s more like finding a life partner. But even later on, the personal relationships are critical to making great hires.

Natural networks

Look for people via your own networks first. People are easier and cheaper to find this way, and you avoid creating noise in the market that can drown out those people who would really love to work for you.

What to look for

Don’t get hung up on interviewing for technical skills. Remember to also look for the right values, belief and motivation.

Ask about the flow of the candidate’s career, influences, turning points, why they moved between jobs, and use this conversation to open up a more personal discussion about what they like and why.

Asking an engineer about any hobby projects, developments in their domain which have caught their attention, favourite technology conferences, books or blogs, are great ways of understanding the personality behind the interview persona.

Explore how well the trajectory of the job vacancy aligns with the candidate’s desired career trajectory. Hiring for people who’ve already held a similar position may lead to low interest levels and retention issues later.

Make sure you have at least two people interview a candidate, and preferably more. Allow them all to spend enough time to have a proper extended conversation, then compare notes afterwards.

Putting things into practice

Don’t schedule appointments directly after an interview that might mean you have to cut a conversation short, and don’t schedule more than two interviews in a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Building variety into the recruitment process gains insights into the candidate’s character in different settings. Candidates welcome an informal initial discussion to set the scene via webcam or telephone; this is a low overhead way of building rapport and setting expectations. You can increase the threshold and involve more senior stakeholders as thing progress.

Assessment methods

Practical technical exercises are an insightful way of assessing a candidate’s suitability for an engineering position. The objective is to create a level playing field which still allows an exceptional candidate to shine, and which offers insights on their thinking and approach.

Online Q&A tests aren’t as popular with candidates as exercises relevant to the job or domain.

Bespoke coding exercises – set as mini projects to be completed remotely – are popular with software engineer candidates, as it gives chance to demonstrate their skills and provides something meaningful to explore further at interview. Supply clear instructions, requiring no more than four hours to complete. Before issuing it, get your team to peer review the exercise. A satisfactory working solution should be within reach for strong candidates, with opportunity for brilliance from upper percentile candidates. You should establish a process for assessing solutions and giving feedback on candidates’ handiwork.

Assessments completed at interview should ideally reflect the kind of work environment the candidate can anticipate if they join the team; e.g. whiteboard session, paired task, discussion of a conundrum the business faced recently.

Relying strongly on abstract logical reasoning exercises can discriminate against candidates who haven’t been assessed in this way recently, or who haven’t known to practice and refine their approach. Recent graduates may appear to outshine their more seasoned peers.

Mutual explorations

Remember that candidates will be shopping around too, and need to do their own due diligence.

A candidate who had a positive experience of your recruitment process can be a great ambassador and may refer a friend. This is particularly helpful in the close-knit South West tech community.

When recruiting for commoditised roles, make sure that your process is fast as the candidates will not be in the market for long; they may currently be talking to up to five other employers and choosing between two or three job offers.

Many undergraduates will have engaged with employers as early as each February, and so you should plan for this in your communications with any Universities from which you like to hire.

Published by Andrew Gifford

Co-organiser of Threads South West. Founder/MD and people person at techfolk. Interested in the people aspects of running a progressive business.

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