Tech recruiting is ruthless! Here’s how tiny startups can bait the perfect engineer

This is a guest post by tech recruiter Megan Hopkins

Recently, all of us at my company, VigLink, signed a birthday card for one of our engineers. While this might sound like pretty standard office culture, this engineer wasn’t in the office. He was halfway across the country, he hadn’t even started working for us yet, and wouldn’t start for another two months.

It’s not that we go especially crazy for birthdays around here, it’s that we go especially crazy for great engineers.

While many employers consider a signed offer letter the end of the hiring cycle, I’ve learned that there are no guarantees in the business of tech recruiting, and anything can happen at any time. Indeed, recruiters from other companies were approaching him from all angles. For two months I had to keep this engineer engaged and excited. I pulled out all the stops, even researching local schools for his kids to attend.

Tech recruiting is ruthless these days, and if you want to succeed, you have to know how to compete.

I’ve been in this business for over seven years, and I’m especially proud of the world class engineering team we’ve built here at VigLink. Tech recruiting can be cutthroat. Without the lessons learned over the years, I’m not sure we could have built such a successful team.

These are some things to keep in mind when going after all-star engineering talent:

  • If you want to sign a candidate, remind him or her to focus on long term career success. While things like Niners tickets and relocation bonuses are great right off the bat, those things don’t keep coming in the months and years into the job. Therefore, it’s in a recruit’s best interest to try to avoid instant gratification and focus on long-term fulfillment.
  • Don’t assume the candidate you want will start working at your company just because they’ve said “yes.” Nothing is finalized until that candidate shows up on his or her first day of work, and, even then, other companies and recruiters are likely to call your candidate and see how their first day or week went. If they sense any sort of unhappiness or uncertainty, they’ll pounce.
  • Make friends in the industry. The age-old saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” absolutely applies in this line of work. Competitive tech recruiters are quick to badmouth you and your company if they don’t know you and consider you a faceless threat. Associate a friendly face with your name, and competitors are more likely to feel guilty about slamming your organization.
  • Keep your cards close. While it’s natural to want to talk about candidates you’re working with, be careful not to disclose names to “friends” at other companies or agencies until you’ve made a definitive decision about that candidate. Certain skill-sets are in astoundingly high demand, and there is no rule preventing competitors from going after that awesome candidate you just described.
  • In the event that you decide not to move forward with a candidate, refer them to another startup. Just because a candidate isn’t a perfect fit for your organization doesn’t mean they won’t be viable somewhere else. Sharing candidates is a great way to build your reputation as an ally in the industry.
  • While I always recommend that you play fair, know that others will play dirty. For example, it isn’t uncommon for recruiters to “accidentally” leak that a candidate is exploring his or her options, even if they aren’t. That way, word might get back to that candidate’s current employer and make his or her work situation unstable.

Each hiring situation presents a different set of challenges, and I would argue that only a certain type of competitive personality can really succeed in this role. The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment you get, though, when the perfect engineer sits down at their desk on their first day at your company, is worth all the fierce moves you had to make to get them there.

Megan Hopkins has over seven years of high tech recruiting experience, both agency and in-house. Prior to joining VigLink, she was the in-house recruiter at One Kings Lane, where she focused on Engineering and Product hiring, as well as HR strategy. She is consumed with all things social media and is especially passionate about tools that marry the gap between recruiting and social media. She is an active blogger on the topic and loves getting involved in the recruiting community.