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Andy Bernard

Cliff McKinney is CEO of Work for Pie.

Having talked to lots of companies about recruiting, I know that most struggle with some version of the same gripe: Hiring great developers is hard, and it’s getting harder by the day.

Most blame external forces for the difficulty like the talent shortage, or how all the best developers get swallowed up by competitors with deeper pockets. But in my experiences, very few people point the finger where it truly belongs, which is right back at themselves.

Recruiting is one of those things that most people talk a lot about, but that few do with any kind of real effort. It’s one of those important but not urgent tasks that never quite gets fully addressed. But hiring isn’t getting any easier, and you should know that your lack of success — despite all those alledged external factors — is decidedly your fault.

Still, there’s hope for people who really want to learn from past mistakes and get better at recruiting awesome developers over time. And if you have a great company, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to find plenty of great people to come work for you. Here’s how to start:

Think proactively

Most people look at recruiting and hiring as a reactive activity. An employee leaves, so it’s time to start looking for her replacement. Best case, this approach means more work for your existing employees, and worst case it means that you give up and settle for a warm body rather than the ideal candidate.

Reactive recruiting is the wrong approach. You know your company is going to grow, and you know that folks are going to leave from time to time. Plan for it. Think about recruiting before you have to recruit. Recruit the best candidates year round, regardless of whether you have positions available for them. The time will come when you do, and if you’ve taken the time to build a genuine relationship in advance, chances are much better that they’ll be there waiting.

Proactive recruiting does one thing that puts those who do it miles ahead of other companies: it eliminates perfect timing as a part of the recruiting equation. There are lots of great candidates out there, but not all of them are going to be searching for a new job at the exact time you have a new job available. Understand that and address it by recruiting them when they’re looking, not necessarily when you are.

Understand that the best outcome is not a job application

Think back to the last time you changed jobs. There’s a good chance you hit up giantjobboard.com (not a real site), entered something like keyword: “Ruby on Rails”, location: San Francisco, spent all of two seconds on most of the posts, and flagged a few that seemed interesting. If you’re like most of us, you did not apply, even for the positions that seemed interesting. The job board was only the first step.

Changing jobs is a big, potentially life-changing thing. It’s not a decision that’s made in a few seconds. Candidates do research. They visit company websites, they look for pictures of the office, they read the blog, they search for interview tips, and they do a million other things before they even decide to apply.

The initial goal in proactive recruiting is not to have candidates apply to your open position. The initial goal is to become a part of the conversation the candidate is going to have with her friends, her spouse, and herself. You know job candidates are going to research your company. Your job is to make sure they’re not learning all of that stuff from sources you don’t control. So that’s where the work comes in.

Here are some tips for get started:

  • Write blog posts about your work environment, your interview process, and how you work. Just once or twice a month is enough to keep the content fresh. See Zach Holman’s excellent “How Github Works” series for inspiration.
  • Make sure that your social profiles are up to date and have relevant information for potential employees. Make sure the URLs match something a candidate will actually search for. Otherwise, Googling doesn’t help.
  • Spend time (and yes, even money) on your careers page. Include pictures and avoid boilerplate. Job candidates are humans. Treat the copy on your careers page accordingly. See the awesome AirBnB jobs site for inspiration.
  • If your office is awesome, then make sure pictures of it are all over the place. Put them on Facebook, Tumblr, Instragram, etc.
  • If your team is awesome, then show them off. Let them guest post to your blog. Send them to meetups and conferences on your dime. Get them out into the world advocating for your (their) company.

That’s it — or at the very least this should give you a good start. Remember, proactive hiring is not about a transaction — either I apply or I don’t — it’s about building a relationship. And building a relationship means being a part of the conversation first.

Cliff MugshotCliff McKinney is CEO of Work for Pie, a startup that hopes to greatly improve the process of recruiting technical talent by increasing transparency and communication between developers and companies. This Spring, they’ll be launching Kufikia, a service designed to help seasoned developers learn new technology and find better jobs.

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