IT talent: 4 smart ways to recruit the right software engineers

Struggling to fill an open software engineer role? Take these steps to find the perfect candidate
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Software engineers are among the most sought-after employees today. And they’re some of the most difficult employees to get in touch with.

To get the attention of software engineers, your recruiting strategies need to meet these professionals where they are while also laying out what you’re looking for in a candidate. It can be a delicate – and stressful – balancing act.

Here are four proven strategies to help your organization attract and hire the right IT specialists without spinning your wheels or wasting time on the wrong candidates.

1. Use a multifaceted, personalized approach

To hire the best IT talent, you need to think like they do. Software engineers think differently than salespeople do, for example. But you’ll also want to avoid making the mistake of assuming every tech candidate thinks alike. That’s why you’ll want to take a multifaceted, personalized approach.

Software engineers are constantly deluged with terrible recruitment spam from LinkedIn and email. So, start with a phone call. As crazy as that sounds in our instant-message era, there’s no replacing voice-to-voice (or face-to-face) conversations when you’re building relationships.

Here’s what a typical call might sound like:

Hi, [Name]. My name is Carol Schultz, and I’m the founder and CEO of Vertical Elevation, a talent equity and leadership coaching and advisory firm.

The reason I’m calling is to ask if you’d be open to scheduling time with me to have an introductory conversation. I’m certainly not making any assumptions about your current situation at _______, or that you’re even open to hearing about other opportunities. In fact, I don’t know enough about you to have an intelligent conversation about the positions we’re looking to fill. If anything, we’ll begin to build a relationship for the future.

Dive into ZoomInfo and other online databases to source a candidate’s phone numbers. Follow up with personalized emails. Start conversations on GitHub. Get creative. But avoid using LinkedIn InMail unless it’s your absolute last resort.

2. Set up a 'get to know each other' conversation

You don’t want to just pitch candidates jobs, even if that’s what they want you to do.

[ Also read Retaining IT talent: 5 tips for better training opportunities. ]

Instead, start with a “get to know each other” conversation. Make it clear that the call is about them, not you. Explain that you want to understand their background and what motivates them, the kind of culture they desire, their career goals, and so on.

By asking these questions, candidates will begin to understand you’re not just some recruiter trying to wrench them out of their current situation, and they’ll start to listen.

3. Share how your company invests in its people

I’m always talking about the importance of a talent-centric organization. To hire the right talent and keep them, you must always put your people first.

Talk with candidates about how you invest in and grow your people. Do you offer customized coaching for teams? Do you send employees to conferences, offer learning allowances, or pay for continuing education? Are your people incentivized to pursue professional development – and do you promote those who do?

[ Related read: Software developer: A day in the life ]

Similarly, offer your recruiting team and hiring managers training and development opportunities to help them successfully hire the talent you need. Use executive, leadership, team, and career coaching for individuals to foster this growth.

4. Know when to move on

I once conducted an engineering search for a high-profile national client. I placed two amazing people there, and the company was so appreciative that they awarded me Series A stock options as a bonus.

It was the most difficult search in my entire career. I spoke to one young man who said he’d already received an offer from a well-known online retailer for $110K with a $50K sign-on bonus. He said he’d be happy to speak with my client if they offered more money. I told him, “No, thanks.” My client wouldn’t be interested in someone with that attitude.

Why? Because the next recruiter who called with more money would have him looking for greener pastures all over again. My client was interested in software engineers who wanted to do great work, not engineers who could be bought.

This is something we’re dealing with again in the current market. You’ll sleep more easily knowing that your software engineers are working for you because they want to – not solely because of their paycheck. You risk losing them sooner than later if the latter is true.

The bottom line

A one-size-fits-all talent strategy won't cut it if you want to hire the right software engineers for your organization. Instead, develop a multifaceted approach geared toward each candidate you’re attempting to connect with. Start a conversation and get to know a candidate’s needs. Share what you offer beyond the position. And don’t be afraid to cut your losses if the fit isn’t “just right.”

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Carol Schultz, founder and CEO of Vertical Elevation, is a talent equity and leadership coaching and advisory expert. Recognized for her proficiency in corporate leadership, she’s spent three decades helping executives gain clarity in their careers, make bold leadership moves, and create cultures of performance.