Recruiting Roundup: Tips for Hiring Top Technical Talent
We sought advice from top technical leaders to help you develop and hone your own recruiting strategy.
Today’s hot hiring market is making a perennial challenge even more difficult: how do you find and hire great technical talent? At Primary, we’ve rapidly expanded our People & Networks team to help our founders address this concern.
Here, we also called on some of the market’s most admired technical leaders to share their insights. Read on for all of our top tips on how to develop and hone your own hiring strategy—and get in touch with Operating Partner Rebecca Price, Director of Talent Alicia Scully, or Technical Recruiter Ryan Monk if you want to talk shop in more detail.
Interviewers need to work as hard as candidates
“A common mistake in technical interviewing is thinking that only the candidate needs to work hard to provide answers that will impress us. The reality is that the best interviews occur when the interviewer puts effort into preparing. Before the interview, they need to review the candidate’s resume and expectations from the assessment. During the interview, they need to quickly build rapport and guide the conversation so the candidate has the best chance to shine. There is no excuse for interviews that bias towards candidates who are extroverts, self-confident, or native English speakers. To be an excellent engineer, you need to be able to think critically, solve problems, and translate solutions into code. Skills that shine in interviews, like being articulate or assured, are often unrelated to technical abilities.”
—Rebecca Price, Primary
Watch for the right signals—and always chase down examples
“The first mistake I often see is looking for the wrong signals from whiteboard coding interviews. The only three things that really matter are: Can the candidate clarify the problem? Can they articulate the solution verbally? And can they translate that into code? Everything else — like, if they have python experience, whether their code is beautiful, what company they come from — is white noise. The second pitfall is not asking for enough concrete examples. A lot of people can say the right things but then fail to back it up when pressed. Asking for examples helps ensure you’re hiring the people with the attributes you value. For us, those are taking feedback well, being outcomes-oriented, and excelling in an organization that delegates ownership and expects accountability.”
—Octavian Costache, Stellar Health
Try playing to strengths instead of watching for weaknesses
“Traditionally, hiring managers try to tease out a candidate’s shortcomings and guard against them. We do multiple technical interviews to make sure we know what a candidate isn’t good at. While that works, I like a slightly different approach: Tease out a candidate’s strengths. Rather than trying to avoid weaknesses, which everyone has, focus on building a team where everyone has complementary strengths. Being clear about the broader team context also helps in todays’ competitive hiring market. Beyond compensation, people value understanding who they will work with, the kind of team they’ll be part of, and how a potential role will impact their career in the long-run.”
—Neetu Rajpal, Oscar
Keep the bar high
“Every time I’ve seen hiring managers try to lower the bar because ‘we are missing good people’ it’s been a mistake. Recruiting is a risk mitigation exercise. The goal is to minimize the number of bad fits recruited because they are incredibly costly in time, money, and negative team impact. A process tuned to filter out bad fits will inevitably miss a few good ones.”
—Jason LaFollette, Yext (P.S. The Yext Startup Program helps arm technical teams with key tools and up to $35,000 of AI search technology; applications are open and interested teams can apply with code PrimaryVCYS2022)
The best recruiters consider both the technical and human side of business
“The best technical recruiters are people who both have a strong understanding of the technological landscape and are able to forge long term relationships. On the technology side, it’s important to have a high-level understanding of the actual work that a position requires, beyond the generic job title. A recruiter doesn’t need to know how to code, but they should be able to speak clearly to the technological underpinnings of the company they’re recruiting for. On the human side, great recruiters build long term relationships founded on trust. They stay in touch with candidates over the course of their careers. Sometimes, although it may seem counterintuitive, the best advice they give is actually not to join one of the companies they’re recruiting. They always keep the candidate’s needs top of mind.”
—Pratap Ranade, Arena AI
How Tech Recruiter Ryan Monk keeps tech recruiting human
“Great technical interviewing comes down to a few key things. First, is making a human connection. In a labor market where every candidate likely has several other opportunities in the works, making a genuine connection can be the differentiator. Second is showing enthusiasm. While you don’t need to scream with excitement and be over the top, demonstrating passion for your business and future growth is contagious. Third is testing expert skills. It is crucial that the interviewer come prepared with specific questions to test the expert knowledge the candidate possesses, and how it relates to the core job they would do. And last, every interview process should be timely. You don’t want to lose a great candidate because you didn’t have a clearly defined process.”
—Ryan Monk, Primary
The technical and human skills Director of Talent Alicia Scully looks for
“The three most important skills I consider when making a great hire are ambition, empathy, and expert knowledge. Ambitious leaders aim to be the best, and I love working with people who are striving towards something bigger than themselves. Energy is contagious and having a group of driven people with big goals is powerful! Empathy is also more important than ever. Self-awareness combined with an ability to communicate clearly are essential to a high-performing team, especially in this remote-working world. I always look for someone who knows how to listen actively and then bring different perspectives together. Lastly, I look for candidates who have a sincere love for what they do and a great story. Someone who clearly demonstrates forward progress through their career and consistently challenges themselves to grow is going to make for a great addition.”
—Alicia Scully, Primary
Consider what matters most when it comes to compensation
The war for talent isn’t going anywhere, this is especially true for technical hires. We saw some jaw dropping compensation packages in 2021 across the board, but it really hit a new level on the technical side of the house. Big players like Amazon and Facebook and later stage businesses are using compensation and benefits to their advantage, throwing big numbers at top candidates to take them off the market. This strategy will definitely win over some candidates, but people want more than just a competitive compensation package in today’s market. Early stage founders need to use differentiators like career growth, transparency with senior management, and having a say in product strategy to their advantage (but also be ready to pay top dollar).