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In Desperate Need of Engineering Talent? Stop Recruiting Now

Why would someone want to work at your company? This question, bred largely out of the intense competition for engineering talent, assails the mind of many recruiters, hiring managers, and executives in Silicon Valley. The natural inclination for many of us: we survey the landscape of successful companies (and great places to work) for best practices and build our strategy accordingly.

But this approach is a trap. Now, I’m not talking about superficial things like unlimited PTO (the world’s biggest oxymoron), snacks, treadmill desks, or smart toilets — I hope that, at this point, nobody with a reasonable amount of talent would join a company simply because they “look like” a tech company. No, as the tech community recruiting world has matured, we’ve gotten smarter — we know that what top candidates really look for is a good challenge, a hard technical nut to crack.

So we keep scanning the landscape for these intrinsic motivators that we can use to differentiate ourselves with candidates. We start to see things like billions of records and gazillions of users and bigger than big data. One job description layer deeper, and we start seeing names like Hadoop and Cassandra.

And: eureka! Like the recruiters a generation before us who couldn’t stop talking about free food and beanbag chairs, we hail these as the things that make our companies great places to work. We look inward, finding facts about what our numbers look like right now. How many users? Transactions? Records? Log files?

We want to quantify the nature of our challenge because, given our usual way of thinking, this makes us feel comfortable.
But in doing this, we miss the point. We jump straight to the what, completely obviating why we do what we do. The numbers of transactions you’re processing at this moment, how many users you currently have is essentially already old news — and as Twitter’s Ev Williams points out, the numbers we focus on tend to be misleading and don’t highlight the real value a company creates.

What really matters is where you’re going. So before we send our army of recruiters out there, we better arm them with the tools to be successful.

And that starts with the why.

Call it vision, mission, envisioned future, or whatever the flavor of this month’s HBR is — I don’t care. What I do know is that, whatever that thing is, it should make you wake up in the morning, work hard, overcome frustrations, and once you’re done, do it all over again. It’s a clear understanding of where you want to be tomorrow — or years down the line — that helps inspire you and guide the decisions of today.

Going through the process of re-identifying and defining this thing can be scary: when what you really need is more engineers, taking a step back and exploring your elemental basics is as counterintuitive as throwing baking soda on a grease fire.

Overcoming this, conceptually at least, is easy. The only question is how much suffering through a lack of recruiting results are you willing to endure before you are forced to stop, breathe, and realize that the right candidates aren’t getting inspired by your perks and billions of transactions — because they don’t understand why you’re here and why that’s important. You’ll sound just like everyone else. The sooner you focus on articulating your own, unique view of the future, the sooner you’ll start attracting the right people for the job.

In this sense, realizing that you aren’t Google or Facebook can be frightening — but it’s also liberating. You are you. And the beauty of that is also counterintuitive: Not everyone will appreciate, be compelled by, or even respect you as a company or as a team. They won’t think your company is a great place to work. And these people won’t apply or answer your emails. And that’s great news!

If a candidate is seriously choosing between a tech giant and your smaller engineering team, it’s a battle you don’t want to partake in. These candidates are attracted to things that your team’s not. Pursuing them is a drain on your already precious resources.

So, if you’re having a hard time attracting the right people, now’s the time to take that step back, figure out who you really are, and trust that, if you’re genuine about it, everything else will fall into place.

Photo credit: DWRose

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