The basics of attracting talent: candidate experience

Engineering managers play many roles. Some roles they are well trained for through years of schooling and practice, and others will be entirely outside their training or experience. Moving into people management will require that you juggle many new non-technical tasks while you navigate the many relationships with your report, manager, peers and others. And in addition to supporting your team, you will need to recruit more people to join you and your team on your journey.

Recruiting other software engineers to join your team can be fun, exciting, stressful, exhausting, and one of the most satisfying experiences you can have as a team leader. However, getting candidates into the door and interviewing them rigorously to find the best candidates is only half the battle. The next challenge is attracting your ideal candidates to join your team, which is an often overlooked aspect of the hiring process. The market is competitive, and based on @Andrew’s own experience recruiting for 100+ companies in the last 3 years, the average offer acceptance rate is a troubling 30% to 50%, which means there is a good chance of needing to find many good matches for the position just to fill a single role. The lowest acceptance rates are a terrifying 20% or lower, which will stress any hiring team. And the highest acceptance rates are close to 80%. To stay competitive it’s extremely important that you do what you can to increase your probability of closing a candidate. We are here to provide some tips to guide you through the process of recruiting and help you create a positive interview experience that allows you to put your best foot forward and make a positive impression that won’t scare people away from your team.

We all know that software engineers have a world of possibilities for how to apply their skills in a professional setting. It’s often the case that the candidates that you want on your team are also wanted by many other companies and teams. And as an engineer, you already know the feeling of being bombarded by recruiters from all directions. The hiring landscape is like Las Vegas, it’s filled with exciting promotions, promises of getting lucky to make big money, and exclusive clubs with lines of people eager to get in. Some companies have the advantage when it comes to attracting people because they are in prime locations, they have big names, beautiful buildings, a lot of money and plentiful ways to attract people. Everyone knows these companies, they are “on the strip” and benefit from plentiful name recognition and awesome perks. Many software engineers are lining up to get work at these companies like the lines of people waiting to get into the hottest most exclusive club. Most other companies only have some (and sometimes none) of the flash or perks that those famous company names bring to the table. These companies aren’t “on the strip” meaning they are not well known, don’t have a lot of money, and can’t offer all the perks. If you are a manager at a company “on the strip”, congratulations, you have a big audience just waiting to get in the doors. If you are a manager at a company “off the strip”, it’s even more important that you represent yourself and your team in the best possible way by providing a great candidate experience.

You have one opportunity to attract a candidate and providing a memorable positive experience is critical. Focusing on candidate experience is your best bet because it’s effective, inexpensive and it’s one of the few things under your control. Without standing out through creating a positive candidate experience, you will be relying on luck or being the highest bidder to close candidates, neither of which will you always be able to count on. So it’s important to do great on the things that you can control and make sure each candidate consistently has a positive experience throughout the hiring process. Which means that the candidate experience is the responsibility of everyone who will interact with the candidate from the first contact until their first day on the job. We will go over the most important things that you can do as a hiring manager to build a positive candidate experience

  1. Seize the moment.
    • You only have one chance to make a great first impression, so put your best foot forward. A candidate might not be attracted to your team just because of their interview experience, but they can definitely be repelled by a negative experience during the interview process.
  2. Interviewing goes both ways.
    • While you are interviewing candidates it’s important to keep in mind that candidates are interviewing you. This means that not only do you want to give an accurate, professional, and positive impression, but you need to give the candidate insight into what working on your team will be like.
  3. Trust leads to confidence. 
    • Build a relationship with your candidates by doing more than just interviewing them. You are asking that they trust you with their career, and showing that you genuinely care about them goes a long way for creating the confidence that joining your team is a good decision.
  4. Sell the opportunity. 
    • The most important part of the recruiting process is finding the right fit, and by highlighting what makes your team unique, you will appeal to candidates who are motivated by the same things that you value. This won’t attract everyone but will attract the ones that will most value the opportunity you can provide.
  5. Break down the walls. 
    • Be transparent with candidates about the team they are joining and the challenges they will face, both good and bad. No place is perfect; if you sell a dream you will come off as fake and scare away the talent that can help you solve the challenges that you are struggling with.
  6. Respect their time. 
    • It’s important that your interview process is focused, meaningful, and on schedule. How your team runs will be reflected with how you interview, so prepare your interviewers, ensure that each interview round has a purpose, and keep things on schedule.
  7. It’s not over until it’s over.
    • It’s important to stay in close contact with each candidate throughout the interview process by being proactive and timely with your communication. For example, you might have gotten a verbal or written commitment from a candidate, but in order to prevent cold feet, you need to remain engaged with the candidate so they know you are as committed to them as you are asking them to be to you.
  8. Everyone plays a part.
    • While you, as a hiring manager, might do everything “right”, you need everyone who will engage with the candidate to also make the right moves. In order to be effective, each member of the hiring team needs to understand the rules of creating a positive candidate experience.

While this is not a comprehensive tutorial to a positive candidate experience, these are the rules that will help you present yourself and your team in the best possible light. Use these rules to get started, and add to them and adjust them to find out what works best for you. Let us know what you think about these rules and how you like to leave a lasting impression on candidates.

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