For Hire Sign

It’s Getting Hot in Here: Tips For Hiring Tech Talent In An Overheated Market

Think of the tech job market like a queue at a busy taxi stand. That’s how MIT researchers described it in a 2015 article—they modeled applicants as people waiting their turn for a taxi and employers as the taxis themselves. The difficulty of catching a “taxi” (i.e. getting hired)—and for “taxis,” finding adequate passengers (i.e. hiring enough staff)—depended on numerous factors: how many taxicabs serviced the area, how many other people were in line, and whether the passengers were able to match up with a taxi that suited their needs. 

Because people were still mostly limited by their geography, you could paradoxically have an oversupply and an undersupply of tech talent at the same time. In one place, people might be queuing in a long line for a very small number of “taxis,” while in another, the “taxis” might be circling around, struggling to find enough passengers. 

Not any longer. The remote work transformation, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, makes the taxi model fall apart. Especially when it comes to finding tech talent. 

Faced with one of the hottest recruiting markets in recent memory, many newly remote tech companies have dramatically expanded their hiring borders. All this has led to even more intense competition over top candidates. Salary expectations are skyrocketing and many applicants have four or more offers in hand at the end of an interview cycle. 

Instead of queuing for a taxi, star applicants have taxis queuing up for them. And it doesn’t matter how far they are from the traditional tech hubs—there are more than enough eager drivers to pick them up. For early and mid-stage companies, hiring can feel way too hot to handle.  

I sat down with Steve Melia, Partner at OpenView and talent expert extraordinaire, to get his take on what companies can do to navigate this overheated recruiting landscape—and not get burned in the process. He shares how to strategically budget for new roles, expand your hiring pool, and give remote applicants a five-star experience. 

1. Prioritize building out your product team over bringing on sales and marketing hires

Right now, many early-stage companies are in a tight spot. They know their product team isn’t where it needs to be, but feel pressure to flesh out the sales and marketing capabilities of the business so they can start making money. Given how competitive salaries are right now, most startups can’t have it both ways—they have to pick one or the other. 

If that’s you, Steve has some advice: Focus on your product first and worry about go-to-market later. “You can have the strongest go-to-market team ever, but if you don’t have a product that’s ready to scale and has features that can continue to evolve for your customers, you’re eventually going to hit a roadblock,” he says. “You need strong engineers and a strong product team to back up that growth.”

While you should make note of what’s missing on the go-to-market side, Steve suggests pushing those hiring decisions to a later date. “You might have in the back of your mind that you need a VP of sales, but I would rather pay a strong engineer right now and push off more senior go-to-market hires in today’s market.” 

Not to mention that product-led growth is a perfectly viable strategy. At the end of the day, the best sales and marketing is still an exceptional product. And without a strong product, there can be no sales and marketing. 

2. Design your hiring process step-by-step before launching your search

“Each day a candidate is not talking to your team, they’re talking to another team at another company,” says Steve. “Time and momentum are everything right now. We’re really coaching our companies to have a clean process, which turns into a great candidate experience.” And in order to create a smooth, efficient experience, you need a game plan. 

“From the moment you connect with the candidate to the minute they get an offer, there needs to be a very clear path of how they’re going to get there,” he says. You don’t want to get to the end of the first interview and have to think about which person you’re going to set them up with next. You should already have a clear applicant journey in mind, so once they pass one step, you can ferry them along to the next. 

To this end, Steve has a specific checklist that teams should work through before they start recruiting for a role: 

  • Get aligned on the role and its responsibilities
  • Write your job description 
  • Put together pitch materials to give candidates a deeper look at your company and culture (beyond what’s on your website)
  • Decide who will be on your interview panel and the order of interviews 
  • Prep each interviewer for what they’re looking for and make sure everyone’s on the same page 

Do all that, and your candidate will have a smooth, bump-free ride. “It makes the candidate feel like you really know what you’re looking for, and you’ll have a better connection as a result,” says Steve. 

3. Consider waiving traditional job requirements to expand your hiring pool

“In today’s market, you can’t wait for the ‘perfect’ talent to come along,” says Steve. (Never mind whether the “perfect” candidate really exists.) “It’s a heavier cost for your company not to have someone in the seat.”

Consider whether certain requirements—like a four-year degree, an MBA, or other specific qualifications—are really necessary for the role. Often, someone with a versatile background and transferable skills can make just as good of a match. 

For instance, experienced SDRs, who are great at calling people and making connections, can be great additions to your talent team. Or if you need to fill an operations role, you could recruit someone from hospitality who’s had a lot of experience facilitating inter-team connectedness. A person’s skills and experiences are much more important indicators of their potential than the job titles they’ve held in the past. 

While recruiting for executive roles, you might be focused on candidates who have done it before, don’t limit yourself. Candidates who have held “second-in-command” roles can be just as capable. For instance, a regional lead, such as a SVP of North American Sales, may own 75% of the company’s revenue target. They’ll be tactical experts with enough strategic knowledge to grow into the leader your business needs.

And don’t forget to look for folks outside of your bubble, who bring a different point of view. “We’re seeing a lot more companies hire people with backgrounds from outside of their particular industry,” Steve says. Bringing on someone with a different perspective or experience can help fill knowledge gaps that you didn’t even realize you had. “I’d say diverse teams as a whole are phenomenal,” he continues. “If you’re a security business and everyone on your team comes from security, it can benefit you to bring someone from outside of that domain to offer a different perspective.”

4. Use your first call to sell the candidate on your company—not the other way around

In today’s market, top candidates have a veritable buffet of enticing opportunities available to them. To capture their interest, you need your dish to look enticing. Steve puts it bluntly: “Right now, you need to put your ego down and sell.”

“We used to advise people to do a 60/40 split—selling and interviewing the candidate. In today’s market, you need to get on the first call and sell 100% of the time.” 

“I’ve been saying this all year: Your first call with a candidate is not an interview call, it’s a complete selling motion,” he continues. “We used to advise people to do a 60/40 split—selling and interviewing the candidate. In today’s market, you need to get on the first call and sell 100% of the time.” 

That doesn’t mean talking at your candidate, though. You still want to make a personal connection. “Try to get to know the person and what they’re looking for,” says Steve. “You can say something like, ‘I’m happy to tell you all about the company and the opportunity, but first I’d love to learn a little more about you, and what’s really going to get you excited in your next role.’” Once you know more about what motivates them, you can tailor your pitch accordingly. 

5. Facilitate better remote connections with more personalized attention 

As more companies hire from further afield, they face a conundrum. “What’s missing from remote hiring is those other touch points you would normally get from bringing someone to your headquarters—touring them around, grabbing lunch together, spending time with them in a more casual way,” says Steve. “If you can open up that line of communication in a remote process, you’ll be surprised how much more you get a feel for a person’s communication style.” 

He shares an example of a company he was working with that hired a CFO recently. “They had a clear process laid out with interviews scheduled with different leaders and board members, but then the CEO did a really good job of keeping the lines of communication open on the side. So things like shooting the candidate a quick text, ‘Hey, how did your meeting with so-and-so go? Do you have any questions coming out of it? Let me know if you want to hop on a call.’” Not only were they able to develop a personal relationship with the candidate, but their formal interviews were actually more fruitful because they were able to answer a lot of questions and build rapport between meetings. 

“At the end of the day, you’re getting a colleague—and they’re going to be looking for that personal connection and camaraderie,” Steve says. 

6. When faced with sticker shock, remember that time is money

“There are a lot of jaws dropping on compensation packages today,” says Steve. “It’s just the nature of how competitive the market is right now. There are some positions where, if you don’t pay, you’re not going to get a candidate.” 

When grappling with the high cost of talent, Steve recommends keeping the big picture in mind. “You also have to factor in that time is money,” he says. “So the longer you spend searching and the more time you spend turning down great candidates who ask for more than you budgeted, the more time—and ultimately revenue—you waste.” You don’t want to look back six months later, with the position still unfilled, and be thinking that you would have paid that premium to have someone working all along. 

It all comes back to defining your goals and making the most of the budget you have. “You have to be competitive with compensation and pick your priorities,” says Steve. “If engineering’s your biggest priority, you should increase your budget for engineers and find ways to get more creative on marketing and sales spend.”

With a little savvy, you can successfully navigate the tech talent shortage

In today’s overheated talent market, there are some nonnegotiables. “If you want top talent, you need to pay top dollar,” says Steve. “That’s just the reality.” But, there are also ways you can innovate and adapt. By carefully designing your hiring process and rethinking old patterns, you increase your chances of matching with an exceptional candidate.

Even though there are more taxis than passengers these days, if you can create an unforgettable experience, you can still attract the right passengers to your queue.

Carina Rampelt
Carina Rampelt
Senior Writer and Strategist at Fenwick

Carina is an Oxford-educated literature aficionado turned Writer & Strategist at Fenwick. In her off hours, she’s a knitter, daydreamer, and aspiring yogi. For timeless wisdom on writing in the workplace, join the Fenwick newsletter: www.fenwick.media/newsletter
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