As an engineering manager, you want the best possible talent for your team, right? Unfortunately, the fact that everyone else does too has made sourcing and hiring the right people a highly competitive business.
However, most companies are doing it wrong.
They’re hiring recruiters to fire out “template” emails with a kind of scatter-gun approach to anyone who vaguely looks like a good candidate. They’re failing to personalise their approach and they’re often meeting resistance, cynicism or outright hostility from highly qualified tech talent who are leery of these approach methods.
We hear from engineers who lament that they had to hire “the best person who turned up for an interview” rather than someone who is really considered as top talent for the job. They would like to build a better culture of excellence, but they need “best talent” to achieve that.
How can you attract a better calibre of candidate to your company?
It starts with you
Last week, we briefly discussed why engineering managers need to be highly involved when it comes to recruitment of quality team members. It’s often enough to catch the jaundiced eye of a high-level developer if leading tech management take the time to reach out themselves.
At the very least, it’s a bit of an ego-stroke, which could give them bragging rights with their friends. “Hey, the lead engineer at Company X reached out to me personally.” This is good for you – it means you’re being discussed with a wider group and may even be approached by their friends (giving you access to a wider pool of talent, because tech people are usually friends with other tech people).
As an engineering manager, you have a huge advantage over a regular recruiter. Frankly, they usually don’t know what they’re talking about. Many simply look for buzzwords on LinkedIn profiles and don’t know how to really determine a good fit. As someone who is technically qualified, you are able to better determine fit, as well as have a real conversation with the candidate about their experience and what you’re doing in the company.
When engineering managers prioritize hiring as a task they need to be involved with, company culture wins overall. Instead of having to interview the few who may have responded to an email or LinkedIn message from a recruiter, you get your pick from the beginning of possible candidates whom you actually would like to pursue. How do you get to that point where you have plenty to choose from? It starts with building your own network.
Be a Relationship Builder
The best tech leaders in the business aren’t just brilliant engineers; they’re people who enjoy spending time with others, keeping a finger on the pulse and learning what they can through the networks they build.
Networking shouldn’t be something done with selfish intentions, people can sniff that out a mile away. We all intuitively get it when someone is trying to cosy up to us because of who we are or how we might be able to help them. In contrast, it’s also obvious if you’re the kind of person who sizes people up and quickly moves on when you sense they won’t be able to do something for you.
The best engineering managers will cast a net far and wide and will be intentional about meeting new people. They understand that “generosity is the currency of networking” and they actively look for ways they can help people in their network. Sure, you might not build connections where everyone is a possible fit for your team, but you will have a very good idea of what “great” looks like after meeting so many people and you might even be referred by them to others who are a good fit.
When you think about it, the chances of you being connected to great people are about probability, too. The more you make the effort to meet people, the wider your network grows and the chances are you’ve got some brilliant connections.
As an engineering manager, your own networking skills become more valuable as the battle for top talent intensifies. Remember, you’ve already got an advantage over a recruiter because you can really speak to the technical interests of candidates. Having a broad network gives you that extra advantage.
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Set Expectations with Your Team
As a leader, you need to be modeling the behaviors you want to see in the rest of your team. Emphasize that you see recruiting the best people as a top priority and that an overall goal for your team is to be the best of the best.
Shared goals help to motivate teams and, most will agree that they’d like to work with the best talent. Encourage your team to build their own networks, just as they see you doing, so that everyone has better access to top people.
For your part, you’re going to need to make room to allow them to do so. If there’s an underlying culture in your workplace that expects people to be at their desks from dawn until dusk, that leaves little room to take part in the activities that lead to broader networks.
Heather White wrote a piece for Marketing Donut on how to encourage a team networking culture. While building networks tends to be a desire expressed by many companies, in reality, there are several barriers that come in the way of their team members doing so.
Here are the common barriers Heather identified:
- Your policies and practices discourage it.
- Many people may find it unnatural; others simply need to hone their skills.
- Divisions between individuals and teams are preventing networking.
- Line management and team are out of step.
Make sure your workplace has people-friendly policies that encourage longevity with the business. It’s difficult to build out good networks if you have high staff turnover.
At the same time, those policies should create opportunities for people to meet new people. For example:
- Send people to good conferences or events where they can learn valuable information and meet others who are like-minded.
- Encourage balance with life outside of work or even the opportunity to work on their own side-projects. We know of a dev firm who allow their team members to take Fridays to work on their own projects (knowing that devs tend to have those “side” projects). This means that they focus on their main work only from Monday to Thursday, but have the opportunity to learn, including meeting new people on Fridays.
- Consider introducing some kind of incentive for referring good talent that you end up hiring onto the team. For example, some businesses offer their team members bonuses once someone has stayed six months or more.
Teach your Team
There’s learning from your example of course, but you’ll still have team members who don’t feel so comfortable with networking. Harvard Business Review points out that, as a manager, it’s likely your team is made up with one-third to one-half introverts, who may not feel comfortable in networking situations.
Of course, we can’t really generalize. For plenty of introverts, it’s more that they prefer smaller groups of people, or getting to know a few people very well rather than flitting around a large gathering. Make room for that. Often these people will make the deeper connections that others will not.
Provide your team with opportunities to meet others, even if you arrange ahead of time for them to meet people at events. Anyone more introverted often appreciates not having to approach someone completely cold.
As for what to do when someone is really uncomfortable with networking, Harvard Business Review gave this advice: “Imagine yourself in the role of the host, rather than the nervous party guest. It’s the host’s job to make everyone feel comfortable. When you’re focused on another person’s comfort, you tend to forget about your own lack of comfort. You become more present.”
Create a united “team” culture where everyone is happy to strive for common goals and try to avoid silos or cliques where team members don’t tend to interact with others. An emphasis on collective responsibility for “best talent” will help to prioritize a team culture of excellence.
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The best tech teams don’t just happen, they are the result of intentional actions to build relationships, broaden networks and encourage excellence as a team.
Engineering managers are now more than ever required to set an example of good networking and encourage their team members to do so too.
When bringing on the best talent becomes a collective responsibility, you have access to much more effective channels for talking to good people than going through a recruiter. Build those networks and prioritize hiring for excellence in your team.