7 hiring strategies for competitive tech roles

Man in red pants working on laptop

7 mins, 31 secs read time

You’ve been working on a hard technical search for weeks (or maybe even months) without much progress. You posted your job and waited. And waited. Very few qualified or nearly senior enough candidates came through the slow trickle of applications. You’ve sent prospecting messages to everyone within a 100-mile radius. Plus, every other company is looking for the exact. same. person.

You start to wonder: Does this person actually exist? If they do, how in the world am I going to find them before another company does?

When you're looking for a needle in the haystack, life can be tough. I had an especially challenging time looking for a Security Engineer here at Greenhouse last year.

When you’ve exhausted your usual channels, here are seven strategies to help you find the right candidate and fill a challenging technical role.

1. First things first, learn about your role

We’ve all been there—you meet with a hiring manager, they throw around a ton of technical terms you haven’t heard before, and you leave the room with a murky picture of the person you’re looking for. You start prospecting and reach out to anyone who could maybe be a fit, hoping you’ll get lucky. Stop! Before you hit “send” on any InMails or emails, spend some time researching.

The more knowledge you collect about the position and the person you’re trying to hire, the better. You’ll be able to effectively explain and sell the role, address candidates’ specific (and often technical) questions, and most importantly, differentiate between all the possible candidates out there to spend quality time crafting the perfect messages only to the right people. How do you get started?

Googling unknown terms is always a good place to start. From there, you might want to dive into an online course through Coursera or Udacity to get a better overview of the skills this person needs for the job. (Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science course is a great way to get your feet wet if you’re new to tech recruiting). Next, keep a running list of questions candidates are asking and spend time with your hiring manager or other engineers to craft the perfect responses.

If you can talk the talk and have meaningful conversations with candidates about their interests and the projects they’d be working on at your company, you’ll have a big leg up on other recruiters out there.

2. Identify your target companies

For a hard-to-fill role in a competitive market, chances are slim that your ideal candidates will find themselves on your job board. You need to proactively find them. Where do you start?

Think about what your company does, what you need this person to be doing, and which other companies have similar functions, even in totally different industries. For example, we targeted companies that were likely to have strong security teams, meaning organizations that dealt with credit card payments, health information, or other sensitive data. Even though we’re an HR tech startup, I looked at banks, healthcare companies, and security consulting firms.

Another way to identify target companies is by searching for the position you’re trying to fill on a job search platform like Indeed. By browsing other job descriptions, you’ll track down companies hiring for the same role who probably already have teams in place you can now target with the perfect message.

3. Find out where candidates hang out

Your perfect candidate is probably already paid well, doing interesting work, and knows that they’re in-demand. They’re not going to refresh job posts every Monday morning at 10am looking for a new role—they’ll be waiting for exciting opportunities to land in their lap. Some of these candidates might not even have a LinkedIn profile. So, how do you reach them?

Find out where your candidates are spending their time and how you can engage with them in their natural habitat. Maybe they’re all over Twitter posting about the latest security breaches and your retweets or DMs will catch their attention. Maybe they’re sharing their expertise on StackOverflow and posting a problem your company is facing will hook their interest. We looked two places we knew Security Engineers would be: security-specific threads on Reddit and HackerOne, a platform for engineers all over the world to help companies find security vulnerabilities.

4. Send in your engineers

Sometimes engineers just want to talk to other engineers, and that’s okay. Your candidates might be more inclined to talk shop with a peer over a recruiter with a hidden (or not so hidden) agenda. This means your engineers can be your secret weapon by actually getting someone interested in the role and the work the team is doing before mentioning “hey, we’re hiring!”

One way to include your engineers in the process is to make sure they’re part of the communities where your candidates will likely be. We researched security conferences around the country and sent our hiring manager to them. In addition to great networking, these events provided an awesome L&D; opportunity.

We also encouraged our hiring manager and VP of Engineering to take prospects out to lunch or coffee. Offering an informal meeting to potential candidates was seen as a lower commitment than a phone call. Even when these prospects didn’t turn into candidates, the conversation often provided recruiting tips and network referrals.

Lastly, we made a long list of security-related Meetup groups and reached out to see if our engineers could present at their next meeting. Our hiring manager regularly attended these meetups to chat with other attendees and spread the word that Greenhouse was hiring, creating more leads and buzz about our open role. Some of these meetup groups were also willing to email around our job description to their members and these member lists were a great source for prospecting.

5. Referrals, referrals, referrals

You’re going to need your team to dig deep in their referral networks. We started with our entire engineering team by highlighting the open role at their daily standup and throwing an engineering-only referral party to generate leads. Then, we went beyond engineers and targeted the networks of other senior leaders in the company in Sales, Marketing, People and other teams who might have worked with someone excellent in the past. We asked our CEO & President to reach out to their networks and spent time combing through employee LinkedIn profiles for connections we could use.

Most importantly, keep the role top of mind for your employees! By involving the entire company in your recruiting process, you share the work and turn everyone into an extension of the Recruiting team. One of our engineers ended up striking up a conversation with someone sitting next to him on a flight and that person ended up interviewing for our security role. Someone on our Sales team shared a taxi with an engineer we ended up hiring! Moral of the story: You never know who will run into your ideal candidate, so get the whole company involved in hard-to-fill roles.

6. Recruiters are your friends

Yes, you’re competing with recruiters at other companies for the same people. But, these recruiters have a wealth of knowledge about the market and what’s worked and not worked for them. I contacted recruiters who were also looking for security engineers and met for coffee to trade advice. Our conversation went something like this: “Have you tried this job board?” “What do you think of my job description?” “How are you structuring your interviews?” You’re probably both struggling with the role and sharing helpful wisdom and lessons makes you both better recruiters.

7. Perfect your sales pitch

Last, but absolutely not least, work and rework your sales pitch. Spend time with your engineers understanding what motivates them and why they keep coming to work for your company every day. Engineers can get free lunch and unlimited PTO at any number of startups, so you need to think beyond the perks and be able to articulate why your role is truly the best step for their career. My conversations with these candidates focused on what Greenhouse could do for their careers, and not why they were a good fit for us. You have to believe it, own it, and sell it.

One way to start crafting your messaging is by reading other job descriptions. How can you convey the same information in a more enticing way? For example, a recruiting coordinator candidate might be more excited by “create a world-class candidate experience by organizing all aspects of the interview process” than “schedule and confirm candidate interviews.” Figure out how you can shape and structure everything you share with a candidate to create the most excitement and passion for your role and company.

When you finally make that hire...

Celebrate! Also, it’s really helpful to keep everything you’ve tried in one place. The next time we need to hire for our security team, we’ll already have a built-out list of meetups, speciality job boards, Boolean strings, conferences, and target companies.