Hiring Software Engineers in Uncertain Times

Jeffrey Spector
President and co-founder

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking with our partners across industries about how COVID-19 is affecting them at home and at work. I’ve been inspired to see so many leaders — some of them friends — making decisions with profound thoughtfulness, demonstrating resilience, and an eagerness to help others. 

While most companies are taking a conservative approach to hiring in this environment, there are some companies that are seeing increased demand and unprecedented growth. Sectors like gaming, streaming, cybersecurity, and direct to consumer e-commerce companies are perfectly suited for today’s world. These organizations are adapting to the new normal and hiring software engineers aggressively.

Successful hiring approaches from high-growth companies

“Left-shifting” hiring plans. Companies in growth sectors are achieving monthly or even annual growth targets on a weekly basis. These companies, and others with strong fundamentals, are “left-shifting” their hiring plans — moving them to earlier in the year and accelerating hiring targets. They are capitalizing on the reduced competition for talent by squeezing two or three quarters of hiring into one. They are benefiting from the reduced competition: recruiting teams we are talking to are reporting two to three-fold increases in response rates to their outreach via LinkedIn.

Emphasizing business fundamentals to candidates. While software engineering candidates may be more responsive to recruiters as the volume of inbound applicants has decreased, they are more measured about their job searches right now. They are hesitant to jump ship (even if it’s on fire) because they fear they may fall victim to a future reduction. 

A strong balance sheet does more to impress candidates right now than a big name or fancy perks. For example, companies are emphasizing that they are not dependent on outside investors for capital infusions by sharing their cash balance (or runway), profitability metrics (if they have them), and recent growth metrics even within the pandemic period. All of these indicators build confidence that the business is here to stay. 

Leveraging the remote world to build a more realistic and candidate friendly hiring process. Talent acquisition teams are figuring out ways to leverage the 100% remote “onsite” process to produce a more candidate friendly and predictive interview process. They are doing this by spreading interviews out over time and matching candidates with right employees in the interview loop. Some teams are liking this so much, they say they’ll even delay going back to onsite interview loops that require huge travel and expense budgets.

Instead of forcing candidates to conduct five or six hours of interviews back to back, which is exhausting and does not match what they would do on the job, companies are allowing candidates to schedule their interviews over a few days. This gives candidates a better opportunity to prepare and come to the interview ready to show their best work. 

We also recommend broadening interview panels to include those outside of the office where the candidate would work. This allows companies to match candidates with engineers who share similar backgrounds and skill sets. It also creates a deeper bench of interviewers, some of whom may be better aligned from a scheduling perspective. Night and weekend interviews, for instance, will give candidates the flexibility to schedule around their childcare needs in a suddenly school-less world.

Targeting coveted developer talent (or raising the hiring bar). There are, unfortunately, a decent number of senior engineers with unique skill sets who may have recently been part of a layoff and are looking for their next great opportunity. So if there are talent gaps at your company, hone in on those roles and levels that are most difficult to hire for in normal circumstances and focus on those first. 

Measured approaches for steady-state hiring

Companies that may not be hiring aggressively but are in a steady position are taking different and more conservative approaches to navigating this new environment. 

Building a bench of software engineering talent. A hiring freeze may be necessary to keep teams intact, but it will be expensive and time consuming to kickstart the talent pipeline when hiring resumes. To prevent this, some leaders are building a bench of talent by keeping roles open, continuing first-round interviews, and taking more time to interview and assess candidates. 

Improving the interview process. The bright side of lower volume hiring is that teams can step back and reflect on what is working and not working in their interviewing process. They can allocate time to testing interview questions, structuring the hiring process, and making it measurable. The result is likely to be an interview process that is consistent, capable of producing more signal, and gets candidates into roles faster. 

Maximizing developer productivity. While not exactly hiring related, we are seeing companies focus on maximizing developer productivity. In an environment where distractions have increased (kids!), managers are looking for ways to maximize the productivity of the team they have in place. Whether your team is experiencing increased demand or not, there are still uptime targets to meet and product to ship. That may mean eliminating or shortening meetings, reevaluating low-priority work, and shifting milestones and objectives. 

No matter your hiring plans, you can always help

Many companies are using their skills and resources to help consumers and businesses through a very, very rough patch. Indeed is actively celebrating the importance of help, no matter the source, and role it will play in recovering from the pandemic. Roblox has released a “learn & explore” game to help parents with children at home. Fortinet is offering a free VPN for companies trying to stay secure while going remote. At Karat, we’re producing resources to help companies take their interviewing process entirely remote. 

How we help will matter today, tomorrow, and even years from now. We’re in this together. 

The world is changing quickly. Please check back as we continue to highlight more knowledge and insights from hiring software engineers in these uncertain times. 

Jeffrey Spector
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