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Recruiting Tips from Successful Small Tech Firms

Recruiting Tips from Successful Small Tech Firms

Abundant business risk. Ferocious competition. Finicky loan officers. Picky angel investors. A shape-shifting labor market that defies mastery. Infinite opportunity for brilliant, capable people. And, most daunting of all, scarce IT and sales talent of the caliber that your small tech firm must possess to win.

How can your small company prevail against these seven IT recruiting challenges? Try these recruiting tips, 2012-style.

Recruit the whole person, not just the geek. “Motivated people want to know that their role is crafted for their skill set and growth and personality,” says Julia Hu, CEO of Lark, a 2-year-old company in Mountain View, Calif., which markets a wearable silent alarm clock that links to an iPhone. 

Hu’s newest recruit agrees. “Product, mission, people, culture, roles and responsibilities — I was looking at companies that would fit all of these criteria,” says Belinda Chiang, a marketing analyst hired by Lark in April 2012. “There weren’t all that many companies that did fit.”

Be where top IT candidates hang out. Burgeoning talent, especially the 20-something crowd, is doing more than cruising job descriptions to scope out career possibilities. They’re looking for opportunities wherever they hang out.

“The first time I heard of the company was when I watched a video of Julia [Hu] on Women 2.0,” says Chiang. “The next time was when Lark showed up at a startup-oriented career fair” set up by a Stanford University student group.

Adds Erik Kostelnik, vice president of sales at Identified, a San Francisco startup that builds Facebook apps: “Our talent director goes out to meetup groups and industry events, making sure we’re out there in the press.”

Get specific about challenges that techies will tackle. “People want to know what they would really get to do” on the job, says Bob Rizika, CEO of VidScale, a Cambridge, Mass., firm that makes middleware for video content delivery. “To hire top guys in video, you have to tantalize them.” Vidscale shows IT candidates the challenges ahead by including brief descriptions of current IT projects within their job postings.

Says Rob Schmults, a senior vice president at Intent Media in New York City: “ ‘Big data’ is an attraction for candidates. We work with some of the largest companies out there,” including Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity.

Intent also practices full-stack development, which enables programmers to branch out and work on multiple dimensions of a software project.

Consider remote possibilities. “Offering employees the option of remote work or partial remote used to be a huge competitive advantage for recruiting on certain skills sets,” says Vimal Shyamji, partner and general managers at technology staffing firm Winter, Wyman Companies in Waltham, Mass. “But it’s almost expected now,” especially for candidates with skills like Ruby on Rails and Websphere Commerce Server, he adds.

Adds Rizika of the VidScale team: “Our people work from home as well as in the office. We put the emphasis on the software product rather versus making sure people sit in a particular place.”

Not that every tech venture follows this workplace flexibility trend. “Because we rely so heavily on company culture, we don’t offer work from home,” says Kostelnik.

Grow your own talent. When green talent presents good value today and high potential for tomorrow, investing in training can still make sense.

“We’ve spent significant time training interns in both technology and selling, moving them from smaller clients to larger ones as they progress,” says Rizika.

Tech firms like Vidscale sometimes find that fresh faces absorb the uniqueness of their product offerings more readily than seasoned sales performers.

Don’t deny that salary matters. Say what you will about high unemployment and the re-coronation of equity as king; people still care about the size of their regular paycheck.

If you can’t negotiate compensation the most stellar recruitment efforts might not make up the difference. “We have had people say, ‘Sorry, this isn’t enough money,’ ” says Hu.

Build your pipeline for the future. When you’re having trouble recruiting IT and recruiting salespeople fast enough to staff this month’s projects, it’s hard to think about next month, let alone next year and five years from now. But you ignore the long view of IT job conditions at your peril.

“As a country, we’re not producing enough computer scientists and software engineers from our education system,” says Shyamji. “But the global population is consuming more technology than ever.”

How can you begin to lay the groundwork for your company’s future talent needs? Intent Media has started to do a lot of campus recruitment.  

In this highly competitive recruiting landscape, says Schmults, “There’s a need to go that far upstream.”