Why Can’t You Hire Engineers For Your Startup?


"We’re doing well if we hire 10% of the people that we have face to face interviews with,” I said to my cofounder and VP Engineering, Jeroen.

We had hired our initial team of ten engineers through our network. So the numbers were much better for us. Now our hiring was starting to slow down, and the law of larger numbers was starting to hit us.

We were still using our network as our primary recruiting tool, but we were getting to more second and third order connections. Plus we were picky.

In fact we were arrogantly picky. We had a group of gifted engineers, and we/they didn’t want the talent pool diluted.

Our job interviews were tough. We pushed potential candidates really hard. There was never talk like, “This candidate is good enough so we should hire him (or her).”


One result was a 10% hiring rate. The other result is you build an air of exclusivity around your company.


The best want to work for you when they see the talent level you already have in the company is really high. So let’s assume you want to hire the best. And let’s further assume there is a ready pool of talent in your region.

What could be the possible reasons you’re having trouble hiring great talent:


A. Your company isn’t doing well.


Sorry, but the best engineers are always in demand. They usually don’t take jobs at second or third rate companies.

If you’re not doing then you’re going to need to sell the story of how you’re turning things around. That’s tough but doable. However it’s not possible if…


B. You’re not an impressive CEO.


Again, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you could be the problem. Your role as CEO is selling the company to prospective candidates. If the best engineers aren’t joining, then you need to take a cold hard look at yourself.

But let’s assume you’re doing a great job as CEO. Perhaps…


C. Your VP Engineering isn’t that good.


Great engineers do not want to work for, under any circumstances, a weak VP Engineering or CTO. Part of the job of a VP Engineering is being able to recruit great engineers.

You’ve don’t have the right VP Engineering if your VP Engineering is recruiting B and C players, or your VP Engineering can’t close A players.

But let’s assume your VP Engineering is really, really good. Maybe…


D. Your compensation packages aren't competitive.


I’m not suggesting you overpay for your talent. You don’t have to overpay if you’ve got a great company with a great team.

However, you do have to be competitive. Great engineers aren’t going to work with you for nothing. That’s just not going to happen.

So, if you’re getting feedback that your offers aren’t competitive, then you may need to up your compensation. We used to keep a record of every offer we made and whether the offer was rejected or accepted.

We could literally see when the market price for engineers was changing, so we adapted. You’ll need to do the same.

For more, read: How Can You Make Sure You're Hiring A Players, Not C Players?


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