Team Building: Finding developers

Sanjay at Downing StreetFresh back from 10 Downing Street, Sanjay is speaking this week at We’re All Hackers Now at which Harvey Nash will announce results from their IT recruitment survey. Since our crowdfunding campaign we’ve welcomed seven new faces to our development team and have been trying to optimise our recruitment process to get an edge in a competitive talent market.

Why should anyone join your business?

You’re asking someone to spend much of their waking life devoted to your organisation for several years. Your pitch better be good!

When we made an offer to one person I could tell he was made up and I knew it wasn’t because of the salary and option package. Coming from a company where its the norm to read e-mail on holiday he can barely believe we insist our team don’t check e-mail when away. It’s things like this that can set a start-up company apart, big corporations will always win in a salary arms race.

Think of developer recruitment as you would think about defining your product and marketing strategy.  First understand needs and how you can fulfill them. Then consider how to reach your target market with your message.  Everyone is different but the needs you might consider in priority order are below.  The good news for start-ups is that job security doesn’t feature highly (developers know they can get another job easily) whilst innovation (oft associated with the start-up) is right at the top.

recruitment_top_reasons_for_moving_jobSource: Harvey Nash

I thought our fun, flexible working environment and innovative technology aligned well with many needs but we had improve our communication of it on our careers page.   We applied online marketing principles to our recruitment adverts adding a lead message and focusing first on what we can offer.  The goal of the advert is not to list your requirements.  As the start of the funnel the goal is the visitor spending more than a couple of seconds on the page!  Test your proposition on your current team then get Google Analytics coverage to see how you’re doing.

recruitment_advert_pitchOur job board pitch starts with an attempt to sell ourselves

Online marketing is a minor channel

We placed our roles on the big general and IT specific job boards through Recruitment Genius which seemed more time and cost efficient than listing separately on each. Though none of our current team found us this way, we found several candidates for future roles.  Considering the low cost we’ll continue to advertise through this channel.

More interesting to me was Stackoverflow careers which offers high granularity targeting of candidates in their community:


StackOverflow is implemented as a developer careers site should be, showcasing the team, technologies and benefits a company offers. Unfortunately our experience mirrors that of our friends at Shortlister in that applicants were mostly overseas without a UK visa and there is no way to automatically exclude them.  My impression is that the careers site is used by candidates actively searching job boards rather than the community on the main site. With few local candidates on their database and at £325 per listing I don’t think we’ll be using it again.

We drove some traffic through our Twitter and Facebook profiles. We didn’t take anyone on that found us this way but it seems like a no-brainer to continue to publicise roles through our social network pages.


We also experimented with Facebook adverts which in principal can be targeted by geography and to some degree skill set. The adverts we ran resulted in no applications but I wouldn’t say we exhaustively tested.


I realise that I have touched only the tip of the iceberg with social recruiting. There are tools like TalentBin, Entelo, HiringSolved and Gild that use social media and community profiles to find passive candidates. Their cost and the time taken to use them has led me to conclude they are best left to external recruitment consultants.

Recruitment consultants have a role to play

The online marketing would be done by a good recruiter but running it in house delivers cost savings considering the low effort required.  Though we’ve not recruited anyone from it yet, it seems to be driving awareness of our proposition in the community and candidates for all types of position are starting to reach out to us proactively which bodes well for the future.

Developers I asked said they’d be more likely to engage directly with an employer so I do think its important to be proactive yourself but recruiters have access to networks and tools that enable them to reach passive candidates we can’t. We’ll continue to work with Leigh at pro-quest Resourcing to ensure we cover all angles.

The power of the network and legwork

Staff recruitment sources
Team Cocoon recruits by source

I worked my LinkedIn and offline network, asking for leads from everyone I know.  For two months “Do you know any good developers?” was tacked onto the end of every conversation I had. Online and offline community interest groups were attended by Cocoon delegations.

We tended to lead with why anyone would want to work for us rather than what we’re looking for now as over the long term, we’ll need lots of different skills.  So far, 6 out of 7 of our new colleagues were found through this type of activity. Clearly there’s a cost to our time but I just don’t think it can be outsourced. I’m confident we wouldn’t have reached or brought on board the team we have using outsourced recruiters alone.

Hopefully the network and legwork approach can go viral throughout our team to scale the approach as we grow.  The early signs of that are already present with one colleague being referred by a recent new team member.

The next recruitment hacking sprint for us

An applicant tracking system needs to take over from my e-mail folders to ensure we can find details of people proactively contacting us now as roles come up in the future.  Such a system could also streamline communication internally during the interview and review process.

We’d like to host some community interest groups in the event space we have at our new HQ (photos coming soon).  We want to do that for fun and to expand our horizons anyway but I expect it’ll bring us into contact with more Cocoon team members to be.

The coding project we ask some candidates to complete needs some development to ensure its result can overcome the uncertainty we’ve sometimes had after looking at code applicants have shared with us or published.

In conclusion

Remember that you’re only half way through the process when an offer is accepted. Its important to be proactive in ensuring new colleagues feel at home and integrate into your organisation. Great people can walk back into their old job if they don’t like their first weeks and its in everyones interest to do what you can to get them working at their best.

I’m tiring of hearing “hardware is hard” but I can now at least respond with “recruiting software developers is hard”.  I’m turning my attention to recruitment of our QA team now. Hopefully with what we’ve learned that’ll prove easier!