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How to Hire Software Engineers

Here are some simple, yet effective tips for improving your chances of hiring the tech you need...

John Zappe
Tech researcher and journalist
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If there was a foolproof “How-to Hire Software Engineers” guide, it would be on the desk of every tech recruiter.

There isn’t.

Sourcing software engineers, software developers or just about anyone involved in software development can be as difficult as finding Bigfoot.

In This Article

More jobs than candidates

The problem is that tech professionals are in short supply and high demand, which puts them in the driver’s seat when it comes to recruiting. By one analysis, there were 918,000 open tech jobs just before the Covid pandemic. At the time, unemployment for those with the technical skills to fill them was just under 2%.

By the end of 2020, the number of unfilled tech jobs rose to 1.4 million. Today, new tech jobs are increasing at the rate of more than 10,000 a month while unemployment in the sector is at 1.5%.

While all the different jobs up and down the tech stack are going begging, demand for software engineers is greatest. CompTIA, the tech industry trade organization, reported that in July alone hiring activity for just software developers, programmers, and software engineers grew by 3,451 jobs, the most of any tech category.

For perspective, that’s seven times that for web developers. No surprise that recruiters and hiring managers are willing to consider practically anyone with anything close to the right skill set or even just basic technical skills.   

Some tips to improve your chances of hiring a software engineer 

An engineer working on software

1. Know the difference between software engineers, software developers, and programmers

To improve your hiring chances, our first tip is to clearly differentiate just what type of tech professional you’re looking for. Because their job titles are often mixed up, we’ll explain the difference between software engineers, software developers, and programmers.

A programmer writes, tests, debugs, and maintains computer code, usually following instructions from a senior member of the development team. They typically are skilled in multiple programming languages such as Python, Java, and Javascript.

A software developer typically has the same code writing skill set as a programmer. At startups and smaller companies, they tend to also write the code. At larger organizations, however, they may work as part of a software development team. Front-end and back-end developers specialize in specific parts of a project. Good communication skills and problem-solving ability are invaluable soft skills for these IT professionals.

The job of software developer and software engineer are often interchangeable, though the latter will almost always be involved in full-stack development work. Software engineers, like developers, will have a degree in computer science. They write code, have command of a variety of programming languages, and develop programs. Problem-solving, open-source, analytics, testing, and scaling are also part of their skill set.

At enterprise organizations with development teams and multiple team members, their role is to take a broader view of the development process. They work with other team members to design and build projects.

2. Start with a clear job description

The first place to start when hiring software engineers is with the job description. Make clear what technical skills are required. Software engineers are part of an engineering team, so such soft skills as good communication skills and collaboration with team members are a must.

Unless you’re a huge tech brand like Microsoft, the job description and your career pages need to show the technology side of your business. Your industry is less important than your tech stack and the kind of work your software developers and software engineers will be doing. Talk with your CTO and CMO if you have them, or with your existing team members about how best to demonstrate this on your career pages and in the hiring process.

You also want the job description to sell the position and the company. The best talent wants to stretch their skills working on new technologies such as AI and machine learning. Will they work with open-source software? Mention the projects and the expertise of their future team members. New hires want to know they’ll be working with a talented group.

A software engineer working on desktop

3. Referrals are your best source

Referrals are the most successful way to hire. That’s as true for software engineers as it is for every other position. You can email the job description to the development team asking for their help. Even better is to reach out to team members personally asking for referrals.

Posting the job description to the company site and to general interest job boards like Indeed and LinkedIn won’t easily get you the high-quality talent you want. Tech professionals, and especially software developers and software engineers, spend more time online sharing coding and technical help than they do looking for a job, at least on generalist job boards.

4. Search on tech sites

So, as the saying goes, you’ve got to fish where the fish are. That means posting to tech sites like Stack Overflow, Dice, and CodeinGame.

If your organization is a startup, sites like AngelList, F6, and Startupers should be on your radar. Posting on them is free. If your organization is remote-first, you might want to check out remotive, We Work Remotely, Remote.co, and Remote OK

You should also consider hiring freelancers. With rare exceptions, these software developers and software engineers work remotely on specific projects and then move on. They typically work independently, though often they collaborate via Slack or other similar communication tools. Some of the more popular sites to hire freelancers or contractors with technical skills are Lemon.io, YouTeam, Upwork, TopTal, Gun.io, and Fiverr.com

5. Streamline your hiring process

Besides casting a wide net, and proactively searching LinkedIn and other sites, recruiters must make the hiring process as quick and efficient as possible. The most common reason tech talent drops out of your hiring process is that it took too long to make an offer.

6. Train hiring managers

Make sure the interview process is efficient. The most effective way to seal the deal is to have a hiring process that takes only days rather than weeks. Many of the most successful companies will go from interview to job offer on the same day, sometimes while the candidate is still on site.

Hiring managers who don’t often hire software engineers can be the cause of losing promising candidates. Recruiters need to educate them about the need to act quickly. Be sure your candidates get to meet the software engineering team. Get them excited. Give them a feel for the new technologies and your tech stack and some of the higher-end projects.

With everyone in the organization working together, attracting and hiring the best software engineers and software developers will still be hard work, but it will be more successful because it will be a team effort.

John Zappe
Tech researcher and journalist
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John is a former newspaper journalist, digital media and tech researcher, and the former editor at ERE Media, a leading information hub for HR and TA professionals. He has over 20 years of experience in developing whitepapers, research reports, and informative articles. John is an alumnus of the Syracuse University College of Law and holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Marist College.

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