How to Recruit Top Software Developers [Updated for 2023]
Want a software engineering sourcing strategy?
We hear you! That’s why we put together this ultimate guide with all the steps to recruiting top talent. You’ll learn how to find, interview, and assess candidates.
Want to learn more? Read on to learn how to recruit software developers.
What do you need to do before you start your recruitment process?
To hire software developers, you first need to be clear on the fundamentals. How can you attract the best developers? What are your needs, aka what does their day-to-day work look like? What languages are you recruiting for? That’s what we’ll look at first.
Build your employer brand
Let’s start from the beginning:
How do you even attract software developers?
In today's job market, the battle for top talent is fierce. That’s especially true for software developers -- and even more so if you’re looking to hire a highly specialized developer.
According to Stripe, access to software developers is a bigger threat than access to capital. And a survey by Reveal shows that the biggest business challenge this year will be software recruitment. 53% of software developers and IT professionals agree with this.
Not only that but hiring software developers is costly, so you don’t want to end up with the wrong candidate. Recruiting a full-time software developer typically costs between $28,548-$35,685.
So, what does it take to attract the best developers?
You need to build and maintain an employer brand that resonates with potential candidates and encourages them to grow their careers with you.
This means showcasing your company’s unique culture and personality in a way that makes it easy for potential employees to want to work with your organization.
But it entails even more than that.
A great employer brand builds on the details. From how you word your job posts to how you let candidates know they weren’t chosen this time around.
That’s why the first step to take is to think through:
How do you want to position your brand? What’s the feeling people should walk away with after engaging with it?
Get clear on your needs
So you want to know how to recruit software developers -- but why? What are your needs and expectations?
You should be clear on this before going any further so that you can define what type of role is most suitable for the project at hand. Maybe it's time to bring in a full-time or part-time hire, or even hire a freelancer.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself before searching for your next developer:
- What is the commitment expected of the dev role? Are you hiring full-time, or part-time? Are they expected to work in-house, or remotely?
- What level of involvement will the developer have? Do you want them to lead technical decisions, or simply carry out what you tell them to do?
- What is their experience? Have they worked in a similar environment before?
- How much are you willing to spend on the hire? The more expensive, the higher the quality.
- How critical is the project to your business? If it's not that important, perhaps consider freelancers or outsourcing. You can also justify spending more on hiring for this.
These questions should help you narrow down the kind of person you're looking for depending on your needs and expectations. It's important to be clear about what you want to get out of this project before going any further -- and if not, at least make sure you hire for quality.
What to look for when hiring software developers
When looking for a software developer, one of the most important things you need to determine is if their skills are up to par with expectations.
You want to look at their open-source projects and any contributions they've made to the community. Another important indicator of success is their experience. If you have the capacity to train someone, you can go for a more junior developer. If not, then investing in a senior developer might be the right thing to do so that they can work more independently and proactively.
And if you want to ensure that the next developer you hire will support your business goals, look for one that writes maintainable code. Stripe reports that developers spend 17 hours a week on maintenance issues like debugging and refactoring. A quarter of that time is spent fixing bad code. This costs companies $300 billions of developer productivity every year.
It's equally as important that they can work well in a team or on their own. So look for “soft skills” when hiring your next software developer. This means that you should not only focus on how well they write code, but also how they communicate complex ideas. Not all of your team members are likely technical, so smooth communication requires that your software developers know how to explain their work in layman’s terms.
Set the salary
Finally, decide on the salary you offer to your developers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for software developers was $110,140 in 2020. And as talent becomes harder to reach, you definitely don’t want to skimp with your remuneration package.
Before you start hiring for your open positions, you need to source enough applicants. Here’s how.
Where can you find software developers?
What are some creative ways to recruit software engineers? After all, you need to fill your pipeline so that you get more talent to apply for your open positions. (And, subsequently, you have a bigger pool to choose from.)
Here are some of the best ways to fill your hiring pipeline:
1. Personal networks
Using your personal network is one of the top ways to source candidates. 70-80% of jobs are never even published, indicating how important networking is for finding candidates. And if you don’t have suitable candidates in your direct network, ask your friends, family, and colleagues if they know anyone who would be a good fit for your team. You may be surprised at how many people know someone who is a software developer.
Referrals are, after all, the second-best source for quality hires.
2. Job boards
Job boards are a popular way to find software developers. Large job boards such as Indeed and Glassdoor have databases of millions of resumes. You can filter by location, skills, and experience level to find the perfect developer for your team.
3. Social media
Your social media platforms are good tools for finding developers. Platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are packed with software developers looking for their next opportunity. You will need to be active and promote your company. For instance, here’s a guide on how to promote your employer brand on social media.
4. Recruitment agencies
Recruitment agencies can help in sourcing software developers. They have extensive databases of qualified candidates and can help you find the perfect developer for your team. If you use an external headhunter or recruiter, you can expect to pay around 20-25% of the new employee’s first-year salary. This can range from 15%-40% or more, depending on the job being filled.
5. Job fairs
Another way to source developers is job fairs. They provide an opportunity to meet and interview many candidates in a short amount of time. You can also learn more about their skills and experience level.
6. Professional societies
Or look at professional societies, such as The Association of Software Professionals. While the most effective places to source candidates might be online (due to the nature of the job), professional societies can be overlooked by a lot of other employers.
Plus, conferences are a great way to meet software developers. Think about it; they provide a place to discuss positions at your company face-to-face without other distractions.
8. Hiring events
Hiring events are another alternative. They’re less personal, but you get a chance to present your company to especially newer software developers.
9. Campus recruiting
And campus recruiting is another alternative. Colleges and universities are packed with talented software developers. You can visit campuses and meet with students to learn more about their skills and experience level.
10. LinkedIn recruiting
LinkedIn recruiting is a great way to source software developers. You can search by location, skills, and experience level to find the perfect developer for your team.
In fact, a LinkedIn study from 2017 shows that 35% of participants say a casual conversion through LinkedIn messaging led to a new opportunity. 61% believe that regular online interaction with their network can lead to possible job opportunities.
But how do you recruit software developers on LinkedIn? If you’re wondering how to find developers on LinkedIn, the answer is that it’s far simpler than you might think. (Not easy, though!)
First, you need a strong employer brand on LinkedIn. That means filling out your company LinkedIn page, posting job openings on LinkedIn, and sharing engaging content.
Plus, you need to get out there and engage! Engage with developers in developer groups on LinkedIn and reach out directly to candidates.
Not spamming, though! Reach out to suitable candidates you think could make a difference at your company, and who your company can help excel.
11. Blogs and open-source projects
Finally, look at blogs and open-source projects, which you can find on GitHub. These will help you find candidates with the skill level you’re looking for. Then, you can reach out and invite them to an interview.
You can use this template:
“Hi! I came across your project on (site). I’m impressed! We are looking for someone to help us build (your mission) as a (position). Are you interested in chatting more about this opportunity? I’d be happy to send over more information. Thanks!”
How do you interview software developers?
Once you have a pipeline of candidates, it’s time to decide on the candidates who are going to move on to the next round. And the first step is to invite them to an interview.
Here are five best practices in terms of how to recruit software developers:
1) Set your hiring criteria
The interview is one of the most important parts of hiring a new candidate. You should know what you want out of your candidates when they work for your company, and how they will benefit from working there.
At the same time, you need hiring criteria for making an objective assessment and not letting unconscious biases affect your decision. Only with a pre-decided list of requirements that you use to assess all candidates can you make a truly objective choice.
2) Keep it conversational, not interview-like
Yes, it’s called an interview, but aim for a friendly conversation. An interrogation-like interview will only stress out both parties involved, making for a less enjoyable experience for the candidate. And these are the types of situations that build your employer brand.
Remember, candidates are, just like you, trying to evaluate if your job is a good fit for them. Ask them questions about what they would like to know.
3) Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer
This will give you much better insight into the interviewee's abilities and personality. Avoid asking simple questions such as "Do you like working with databases?" which only requires a yes or no answer. Instead, ask interviewees more open-ended questions, such as how they would handle a certain situation in their past work or what their favorite and least favorite parts of the job were. You’ll get to know them better and learn more about why they're qualified for the position.
4) Get an understanding of your candidates’ technical skills
While you’ll assess your candidates’ technical skills with a technical assessment test, interviews are a good place to start forming an understanding of their coding skills.
If you’re looking for technical interview questions to ask your candidates, here are the top interview questions for some of the most popular languages and frameworks:
5) Focus on soft skills, as well as hard skills
You’re hiring a software developer to work on technical tasks. Your candidates obviously need the right technical or hard skills.
But don’t overlook soft skills, like their communication skills or how well they understand your business. After all, those are skills that can be incredibly valuable in the long run.
That said, you need to be able to assess your developers’ technical skills. How? That’s what we’ll look at next.
How do you assess software developers?
Technical assessments are a key part of your hiring process. You’ll want to ensure that the software developer you choose to hire can produce quality code. There are many types of assessments available, but one specific type - take-home coding assessments - has been gaining momentum over the past few years.
Take-home coding assessments assess how well the candidate can actually program and solve problems. They are typically based on tasks developers would work on as part of their job.
Take-homes are assessments candidates complete at home with their own equipment. There are a few key things to keep in mind when constructing a coding assessment:
- Make sure the assessment doesn't take too much time. It's important to make sure that candidates complete the task within reasonable time constraints because a longer assessment can create a bad candidate experience. Plus, you don’t need a complex problem to determine how well a candidate can code, and the longer the assessment is, the longer your team will likely spend on evaluating it later on. Three or four hours is a good rule of thumb.
- Keep the assessment simple -- a very difficult coding assessment will be hard to complete and hard to assess. Look more at using a relatively simple task (but complex enough so that you can assess developers’ skills). For instance, use a small task, such as asking candidates to build a signup form as opposed to building the entire app.
- Make it possible for you or your team to give feedback afterward. This is essential for a good candidate experience and can pay dividends for your long-term goals. And as candidates have invested time in your recruitment process, it’s fair to give them a few tips on how they can improve in the future.
It’s a joint effort, and the goal is to understand how your candidate works through a task. In other words, it’s not about a hiring manager overseeing an assessment test, but participating in solving it.
Pair programming can be highly valuable. Just make sure that different hiring managers assess the same candidate; otherwise, you could easily end up in a situation of hidden bias where the most qualified candidate doesn’t get the job, but rather the one who is most alike the hiring manager.
Screening questions, on the other hand, are shorter questions that are intended to help sort through the first round of applicants. However, we do not recommend that you use them unless you’re an enterprise-level organization. They can do much damage to your employer brand when overused or used incorrectly, and so they’re not useful unless you have more applicants than you know what to do with (as is the case for employers such as Google and Facebook!)
Over to you!
There you have it! Now you know how to recruit software developers. What it comes down to is that you build a strategic recruitment funnel, focus on growing your pipeline with a strong employer brand, and create an effective hiring process.
Want to get started right away?