At Umbraco we know that people is the most valuable asset we have. That's why we care a lot about building an awesome community. And it's the reason why we work hard to attract the best and most talented people to work at Umbraco HQ. The employees that have the perfect combination of personality and skills; the ones we call top talent.
To give you a bit of insight into how we look at recruitment and how we build a culture that makes our employees want to stay, we've written an e-book about it. If you're interested in the topic, you can download it at the bottom of this page.
Here's the first part of it; how to attract talented people.
Why talent is more valuable than ever
Every day we are moving towards a world that is both more efficient and more digital than any sci-fi cartoon from the 70s could have predicted. One of the forces at the helm of this digital revolution are software companies and web agencies that are facilitating this change for everyone else.
Whether it’s by helping businesses that previously had no digital presence be represented in the digital space or taking established businesses and expanding their opportunities with new online solutions... the role that agencies and software companies play is undeniable.
But to try and fuel this innovation, companies need a constant supply of developers to fill a multitude of general and specialist roles. And while the demand for developers is at an all-time high, the quantity in both University graduates and self-trained professionals is not even close to enough.
Multiple surveys of over the last couple of years have pointed at a worldwide shortage in developers.
The top three issues software businesses face are a mix of:
- Not having enough people
- Sharing experience across seniority levels
- Hiring suitable candidates
With almost 9 out of 10 IT businesses saying that hiring new talent is ”hard” (and 36% calling it ”very hard”), it’s starting to become evident that calling this a developer shortage might be an understatement.
Recruiters often refer to this situation somewhere along the lines of: ’’worldwide developer shortage crisis’’
So if hyperboles are on the table, what if you wanted to make your recruitment even more selective? If you don’t want to settle for just having any ol’ developer, but instead, you want to attract the top talent in the industry, with all the perks they might bring to your company. Well then, you must be prepared to rethink or tweak some things about the way you operate.
If that sounds like a hassle, or you already have a team filled with top of the line developers, you might want to think about retention instead because employee turnover costs you more than you know, both directly and indirectly:
- Teams that are in constant flux and have an unstable structure are obviously going to be less productive
- The employees that leave are always going to leave with crucial experience/knowledge that is completely removed from the company
- The brand might get damaged from bad reviews on employer-rating sites and word of mouth, or bad press in general
- The cost of losing an employee can range anywhere from 16% to 213% of their annual salary in some cases!
Now that talented developers are more scarce than ever... you might be wondering:
How does one identify this ’’top talent’’? And once you’ve done so, how do you recruit, onboard and retain them?
Sidenote: We'll be making a lot of references to hiring developers on this page. At Umbraco HQ we hire many different roles besides developers and attracting top talent for any job role is important. Developers do make up the majority of Umbraco HQ though, which is why we've chosen to focus on that. Feel free to exchange "developer" with any other role when reading this document. For a more fun read, we recommend exchanging it with "Unicorn".
What is top talent?
Before we start our deep dive into the obvious and not-so-obvious ways of attracting and retaining top talent, let’s take a moment to define:
What exactly is top talent?
Top talent is one of those terms that does not have a clear cut definition. However, when talking about the world of software, there are certain characteristics that come up time and time again when discussing high performers. These are also the characteristics we look at, when we're looking for new employees at Umbraco HQ:
The go-to metric for determining top talent. Whether it’s due to natural talent or 10,000 hours of practice, if someone is exceptionally skilled, they are on the best possible path to be considered top talent at any company.
The goal to become the top of their field. Ambition drives people to always keep up with the newest trends and developments in their field and continuously improve their skills.
When they say something will get done, it gets done at all costs. And if both the managers and team members know they can count on someone when the going gets tough, that person becomes irreplaceable.
Knowing how to clearly communicate with managers and executives that speak the language of money on one side, while communicating with the technical team members who speak in code and high fidelity mockups on the other is a skill that should be paid in gold.
Everyone can excel at their individual tasks, but sharing a task or working efficiently in a team is a must-have for those that want to become the top performers in any company.
Some creatives are a constant source of ideas during a brainstorming session. Some always see a problem from 3 more angles than everyone else. And while creativity manifests in a lot of ways, sometimes it’s the main thing behind a person’s top-talent status.
Leadership is not just a skill for managers or team leads, and doesn't always require a fancy job title. People who join fresh out of college can find themselves at the top of the pyramid in any team within a few months, even with no direct effort. If an individual is approachable, facilitates a good workflow, or solves problems with a levelled head, they will soon become respected by their peers as a leader - even with no title involved.
The green ’’you can talk to me’’-light next to the monitor turns red. The headphones go on. 6 hours, 3 cups of coffee, 1 missed lunch, and a single stretching session later, one individual just saved a 10-person project from being one week late. That’s how people become legends. And top talent.
Being considered top talent does not mean that a person has to have all of these qualities fully formed. It doesn’t even mean that top talent and top performers have to achieve all of these qualities eventually. A person who fully masters just a few of these qualities could quickly rise to become a prime asset to any company. And if your company finds itself hiring a person that displays most or all of these qualities, then you should do everything you can to keep them around until they decide it’s time to retire.
Recruitment. Love it or hate it, this is where it all starts if you want to attract top talent for your company. But there’s so much more to recruitment than job postings and hiring recruiters. It’s in the recruitment phase that the first bit of onboarding starts. While it is 100 % the candidate’s responsibility to find out as much as possible about the company they want to join, why not show your values and culture even at the earliest stages and make it easier for them?
It’s no secret that even the most basic one-page websites have an “about us” section.
But imagine being a top talent developer or specialist looking for new opportunities. They might go through 50 “about us” pages every day.
Does your mission and vision statement stand out of the crowd? Do you communicate having a culture that provides a constant stream of challenging problems to solve? Do you have a hilarious video of your founder switching places with your human-sized-rabbit-office-mascot and shooting confetti at your unsuspecting support staff?
Do you want to show your values to potential clients? Then video is the way to go. It doesn’t have to be a big production - the only thing it has to do, is to show your company values and culture.
Here's one of the videos we use to show our culture (stick around till the end if you want to see confetti 🎉):
Letting your mission, vision and culture shine through in your recruiting process helps you immensely in not only standing out from the crowd, but also in attracting the right people for your company.
Personality vs. skills; what's more important?
Before we get any further it’s time to address the tiny elephant in the room:
What’s more important - personality or skills?
To answer that question, you only need to scroll back up a bit to find our list of characteristics for top talent. Notice how there’s only 1 called skill, while the rest are primarily based on personality? That’s no coincidence.
While skill alone is incredibly important, it’s what makes them capable of doing their job after all, it’s not necessarily the thing that makes them top talent. No amount of personality can make up for not having the core skills required to do the job, but without the right personality, it's hard to be a true top talent. If they are an amazing coder, but can’t be depended on to meet deadlines or have issues working together with their team, that's a real problem.
At the end of the day it’s important to remember that most skills can be taught and improved, but personality and cultural fit rarely can. If you want your entire team to perform - not just the individual - it’s important to have the right mix of personalities and culture. If the right culture is there, you’ll see skills improve for everyone and soon you’ll have a team full of top talent that performs day in and day out.
For 99 % of our job postings we use this to highlight our people-first focus:
”We care about people. That’s why the most important qualification is your personality: who you are, what values you have and how you interact with other people. We are looking for people with passion and energy to be part of something bigger than themselves and who are willing to dedicate their time and skills towards building great products and services in collaboration with talented and friendly colleagues.”
A good starting point for your ’’first point of recruitment’’ (not the first point of contact, because that’s probably your landing page) is to create a clear value proposition for the inbound job candidates. Until your company reaches a certain size, you can’t cater to everyone’s wishes concerning work-life balance. Your hiring decisions should always be based on a cultural fit more than a technical fit if you want to hire employees that will stay around for more than just a year or two.
While technical skills are clearly important, it’s much easier to improve a skill than it is to change a personality. If we want to go into specifics, we can go back to the user experience analogy. When writing a value proposition on the careers page, you need to think about what kind of company you really are.
Let's look at an example
’’We are looking for dedicated people to help bring the most innovative web solutions to life for our clients by day, and help us put up new shelves for all these awards by night...’’
That statement will attract a certain kind of people:
- Fresh graduates with a lot of ambition looking for validation of their skills
- Experienced professionals who want an environment for their talents to be utilized
- People looking for a challenge and don’t even consider crunch time a negative word
- Career-building professionals who are looking for a place that gets them more awards to their resume
- People who live for their jobs and look forward to evenings and Saturdays at the office filled with pizza and fixing the kinks in the code
Then on the other side of the spectrum, you could have:
’’You bring the talent, we bring the perks. At CUE Inc. (Company Used as an Example), we value strategy and planning above everything else. And thanks to our in-depth research and planning, clients always get the solution they need, instead of the solution they think they want. This also means that our employees never have to worry about scope creep or staying at work past 5 PM. Oh, and did we mention possibilities of working from home or the 4 day work week?”
A few sentences like this on your career page could go a long way towards attracting people that:
- Love their jobs, but don’t want to sacrifice time with their family for work
- Are perfect for the job, but would have had to relocate or travel multiple hours every day
- Are motivated for the job, but also have other ambitions and are trying to run some sort of side-hustle or project on the side
So which of these should you have on your career page? The beauty is; that's totally up to you.
The important thing is to be aware of the signals you're sending to potential employees. What you write about working at your company must be painfully honest. Otherwise you'll end up attracting the wrong employees to your company and that'll end in bad cultural fits and having to replace employees way too often.
At Umbraco we want to be more than "just a workplace". Sections like ”International Workplace” or ”Fun Squad” shows that we care about an open and fun work environment, where your colleagues also become your friends. This helps us attract new employees who are friendly and open, which are two of our core values. Take a look at our page here.
It’s fair to assume that people who can be considered top talent in their respective disciplines probably got there through a combination of hard work, dedication, and professionalism. Then it would be more than fair if they expect the same qualities from their potential new employer.
This is why you need to have an in-depth look at every part of the job posting, so both parties know if they are a match even before they finally meet face to face.
Takes one to know one
Company have a lot of ways to get new talent in the door. You might do all the recruitment in-house, outsource it to a headhunter/recruiter or grow to a point where a dedicated HR department or in-house recruitment person is the way to go.
But no matter which option is the most viable for you, always keep the cultural fit in mind. You might find out that the person with the most extensive resume might be too far in their career to adapt to the workflow that works for the rest of the team. There are also cases of people with less impressive qualifications, who fit in so well with the rest of the team, that they hit the ground running and start producing work way above their estimated skill-level right away.
Making your agency a cultural paradise for top talent pays off in more than one way:
- On one hand, you will attract those who have already proven to be top talent, which can give the quality and speed of work an instant boost. And if they have already heard great things about your company, you’ll have a much larger talent pool to choose from.
- On the other hand, you will be nurturing potential top performers from their career infancy and help them grow into top talent with the right personality traits to perform at your company. That has an ROI that can only be beaten by time travellers going back in time and buying stocks in Apple.
This whole train of thought is where companies might learn something from the world of sports, where it’s a common philosophy in some football clubs (or soccer if that’s the term you prefer to use):
"We don't sign superstars, we make them."
But how do you make sure that your candidates are a cultural fit? And how can you make sure that they can do the work once they get hired?
Contrary to what you might think from our previous arguments about “personality > skills”, it’s important to start with the skills first. At the end of the day you need to know which skills you’re looking for before you can start evaluating personality and cultural fit.
When the hiring process is handled by the department or team that is looking for a new member, the senior members or managers are usually in charge of the process. If there is an obvious need for a specialist that the team doesn’t yet have, creating the requirements should be as easy as simply writing down the tasks that need to be done and translating them into skills. However, if there is just more work coming in for a specific skill set (UX, .NET Developer, etc.), the existing team members should be consulted so that the new hire can complement their skill set.
Once you are settled on the skills it’s time to consider the personality you’re looking for. Are you looking for a person with an extraordinary drive to grind it out 60 hours a week? Or maybe a true team player that makes everyone around them better? There’s no right or wrong answers here - but it’s important to have an idea of which personalities you’re looking for.
The tone of voice varies from company to company and even from team to team, and the structure of a job posting can vary quite a bit. But there are still some evergreen tips that could save you and potential candidates some time:
- When a job has language or certification requirements that make or break the application, start with those
- Don’t get caught up in the technical requirements and skills needed for the job.
- Present the personality traits you are looking for on equal footing with skills, education and experience
- When dealing with entry-level jobs, a portfolio of work could be supplemented with school projects that have a similar scope
- Don’t put unnecessary year requirements on non-senior jobs
- With software that has a steeper learning curve, ask for a specific platform that your team uses (Sketch/Adobe XD/InVision) instead of listing experience with prototyping software in general
- Don’t ask for 8 years of experience in a language that has been around for 3 years
Generally, tech companies have started adopting ’’a multiple interview approach’’ that not only gives applicants a coding test or some homework, but also goes over their background and culture fit in the same depth. This is where our hiring journey once again splits into two paths, this time, based on if you chose the internal hiring strategy or the headhunter/recruiter strategy.
The recruiter can take care of the searching, first impressions and the technical fit, but you should always have the most promising candidates meet the current team for a short and sweet meet-and-greet before you consider hiring them.
If the company conducts the entire hiring process in-house, there is a lot of leeway in the process. Try new approaches and strategies, and eventually, you will find what works for you. But if you want a hint from a company that puts culture first and has been doing so for 15 years, here’s how we do it at Umbraco:
1. Collaborative effort to identify skills required
Once we are sure we need a new addition to a department, the team goes over the exact skills we are looking for. This ensures that the team knows which new skills are coming in, instead of a manager deciding it themselves. If it's to supplement an existing position it also allows the team to add input into which skills might be more important than others.
2. Job posting
When the manager has the final job posting ready, it is posted and shared online internally as well as externally. We know the value of a good network, so employees from all teams are asked to share it with anyone they might think is a good fit. To help gauge personality in the first screening process we usually ask for a short 1-minute video introduction, along with a resumé, just to get an idea of who you are as a person even before we meet you. This can be uncomfortable for some, but a lot of a persons personality can be seen in just 60 seconds.
3. Screening of candidates
As soon as we have enough candidates, the first screening process starts. Firstly it consists of sorting out any that does not have the required skills. While a lot of skills can be taught and improved, a certain level is required for any position.
Secondly, it's about sorting out those that did not adequately show that they would be a good cultural fit. This can be a tough process, but if there are many applicants, it's an important thing to do at this point. You might inadvertently turn someone down who would have been a great fit, but from our experience with the process that's rarely the case.
4. First interview
All candidates that pass our first screening are invited to a first interview. The purpose of the first interview is to get to know them as a person and figure out if they would be a good cultural fit. This includes having a 10 minutes one-on-one talk with a person from the team they'll be joining, without those involved with the hiring present. If the personality is a match to our culture, they are given homework and invited to a second interview.
While the first interview is focused on the cultural fit, the second is about technical skills. And to judge that, each candidate is given homework to complete before the second interview. This consists of various work-related tasks where they have a chance to showcase their skills. The homework also includes writing a movie review. This is an added curveball to see how they approach problem solving of tasks they probably haven’t done since high school. Curveballs happen at start-ups and scale-ups, where you might have to do work outside of your comfort zone.
6. Second interview
We have the second interview to go over the homework and technical questions. This is where their skills are assessed and the main goal is to ensure that the chosen candidate has the necessary skills to handle the tasks they would be given in the position. A big portion of the interview is less about what they did in their homework and more about why and how they did it. Showing how you approach and solve a task can give a deeper understanding of their skills as well as their preferred way of working. That comes in handy when fitting them into the team - knowing beforehand how they prefer to solve a task.
After the second round of interviews it is often clear which candidate is the best cultural fit and whether or not they have the necessary skills. Details about starting date, salary and benefits are then handled.
Now that you’re done recruiting and have hired the right person, the real work starts: onboarding. Hiring the right candidate is one thing; but if you don’t manage to give them a proper onboarding experience they will not perform as well as they could. Onboarding is the first step towards nurturing top talent.
Download the full ebook
Do you want to keep reading? Then download the full 37-page ebook that will take you through the onboarding process and everything that happens after that; making employees want to stay.
Spoiler alert: Company culture is a huge part in everything we do here at Umbraco; and we think it should be the same at every company.