This article is a guest contribution from Guillermo Perez, CEO and co-founder of Octobot.
Finding talent in the US is hard enough, but finding software developers is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Lack of skilled talent has become a significant barrier to adopting emerging technologies, according to 64% of IT leaders.
The global competition for skills is even more pressing among senior candidates. But focusing only on years of experience is a mistake that many companies make. The alumni lining up to enter Silicon Valley are full of talented young specialists like Charu Thomas, Jeremiah Pate and Scott Wu. These 21-year-old students had never worked on a real project before. Yet they have developed wearable software to increase the accuracy and speed of warehouse order picking, designed radar satellite systems that can perform MRI analysis of the planet, and built AI superconnectors, respectively. Their groundbreaking ideas, intelligence and desire to learn proved as crucial as years in the field.
So if tomorrow’s IT talent is already waiting in the wings, what do companies need to do to attract junior software developers, and how can they successfully integrate their skills into the business? Let’s find out.
Meet your future talents where they hang out
When it comes to recruiting, it’s about meeting talent where it’s most present: online. Whether you’re searching the web through college talent pools or browsing alumni networks, the best chance of getting vacancies is to be as social as the talent you’re looking for on their platforms.
For 60% of 23-38 year olds, that place is LinkedIn. Today, with Microsoft attracting two million applicants each year for its open positions, finding the right talent for smaller, lesser-known companies is a very proactive task. Our recruiters use LinkedIn’s search capabilities to search for keywords related to areas of interest such as “cloud engineer” or “Python”, qualifications or even college course completion to match candidates with the post.
Allowing your teammates to view your prospect communication history will prevent duplicate messages. LinkedIn Recruiter is useful for tagging your teammates on profiles, giving them full visibility into the conversation and you can track your InMail performance. Sharing the same corporate login would also allow historical access; however, this limits the number of candidates you speak to at any given time.
If you are targeting a talent pool, there are specific rules. Instead of sending them the job description directly, start by building a relationship. Like marketing lead generation, it’s about setting incentives and keeping your talent engaged over time. We have had the best results when recruiting our candidates by sending interactive material.
Whether it’s personal advice on best practices, a link to our podcast or desktop video, testing their knowledge halfway through or asking them if they liked the video at the end , we can measure their satisfaction and improve the content we send.
Generating a direct interaction with your company will encourage candidates to follow you. These candidates may not apply for positions immediately, but patience is key. We’ve seen exceptionally high “conversion rates” of app subscribers after reaching out to our talent for over a month and sending out interactive content every week.
However, it is also important to recognize a lost cause. Sending too many messages can overwhelm a candidate. We therefore recommend that you do not exceed three messages if you do not get a response.
Nevertheless, LinkedIn has already become very popular, so the competition is fierce. That’s why we launched an initiative on Instagram, focusing on the younger generation. 62% of Gen Zers check Instagram daily and spend an average of 21 hours per week on social media.
In our Instagram takeover, our employees share their day in our stories and authentically demonstrate our culture. We started this project in May 2021, and in the last year we have seen an increase of over 90% in the reach of our Instagram stories. By connecting with our audience where they are present, we tap into talent pools of juniors interested in our projects and the way we work.
Filter your candidates to reach the top 5% of talents
Now comes the hardest part. When hiring software developers, skills are of utmost importance. However, you can have the most skilled talents, but if they don’t collaborate, that won’t work either.
At Octobot, we hire based on what new members can add to the team. Finding recruits with different unique backgrounds, skills, and ideas challenges innovation and minimizes unconscious bias. If we all walked and talked the same way, our growth would be limited. The idea is to hire and train specialists capable of modifying the existing culture; however, they must share a team spirit.
With 71% of Gen Z having a DIY attitude, prioritizing a cultural interview is a must. Questions like: Tell me about a time when you worked as a team and had to resolve a disagreement. How did you handle that? And what would you do differently?
Identifying missteps brings out their negotiation skills, their ability to reflect, and their courage to accept and share where they could improve. Collaborative cultures are essential in product development. Ideal candidates will demonstrate that they listen to their teammates and identify the strengths and weaknesses of others as well as their own.
For junior positions with candidates who don’t have experience outside of the classroom, you’ll be surprised how many of the same technical questions may still apply. For example: how would you adapt access to a system like Twitter? – what you are looking for here is their ability to distinguish a problem and explain a solution while testing their knowledge of design systems. General questions like these will also sound the warning signs of curiosity, and you can expect top candidates to ask for certain requirements to narrow down their answers.
If you are looking for a specific programming language like React, and the candidate has little experience, but during the interview they said, “I don’t know React very well, but I want to learn, and I believe the front-end course I’m studying has familiarized me with coding strategies that will better support my integration with React,” he’s a strong candidate.
Three-quarters of Gen Z want to be able to develop their skills within the company. Test if they have contextual understanding with questions like: How could React improve website responsiveness? And you can certify their ability to transfer their skills from what they learned in their course to the requirements of the job description.
You can train skills but you can’t teach attitude
Reflect your startup’s agile mindset when hiring: you shape talent and grow together. Gen Z wants to know if companies will help them learn new skills as jobs change. When they first join the team, rather than working directly with clients, allow them to work on a hands-on project. Our junior training camp allows our new recruits to put their skills and knowledge into practice in an internal project.
Also, we associate each recruit with a coach with more experience. That way they have someone they can identify with throughout the process, someone who can mentor them, and they get used to the ways of working and knowledge sharing practices. When they’re done, they make a demo and present it to their teammates. External software boot camps are a good option to consider.
Presentation skills are fundamental in customer-facing roles. Your developers need to provide proof of concept and pitch ideas to partners and get the best results for their business. Imagine a customer is looking for a new user interface. Your newest recruit is an expert in deploying front-end frameworks, but she stumbles over customer questions. The customer loses confidence and, in the worst case, takes his business elsewhere.
By preparing your team for client projects in a safe practice environment, you can iron out misunderstandings and boost their confidence before the real thing.
Training opportunities and the ability to connect with the culture through social media before joining are important factors for junior candidates. We find the ability to self-educate exciting for developers. Growth mindsets are born out of curiosity and a thirst for learning. And programming involves endless frameworks to discover. New codes and APIs are launched daily. Initiatives like Codecademy or Codeanywhere are ideal for your team to develop the skills they are passionate about.
Competition is not just for skills. It’s to find the right cultural mix. Providing a support system that promotes learning and growth, tasks that satisfy your juniors’ brains, and building a path together for their future will help you achieve and retain your talent.
Find out what excites your workers and how to implement a development plan. Showcasing your culture through social media welcomes new talent with open eyes. You can change strategies along the way, but as long as they’re part of a transparent process, you’ll earn the loyalty of your smart, curious, and driven juniors.
Guillermo Perez, CEO and co-founder of Octobot, a software consulting firm transforming people’s digital experiences. The company serves a wide range of industries, including Agtech, SaaS B2B, Healthcare, Retail, Government and Fintech.
Disclosure: This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company.