How To Win The Bloodthirsty Battle For Tech Talent

Startups in San Francisco aren't just hungry for tech talent: it's a full-blown feeding frenzy. One startup founder masqueraded as a job hunter to test the waters.

How long will it be until recruiters are camping out at the SFO Arrivals terminal, hoping to be the first one to nab that incoming Ruby Engineer when they move to the city? Not long, judging from a recent experiment involving Meetup.com’s San Francisco Ruby list.

The ruse: Post as an engineer relocating to SF and interested in new job opportunities.

The result? Over 30 responses within four hours, offering a glimpse into the uber-competitive war for talent. A summary of what transpired is below, with individuals' names removed to protect the guilty.

The first email, consisting of just two sentences requesting our resume for a “Cloud Computing team,” arrived within just 3 minutes. The technical recruiter was in such a hurry to get into our inbox that he even misspelled our engineer’s name.

The second email, still full of misspellings, was sent just 60 seconds later and came from a recruitment agency promising, “We are legit” and requesting a time to talk on the phone. Several more emails arrived in the next three minutes, including a pitch from an agency marketing themselves as “being trusted by VC firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Accel Partners.”

One agency’s pitch consisted entirely of this: “I saw that your [sic] looking for some work. I have a few posions [sic] in SF that might be a fit, let me know when you have some time to talk.” It provided no last name, phone number or company name. Many more emails followed, often consisting of one-sentence replies and links to job ads or offers, and numerous offers to meet for coffee, beer, and other beverages.

The more insightful responses came from engineers themselves, one offering an introduction to a former employer (ApartmentList), saying they had loved the culture while working there. One very helpful VP of engineering offered recommendations for “very few decent TexMex places I've found,” while another warned about VC-backed companies overworking their staff.

But special kudos goes out to an engineer at Jobvite and another one at CloudPassage, who saw the post and pitched their own employer--a great example of companies with cultures that are actively going after talent.

One recruiter started off with a long rant warning that, “VC is not known for being kind to employees or concerned with their long-term well being,” before launching into a self-serving pitch to join a top-tier Bay area university whose name starts with an “S.”

Funnily enough, out of the 30+ responses that our engineer received, not one raised suspicion about our engineer’s lack of a LinkedIn account, GitHub, or any other online presence.

What did we learn from all of this?

As one engineer on the Meetup list said, “Being a Rails dev in SF is like being a piece of steak in a piranha pool.”

If you're looking to recruit top-tier talent, you need to do better. Namely:

Be decisive. Don’t drag candidates through weeks of endless interviews. Don’t flake out on interviews. At DeveloperAuction, we often have offer letters prepared in advance, so we can hand them to great candidates as they are leaving the office.

Educate yourself about market salaries. Once someone has a family/kids/mortgage and house payments, it’s really tough for them to take a significant pay cut, no matter how much “equity” you offer them. The CEO should rarely be the highest-paid person at a startup.

Engage your network. Tap your existing staff and investors into selling the opportunity to high-value candidates. If you’re hiring a Stanford CS grad and have two of them on staff, then who better to tell that prospect what a great place your company is to work at?

--Matt Mickiewicz is the CEO of DeveloperAuction.com, a curated marketplace for recruiting engineering talent. Previously he started 99designs, which has paid out $50 million to designers, and Flippa, which has helped entrepreneurs sell over $100 million in websites and domain names.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

[Image: Flickr user U.S. Army MIL FM JEFFREY KLINE]

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6 Comments

  • Guest

    Does anyone still believe this crap? There's a big difference between being contacted by a trolling recruiter and being contacted by a company with a job offer for you. Any company that says there's a talent shortage is lazy and/or dumb. Shut up dumb bloggers.

  • Steve

    While don't disagree with your point that these emails coming from trolls hunting referral bonuses, I've had the exact opposite experience regarding the talent pool.
    There is indeed a talent shortage, this shortage is most perceptible to those who can't afford to compete with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon on price and sometimes benefits.

    Speaking from experience, simply mentioning a pending offer from an up and coming startup can raise your offer (by 20-50k) from a big company. There is a bidding war going on for highly experienced individual contributors and senior engineering leaders... with desirable real world skills.

  • Dan Brazelton

    Ummm.... tried to sign up as an employer.  Couldn't get past your login.   

  • anonengineer

    "Be decisive. Don’t drag candidates through weeks of endless interviews. Don’t flake out on interviews."

    HR staff at Google and Facebook, take heed.