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Building Your Engineering Team: Tips on Finding and Retaining Experienced Talent

April 07, 2016

While there are common elements to building and retaining a team regardless of experience level, there are some unique considerations involved in recruiting and retaining your experienced team members. Here are some tips for recruiting and keeping your high value, senior talent:

1.     It’s Your First Level Network

An individual’s personal network is not a thing that is built overnight. It represents the value of your relationship with people over a period of years (or decades, in my case). This is immeasurably more useful than old-school recruiting methods using agencies or open job postings. When you have worked with someone in the past, you know their technical job knowledge, for sure. However, you also know about the other aspects of job performance which can be critical for a fit with current needs. How they do they respond under high pressure? Are they able to collaborate with their peers in a productive way? Do they meet their commitments? Are they creative? How do they impact the morale of the team around them? You can probe and prod such questions on an interview but nothing beats prior working experience with the individual

So, you know who the competent people are from your past. Are they willing to work with you as a manager again? Have you spent time fostering and maintaining a good relationship with your peers, subordinates or (in some cases) superiors? If you left a good reputation in your wake, the answer will hopefully be “Yes.”

2.     It’s Your Second Level Network & Beyond

Once you have leveraged your first tier network relationships, the next step is to ask your best players to help work their networks. Almost universally, your best players will only want to refer in other staff members who they think have the “right stuff” to fit in. After all, if they are hired in, it is likely they will be working together. Nobody wants to have a team where they cannot count on their teammates to carry their share of the load. Even folks in your network who are not part of your team can provide referrals. If you have built good first tier relationships, you know you can have reasonable confidence on a referral from them.

After reaching out to all the first and second tier resources, the next step is expanding your sphere. We often use LinkedIn to target specific companies where we suspect the right kind of individuals may be working. Then, we look to see if we have any first or second tier relationships we can leverage for help with an introduction to a potential target candidate.

Another technique to expand the network is via extra-curricular activities. Attending conferences, meet-ups, university relationship are all good ways of getting to know more people in an informal, easy-to-reach format. Through this kind of outreach, you can expand your first and second tier relationships.

3.     Let Some Team Members Stay Where They Are

What is more important when it comes to a top level person you want to bring aboard? Their location or their competence? It is not necessary for everyone to be in the same office every day. There are lots of ways to build a team where some of the individuals are not collocated with their peers. You can maintain visibility into work via daily scrums in an Agile development process, web/video conference or occasional trip to the office. Several of our extremely high competence staff members do not live anywhere near our offices. These individuals are able to work self-sufficiently remotely and we make the system work. Any incremental cost in travel expenses is more than compensated for by the ability for us to have and retain the top tier talent we need. Would you rather that individual not work with your company or would you rather make reasonable accommodations to have them on-board?

4.     Temp to Perm

Truth be told, we never use regular staff employment agencies. However, the same has not been true for temp agencies. On a fairly regular basis, temporary help gets converted to regular staff members. The great thing about this process is that one gets to try out the individual before making a commitment. Most temporary agency firms have terms which allow the direct hiring of temporary staff after 6 months or a year with little or no fees.

5.     Be Prepared to Pay and Have Competitive Benefits

This falls into the basket of both attracting the desired talent but also retaining talent. I have read that some individuals in the job market have found compensation and benefits to be lacking or substantially reduced. In the case of our firm, we always pay within the top 25% of what firms in our market are paying (maybe within the top 10%) and have benefits packages that are also within the top tier. While compensation and benefits are rarely going to be an enticement to join a firm, they are table stakes. If you don’t offer a competitive package, you will lose. Worse, you may win on hiring the person you want but then have others leave because the company is non-competitive. While some firms view their technical staff as a cost center, others view them as part of the value proposition. If your staff is part of the “secret sauce you’re your company, then it is important to compensate accordingly.

The strategies outlined are some of the things we do to build the team at our firm. It is a two-fold strategy of building the team and retaining happy team members once they get here. The steps outlined above are the key ones we use to build and sustain our high performance team.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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