The Secret To Recruiting Great Engineers

Chris Norris
4 min readJul 2, 2017


In any thriving tech geography, competition for strong engineers can be brutal. Companies are always looking for ‘the secret’ to recruiting.

There isn’t one.

Well, not one in the way people are hoping for one : some tactic that guarantees to draw star engineers to your company like moths to a flame, and guarantees that all your offers get accepted.

I used to think that you could tip the scales hugely in your favour with gimmicks. We experimented with a coffee truck providing free coffee and job information to 1000’s of bleary-eyed Caltrain commuters. This had to have driven a lot of exposure and leads, right?! It proved to have zero measurable value.

People don’t want to hear it but my experiences tell me that great recruiting is about ‘grinding’ on sourcing, and being relentless in interviewing.

However there are some things that you can and must master.

The Candidate Experience Is Everything

Every candidate, even ones that ultimately don’t get an offer, should walk away from every interaction really wanting to work at your company.

The amazing recruiters I have been lucky to work with absolutely nailed this aspect of the process; keeping the candidates informed, making sure they felt prepared, and making a connection with the candidate wherever possible.

One of the more memorable cases of ‘attention to detail’ was where we wanted to make an offer to a candidate and our attentive recruiter had heard that the candidate was about to head out to Hawaii for a vacation. She rapidly took care of sending a ‘beach care package’ to the candidate and her husband (company-branded beach towel, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc.) There’s no way we didn’t stick in the candidates mind as a result and, yes, they accepted the offer.

An often-neglected part of the candidate experience are the interviews themselves. An interview should NOT just be about your company evaluating the candidate; it should just as much be about the candidate forming a positive impression about your people, culture and company.

I’ll be eternally proud of this Glassdoor review — a candidate that ultimately did not get an offer still felt compelled to write about the great experience

Speed Is A Competitive Advantage

For candidates you want to make an offer to, your goal should be to have an offer in their hands the same day, and certainly no less than 24 hours after their interview. A concrete offer gives the candidate a strong motivation to accept, rather than continue to look around. It also sends a message about how serious you are about them as a candidate, and how fast your company moves.

HOWEVER, don’t do the weak tactic of giving an ‘exploding offer’ where the candidate has a limited time to accept. Doesn’t it say to the candidate that you don’t really care whether they work for you or not? After all, you are threatening to retract the offer. What does that say about your culture?

Referrals Are Gold

You want all your employees to refer the best people they’ve worked with. There are several, perhaps obvious, advantages :

  • the candidate is pre-screened for capabilities
  • the candidate is much more likely to respond and show interest than cold contacting them
  • even if they are not interested initially, the connection to their friend will leave you higher up the list of companies to consider when the time is right


Timing is everything — a candidate might have no interest in a new job opportunity when you first approach them. Make sure you are top-of-mind for them when they decide it’s time for a change. I have, literally, chased good candidates for years to come work with me and succeeded.

Be Opportunistic

In situations where you need to grow quickly, or the hiring market is very competitive, you must be opportunistic in hiring. In other words, you should be careful not to focus too narrowly on specific skills or profile of person you are looking for.

Understand Your Funnel

Measure your recruiting funnel — look at numbers and percentages of candidates getting to the stages of your recruiting process. For example :

  • # reachouts (email/LinkedIn)
  • # recruiter screens
  • # tech phone screens
  • # on-sites
  • # offers
  • # accepts

and understand this over time.

This allows you to :

  • understand the cold realities of how many people you’ll need to screen/interview to get to a hire, and see whether your hiring plan is realistic (can you realistically hire 20 people by the end of the quarter?)
  • hypothesize about areas of the recruiting process that might be improved
  • see if there are changes in the funnel over time that need to be understood
  • see if changes you make to any part of the funnel are having an effect

If you get more sophisticated, you might even start to look at the funnel by different vectors, like the funnel for ‘candidates sourced from internal recruiters’ vs. ‘candidates sourced from our job ads’

But wait!

What about hosting meetups, and having an company eng blog, and <insert visibility thing here>. What about building our brand?”, I hear you cry!

In my experience these are of marginal measurable value in small companies in hot markets and, at best, long-term plays for recruiting engineers. I feel that people overweight on these things being valuable :

  • out of desperation to beat the hiring slog (totally empathize!)
  • out of self-conceit that these are really differentiators for their company (is your eng blog content truly unique? — would someone who looks at your blog be likely to share one of your blog posts, or subscribe to it?)
  • so you can show you are ‘doing something’ when you have pressure to hire

These things also often take up large amounts of hidden time from people — how long did it take to ideate, write, review, edit and publish your blog posts? What long list of logistics/tracking/follow-up did it take to host that meetup? How many strong leads did they generate?

I am left believing that the payback just isn’t there for the majority of small companies for things like this. You will struggle to be able to measure the ROI.

I’d love to hear of any great examples of where you think a company excelled at recruiting, and why



Chris Norris

Engineering leader for startups — 4 exits and counting. Fascinated with startups, software, and the people around them. Founder at