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3 Tips To Hire A Software Developer For A Startup

3 Tips To Hire A Software Developer For A Startup

This article has been updated on February 20th, 2023.

To hire a software developer and a talented one at that is akin to winning the lottery, especially in today’s competitive market. It’s like the Hunger Games out there! To quote, “We fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice.” — but for developers instead 😛 Hire A Software Developer For A Startup - GIF 1 People are the most important component of almost any business, and attracting the best talent possible is going to make a huge difference,” says Peter Berg, founder of the consulting firm October Three. There is no disputing this, is there? Finding people with the right skills, meeting salary and benefits expectations, competing with larger brands, and immigration regulations are perhaps the greatest hiring challenges for any tech company. Add recession, a global pandemic, and oh that you want potential candidates to work for a startup (in this unstable economy) to that mix. Good luck ever finding anybody! Startups are notoriously known for failing. In fact, studies show 9 out of 10 startups fail. Understandably, tempting talented candidates to apply for open roles at your organization can be difficult. So how would go about attracting qualified developers to apply to your startup? We’ve got you covered. In this post, we will:

  • Give actionable tips on how to attract software developers
  • Bring you some great ways to source, screen, and interview software developers without making a dent in your already stretched budget

What do software developers look for in a job?

And no, the answer is not “competitive salary”. Step 0 is to attract developers before moving on to interviewing or hiring them. Recruiters, ask yourselves this—What do developers want from their job? Is it a better work-life balance? Personal growth potential? Or flexible schedules? Walk a mile in a developer’s shoes to understand what they look for in an ideal job opportunity and what makes them happy. Then you’ll be one step closer to attracting and hiring the cream of the crop out there! A few vital benefits to offer include –

Flexible work schedules

Developers crave flexibility. They like to identify their most productive hours and set their work timings accordingly. Offer remote/hybrid working models for your devs with the option to structure their workday around their needs—the 9-5 model is slowly becoming a thing of the past. If their company stood by rigid work schedules and returned to working from an office full-time, people will switch jobs in a heartbeat as seen during the Great Resignation.

Providing good growth opportunities

Hire A Software Developer For A Startup - Career growth is a must-have for developers Findings from our annual Developer Survey show that both beginner devs and experienced software professionals can be wooed by offers of a good career growth curve (∼60%)—it’s a must-have requirement when looking for a new job. Offer valuable learning and development opportunities for your software developers to enable them to build their portfolio as well as keep them satisfied enough to stay with your organization. Take HackerEarth’s L&D platform for instance—it helps you identify skills gaps as well as curate customized learning paths for individual employees.

Wellness benefits

In a post-pandemic world, mental health is no longer “a good-to-have perk”. It’s become a priority. Therefore, promote self-care and stress management by providing mental health counseling and diet, exercise, and wellness coaching. Managers are not mental health experts but they can point their developers in the right direction—encourage them to seek help from the resources available. We, at HackerEarth, are pre-registered for 1to1help, an emotional well-being Employee Assistance Program that helps employees prioritize mental health. They conduct regular sessions on achieving work-life balance, managing anxiety, why taking care of mental health is important, and so on. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Here are some more employee perks and benefits that can attract developers to apply to your organization. 👇 <link to Abenity’s blog>

How to hire a software developer for a startup: A step-by-step guide

While there is no one-size-fits-all rule for hiring the right developer, we have attempted to list down the basic steps for hiring software developers for startups. Hope this helps!

Step 1: Define your needs

Start by listing the technical skills needed for a given role. This will vary based on your project, whether you need a full-stack developer, backend developer, or someone specialized in a particular technology.
Next, determine the soft skills needed for the role. Not only does your candidate need to be technically proficient, they should also possess certain soft skills like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability which will help them work in tandem with your team and company goals.

Step 2. Set a budget

Ensure you’ve allocated sufficient funds for hiring; keeping in mind industry standards, experience levels, and regional variations in pay scales.
Remember, offering equity or profit-sharing can be a way to attract top talent if you’re short on funds.

Step 3. Look in the right places

Attend tech conferences, hackathons, or local developer meetups, and grow your developer network. Employer branding and personal branding go a long way in helping recruiters and companies connect with the right talent.
Make use of online platforms like LinkedIn, Stack Overflow, and GitHub which developers use frequently..
Ask your network, including other founders or professionals, for referrals.

Step 4. Craft a clear job description

Provide a brief about your startup, the product, and its vision.
Clearly mention responsibilities, technical and soft skill requirements, and any benefits or perks.
Indicate whether remote work is an option, as it can widen your talent pool.

You can read our handy guide on crafting better and inclusive job descriptions here.

Step 5. Create a screening process with the right stakeholders

Resume Screening: This initial step helps you identify developers with the required skills and experience.
Technical Tests: Use platforms like HackerEarth to test the candidates’ coding skills.
Cultural Fit: Beyond technical skills, ensure the developer fits well with your startup’s culture and values.

Step 6. Conduct comprehensive interviews

Technical Interview: Dive deep into their technical knowledge, past projects, and problem-solving capabilities.
Behavioral Interview: Gauge their soft skills, teamwork, and adaptability through situational questions.
Founder’s Interview: As a startup, having one of the founders interview the candidate can help gauge cultural fit and provide the developer a clearer picture of the company’s vision.

Step 7. Offer competitive compensation

While budget constraints might be a reality, ensure you offer competitive compensation based on industry standards.
Consider offering non-monetary perks like flexible hours, remote work options, or professional growth opportunities.

Step 8. Ensure developers are onboarded well

Have an efficient onboarding process in place to integrate new developers smoothly.
Provide them with necessary resources, tools, and introduce them to the team.

Tips to Hire a software developer (4-step strategy)

#1 Source

Know who you need

Before you get all gung-ho about hiring developers, know what your requirements are. The more specific you are, the better filters you have. A laundry list of skills will only put off developers from applying. Consequently, divide your requirements into must-have and good-to-have skills. A defined set of skills will help you start looking in the right places. Also, this clarity in what you’re looking for will come through in your communication. Read our informative guide on how to write job descriptions that work to understand how ambiguity can harm you. For example, do you want a database developer or a front-end developer? Are you sure you are not confusing a web designer with a web developer?

Know where to look

Once you have defined your hiring needs, gathered inputs from all stakeholders, and agreed on candidate specifications, the next step is to set up your search strategy. Sourcing refers to proactively identifying people who are:

  • Not actively looking for jobs (passive job seekers) or
  • Who are actively searching for jobs (active job seekers)
#1 Social media channels

Hire A Software Developer through social recruiting Leverage social recruiting to tap into hidden talent. Connect with aspiring developers, the GenZ workforce, and even senior developers who may not be thinking of a job switch. Build a relationship with them and nurture them so that when the time comes, you have a fresh talent pool to fall back on! LinkedIn: Once you create an interesting profile and company page, you should create a careers page. Through engaging content, updates, and Q&A, recruiters can establish themselves as thought leaders. This also helps strengthen your employer brand. LinkedIn is great for creating a referral chain, getting recommendations/testimonials to humanize your brand, and sourcing talent by networking through new, past, and present contacts. LinkedIn Talent Solutions can help leverage the magic of data-driven recruiting to get the best people you can. Moreover, using free ads and participating in group discussions can be effective to increase the visibility of your brand among the developers and foster a relationship with them. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google+, Instagram: As focal points of online interaction, these sites help you promote your company and culture through existing employees and cut through the noise and find niche networks using eye-catching ads, videos, anecdotes, photos, and hashtags.

Also read: Get your copy of the social recruiting checklist today to help you tailor your strategy for each social media platform!

#2 Online developer forums

GitHub: GitHub is an online project-hosting service site where developers share their open-source projects. Once you have a public account up and running, you can get contact info, the number of followers, GitHub contributions, and repositories. Stack Overflow: Stack Overflow is an online community for programmers to learn, share their knowledge, and advance their careers. Basic details and summaries about programmers are accessible; use the right filters to refine your search. For passive candidates, check out the Careers section. Remember to engage in meaningful discussions with people of interest. Reddit: Reddit is an online community where users submit content, such as text posts or direct links, in very specific “subreddits.” Developers and thought leaders ask questions and discuss technology-related topics here. This can be a valuable source of highly skilled programmers. Note that Reddit has its own Boolean search terminology.

💡 Pro tip: Github, Stack Overflow, and Reddit can be excellent sources to find talent when you’re sourcing for niche/specialized roles.

#3 Quora

Quora is a Q&A site that facilitates social interactions and interesting conversations. You will need to first build your reputation, for example, by answering questions on hiring. You can identify domain experts by going through topics of interest and initiating conversations. Although Quora may not help you source candidates directly, it will help you design a more relevant strategy to hire a software developer for your startup effectively.

#4 Glassdoor

A promising tool for recruiting, Glassdoor exerts a huge social influence on job aspirants. People go on Glassdoor to write or read anonymous reviews about companies and company life. So, this is where you need to build an awesome employer brand while being honest and transparent. Recruiters can gather valuable metrics from this site.

#5 Meetups and developer events unites people with shared professional interests. You can find potential candidates without having to go to any events as many of the meetup groups and attendee lists are public. Once you’ve made your interest list and filtered your candidates, you can send them a personalized email. Also, developer events can give you an opportunity to network with the most sought-after technical experts. You can make connections and build mutually beneficial relationships with them.

#6 Hackathons

Hackathons are amazing places to network with exceptional talent and industry experts. You can skillfully build a talent pipeline of hardworking, smart, and passionate programmers by attending the right events. Virtual, external, and internal hackathons have all got great advantages to improve your talent pipeline. For instance, if you run a global hackathon or a hiring challenge with HackerEarth, you get the chance to get your company in front of 7.6 million qualified developers. Now that’s an ocean of talent that you can attract and possibly hire from, for your startup! You can also opt to conduct an internal hackathon to engage your existing developers, with minimal bandwidth drain.

Also, read: How Hackathons Can Help You Attract, Engage, Hire, And Train Top Talent

Summary of how to use social media/online forums for sourcing

  • Create a company page
  • Create a careers page
  • Publish engaging content
  • Get recommendations and testimonials
  • Use free ads
  • Participate in groups and discussions
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google+
  • Creative job postings on the company’s page
  • Strengthen company presence, highlight employee achievements, and events, encourage referrals
  • Engage in relevant discussions to spot possibilities and build your community
  • Filter search results based on relevant criteria and reach out to people of interest
Stack Overflow
  • Search for candidates with specific skill-set in a particular location
  • Use the job listings portal
  • Create a personal or company profile
  • Find relevant subreddits using keywords
  • Establish yourself as a thought leader
  • Identify domain experts, initiate conversations, and build relationships
  • Sign up for an Enhanced Employer Profile
  • Promote your company brand
  • Gather metrics to fine-tune the hiring strategy
Meetups and Developer events
  • Make connections and build mutually beneficial relationships with them
  • Network with exceptional talent and industry experts; build a talent pipeline
  • Conduct a recruiting hackathon


#2 Screen

Now you move on to screening the candidates. In traditional tech hiring processes, you invite applications, screen manually, interview shortlisted candidates, and finally hire. This process could go on for months on end. But this process is not cost-effective, scalable, or very accurate. And when you’re out to hire a software developer for a startup, you generally don’t have a lot of time before you have to close those open roles. Someone once said, “Tech startup hiring can be something of a ‘Rush Hour’, the movie experience. Your hiring needs are mostly unplanned and a lot of things are happening all at once.” They’re not wrong. Time is of the essence and you can’t afford to manually screen your applicants. Applicant tracking systems and other tech recruiting tools have made recruiters’ lives so much easier by cutting down on the cost, time, and effort they invest in attracting, managing, and retaining employees. Some companies, such as HackerEarth, offer coding assessment software that helps you screen developers effortlessly via customized coding tests that are automatically evaluated. Detailed reports give you a near-perfect picture of what these people can really do. Moreover, you won’t be accused of any kind of bias and you can cut down your time-to-hire by half! Don’t take our word for it. One of our clients, Tallan was able to speed up their technical screening process by 50% with our product. We enabled them to automate their screening process. Now could screen hundreds of candidates at a go, accurately. P.S. Technical screening is an important step in the funnel and one that can easily go wrong. Learn how to master it with these expert tips. 👇

Also, read: The Definitive Technical Screening Guide

#3 Interview

It is a two-way street. Both the candidate and you are going to be making some decisions here. Once you have “ideal candidates” in your clutches, you try to decide if they:

  • Are passionate about what they are doing or excited about what they hope to do
  • Can communicate effectively
  • Have a good grasp of their area of expertise
  • Would be someone your team will enjoy working with

Hire for their knowledge of computing and flexibility than experience. Don’t ask for a programmer with 5 years of Java, two years of SQL, and 1.5 years of Hibernate experience. Instead of this shopping list, find ways to explore their area of expertise and online presence (portfolios/GitHub). In addition to that, ask them general questions and ask them to critique a platform or system, or code. Engage in a dialogue with them about it and that can tell you a lot about their mental agility and problem-solving ability. If you are a non-tech person, it is best you get someone (programmer, mentor, consultant) with some know-how to help you interview developers. For example, if you wanted to hire a Java developer, what should you ask and what you should look for? Like auditioning for a role in a play or a movie, you can make a prospective hire work with your team on a live project. Nothing reveals people’s real characteristics until you go to war with them, and every day at an early-stage startup is going to be very war-like. (Think Hunger Games, again 😛) Hire A Software Developer For A Startup - GIF 2 See how a developer fares in the audition and the hiring decision will be very clear to you. Key metrics to track in an audition like this are competence, creativity in solving a problem, learning ability, approach to a new problem, and overall amicability.

Also, read: Essential Questions To Ask When Recruiting Developers Part 1 and Part 2 

Challenges in hiring software developers for startups

Startups face a unique set of challenges when hiring software developers. Unlike established companies with brand recognition and larger budgets, startups often struggle to attract top talent. A primary challenge is financial constraints; with limited funds, offering competitive salaries becomes difficult. This also means startups may not have the resources for extensive hiring processes or the luxury of time.

Furthermore, the volatile nature of startups can deter candidates seeking job stability. Developers are often looking for roles where they can grow professionally; the perceived risk associated with startups can be a deterrent. Another challenge is the intense competition for tech talent. With tech giants and numerous startups vying for the same pool of developers, standing out becomes pivotal yet challenging.

Cultural fit is also crucial in the startup environment. Finding someone who not only has the technical skills but also aligns with the company’s vision and pace can be a daunting task. Lastly, due to the lean nature of startups, each hire plays a significant role, adding pressure to make the perfect choice. Addressing these challenges requires a mix of creativity in recruitment strategies, clear communication of the startup’s vision, and fostering a welcoming company culture.

Hiring great developers simplified!

Conventional ways of reaching out to developers looking for jobs and convincing them to join your startup aren’t going to work. You need to get the developers interested. Startup founders need to take a marketing approach to find developers. Additionally, be in places you think the developers you’re looking for will be present—meet-ups, IRC chatrooms, hackathons, and dev conferences. Don’t just rely on copy-pasting generic job descriptions on job portals and expect the applications to come pouring in. Put the word out—your company’s message, the fact that you’re looking for developers out in these circles, and what you’re trying to solve. Follow the tips we’ve mentioned in this article and you should get some fantastic hires or at least expand your network to a large extent.

SUBSCRIBE to the HackerEarth blog and enrich your monthly reading with our free e-newsletter – Fresh, insightful, and awesome articles straight into your inbox from around the tech recruiting world!

FAQs on how to hire a software developer:

#1 What kind of skills should you look for when hiring software developers?

It is important to understand that the “perfect candidate” who possesses all the skills one would like is a myth. Hence, break down your list of skill requirements into two categories. Essential or must-have, or non-negotiable skills which are crucial to the role. And adjacent or good-to-have skills which an employee can pick up on the job over time. Must-have skills include:

  • Proficiency in programming languages and frameworks required for the role
  • Understanding of data structures and algorithms required to design efficient and scalable software systems.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Debugging and testing skills to ensure the software is free of errors and is functioning as expected.
  • Familiarity with software development tools such as IDEs, version control systems, and continuous integration and delivery tools.
  • Analytical and critical thinking.

Adjacent skills can include:

  • Communication and collaboration.
  • UX/UI design skills as software products are expected to have a user-friendly interface and a great user experience.
  • Business acumen so that they can develop software that aligns with business goals.
  • Project management skills and knowledge of Agile, lean methodology or other project management methodologies.

#2 How do I hire software developers faster?

Hiring software developers faster can be challenging, but there are several steps you can take to streamline the process:

  • Define the job requirements clearly. Tech recruiters need to align with engineering managers. Understand the tech stack for the role, expected skills, experience, and salary offered. Make sure to highlight all of this in the job description to attract the right candidates.
  • Utilize platforms other than job boards and LinkedIn. Many companies today use social media channels like Twitter or Instagram to post jobs and attract candidates.
  • Use the right tools like ATS, assessment tools, and remote coding interview tools to hasten the process and cut down on manual labor.
  • Conduct remote interviews to save time and money on travel expenses. This also allows you to widen your candidate pool so that you can work with developers across geographies.
  • Use hackathons and hiring challenges to engage with the developer community and create better employer branding, and quickly add to your talent pipeline.
  • Create better alignment between tech recruiters and hiring managers so that very little time is lost in back and forth between the two parties.

#3 How do you attract new developers?

  • According to our latest survey, 25.4% of developers said they would leave a company if it lacked a proper engineering culture. Hence, ensuring you offer clarity to new candidates on their roles and expected growth is very important.
  • Developers value flexibility in their work schedules, and providing remote or flexible working arrangements can be a great way to attract and retain talent.
  • Offering competitive salaries, bonuses, and benefits can help attract top talent to your company.
  • Hosting hackathons can be a great way to showcase your company’s culture and values, and create a dialogue with the developer community.
  • Emphasizing your company’s mission and the impact it is making on the world can be a powerful way to attract developers who share your values.
  • Creating a welcoming company culture that emphasizes teamwork, creativity, and innovation can be a great way to attract and retain top talent.
  • Investing in employer branding is critical to gaining good karma within the developer community. Leverage social media channels, and Slack communities. Ssponsor and participate in developer events to attract the right talent.
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