How to ensure your tech talent pool is poaching proof

May 29, 2019
11 mins

A recruiter reached out to me with this message a few months ago-

talent poaching email

The highlighted part in the mail is what struck me. It made me rethink if I was really making an impact in my current role.

Seems familiar?

In recruitment, talent poaching (if it works out) could mean nirvana for your competitor but a nightmare for you. Though your employee’s loyalty is an admirable quality, recruiters need to be cognizant of the fact that most professionals are always on the lookout for better opportunities.

This trend is most evident among technologists. Thanks to the tech talent crunch, tech recruiters most times end up getting the raw end of the deal. Proof: we ran a recent survey for technologists and 88% said they are actively or passively looking for opportunities.

Employees looking to switch jobs

Also, several court decisions are quickly changing the landscape of competition laws in the United States. Take the mecca of tech, Silicon Valley, for example. Recent California court rulings have invalidated common employee non-solicit provisions. These cases have big implications, both for seasoned organizations looking to preserve their talent pool as well as startups looking to attract the best talent from competitors. Clearly it’s open season for poaching talent in the Silicon Valley

And it’s not just California. This is evident all across the country with even biggies like JP Morgan quoting that they are poaching Google tech whizzes for their new equity trading bot.

Did you know that an average organization in the United States spends 24 days on the interview process alone? It’s great to invest the time and effort to bring in the right candidate but what if your competition hires that same employee a year later?

Though talent poaching is difficult to avoid in today’s tech landscape, there are ways you can prevent it from happening.

Here’s how  you can outsmart your competitors from poaching your all-star tech team-

First, let’s look at why technologists shift jobs. A Glassdoor survey asked 1,400 software engineers this critical question: What are the top reasons you would leave your job?

These are the top 5 –

Top 5 reasons to leave your job

Now let’s look at the following out-of-the-box ideas to address them:

Salary and Compensation

Did you know that the companies with the highest employee morale and productivity pay a mix of salary and incentives? Though compensating technologists with a handsome salary almost, always works, there are some cool ways you can do this without a raise.

Provide autonomy and purpose

Most employees want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and one way of letting this happen is to help them see the kind of impact they are making to the business or product line. Developers should be given a chance to make decisions, make mistakes, and learn from them. The biggest gratification any developer can get is knowing that their code is changing the world.

Developer autonomy at Etsy – the online arts and crafts marketplace

Etsy employs a service-oriented architecture with a continuous delivery process and a feedback loop of 21 minutes. This means engineers need to deploy code every 25 minutes, which, in turn means developers have all the freedom to keep the wheels turning.

Source – Optimizing for developer happiness

What are they doing right?

  1. Etsy follows the philosophy, ‘Easy deploys=developer happiness’. The have internal processes that keep developers happy and also ensure great product quality
  2. They let developers own their work from day 1. It’s not uncommon for interns at Etsy to push code through on their first day
  3. Lastly, they emphasize that employees should experiment and it’s okay to make mistakes. Instead, they make sure developers take home some actionable retrospectives

Read more on the autonomy given to developers at Etsy

Develop a community

Get to know your developers as people.When you show genuine interest in your employees, they’ll do their best not to let you down. One great way to bond is to build a community so developers feel connected to each other and not just the business. Some ways you can build a community at work are as follows:

  1. Spur friendly intra-team competitions: Who wouldn’t want to win great goodies over some cool team-bonding activities? Coding contests and hackathons can help foster a healthy competition and build new friendships
  2. Use tools to build a community: Use tools to provide developers with honest and timely feedback, but also assure them that someone’s got their back when things go wrong. An IRC or other communication channel can help keep the dialogue going
  3. Create a developer community investment program: Develop programs and initiatives that ensure that coders get what they need to keep learning and keep connected. For example, Twilio has developed Twilio champions an initiative designed to engage programmers who could be future Twilio employees

Internal hackathon at HackerEarth

A poster of the latest internal hackathon at HackerEarth

Provide perks and privileges

Work-life quality is extremely important to some developers. Providing privileges like flexible schedules and work-from-home days as well as perks like opportunities to spend time on passion projects ensure that they find their workdays pleasurable and rewarding. This in turn boosts productivity, which can directly impact your organization’s bottom line

Perks and privileges at Basecamp

Basecamp develops web-based project management and CRM tools. Apart from being featured as one of the top paying companies for developers, Basecamp’s key focus is to keep employees happy and healthy. Few ways Basecamp keeps their developers happy are:

  1. 4 day summer work weeks: From May 1st to August 31st, Basecamp employees work 4 days a week (from Monday to Thursday) for 8 hours each day, also called as summer hours
  2. $100/month fitness allowance: They pay $100 per month for whatever fitness activity their employees enroll for,be it gym membership, yoga studio membership, or any other fitness class
  3. One-month sabbatical every 3 years: Every 3 years, employees are eligible to take a 1 month long sabbatical
  4. Work wherever you want: Basecamp allows its employees to work from anywhere in the world
  5. Paid parental leave: When an employee at Basecamp welcomes a baby, the company encourages them to take up to 16 weeks maternity leave and up to 6 weeks of paternity leave at 100% paid salary

Here is the full list of the perks and privileges at Basecamp that you can provide developers at your organization too.

Engage your employees in the incentive process

What if the perks and privileges you offer do not motivate your employees? It is good to have an open discussion on the kind of perks developers enjoy. You can collect this information over a survey or a feedback discussion.

Once you have this info, you can set about making clear goals for them to achieve. This way, they are driven to deliver  their best and it directly communicates the value for employee contributions.

Transparency at Buffer

If possible, you could go the Buffer way and keep things transparent for your employees. Most times, developers move either because they aren’t paid enough and their peers earn more in other organizations. Buffer is one of the most transparent companies out there to the extent that you can find out exactly how much anyone on the Buffer team earns.

And it’s not only the salary that they are transparent about. From the books they’re reading to their Equity formula, they have them all open for public access. View Buffer’s transparency dashboard here.

Buffer's diversity dashboard

A snapshot of Buffer’s Diversity Dashboard

Career growth opportunities

Employees are your company’s most important assets. Investing in a developers growth could lead to increased job satisfaction levels and better retention. According to a report by Training Magazine, companies in the US spend an average of $4.5 Billion on training and development programs for employees. Make sure you are not missing out on doing this.

According to Monster, here’s a list of programs offered by companies with some awesome training and development programs:

  1. Seattle Genetics – Tuition reimbursement, onsite training courses for job-related skills, and access to job-related conferences and seminars
  2. SASEmerging leadership programs for professional training and development, career mentoring, and a career resource center
  3. Amazon –  An intensive, month-long training and leadership program prior to hire. A “Virtual Contact Center” trains employees to work from home
  4. Randstad US Training programs in the areas of certification, new manager skills, manager effectiveness, leadership development, communication and presentation skills, and mentoring and coaching programs
  5. Paychex – Customized new-hire training programs for sales and service employees. The new-hire programs are a combination of virtual learning at an employee’s home base and instructor-led learning at a state-of-the-art training facility in Rochester, New York
  6. CyberCoders – Through the Associate Recruiter Incubator Program, CyberCoders takes educated, highly driven, competitive individuals and teaches them to apply technology to a diverse marketplace
  7. Schneider ElectricSchneider Electric University offers dedicated academies for executive development, leadership, customer education, energy and solutions, sales excellence, and functional skills

Type of work

Developers look for work that challenges them. It is not surprising that 58% of them said they would switch jobs if they do not like the work. Do the following to make sure your developers love coming to work every single day:

Provide creative freedom

It is important to give developers the space to operate. Imagine how you would feel to work on the same tasks that are not challenging enough, day after day? You either end up getting complacent or bored or both, and that is when you start thinking of working elsewhere.

Denying developers a chance to follow an instinct that they are hired for could be counter-productive. Since they thrive on solving complex problems, providing them with creative freedom can help your developers contribute much more every single day.

Creative freedom at Valve

Valve is a video game developer, publisher, and distribution company which has developed video games like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Portal, and many others.

This is Valve’s take on creative freedom – “When you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value.”

An illustration from the Valve Employee handbook to show the variety of roles employees handle in the first 6 months

Here’s what Valve does to ensure creative freedom for its developers: –

  1. A chance to pick their own projects – Since Valve is a flat organization, people don’t join projects because they are told to. Instead, they decide what to work on after asking all the right questions
  2. Developers are not hired to fill a specific job description – Employees are encouraged to look around for the most valuable work they could be doing. They are allowed to choose what is interesting and rewarding and what leverages their individual strengths the most
  3. Developers are encouraged to participate in decision-making – There’s no secret decision-making cabal. No matter what project, developers are already invited. All they have to do is either start working on it or start talking to the people who are already working on it and find out how to be valuable
  • Empower developers to be masters at what they do

When a developer doesn’t know how to tackle a problem, it is not only a setback to your business but also acts as a source of discouragement. Proactively empowering your employees to be masters in their field will not only give them a much needed confidence boost but also enable peer learning.

At HackerEarth, our developers make use of our tech assessment platform to evaluate themselves. Here’s how we do it:

  1. The platform allows you to create skill-based tests. So if our team of Data Scientists want to evaluate themselves, the HR team creates an ML assessment and the questions are auto-generated from the tool itself
  2. Once the test is created, candidates are invited to finish it within the stipulated time frame
  3. On submitting the test, a performance report is auto-generated which is then used by the team to see where they are lacking and what they can do better

The HR team then works with the developers to see what courses they could sign up for to help them be the best at what they do. Our developers also use free websites such as Coursera, MIT OpenCourseWare, PVTuts, and FreeCodeChamp to upskill themselves.

Company culture

Developers love working for companies that embrace their individuality. Our own developers range from being nerdy and quirky to downright eccentric. Most developers tend to stick on to a particular organization when they feel valued and recognized. A great company culture is equally important to a business because developers are most likely to enjoy their time at the workplace when they fit in with the culture.

These are 8 powerful signs of a great company culture:

  • There are people lining up to be a part of your organization
  • There is low attrition rate
  • Your employees have fun at what they do
  • Your employees have a sense of job security
  • When your employees feel it’s more than ‘just a job’
  • There is open communication
  • When your team embraces new ideas all the time
  • Your employees are energized and there are no Monday blues

Engineering culture at Netflix

This company which has epitomized binge-watching is also known for its amazing engineering culture. Freedom and responsibility are at the core of Netflix’s business strategy and  believes that its culture helps it achieve excellence.

These are the 7 aspects of Netflix’s culture:

  1. Values are what we value
  2. High performance
  3. Freedom and responsibility
  4. Context, not control.
  5. Highly aligned, loosely coupled
  6. Pay top of the market
  7. Promotions and development

Engineering culture at Netflix

Netflix staff at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California (Photo: GLENN CHAPMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

In fact,  I could write an entire article about the fascinating insights on Netflix’s culture but for now you can check Netflix’s slideshow for more info.

Location and commute

Remote work is one of the benefits that most developers look for in a job. Most companies are adapting to a remote-first work culture which means you can build your development team around a workflow that embraces the concept of remote work, whether or not your employees are remote.

Remote working at GitLab

GitLab provides a full DevOps tool for the entire software development cycle from project planning and source code management to CI/CD, monitoring, and security. GitLab calls itself a remote-first company and gives its employees a lot of freedom in the way they work.

Here are GitLab’s tips on working remotely:

  • Facilitating internal communication
    • Daily video calls – Everyone gets on a daily team video call and are free to add subjects they would like to discuss with the entire team
    • Local meetups – Team members in the same location are encouraged to organize their own meetups
    • Slack channels – The company uses Slack as a channel for informal communication
    • Visiting grants – GitLab assists with travel expenses for upto $150 per team member per person they visit
    • CEO HouseTeam members can get together in Utrecht, Netherlands, at the CEO’s AirBnB, free of charge

The CEO’s house in Utrecht, Netherlands

  • Coffee chats – Everyone in GitLab is encouraged to dedicate a few hours a week to have social calls with anyone in the company. They also have a ‘Random Room’ video chat option which gives employees the chance to have 1×1 calls with specific teammates
  • Co-working calls – These are working sessions scheduled on Zoom where team members can work through challenging tasks with a co-worker

Read more about GitLab’s remote stories

You could move one step further and even make your entire hiring process remote. Read more in our remote hiring E-book.

I hope this list helps you retain your tech team for a long long time, and the next time you think of the word ‘poach’ is only at breakfast :).

Jokes apart, I would really like to know if you’ve tried any of these at work.  Feel free to share your experiences and drop me a mail on soumya.c@hackerearth.com. Have a great day!

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About the Author

Soumya Chittigala
Soumya drives product marketing at HackerEarth. When she is not marketing SaaS products,chances are that she's baking cupcakes, binge-watching shows on Netflix or fantasizing about her next travel adventure.

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