Why you aren't attracting or keeping Top Talent

I'm personally contacted by anywhere from 5-20 recruiters a week, and honestly well over 90% of the job "opportunities" do nothing more than make me laugh so hard, milk would squirt out of my nose (if I was drinking milk). The reality of it is, that it doesn't much matter whether you're looking for C2C, W2, or 1099, the top talent out there is laughing your offers all the way to trash (much more often than you think). Thanks to the digital world, they didn't even get the satisfaction of crumpling it up and realizing why they're in IT and not the NBA.

What Is Top Talent

What is top talent anyway? While we can get into a debate on how to define "Top Talent", I would generically define top talent as someone who possesses the following qualities:

  • They have the all or most of the expertise that you need today, and can quickly pick up any missing pieces.
  • They have a drive to always be learning. This ensures that they always be able to handle your needs as needs evolve through an ever changing world.
  • They appear to be a workaholic to most people, because they love what they do.

Why Top Talent Ignores Offers

So why then does Top Talent ignore so many offers? Well for starters you need to understand who you're dealing with. I was recently reading a great post from Scott Hanselman on the topic of 'Attending Your First Conference'. In his post he posted a number of helpful pointers from the community on Twitter. While the topic itself has nothing to do with your hiring Top Talent, it does expose a reality in the IT world as a whole. The reality is most people in IT, and especially programmers are Introverts. It's not that you can't put us in a room and expect us to have a conversation with anyone at all, but most of us probably prefer not to.

Our company culture is important to us, and we would lose that if employees weren't in the office.

Now I've heard a number of CEO's and other managers discuss reasons why they insist on their staff being on site. I will admit that in certain cases I even see valid arguments for having at least some of your staff in close enough proximity that they could come into the office for an emergency, or on some sort of periodic basis like for Monday meetings or on a rotating schedule with other programmers. The reality of it though, is that if your answer is something like the more common reasons I hear, you're losing out on the top talent when you don't need to.

We insist that our employees work from the office to promote a better sense of communication and collaboration.

The On-Prem verses Remote really touches a couple of issues. Of course it goes back to the natural state of most programmers to be introverts, but it really goes deeper than that. In the event that I live a half an hour away from the office, "Rush Hour" makes that at least an hour unless there was an accident and it suddenly takes two hours. So now you are asking a workaholic to devote an extra 2-3 hours of their day to showing their face, they didn't want to show in the first place, on an 8 hour day that was probably closer to 10-12 hours. They've now lost a chance to have a life and will likely burn out and leave. 

When we find the right talent, we'll pay relocate them even if we have to move them cross country (or help them get a Visa).

So your 'On-Prem' mentality just prevented you from hiring the Introverts, and the candidate might have said yes is burning out. That still doesn't cover it all though. The next thing you have to look at is the candidate pool. You might be based in the Bay Area or New York City and think I'm in this super Urban area with tons of programmers. Nothing says that the right person for your company is located where you are. Besides with a lot of specialties it's easy to quickly end up looking for a Unicorn. Honestly this is probably the quickest way to get ignored by Top Talent. Let's just be honest most of us care about our friends and our family. We probably have roots where we are and we don't feel like being uprooted from our lives, or uprooting the lives of our spouse and kids because you read some mantra about "Company Culture".

Attracting (and KEEPING) Top Talent

If you want to attract the Top Talent you need to spend some time taking inventory. You might be surprised what you find. If you take the time to address the following issues, the Top Talent out there will take notice.

  • Don't Freak Out! Take an inventory of what your current company culture is. Chances are your open floor plan with your programmers is still quiet like a library with only the sound of the keyboards as your programmers are chatting via Slack or Skype for Business. All that's left is to let them work remotely.
  • Offer Top Talent the ability to work Remotely even when it means you need to fly them into the office periodically for meetings or corporate events.
  • Be prepared to pay for Top Talent, but don't focus on Salary. Nobody likes being asked how much they expect. The reality is they want to tell you $1,000,000, but figure you'll only pay $120,000. You wish you could legally pay them $10,000, but you are prepared to pay $140,000. Another company offers them $135,000 and they're out the door. The truth is while there might still be some negotiation on salary, this classic paradigm is from a culture that no longer exists. Be prepared to tell them upfront what you are prepared to do. If what you're thinking is too low they'll tell you. 
  • Benefits matter. The simple fact is if you offer $120,000 base salary and another company offers $130,000 base that doesn't mean Top Talent is automatically going for the higher base. 
    • Health Insurance: Think about what you offer. You'd be surprised at how many recruiters and HR Managers I've talked to couldn't answer questions like "Do you offer a PPO or HMO". Another huge point, does the company bear the full cost of the insurance or is it a shared expense with the employee? That could make all the difference in the world.
    • Tuition reimbursement. Just because you're looking for Top Talent, doesn't mean that they don't have student loans. If your company is willing to help them pay it off, don't be shy.
    • PTO: If you start your employees off with 4 weeks of PTO instead of the classic 2 weeks, seriously rethink your job posting that just says benefits include "PTO". Chances are Top Talent will take a pay cut just for the ability to spend time doing what they love with the people they love.
  • If you expect some Loyalty, be prepared to reciprocate and have some examples of how the Company values Loyalty to it's employees, contractors and consultants. 
  • Show you care as much about continuing education as they do. Don't wait for them to ask/beg, offer to pay for their time and all expenses for them to attend at least one or two conferences each year. 
  • Show you care about Quality of Life. 
    • Provide ample PTO without a hassle. One of my favorites came from a company that insists their developers take a week paid vacation every 12 weeks.
    • Be flexible. Every company has meetings, but provide enough work day flexibility that they can split their day up. This could mean they have the time to make their kid's soccer game, or simply that they got to clear their mind and go for a walk or a bike ride for a couple of hours. 
  • Be open, and be serious about improving. If the Top Talent candidate were to ask their prospective coworkers about working with your company, what would they say? Would they say you have an Open Door/Inbox policy? Would they say they can speak candidly to you without fear of reprisal? Do you seek feedback?

Working with Contractors and Consultants

I know you may be thinking I started off by saying it doesn't matter whether you're looking at C2C, W2, or 1099, but so far it seems like I've only talked about W2. The sad reality is that even for 1099/C2C a surprising amount of companies think that Consultants and Contracts are employees they don't pay benefits to. Everyone of course is different, but you might be surprised when you rethink how you approach contractors and consultants. If a contractor is going to charge you $100+/hr chances are you do not want to think about overtime. The problem is that you have a contract that is going to last 6 or 12 months. 

Just because you're working with a contractor doesn't mean that they don't care about the same things that your employees do. In fact for contractors it is even more critical that they have things like remote work flexible schedules. Let's be honest if you hired a contractor even when it's "Temp to Hire" you started off the relationship by saying you have no loyalty to them whatsoever. If they can't maintain an ability to attract other clients to sustain them at the end of their contract with you, they are charging you more, even if they don't tell you that. 

As sad as it is, companies so often suffer because they didn't think about the needs of the contractor. When you approach a contractor from a basis that you will pay a flat negotiated rate, and that they don't need to worry about being paid, even when they took the week to go on vacation or go to a seminar somewhere, you might be surprised at how much more you get from that contractor. Suddenly you'll have unleashed the contractor to burn the midnight oil to get things done for you, while ensuring that they can make the appropriate decisions they need to in order to put the best foot forward. 


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